Consider this: In our faces
PHILIP C. GALANIS
Published: Sep 09, 2013
We are truly a blessed people who live in what the millions of tourists who pay billions of dollars to visit The Bahamas consider to be a paradise blessed by an abundance of sun, sea and sand. Yet each day, we go about our activities, often oblivious to our surroundings, which we frequently take for granted. Therefore, this week we would like to Consider This... should we be more conscious about the one thing that is constantly and perennially in our faces – our environment?
Our environment is comprised of the air we breathe, the land we live upon and the seas that we enjoy. Let us examine each of these components of our environment and candidly assess how our interaction with, and treatment of, these three components of the world around us impacts our lives and our future.
The air we breathe
The air that we breathe is a mixture of gases including nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide and trace gases. Each day, we inhale around 14,000 liters of air as we take about 26,000 breaths, which is equivalent to about 150 bathtubs full. If this air contains pollutants, we also inhale them into our bodies and they can adversely affect our health and quality of life. To protect our health and the environment, we need to keep the air clean and free from pollution.
Many of our daily activities at home and in the workplace release chemicals and particles into the air we breathe. Automobiles release chemicals from their exhausts. If we burn fires to destroy our garbage, foreign particles and other chemicals are released into the atmosphere. These chemicals and particles released into the air affect the environment and our health because they contain contaminants or pollutants.
As they build up in the air, these contaminants produce air pollution, and the amount of pollution we produce depends on the rate at which the pollutants are dispersed into the atmosphere. Consider also the fossil fuels that we burn in our automobiles, our power plants and dumpsites. We are all offended by the buses and heavy-duty automobiles that release putrid exhaust emissions and unsavory odors. Yet, we have done little, if anything, to reduce our carbon footprint, either individually or as a nation.
There are many simple things we can all do to reduce the amount of air pollution that we produce. While auto exhaust emissions might appear to be minimal, primarily because the quantity and frequency is largely unseen, in the aggregate, these “small” amounts can add up to significant quantities that are already adversely affecting our health and the environment in many different ways. Consider how many Bahamians of all ages are seriously affected by sinus and respiratory problems like asthma.
We all have a role to play in improving our air quality by simply limiting the amount of pollution that we put into the atmosphere every single day of our lives. We are often amazed at the high incidence of cancer in our society, but have we paused long enough to consider whether we are all slowly shortening our lives by the amount of air pollution we produce daily and breathe into our bodies?
The first step in addressing and then solving air pollution is to recognize that it exists. We should establish indices to measure the level of pollution that we produce and frequently measure the quality of air in our environment at points all over our islands. In addition, as part of the annual automobile inspection and license requirements, we should systematically measure the amount of exhaust emissions that spews from our automobiles and other vehicles and require the owners to correct unacceptable levels of auto emissions before being issued a new license. We should also establish similar acceptable ways to measure the pollution that is created by industrial enterprises; for example businesses that burn fossil fuels in the production of electricity and the cruise ships that dock at our very front door in Nassau and in our other islands, big and small. This would achieve the dual objectives of correcting the hazardous effects of such pollutants and also reduce our national carbon footprint.
Driving around our islands, we are amazed at the amount of pollution that is created by the presence of derelict vehicles, abandoned appliances and other discarded refuse that is left in our neighborhoods and along the streets. In addition to producing an unsightly and unsafe environment, they also create habitats for rodent infestation, resulting in a health hazard. As a nation we need to provide a better and more reliable collection system for garbage in general and used cars and appliances in particular.
Polluting our oceans and seas
While it might not be as obvious as air and land pollution, given the nearly 100,000 square miles of water that surrounds our islands, the pollution of our seas and waters is a more challenging form of pollution that needs to be addressed. We have heard of the incidents of cruise ships and pleasure crafts dumping their waste in our waters. The pollution created by such ocean-going vessels adversely affects our coral reefs and fisheries. In addition, such pollution, after affecting our seas, often results in land pollution because these contaminants often wash up on our beaches, exacerbating the overall land pollution of our paradise.
A call to action
Definitive action is urgently required to address all forms of pollution. Greater education has to be provided about the causes of pollution and their adverse effects if we are going to eradicate all types of pollution. We can draw on the experience of the developed countries like the Clean Air Act of the United States and the anti-pollution initiatives and directives of the European Union. Stiff penalties and fines should be enforced against the enemies of the state who pollute our environment.
In the final analysis, pollution affects us all on a very personal level and also our overall way of life, not to mention the product we are selling to our tourists. For centuries these islands were known as a pristine destination for those who wanted to escape the pollution and grime of city life. Were we to ignore the growing threat pollution poses to that very special reputation, we would endanger our primary national livelihood.
The only way to effectively address the looming scourge of pollution in our communities requires definitive action now to curtail it. Failure to do so will ensure that this malady will forever remain in our faces as we watch our reputation as a shining sanctuary from smog and smut blow away on the ill-winds created by pollution.
In closing today, let me take a moment to briefly address the fact that this past week two days were devoted in two of our major dailies to my article of last week entitled “The PLP at 60” by someone who calls himself Kirkland Turner. Turner, we know who you are and your unmistakable identity, tone and tenor are patently clear, rose-colored glasses or not.
While I always welcome a healthy exchange on any of my topics, I find it impossible and impractical to engage in any kind of debate with faceless, nameless entities who feel it necessary to cowardly hide in the shadows behind pseudonyms, using their anonymity to enable them to make frivolous and personally insulting comments that perhaps their true identity would not allow them to do.
I do not hide behind any such devices and do not find it either fulfilling or constructive to engage with anyone who does. I look forward to the day when that particular writer mans up, unmasks, emerges from the shadows and steps into the sunshine so we can have a vigorous and substantive debate on the issues of the day.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.