11 October 2009

Fantasies, Follies, and Frauds

John Maxwell

If all my email could be taken seriously I should by now be able to pay off a significant portion of Jamaica's public debt. Every day I get two or three emails such as this:
"You have just been awarded, £750.000.00 GBP in the Toyota Online Promo, send us your Names,Address etc, etc., " and, if I were foolish enough to comply I WOULD have entered on a long walk to real penury and not be just habitually broke.
If I ever won a really big lottery prize one thing is certain; I would immediately set up a small centre for the aggressive protection of the public interest.    
Some scams are only slightly more subtle than the bogus letters I get. The one I am about to relate might have succeeded because it was premised on
1/ the idea that the Jamaican government has no scientific advice available to it and
2/ the belief that all Jamaicans have swallowed the Concrete=Development Kool-Aid.
A little while ago, some con-man who must consider himself a genius, managed to get the Prime Minister to unwittingly embarrass himself in public.

According to the Gleaner: A new aluminium refinery plant is to be established on Jamaica's north coast to facilitate clean coal technology, Prime Minister Bruce Golding has revealed.

"There is a proposal before us for the establishment of a new alumina refinery that is under consideration. Inherent in that proposal is the idea of establishing a clean coal plant, which will have a capacity of 100 megawatts (MW), only 40 MW of which would be required for its processing facilities and the other 60MW would be available for sale to the national grid," he said.
Mr Golding went on to speak about 'combined cycle gas turbine power generation' as if this was a brand new JPS invention, instead of a process employed in this country for forty years.
I wish to suggest that Mr Golding immediately arm himself with a scientific adviser to prevent his being taken advantage of by unscrupulous Public Relations experts with more nerve than conscience.

There is no such thing as "clean coal" despite the Gleaner's glib attempt to pass off the expression thus: "Clean coal is an umbrella term used to describe methods that have been developed to reduce the environmental impact of coal-based electricity."

Goodbye, 'Goggle-eye'

That is in itself an idiotic explanation; coal-based electricity has no more environmental impact than any other electricity. The environmental impact comes from the power-plants that generate electricity and the impact depends on the fuels they use. Coal is by far the most environmentally dangerous fuel and the major contributor to global warming and climate change.
GREENPEACE expresses the case succinctly:
"Coal is a highly polluting energy source. It emits much more carbon per unit of energy than oil and natural gas. CO2 represents the major portion of greenhouse gases. It is, therefore, one of the leading contributors to climate change.…The huge environmental and social costs associated with coal usage make it an expensive option for developing countries. From acid drainage from coal mines, polluting rivers and streams, to the release of mercury and other toxins when it is burned, as well as climate-destroying gases and fine particulates that wreak havoc on human health, COAL is unquestionably, a DIRTY BUSINESS.
"It is a major contributor to climate change – the biggest environmental threat we face. It is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, emitting 29% more carbon dioxide (CO2) than oil, 80% more … per unit of energy than gas."
There are ways to make coal burning marginally less polluting but they are all expensive and some are dangerous.
The most basic efforts at burning coal more 'cleanly' involve enormous amounts of fresh water. Where in Jamaica would we get that from, and what would happen to the used water?
That water, if pumped into the ground would complete the poisoning of our groundwater now underway by the bauxite companies. If pumped into the sea it would acidify and poison the water and kill marine life. Goodbye goggle-eye.
And the hotels would be on water-rationing.
But the main challenge in 'clean coal' technology is not just sanitising the coal, it is to dispose safely of the carbon dioxide. So-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) involves extracting the CO2 from the smokestacks, and pressuring it until it freezes when, theoretically it will be pumped into secure salt domes and empty oil reservoirs deep underground.
There are two small objections to this scenario: one is that here are no known vacant subterranean spaces in this geologic neighbourhood; and second: the elevated seismic profile of this area is, a priori, a veto on such a practice.
While carbon dioxide may behave itself under pressure in sandstone, in limestone CO2 becomes chemically active and soon starts dissolving ways out of its subterranean confinement.
This is probably what is meant by the expression: "All Hell breaks loose!"
In this part of the world burning coal for any reason is an act of lunacy.
There are a few more small problems with building a bauxite plant in the Cockpit Country.
Above all is the naked threat to civilised values, the destruction of culture, the devastation of important, unique and irreplaceable biological resources, the irredeemable pollution of underground aquifers, the ethnic cleansing of history and tradition, the subversion of small farming and the eradication of our capacity to feed ourselves. From my point of view it looks a little like cultural genocide.

The Falmouth Fatuity

    A few months ago I told you about the enormous self-contained resort ships that are about to go into competition with the local tourist industry. These new Titanics, owned by the Royal Caribbean Lines, attempt to recreate a complete land based environment at sea. I wondered at the time at the wisdom of the Port Authority financing facilities designed to compete directly with our local hospitality industry. As I wrote six months ago:

"What RCCL is doing is to transform their ships into the seagoing equivalents of Montego Bay, Negril, Las Vegas or Miami Beach.
On their newest ship, the oxymoronic
Oasis of the Seas five thousand or so passengers will be housed in a floating resort town, with casinos, discos, nightclubs, dozens of restaurants, fitness centres, adventure playgrounds, bijou jungles, forests and beaches, parks, promenades, boardwalks, mini-golf courses, swimming pools, rock climbing walls, tennis courts, watersports, basketball courts, ice-skating rinks, jogging tracks, and of course, no importunate natives.

THe ship will be its own destination and its visits to places like Jamaica will be simply to dispose of waste, take on cheap water and give the staff some R&R and allow passengers to go molest some caged wildlife" (The Racehorse's Egg
April 30,2009)

The putative benefits of the Titanic visitations are supposedly that five thousand people a week will arrive to embark on frenzied tours of Jamaica, consuming local views, buying local goods, interacting with local people and distributing scarce benefits as they go.
The reality is different

Paul Motter, editor of the enthusiast Web site Cruisemates, said. "I think it's going to be the first ship where people truly book just for the ship and hardly care where it goes."
Tor Olsen, one of the ship's captains, quoted by the
Washington Post said:
Our hope, of course, is that people don't get off, because this ship itself is the destination," Olsen said. "This is better than a lot of the islands."

And even if the passengers disembark in Falmouth they will be carefully shepherded into those shops and attractions which have paid the cruise line – under the table – for 'approved' status.
The curio sellers can go peddle their papers somewhere else.

Human Roadblock

The Port Authority's scheme may have run into a small but significant roadblock. The PAJ, under some unknown authority, has decided to exercise its 'right' to clear the fishing village at Falmouth.
The Beach Control Authority, now part of the NRCA/NEPA complex, has a prescribed duty to defend the prescriptive rights of fishermen and the public to the beach. I would advise the fishermen of Falmouth to get a lawyer to serve a writ of mandamus on the     NRCA to compel them to do their duty and to take the PAJ to court to establish and entrench the human rights and public interest in this matter.
Which brings me to ask: what kind of Environmental Impact Assessment could have ignored those rights? And how could the NEPA approve such a fundamentally flawed development?
Unlike some people I believe the law should be a shackle – at least to prevent the unscrupulous extinction of the public rights and the public interest.
The media have not asked any serious questions about one of the largest single investments ever to be undertaken in this country – the transformation of our beautiful heirloom Falmouth into a gated them park for a specially invited clientele.
Jamaica is borrowing more than it can afford to repay, to build an exclusive pleasure dome to please the billionaire owners of Royal Caribbean Lines.
These people can get away with this only in Jamaica.
In Port Everglades where the taxpayers are building an even bigger version of the Falmouth Fantasy, the authorities there have shown what responsible development is.
In the first place, the Port Everglades facility will cost just half as much our Great Blue Elephant – US $75 million to US$140 million. In the second place Royal Caribbean is paying about half the cost of the Port Everglades facility:
"As part of the agreement, Royal Caribbean will reimburse up to $37.4 million in capital expenditures for expansion and related infrastructure needs of Terminal 18, which is already one of the largest cruise passenger terminals worldwide. Along with sister brands Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises, Royal Caribbean International will generate approximately 17 million in passenger volume (embarking and disembarking) at Port Everglades during the first 10-year term of the contract."
And, an economic impact study (What's that?) conducted by Martin and Associates as part of the Port Everglades Master/Vision Plan, projects that homeporting the Genesis ships at Port Everglades will create more than 3,844 jobs, generate $172 million in personal income and $15.9 million state and local taxes. In addition, the analysis anticipates that more than 858 new construction jobs will be created during Terminal 18 expansion."
What's really interesting about all this is that Port Everglades while spending one third of the money we are, is getting benefits worth more than twice as much – and they have a contract that says so and is enforceable.
All this begs the question: Just what are the Jamaican people getting for their US$140 million investment?
Do we have a contract? Do we have any guaranteed return on this enormous investment?
Is the development in the public interest? If it is not,
Shouldn't the investment be terminated?
I believe the Contractor General and the Public Defender need to investigate this matter.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

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