I’ve already blogged briefly about last week’s conference, and how stimulating it was, how worthwhile. I want to take some time now to talk about the things that stayed with me, things that changed me. We’re a nation that doesn’t talk much, or even think much, about how ideas, how thinking itself, can change people. We tend to spend a lot of time talking about feelings (if you don’t believe me, just pay attention to the next time someone with a grievance is interviewed on TV and count how many time they use the term “I feel” and compare it with the number of times they use “I think”) and even more time clamouring about the (re)actions those feelings produce, like the slap heard round the Bahamas (and discussed in more glowing terms, with less reflection and more vigour than any physical violence has the right to be) or the lawsuit about, of all things, the “right” of students to have a graduation ceremony.
The talk that impacted me the most, I think, the one that made me think differently about myself, about my country and its future was last Wednesday evening’s plenary on sustainable living. The two talks were very different in focus, but the message of them both was the same: we are at the mercy of decision-makers who do not take our needs into consideration, who play at running this archipelago of islands with more than local significance without really taking the time to understand what it is they are making decisions about. Margo Blackwell’s talk about climate change, Andros and our Bahamian future (“I seriously have to ask,” she said (I’m paraphrasing), “whether we will be here forty years from now”) pushed me to think about just that—whether The Bahamas will be around one hundred years hence. The sea levels of the world are rising. Coasts are eroding. Our nation is among the top ten countries in the world most at risk of disappearing beneath the ocean, but for the past twenty years the philosophy of our governments has been to abdicate all responsibility for sensible development and civic duty in favour of 1980s policies of liberalization, commodification of Bahamian land, and greed.
The second half of the evening, the talk given by Richard Stoffle on sustainable development, how it’s expensive and time-consuming but really the only way to ensure the best outcome for the changes we want or need to see in our nation, was more familiar territory for me, but was no less life-changing. He revealed, for instance, how the Four Seasons development in Exuma was environmentally devastating to that most beautiful of all our islands: how the demands of the two golf courses broke the freshwater lens that provided Exumians with potable water and how people now have to buy all their drinking water, the way we do in Nassau; how the garbage produced by the resort has nowhere to accommodate it and so how it is simply being dumped in a blue hole, and how, had the government taken the time to involve the Exumians themselves in discussions about development, jobs and the rest, a very different scenario might have resulted, one that might have a chance of long-term success (no offence to Sandals, but how many people really believe that the Four Seasons experiment is going to survive?).
If you listen to it, remember that this talk, which has changed the way I think about us and our life, was ignored because on that very same day one MP slapped another and every talk show discussed that event, so fleeting, so symbolic and reinforcing of all that is wrong with our nation, and ignored this conversation that might help us think more constructively and urgently about what we need to do right.