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By Carlena Knight

Marine biologist John Mussington is adamant that if society does not find the balance between economic interests and environmental protection, Antigua and Barbuda will suffer the consequences.

Mussington was speaking on a recent Big Issues programme when he made the comments in the context of the ongoing matter — between the YIDA principals and environmentalists — of the perceived damage to mangroves along the Guiana Island coastline.

The Chinese firm, once again, came under fire about two weeks ago, but it continued to deny any wrongdoing at its developmental site off Crabb’s Peninsula.

All species of mangroves are listed as protected plants under the Environmental Protection Act of 2019, but last year the government sanctioned the removal of mangroves at the development with the expectation that the company would replant thousands of trees to replace them.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne said at the time that Cabinet took a political decision to give an “override” so there could be “surgical removal of mangroves” to create about two or three beaches for the billion-dollar Antigua and Barbuda Special Economic Zone (ABSEZ).
However, Mussington is of the opinion that the government does not understand the meaning of true sustainable development.

Sustainable development encapsulates plans or ways of living, working and being that enable all people of the world to lead healthy, fulfilling, and economically secure lives without destroying the environment and without endangering the future welfare of people and the planet.

“We don’t have a choice. We either do it right or we will just cease to exist and the economy will just fail. Most of the problems, I think, stems from the fact that we do not understand what development is and what it should be. All development is not good. There’s development that’s sustainable and there’s development that leads us down a track which will eventually cause us all to crash, and our goal should really be in terms of the policies we set and the economic development that we are gearing at is to choose the form of development which is sustainable [and] which is going to meet the needs of our people, and do not compromise our future generations from being able to meet those needs, “ Mussington said.

He credited this lack of understanding to the fact that the government and society on a whole view the environment as a commodity and not a part of residents’ lives.

“The environment is not something sitting out there, apart from us; we are the environment. The environment is a critical part of us and our biggest mistake is coming from the fact that we are pursuing a policy which looks at the environment as a commodity which you can exploit for development and the wrong type of development at that.

“We are now left in a situation where it seems as if the policy is making it imperative that we have to exploit the environment thing because we need to develop…but what we need to realise is that we are at a position now, based on that sort of thinking, that we now have a climate crisis, and I dare say that in some quarters, it is believed that what we are facing now in terms of the [coronavirus] pandemic has something to do with how we have treated and misused the environment. We are now facing the consequences of it, so we need to think totally different in terms of what the environment is, what development should be and the way we should be going about doing it,” Mussington said.

Environmentalist Eli Fuller supported Mussington’s position on the issue of sustainable development.

Fuller, who is also a businessman, said that the avenue being taken by the government in developing the tourism industry is nowhere close to what it should be in following the sustainable development goals.

He also pointed out that industries will come and go but society should not compromise the treatment of the environment for temporary success.

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