Saturday, Sep 21, 2019
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The Bahamas’ economic outlook

Dear Editor,

The recent piece in The Nassau Guardian by Zhivargo Laing, which he presented to a “group of financial executives in The Bahamas”, left much to be desired from my perspective. Actually, I believe it fell flat on its face.

I have read many of Laing’s articles in the past and have found him to be quite reasonable. However, in today’s world, speaking on the medium- and long-term prospects of The Bahamas’ economic condition requires much, much more than just a snapshot of fiscal, monetary and business considerations.
I recently asked my sister-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, how many doctors’ opinions she needed for her to be convinced that she actually had cancer and that she should undertake the radical treatments of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy recommended by them. I think she said that after the second doctor confirmed her test results she was completely confident that she had cancer and needed to act quickly. She is alive and well today for trusting in her doctors’ experience and acting upon their sound advice. She had a mastectomy, underwent radiation treatment and had chemotherapy – all radical procedures.
The recent reports by the world’s most eminent scientists are now saying that humanity has a very limited time to act to avert “catastrophic” effects of climate change and the collapse of our living world. In essence, they are saying that our Earth has stage four cancer. Many of these scientists are saying human extinction is likely. These are not crackpots. These are the most educated and brilliant scientists the world has to offer. We ignore their findings and recommendations at our own risk.

Just as my sister-in-law would have been irresponsible to ignore her doctor’s diagnosis that she had advanced breast cancer, so too are we irresponsible in ignoring these scientists’ findings as regards to the near-term effects of climate change and ecosystem collapse for us here in The Bahamas.

To that end, I find Laing’s testimony and prognosis on the Bahamian economy wholly inadequate, conspicuously incomplete and frankly irresponsible. I find it irresponsible in the sense that those of us who have the education, ability and position in life to take a look ahead, based on the available information, must unequivocally do so, and yet for the most part today refuse to do so. Laing’s economic outlook is an example of this.

I realize that Laing, as chief negotiator for The Bahamas’ WTO accession process, is paid to proffer these “supposed” World Trade Organization benefits to our people. And, I also realize that all of us are embedded in this un-Christian and wholly unfair economic system called capitalism. With that said, I am unable to take seriously Laing’s statement, “In summary, what is the country’s economic outlook? In the short term, marginal; in medium term, better but modestly optimistic; and long term, uncertain”.

I have followed the science regarding climate change and the collapse of our biosphere rather carefully over the last few decades. What we are now seeing is scary to even the scientists involved in these observations. Climate change is happening faster than was predicted only a short time ago. What we are witnessing in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica is unprecedented in millions of years. What we are witnessing with regard to the loss of our natural world is unprecedented on a similar time scale. To suggest that our economic fate is not unquestionably and inextricably tied to what is happening with our climate and living world around us is utterly foolish and completely wrong; deserving of an “F”, if I were the teacher.

I agree that VAT hit us hard in the wallet. As do low productivity, graft, theft, corruption and other factors we may have some control over, as Laing rightfully points out. Yet, to fail to plug into the equation the near certain adverse effects of climate disruption, stronger and more frequent hurricanes, rising sea levels, extinction of key food sources and other “very likely” medium- and long-term disruptions to the economic well-being of this country is downright irresponsible.

These increased and multiplied threats will translate into more economic volatility and major disruptions in the lives of our people in the medium and long term. Of this, there is little doubt.

To suggest that these factors will not be the major drivers of our economic condition is to be totally clueless or intellectually reckless about the realities and existential crisis we are facing.

There is little good news about the prospects for The Bahamas in the medium- to long-term. As one of the most vulnerable countries in the world, our national conversation, our national awareness seems to be rather childish, adolescent.

Many Bahamians think drilling for oil is still a good idea. Many Bahamians think an oil refinery is just dandy. Many Bahamians think sea level rise does not pertain to us. Many well-educated Bahamians continue to ignore the writing on the wall – irresponsibly, I would maintain.

What all the science has been pointing to is this: very, very soon, humanity must come together and radically alter our lifestyles. Radically. There must be a complete revolution in mindset. We must rethink every aspect of our lives. We must enter into emergency mode as many of our top, honest scientists are saying. We must act as if the doctors have told us we have stage four cancer.

Last year in The Guardian of England there was this headline and subhead: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN”, “Urgent changes needed to cut risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty, says IPCC”.

And yet, I see very little in our nation’s papers of what should be front page in the daily news. You would think that those editors of the newspapers in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries would already be in emergency mode. But, no. The facts, studies and recent findings are being presented daily in various publications throughout the world. And, if you are paying attention, they should scare the hell out of you. I will not include the recent findings and consensus of the vast majority of scientists. These are available to anyone with the spark of inquiry. They are not pretty.

I recently attended my son’s graduation from preschool in Andros. I appreciate the fact that the Ministry of Education has set the goal of graduating 85 percent of students from high school, up from the present dismal 50 percent, by 2030. However, what must be a concurrent goal is to ensure that we are teaching fundamental critical thinking skills to these students, not just preparing them for the job market.

The future of this country lies in the ability to rapidly increase the knowledge base, the critical thinking skills of our populace, and to introduce moral imperatives to those leaders who will represent the best interests of all Bahamians. Presently, we lag far, woefully far, behind the requirements needed for us to face the most important existential crisis of our time.

And, that time is happening now.

I have no faith in the WTO to better the lives of Bahamians. I have less faith in the business community to tell us the truth. I would like to have the faith that Bahamians could be counted on, from every walk of life, to see the facts and listen to the experts on how we should be acting in the face of the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Is it really necessary to say that our future depends upon it?

– Norman Trabulsy Jr.

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