TUESDAY, JAN. 24: Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for this opportunity to talk a bit about BEST, the Bermuda Environmental sustainability Taskforce, and the work we do. Most often when people hear about BEST it is to do with some controversial issue. What many do not realise is that by far most of our work takes place “behind the scenes” as it were, and is hardly considered newsworthy.
Today I will speak about:
How we have approached our Mission
What are we doing now
Our concerns for the future for the Physical, Economic and Social Environments
What do we do?
Our mission statement is: “To preserve and enhance the quality of life in Bermuda for present and future generations by advocating for sustainable management and development of the physical, social and economic environments.” We are best known for our advocacy for the physical environment but, as I shall come to later, there are aspects of the economic and social environments that merit our attention too.
BEST has four main areas of activity. Number 1 is Responding to Events. That’s how we got our start. We monitor Planning applications twice a week and respond as appropriate. The first public stance of our predecessor was protecting the Botanical Gardens; our latest involved the development proposed for Devonshire Marsh. In between, there are dozens of developments where our interventions don’t become news items, and hundreds where we don’t intervene at all.
The 2nd area of activity is Influencing Policy
We would rather do more than just react. As examples of our efforts to influence policy, we made over forty submissions to the Draft Bermuda Plan 2008 — for which we received commendation, by the way. We also made a submission to the Ombudsman’s investigation into SDOs (Special Development Orders). We are anticipating release of her Report any day now.
The 3rd area, Education & Outreach includes youth activities, events like the annual Earth Day Celebration and public information events. We also produce position papers, and we distribute information via our website and Facebook.
Building Capacity is the 4th area of activity. That is to enable ourselves and other organizations to become more capable of fulfilling their missions. We initiated a community empowerment workshop a few years ago and recently initiated and hosted a workshop on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).
BEST tries to use innovative approaches to engage the community. For example, with The Botanical Gardens campaign, we invited members of the community to wear green one day in support of the campaign. This slide shows the senior and junior schools at Saltus wearing green, and a group of us standing at Crow Lane with Johnny Barnes.
Another innovation was what we called a ‘virtual petition’, where supporters took photographs of themselves holding a sign indicating their support, then posted the photos to a FaceBook page.
With the campaign at Southlands, it wasn’t easy to convey to the public the notion that South Road was to be diverted so that the Bermuda public would have to travel through a tunnel.
So early one morning we went to the site and stood on the roadside with placcards. The first one said, “You are now entering the tunnel.” Every fifty feet there was another sign saying, “you are still in the tunnel.” At the emergent point, which we had worked out from the plans, there was a sign saying, “you are now leaving the tunnel.” This really brought the point home to the public.
A few weeks later in another innovative action we wrapped ourselves in in yellow caution tape at the entrance and “declared” the site an environmental crime scene. We also hosted a South Shore walk. This was extremely well supported and again gave people a feel for what was there, and how it was likely to change. All our actions prompted the government to offer a swap of the near-pristine Southlands property for “brownfield” at Morgan’s Point — a win-win-win solution for the developers, the government, and the people of Bermuda.
Last year we co-hosted another walk, part of the Tucker’s Point campaign, again with the intention of showing the public first hand what was going to happen, what areas would be affected and what the alternatives were. An estimated 2,000 people joined that walk.
We had a number of other innovative approaches that were first used in the Southlands campaign. From this aerial shot you will notice that except for Southlands, Astwood Park, the Belmont Golf Course and two Nature Reserves (Warwick Pond) the land is densely dotted with white housing roofs. This should be an eye opener and should trigger questions as to whether or not we want the whole Island to be developed like this.
So to help illustrate to the public what was going to take place we did “Before and after shots”. On the left were live shots; on the right images from the developers’ website.
This aerial shot, courtesy of David Skinner, really conveys the beauty of the Southlands property. We then superimposed this shot from the developer's website to show how the area, once relatively pristine open space, would be completely transformed.
BEST has hosted several public forums. Our first was on Tourism and Sustainability that featured a stellar panel to discuss the issue. This past November we initiated and hosted a workshop on EIA Environmental Impact Assessments. We had approximately 75 professionals: architects, developers, planners and environmentalists who attended the workshop. This is the kind of thing we’d like to do more of.
We initiated a petition on Southlands and here is yours truly handing over to then Environment Minister Neletha Butterfield binders containing letters and petitions — over 3,200 signatures. We also did a petition on Warwick Long Bay, which gathered over 5,000 signatures and was presented to Members of Parliament on the front steps of the House of Assembly.
At Warwick Long Bay, in case you don't remember, there was a scheme to build a beach bar. We along with the residents of the area objected and the application was turned down by the Development Applications Board. The applicant then appealed to the Environment Minister. The Minister disregarded the advice of relevant government agencies and the Independent Inspector and allowed the appeal, without giving any reasons. We went to Court and won the Court case, which resulted in the appeal decision being reversed. This was a whole new dimension in BEST’s activities.
We published position papers. Here is a sampling of titles, the most recent being a review of the Shipping Channel Study. These are research papers. We have several volunteer researchers and each document is thoroughly vetted before they are released. And while we have been challenged on occasion for our point of view, we have never been challenged on our facts. Of that we feel very proud. We do this to raise awareness. These are all accessible through our website.
While we focus on environmental protection for the wellbeing mainly of humans, we cannot ignore other species who are fellow-inhabitants of this Island. Species like the longtail, the skink and the cahow. And of course bluebirds. [Calvin & Hobbes]
So this is what BEST is about. We support and promote sustainable development. What is sustainability? For us it is a system of management that balances near-term interests with the protection of the interests of future generations.
This brings me to the first of the major issues that we believe will impinge on our future, population growth [global pop slide]. Let’s start globally. The world's population is growing by 222,000 additional people per day. That’s births minus deaths, 222,000 every day (more than three times Bermuda’s total population); 9,260 every hour; 150 every minute; 2.6 every second.
Why is this important? Because every day those 222,000 additional people means the planet has to find 222,000 additional places at the global table for breakfast, lunch and dinner; 222,000 additional units of housing; 222,000 additional toilets and solid waste disposal capability, every day. Schoolbooks and school teachers for 222,000 additional children, every day. We have to be thinking about job opportunities, jobsites and paychecks for an additional 222,000 people today and every day this week, and every day next week. And, unless we want to introduce some diabolical scheme of war or disease or social design that compensates for that growth, that’s 222,000 additional people every day competing for everything we make use of.
Remember, we don't manufacture anything of substance that we consume here in Bermuda. Everything from cars and washing machines to iPods and cellphones, we have to import. We don’t contribute anything to the raw materials, the production and storage facilities, the transportation means or the fuel to power it all. The only thing we put up is the money for purchasing. And what do you know? That money also has to come from overseas — Bermuda dollars won’t buy a single peppercorn!
At the same time, we don’t produce a single thing that the rest of the world needs. All we have is a uniquely beautiful physical environment, a healthy and productive economic environment and a safe and cordial social environment — this is our edge. This is what has enabled us in the past to be on the leading edge with tourism and international business (IB). That was the basis of our success. I’ll come back to that.
But first let me touch on the local side of the population issue. Bermuda is adding one person per day due to natural increase, that is births minus deaths. While our rate of pop growth has slowed, we still must find an additional place at the table every day of every week of every month and year. Bermuda already has 3,200 people per square mile, making a 7th most densely populated state on the planet. Note that the six in front of us are all associated with larger land masses.
So we’re number 1 in population density for standalone communities. There are many things for which we are proud to be in front — this is not one of them. In densely populated territories, social and economic problems are linked to dense population. As examples (again from 2006-08 stats which were the last years before the current economic downturn began to bite): traffic congestion, accident increase, the shortage of affordable housing alongside an excess of luxury condo construction. Crime was up 70%; car thefts doubled and burglaries were up 11%. Crimes of violence were up 46%. Firearm offenses up from zero in 2007 to 8 in 2008 — now off the chart.
This graphic shows the Spirit of Bermuda with a backdrop that is not Bermuda. How do we know? Because there’s no houses or other development. Bermuda’s high and growing population density is eating away the few remaining rural areas. For example, look at Flatts in the 1950’s; and now at the same area in 2007 (the sandpile is Bierman’s quarry – note the size of it compared to nearby houses.) Here are a few more shots showing our sense development.
One of the proposals put forward a few decades ago to make more “efficient” use of land was to cluster the buildings together and leave some areas permanently undeveloped. It was a good idea. Unfortunately, the land left as open space was then further developed. So instead of having clusters surrounded by open space we have clusters surrounded by more clusters.
We've been also poaching on the open space at golf courses (notably the Fairmont Southampton Princess and Tucker’s Point), which are probably the most significant privately owned open spaces on the Island. This is something we’re keeping our eye on.
So why are we doing all this development? The blunt answer is that we are being forced into it to cater to the growth in population, aided by the forces of speculation. With population growth there is more demand for housing, parking space, open space, offices, recreational space, and so on. With speculation, there is a drive to build in excess of need.
That brings me to the second major issue that is affecting us now and will affect us more so in the future — a facet of our economic environment, our labour force.
While overpopulation is already a serious problem, Bermuda's pool of workers doesn't provide enough people to do all the jobs being created. We generate more business than we can fill solely with a local workforce. This situation has shifted lately with the economic tide, but it was true in 2006, when the economy was booming. What we were hearing from leaders was that we must create more jobs. But look at the statistics. In 2006, 75% of new jobs created went to people who had to be imported to do the work. Another 15% went to foreigners already living here. Non-Bermudian spouses of Bermudians took a further 4%. Only 6% of jobs created were filled by Bermudians.
Is this our economic future, that for every 100 jobs created, only 6 Bermudians will actually get a job? Or, looked at another way, in order to get 6 Bermudians employed, do we have to import 75 foreign workers? If that is our future, we are in serious trouble the demands of 75 workers for housing, transportation, food, recreation, entertainment and health and social services is an extortionate price to pay for putting a mere 6 Bermudians to work. This is not sustainable economic model. (As an aside neither is it a sustainable cultural model. Bermudas traditional cordiality cannot be demonstrated or preserved by a mere 6 workers in 100.)
So let me now turn to the social environment.
We recognize that a big part of successful tourism is about getting visitors to the Island; about having a variety of residence options, adequate transportation, entertainment and activities. But at its core, tourism is about relationships. In addition to our attention to infrastructure, hotels and activities, we must give attention to the relationships between our people as hosts, and individuals who come here as tourists and/or guest workers. This relationship is in jeopardy. The main providers of foreign currency are tourists and IB. The vast majority of them are white and they’re all foreign.
As a majority black population with racially injured past, we Bermudians must resist the temptation to present a hostile face to our clientele, most of whom are white, whether they be tourists or the movers and shakers of the IB sector. We must resist as locals the temptation to be hostile toward our guests who are predominantly foreign, whether tourists or imported workers.
Is there anything to gain by stirring up racial hatred when the vast majority of our clientele are white? I don’t think so. Is there anything to be gained by stirring up feelings of ethnic hatred, xenophobia? I don’t think so.
I call on citizens on all sides of the racial and ethnic divides to
speak without being offensive,
listen without being defensive and
disagree without being disagreeable.
These are prime ingredients in the recipe for a healthier social environment and will help insure our future success.
It wouldn’t hurt for these to be adopted as ground rules for every arena where healthy relationships can improve the outcome: parliamentarians in their debates, businesses in their meetings, parents and children in their homes, teachers in their classrooms, students on the playground, reporters/journalists in their writing, moderators for their weblogs, hosts for their talk shows — wherever what we say can be hindered or helped by how we say it.
Speak (write) without being offensive,
listen (read) without being defensive and
disagree without being disagreeable.
So there you have it. While we at BEST can see clearly our path to protect the physical environment, solutions for the economic and social environments are more elusive — they involve a wider dialogue. We do recognize, however, and accept our responsibility to analyse and comment on these facets of Bermuda’s environment as part of our Mission.
Our mascot Kermit the Frog would say, “It’s not easy being green”, but we’re trying our BEST.
Thanks for listening.