The lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song from the 1970’s, serve as a fitting lament to the derogation of Dominica’s natural environment for what is perceived as “development”.
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot,
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,
They’ve paved paradise and put in a parking lot.
My latest concern relates to the construction of a four-mile cable car route through the Morne Trois Pitons World Heritage Site.
The derogation of the world’s natural environment is nothing new. A century ago, the pioneering environmentalist, Sir George Stapledon wrote:
…the first thing to be decided is the priority of the innumerable claims that the modern state makes on its land surface. When a country is vast and the population is small, the question of priority of claims hardly arises: but in small islands the matter is of extreme urgency. If we take a long view of the case there is not an inch of land to spare, and it is an outrage to posterity to misuse a single yard of it.
Nearer to home, and closer to our time, Virgin Island poet Sheila Hyndman (1958-1991) while still a school girl, prophesized the future of her beloved homeland.
They will come with tools and machines.
They will bring to light your secret places,
They will demand your mysteries.
They will destroy, build up.
They will dilute your treasures,
And rob you of your chastity.
They will adorn you like ancient Jezebel.
My disillusionment of what is regarded as progress became acute when in I travelled the region in search of material for my book “Caribbean Sketches”. As with my earlier book, “Virgin Island Sketches”, I was working against the clock in attempting to capture each island before it degenerated into being the same as everywhere else. Cruise ship passengers step ashore to the same spurious scene at every port of call. We tend to forget that the individuality of places reflects the individuality of ourselves.
Our fundamental challenge is to re-evaluate the past in order to determine if what was originally considered “development” has in fact been in the best long-term interest of Dominicans. In connection with the airport, the Prime Minister has urged all citizens to, “reject the efforts of the enemies of progress”. But not all progress is necessarily beneficial to Dominica in the long term. And that is what those he labelled as “enemies” are concerned about.
Likewise, the Prime Minister has warned critics of the government’s national housing program that adverse criticism is not welcome because his work is guided by God… “I am basically an instrument…you will not be criticizing the Government; you will be criticizing God”. On the other hand, at last week’s press conference he stated that the lack of progress on the National Library was “because nobody wants to discuss that kind of debate”.
I can understand the frustration that the necessary checks and balances can cause. As Winston Churchill claimed:
Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.
In relation to the cable car project, first and foremost on the list of checks and balances should be an Environmental Impact Assessment. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been carried out.
While we laud this “Isle of Beauty” in our National Anthem, future generations may rightly accuse us of despoiling their legacy with insensitive development. I am sure that returning Dominicans want to find some visage of the land they left behind and that tourists are willing to accept the “Nature Island” on its own terms.
I have read the tempting cable car hyperbole:
It will feature Dominica as a major tourist destination as many people will be excited to come and visit the second-largest boiling lake in the world…A feasibility survey revealed that the completion of the cable car project would result in a three-fold increase in the country’s tourism…The 10-passenger detachable gondola would provide visitors with a fast, reliable and comfortable means of visiting the national park in less than 20 minutes, etc.
But putting the hyperbole aside, it was this video: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6H5teLsseY that clenched my views on the inappropriateness of the project.