Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Inconvenient Truths Key for Planning Island Economies Future

North Korea is rattling nuclear sabres; Canada has pulled out of a major UN convention to combat land degradation; the Sea Shepherd Society have been named pirates by a US court; dolphin safe tuna is considered a trade barrier; and yet another strain of bird flu is causing human deaths and forcing the massacre of thousands of birds.

Sounds biblical - if you believe in that kind of thing. But I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that defers my personal responsibilities to God [insert your deity of choice here]. God will do God’s job, I will do mine.

In the eyes of a sustainable development expert, it signals what happens population pressures clash with environmental capacity. No species is immune to its dependency on the environment that supports it. So how does this seemingly esoteric thought lead us back to the realities of development on a small island state?

There are several ways:

I would posit that all the small island states should be structuring their economies in keeping with global trends such as regionalism and market diversification; just enough to keep up with the pack, so to speak. Since you don’t want to pull the plug on what is before you know what you’re heading into. But I would also hazard that any economic planning that is going to carry small island economies into the future must prepare for the CUT OFF.

Imported: Food, medicine, clothing, building supplies, water, seeds, fertilizers, energy, transportation, technology….access to shipping, air travel, free movement of people…

The industrial honeymoon is over and the disturbing world trends mentioned above are only a two week snapshot of headlines.  Anyone that tries to move into the future with a business-as-usual approach will be planning for social, economic and environmental failure.

So what is required to plan for a future unknown to us that balanced between the optimism needed for socioeconomic prosperity and the realism needed for survival? A great place to start would be to recognize the inconvenient truths (Thanks for the phrase, Al, it’s really applicable to so many things!) around us, and then to turn those truths into opportunities before they kick us in our collective ass.

Regardless of why, our climate is changing. So whatever we plan to do our economies it had better be packaged with a high degree of resiliency.  Building codes need to reflect the realities to come, land use planning needs to prioritize food and water first – as a long term profit plan rather than a short term one.
Regardless of why it is happening (psst hint: population pressure, mad scientists, dozy doctors), we are have an ever increasing vulnerability to disease. So whatever we plan had better take this into consideration such as our concepts of productivity, the length of a work week,  sick leave, survivor benefits – and not just quarantine procedures.

We need innovators, not followers. Education needs to generate the intellectual capacity for effective systems management in a small island state so that prosperity can be achieved within our domestic and regional means. The Caribbean follow-the-leader teaching methods need to be expunged from our educational culture as quickly as possible.

And we have to be prepared for the likelihood of a large-scale war as the squeeze between population and resources continues to climb. This means ensuring we have developed core capacities in medicine, science, engineering, agriculture and energy. If we train good doctors but leave ourselves reliant on pharmacological trade cut off by a world war, that’d suck. Ask anyone who’s lived through a cholera epidemic how ‘crappy’ it is to have large scale death for people who can’t access drugs that can cure them. And the argument can be made over and over for all the systems that support the lifestyles we live now.

One very bright lining to this rather troublesome train of thought is that Island people are far more resilient that your average city dweller. We still know how to build our homes, grow things, fix things and do things that a few generations of city dwellers have long forgotten.
Island people are survivors.

Look at Cuba as an example – they may not have an automotive engineering industry, but they sure have succeeded in keeping cars on the road long past their shelf life. Grenadians rebuilt an entire country in three years after 90% of the country’s infrastructure was leveled by Hurricane Ivan. Go there now and you’d never know the event occurred as recently as 2004. And Haitians who have every reason in the world to throw up their arms and give up, defy the obstacles in their way and keep forging ahead.

In many ways, we’re better positioned to ride out the future than most countries in the world, but our success in doing so will depend greatly on our foresight and whether we take inconvenient truths into consideration when governing our countries and planning our economic future.  For now, we need to invest in tourism, create jobs, reduce our debt and keep our island safe. But, while we’re doing that, we must plan to achieve food security, energy security, water security and social security as successes defined by our ability to meet these needs without outside help. If any of our Islands in the Region are able to achieve this in the next ten years – our future will be bright indeed.