I want to thank my good friend Butch Stewart for that kind introduction.
I also want to thank Butch for inviting me to join you tonight in saluting these distinguished journalists from throughout the Caribbean who are contributing so much to creating a better understanding that investing in the environment increases rather than diminishes our wealth.
I am very honored to address leaders from the worlds of business and academia who have gathered here and I am particularly honored to see Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica and Prime Minister Ingraham of the Bahamas in the audience.
I also want to thank Rex Nettleford, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, for committing the resources of the university to this important awards event and for serving as a judge [in/on] the selection panel. I also want to acknowledge Professors Aggrey Brown and Tony Clayton who have also given their time and expertise to selecting tonight’s winners.
Under Sandals’ leadership and the work of Dr. George Philip, director of this event, what we see here tonight is a great partnership between private industry, the academic community, the media, and the government to spread the gospel of how responsible environmental management is not only good for the ecology but good for the economy as well.
I wanted to take just a moment to talk about the man who invited me here tonight, my good friend Butch Stewart.
We all know that Butch is a great businessman and a visionary entrepreneur. He built Sandals, Appliance Traders, Air Jamaica, Beaches resorts, and car dealerships. The list goes on and on and on.
We also know that he’s a great patriot who has done so much to help Jamaica in times of need. And I should note that through Sandals, Butch has single-handedly done more to increase the world’s population than any other individual on the planet.
What a lot of people don’t know is that he’s also the greatest friend in the world -- loyal, generous, and kind, someone you can always depend on. We’re here today because Butch understands that caring for the economy and, equally important, caring for the environment is a responsibility we all share because we’re all affected by what happens to our air, our land, and our water.
I first met Butch almost 20 years ago when I traveled to Jamaica to introduce solar energy systems to the island. Citizens Energy Corporation had only recently started, and Butch was running a heating and air conditioning company at the time and understood the need for alternative energy sources that would reduce reliance on fossil fuels and create a greener economy.
Butch was instrumental in the installation of a solar energy hot water system to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, which was one of Citizens Energy’s proudest accomplishments in the early years.
In subsequent years, Citizens built on its experience in Jamaica by installing solar energy hot water systems in Venezuelan hospitals and pioneering the use of biomass technology in Costa Rica to wire remote villages to electricity for the first time. We also created one of the largest and most successful commercial energy conservation firms in the US.
Long before it was fashionable, Butch understood the damaging costs of sacrificing the environment for short term profits that in the long run would eat the seed corn that makes prosperity possible. With his Sandals resorts, Butch has illustrated ways of allowing working families to put food on the table, educate, clothe, and shelter their children, while at the same time acting as a careful steward of the resources that make that growth possible in the first place.
I also want to acknowledge the many government ministers who have come here today to help highlight the importance of environmental stewardship.
I want to especially acknowledge Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas and Prime Minister P. J. Patterson of Jamaica for joining us tonight. Your presence at this event sends a strong message that the nations of the Caribbean are united in fighting to preserve the region’s valuable and fragile natural resources, which are the drivers of the regional economy.
The challenges you face are significant and your actions invaluable in protecting the environmental heritage that brings millions of visitors to your beautiful beaches and reefs, forests and lagoons every year. Mr. Prime Ministers, you are in the first ranks of those calling for action and taking your own steps to address such destruction, and I want you to know how much we appreciate your hard work and commitment.
While struggling with limited budgets, Prime Minister Patterson has made Jamaica an international leader by acting on the recommendations of the Rio conference to create a Natural Resources Conservation Authority with strong leadership and tough enforcement power to curb environmental abuses and halt the erosion of beaches and the destruction of coral reefs.
Under your guidance, Mr. Prime Minister, Jamaica has also expanded protected lands and hired rangers to patrol newly created national preserves in the mountains and along the coast. Broader environmental initiatives have been made possible by more aggressive public-private partnerships with NGOs in Jamaica to introduce sustainable agricultural practices, protect forests, and preserve marine ecosystems.
Prime Minister Ingraham, you are to be commended for your recent commitment to creating a separate environmental ministry, giving the ecology of your nation full standing in your cabinet. As part of that commitment, we salute your moves to expand marine parks to protect spawning stocks and create natural laboratories for the study of sea life.
Under your leadership, the Bahamas has also taken bold steps to ban the fishing of some native species during spawning season and protect the most fragile of your marine resources, the queen conch. Prime Minister Ingraham, your recent steps to preserve and restore endangered creeks and wetlands should serve as a model of environmental protection throughout the region.
We all know of the pressures you face each and every day in striking a balance between the demands of environmental protection and economic growth. And we are keenly aware of the fact that when controversies arise, whether here in the Caribbean or in the United States, and the various factions are adamant in opposing any meeting of the minds, that jobs will always trump the environment because people have to provide for their families.
But it’s a stark choice that doesn’t need to materialize.
People ought to sit down and discuss their differences and seek the counsel of experts who can figure out ways to allow development to go forward while showing sensitivity to historical and ecological legacies. Mr. Prime Ministers, your governments are to be commended for facilitating the dialogue that reduces polarization and achieves the compromises that serve both economic and environmental needs.
On a personal note, I also want you to know how proud I am of how much the Caribbean people have contributed to my own country. As a Member of Congress, I represented a district with one of the most diverse populations in the nation, including communities from every corner of the Caribbean.
The work ethic, the entrepreneurial drive, the profound belief in education and a deep faith in God and the church are hallmarks of the Caribbean community, which has helped transform and enrich not only Boston but cities across our land. Besides your natural beauty, the greatest resource of the Caribbean is its people, and we all are deeply grateful for your citizens’ contributions to our nation.
Since we’re in the Bahamas, I think it’s appropriate to remind everyone of the historic meeting that took place in Nassau in 1962 between President Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Taking place just two months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the meeting began laying the groundwork to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and move toward the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Before he left the Bahamas, President Kennedy told the assembled press corps, “The world looks better today than it did yesterday, and I am sure it’s due to our pleasure on being on this island in the sun.” I also have to say I was so proud to drive along John F. Kennedy Boulevard from the airport and to hear of other honors given to my uncle, like the plaque marking the site where he participated in a tree planting almost 40 years ago.
To the journalists gathered here tonight and whom we are honoring, I want to say how much we appreciate your hard work and dedication in playing such an important role in reporting on the tough issues. You act to inform and educate, which are the most valuable weapons in the fight to get out the message that a healthy environment is not a luxury to be sacrificed to economic development but a necessity for long term economic growth and stability.
We could not possibly advance the agenda of environmental protection without your commitment to speaking out. Your work provokes a healthy and much needed debate. Of course there will be differences about the best way to proceed but without the debate there will be only destruction.
Past award winners have reported on such critical issues as the impact of expanded mining operations in Dominica, the dangers of water contamination from pesticide runoffs, the devastation caused by chemical fishing, and deforestation resulting from the replacement of old-growth forest to create unsustainable pine plantations.
The work of journalists like yourselves can provoke, disturb, and even infuriate, but that is your role and your sacred trust -- to act as the public conscience and to speak up. Your work enables the political environment to change and allow political leaders to take stances even if they’re unpopular to balance the demands of sustainable development and environmental protection. You should be very proud of all the light you shine onto these issues.
And it [is] especially appropriate that Sandals sponsors this awards event. Encouraging journalists to report on controversial issues isn’t always a popular thing to do, but is the right thing to do. That’s certainly the view of my family. One of the best known activities of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation is its annual recognition of journalists who shed light on the plight of the poor around the world -- often at their own peril.
The Kennedy awards have become known as the Pulitzers of poverty reporting and I would hope that the Sandals awards become the Pulitzers of environmental reporting.
As we meet here tonight, it’s tempting to look around at the beautiful hotel, look outside at the gorgeous ocean water and dramatic beachfront and think that all is right with the world. But there’s another picture out there we don’t see -- a picture of economic devastation caused by irresponsible environmental practices. And it’s no accident that most of the devastation has occurred in nations without strong democratic traditions that lead to strong environmental protection.
The Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union, once the largest body of fresh water on Earth, is now a desert.
The Sea of Azov, once the richest fishery on Earth other than the Chesapeake Bay and the Bering Sea, is now a biological wasteland.
In Turkey, 300 species of fish have disappeared from the Sea of Marmara.
The Black Sea will be dead in 10 years.
In Bangkok, Thailand, a city of over 10 million people, gas masks and particle masks are needed for protection against air pollution.
Scientists estimate that any child in Bangkok who reaches the age of six has already permanently lost seven IQ points because of brain damage from lead in the air.
In China, 100,000 people die of smog-related illness every year.
In Beijing, the biggest growth industry is oxygen bars, where people literally pay for a breath of fresh air.
Smog inversions in Mexico City kill 10,000 people every year.
All over the world, environmental decay has materialized into economic catastrophe.
As we know, the environment is the bedrock of your regional economy, attracting millions of tourists from around the world to the beautiful beaches and reefs of the Caribbean. That’s certainly the reason my family has been coming to the region for so many decades. Many generations will have to pass before the cleanup of the rivers and beaches of New England make them as desirable as the ecological resources of the Caribbean.
We know that the Caribbean is a magnet for tourism because of the environment. I have traveled the length and breadth of this region since I was a little boy. My family has been coming here for years. I have made dozens of visits to island chains and mainland coast, and have sailed and fished your beautiful waters. I have made friends for life in this region that I have come to love.
I also recognize the struggle in the Caribbean for economic development and democracy and have worked hard for both.
I have championed democracy in the Caribbean, working to respect the will of the Haitian people to restore President Aristide to office in Haiti.
I fought in the Congress to support the Caribbean Basin Initiative and to open our trading doors to your goods and services, and I was delighted to learn that just yesterday on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan majority in the US House of Representatives finally came through, passing a bill expanding duty-free access to the US for goods produced in the Caribbean and in Africa -- an important step in the development of your economy.
I also fought to protect the way of life of small, family-owned farms scattered throughout the Caribbean -- like banana farmers struggling to eke out a living on a few hectares who can’t possibly compete with the vast corporate plantations. And I understand the need for economic development that holds to the high standards of the Sandals resorts. You want and need development that offers a future rather than simply rapes and pillages your region’s history and ecology.
And we all know your resources are under tremendous strain.
Your coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate, virgin forests are disappearing, topsoil and sewage are washing into the sea, beaches are eroding, and solid waste is piling up.
Meanwhile, global warming threatens your whole way of life.
Global warming, caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, warms ocean temperatures and bleaches coral reefs, killing them slowly and inexorably.
Thirty-five million acres of coral reefs have been destroyed in the last few decades.
Seventy percent of all the world’s coral reefs could be destroyed in our lifetime if no action is taken.
The death of coral reefs will have devastating consequences on the ecosystem, as fully 25% of [the] world’s marine life lives in delicate balance with the reefs.
Global warming is also melting the polar ice caps and causing the seas to rise. Scientists are already predicting a half-meter rise in the sea level by the year 2050. Just two weeks ago, an iceberg the size of Connecticut broke off from Antarctica.
Rising sea levels will flood the coastal strips of the Caribbean, where the vast majority of the region’s population lives.
Any Doubting Thomases out there who are skeptical about the reality of global warming should check with Mother Earth. Tree rings, coral reefs, and ice bores all provide an extremely accurate record of global temperatures going back as far as six centuries.
Just recently, scientists concluded that record high water temperatures are destroying the coral reefs of Belize for the first time in 3,000 years.
Responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases lies primarily with industrial countries like the United States. Our nation has 5% of the world’s population but consumes over 25% of its energy resources. Our failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol puts us squarely in the way of efforts to slow down global warming.
Meanwhile, Caribbean nations must find ways to reduce pressures on the environment in their own backyard.
The great tropical forests of the Caribbean are in danger, coming under increased strain due to mining, development sprawl, and unsustainable agricultural practices.
Worldwide, the planet’s forest cover declined dramatically between 1980 and 1990, with most of the loss taking place in tropical countries. Today, half the forests that existed on Earth before the Industrial Revolution are gone. When forests are clear-cut [are] destroyed, topsoil washes into the sea, adding to the 26 billion tons of topsoil that have been lost in the last century. When forests disappear, so do the fragile ecosystems they support.
The disposal of solid and liquid waste is a continuing challenge to the Caribbean. In the United States, recycling now accounts for 25% of all disposal, up from 5% in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. Without stepped up recycling and better waste processing technology, the Caribbean environment will come under further strain.
We have made progress in our country. When Earth Day was first held in our country 30 years ago, I couldn’t swim in the Charles River, the Hudson River or the Potomac. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned with flames eight stories high and Lake Erie was declared dead.
Awareness of the environment through the work of activists and journalists like the people in this room helped created the political will for the passage of laws protecting our resources. Journalists helped teach us that it’s not only good policy to preserve the environment but good business as well.
Industrial ghost towns along the Great Lakes and river corridors of America now bustle with renewed economic activity as people move back to their cleaner shores.
But there is still much to do.
Industrial nations must do a better job in the areas of energy conservation, developing alternative energy sources, and using better technology to reduce emissions.
We all can learn a lot from failures in the US. No one wants industries that cost billions of dollars more in cleanup than they ever contribute to the economy. No one wants our Love Canals and nuclear dump sites.
Why not industries with clean technologies that preserve rather than destroy?
I don’t want you to take this message as an American coming here to tell you how to run your countries. You are the best stewards of your own resources. You understand the responsibility to preserve the history and ecology of your nations.
You understand that strengthening your environment will create rather than destroy your economic potential.
We must find better ways to harness wind and wave energy, geothermal resources, solar energy. We must squeeze more efficiencies from fossil fuels and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Developing these new technologies and creating new industries will create new jobs and sustain the economy while preserving the environment.
The cost of inaction is just too high.
I know I’m preaching to the choir tonight. The challenge before us -- as journalists, government leaders, and businesspeople -- is to enlarge the chorus.
Once again, I want to thank you for the opportunity to join you tonight and I want to congratulate our journalist winners for their great work to educate and inform the public about the mission before us.
The journalists in this room have done so much already to keep greed, corporate indifference and environmental irresponsibility from becoming the real Bermuda Triangle.
And working together, we can all win.