Every economic venture has an environmental cost, Minister of the Environment and Housing Hon. Romauld Ferreira told a University of The Bahamas (UB) audience who engaged him in a conversation on Ethics, Environment and the Economy on Thursday, 12th March. Addressing scores of students, faculty and staff in the RBC Auditorium of the Franklyn R. Wilson Graduate Centre, Minister Ferreira said decisions to advance the country’s economy, particularly by way of proposed developments, are almost always win-lose situations. He noted that the question government leaders ponder is: do we sacrifice the needs of the one for the needs of the many, or do we sacrifice the needs of the many for the one? “We can make these decisions, and we do,” said Minister Ferreira. “We make them in Parliament, we make them in Cabinet, we make them in the everyday course of our lives. We can make these decisions, but they do have effects. And how do we know what the right thing to do is?”
“A Conversation with the Minister of the Environment and Housing” was one of several events held in observance of UB’s Chemistry, Environmental and Life Sciences Week whose theme was “The Science of Sustainability: Fostering “Homegrown” Practices in The Bahamas”. Delving further into the tough decisions the government must make to advance the nation’s economy, Minister Ferreira explained that some issues pertaining to the environment are black-and-white and fairly easy to resolve, such as remedying the multiple fires that ravaged the New Providence landfill and containing the legacy oil spills at Clifton Pier. Others, he said, are not so simple to resolve, like the government’s recent ban on single-use plastics. Minister Ferreira said The Bahamas’ largest retailer uses 38 million plastic bags annually and his ministry has estimated that there are between 80 and 100 million plastic bags in a country whose population is approximately 400,000.
“Every single bit of plastic ever produced is still in existence,” he explained. “It’s still here. It breaks down finer and finer, it enters the food chain, we’re eating it. When we catch that little grunt off the rock, friend has been eating micro-plastics. This is a huge problem “You’d be hard pressed to find an environmental group that would disagree with that. Now, you might find a lot of Bahamians that say ‘well, we think this is a bad idea, we want our plastics bags, we don’t want to change’. What is the right thing to do in that situation?” He also referred to the contentious matter of the Disney Cruise Lines port at Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera. The government and Disney Island Development Limited signed a Heads of Agreement for the construction of a cruise port and entertainment facility at the south Eleuthera destination. However, while local environmental groups and an international organization collectively launched a campaign against the project, citing it as a major environmental threat to natural resources, some south Eleuthera residents supported it.
“How do you balance that out?” the minister questioned. “How do you work out what the right thing to do is in that situation? Do you ignore the needs of the community? Do you ignore the people in south Eleuthera that are crying for it? Do you ignore the fact that Eleuthera is essentially an under-developed island, that south Eleuthera is in extreme poverty?” Minister Ferreira said regardless of the decision made in any situation, the outcome will almost always favour one party while disadvantaging another group. “This is why when we talk about ethics, the environment and the economy, this is what we’re balancing,” he said. “How do we do the greatest good for the greatest number of people? How do we achieve that average? “Every economic activity has an environmental cost,” he added. “How do you make that decision? How do you go about making those decisions? That’s the real crux of the matter.”