IT has become almost impossible to take a breath of fresh air in TT, said former president Justice Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, who called on people to rid the earth of the blight of air pollution in all its forms.
"How is it we have allowed the citizenry of the Beetham and Sea Lots to breathe such carcinogenic air year after year? We have been asleep at the gates of environmental protection. In urbanised communities, clean air is becoming a diminishing commodity, a feature of the past and a stark reminder of generational irresponsibility," he said yesterday.
Carmona was the feature speaker at the launch the Carbon Zero Initiative of TT (CZITT) 1,000 trees challenge at Chaguanas Borough Corporation. It is a collaborative effort of the Felicity Environmental Conservation Organisation (FECO), the High Commission of India and CZITT, an NGO. The initiative also commemorates of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as well as World Environment Day.
Carmona, the patron of CZITT, referred to the "health erosive Beetham" as an almost insurmountable repository of air pollution.
"Globally, we are all waiting to exhale, to feel a sense of relief from the callous acts of environmental degradation, indifference and apathy."
He told the gathering that air pollution also has detrimental effects of on flora and fauna. He said wildlife is susceptible to the same symptoms and diseases as human beings. Smog comprising particles and gases, easily penetrate deep into the body, damaging the lungs causing respiratory ailments.
"We cannot sit back and hope for the best for without aggressive transformative action we will continue to live in a fool’s paradise. Do we have in TT an effective and implementable clean air strategy with clear cut objectives and targets for managing air quality? The management of our air quality cannot be sporadic or reactionary but must be constant."
He suggested that buildings and spaces should not be "woefully concretised" and green spaces should be mandatory. He also said there should be solar lighting in all cities and towns.
"We must stop building highways for highways sake and do so holistically creating zones for electric vehicles and vehicles using clean energy. I do hope that the intended upgrade of Skinner Park will not sacrifice green spaces for car parks and energy conservation measures are put in place," Carmona said.
He quoted several statistics and reports including a 2016 report about the America-British Carnival Corporation that pleaded guilty to seven charges for intentional pollution by a ship at sea. This illegal practice, he said, was reported by an engineer on board the Caribbean Princess where a so-called "magic pipe" was utilised to surreptitiously discharge oily waste off the coast of the UK.
The evidence in the court revealed that in August 2013 there was a single discharge of 4,227 gallons of contaminated water released some 20 miles off the coast of England. The Princess Cruise lines as part of a plea agreement, agreed to pay US$40 million penalty and agreed to submit 78 cruise ships across its eight brands to a five-year environment compliance programme overseen by a judge.
These graphic statistics demonstrate a silent crisis that awaits the Caribbean from the growing proliferation of cruise liners in the fragile Caribbean marine environment, said Carmona
"This type of pollution has a callous and debilitating effect on our coral reefs, one of our major tourist attractions. We, therefore, need appropriate legislation with appropriate heavy financial sanctions to prevent such environmental violations in the Caribbean Sea. We are not immune."
Other speakers were Chaguanas Mayor Gopaul Boodhan, founder of CZITT Donald Baldeosingh, retired industrial chemist Prem Nandlal, head of FECO Karen Nandalal and acting High Commissioner of India to TT Raj Kamal.
All speakers called for people to do their part in making TT become carbon neutral by 2050.
According to the mayor, humans have forgotten how to be good guests, and how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.
Boodhan said: "We are living on this planet as though we have another one to go to. Over the decades, we have seen the tremendous impact of global warming on our environment which has severely affected our people."
Like Carmona, he applauded Baldeosingh, CZITT, as well as all other contributors who have shown their commitment to ensuring society is preserved for future generations.
The grass is not always greener on the other side. Boodhan said it is greener when people water it.
Boodhan said: "Chaguanas has always worked towards creating healthier communities. We have collaborated with our corporate sector and other stakeholders in planting over 1500 trees throughout the borough as conservation and beautification of our environment is one of our pillars of development."
The acting High Commissioner praised Gandhi, who he said was a transformative leader and an environmentalist among other titles. His teachings formed the basis of Indian culture. In commemoration of his 150th birth year anniversary, the High Commission has embarked on a year long celebration through numerous initiatives such as yesterday’s planting ceremony to connect with the diaspora in TT.