The writing is on the wall: Trinidad and Tobago’s golden calf is not so golden anymore. The days when oil and gas were the most lucrative of all commodities are gone forever.
China, the most populace country and the biggest producer and buyer of motorised vehicles has announced that it plans to phase out fossil fuel-powered motors in a bid to cut carbon emissions that give the Chinese one of the biggest carbon footprints in the world. They are following in the footsteps of the British and French who plan to ban the production and sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Although the Chinese have not put a date on the ban, their very intention to have electric battery cars and plug-in hybrids accounting by 2025 for at least one-fifth of its vehicle sales — last year that amounted to one-third of the global market — should be enough to have every oil and gas producing country urgently reconsidering its situation.
I imagine it will be a very long time before aeroplanes, large sea craft or even space vessel launchers could be reliably propelled by any energy source other than fossil fuels, but for economies such as ours that are almost totally reliant on diminishing carbon-based energy reserves that are of declining commercial value, the need to move to a more mixed economy has intensified. If the proposed ban and other developments in the last week do not spur us on, then nothing will.
There is little doubt, according to reports I read, that Hurricane Irma’s lasting power was derived in large part from the warmth of the Caribbean Sea — 1.5 degrees centigrade warmer than previously.
If our island states don’t show any interest in safeguarding our welfare by reducing our own contribution to global warming, then why should others care to do so? Do we want to continue being passive recipients of whatever is dolled out to us, good and bad?
The time has come for us to be brave and change the agenda while we still have time to do so relatively painlessly. But maybe we need to have our backs right up against the wall, like Jamaica did.
With tourism as one of its few national revenue earners, Jamaica set an example in creating Sandals as a first-class homegrown Caribbean tourism product, large and good enough to see off US domination of tourism in Jamaica and the region.
One man, I suppose supported by good advisers and a lot of financial strength, was able to change the status quo, almost certainly with the cooperation of the Jamaican government.
There must be other opportunities. Consider organic agriculture and the eco-food industry that today is worth over US$90 billion globally, and growing by about seven per cent annually.
We are all increasingly aware of what we eat, and organic food is gaining popularity here; instead of sourcing produce in now hurricane-ravaged Miami, can TT farmers be better supported in urgent new farming methods to meet this new demand? Could we replace US-produced eco-foods and even become exporters?
It is a long, complicated road to get to wherever we decide we want to go but we need to start that journey with some conviction.
For sure, many people living in Trinidad, including the self-interested middle classes who shortsightedly consider this a wealthy nation, will not agree to anything that hits them in their pockets but there is a growing widespread feeling that we must change course, and I firmly believe that a visionary government could lead where people know they must follow, even reluctantly.
The problem is that all governments want to be popular and fulfil their role as the wielders of political power, but while our political parties refuse to work together for the benefit of our future we are pretty well doomed.