Define 'developed country' status
March 5, 2006
By Raffique Shah
THERE is no magic to a country like Trinidad and Tobago attaining developed country status, depending on the Government's definition of "developed". If it means consumerism, our people having access to the latest designer clothing, electronic gizmos and two-cars-per-garage, we are almost there. If it means importing most of our food requirements, hence forsaking agriculture, then we are already there.
If it means the middle-to-upper-crust of the society enjoying six-digit-annual salaries even as 70 per cent of the labour force struggle to survive on crumbs, we have been stuck in that mode for decades. If it means a capital city with an impressive skyline of multi-storey structures, we'll soon get there. After all, with oil and gas prices at their highest levels ever, and no sign of any decline, we can afford to "play ourselves", to be the "sheikhs of the Caribbean", as the late George Weekes described us during the first oil boom.
These goals, however, are myopic by any measure, and more so if one considers the plight of developed countries that focused on attaining these "heights", only to be struggling now to maintain the lifestyles they have spawned. The USA, of course, which is portrayed as the best among developed countries, and after which most developing countries pattern growth paths, is finding itself in dire straits. Recently, for example, Hurricane Katrina exposed the poverty-stricken-underbelly of this "most prosperous" of nations, and it was a shock to those who believed that everyone there lived in relative luxury.
It is also a country steeped in debt, living on borrowed money, beset by obesity, devoid of proper and accessible health care for its poor. Is this our role model?
In T&T, we are putting close to 30,000 new (or foreign-used) vehicles on our roads every year: in contrast, we have built nowhere close to 30 miles of new roads in the last 30 years! There are no plans for obsolescence, so 30-year-old vehicles "puff" away alongside shiny new limousines.
We leap forward into heavy industries, putting down more emission-spewing plants than any developed country would allow on their soil, without thinking what will happen to these when (not if) the gas and oil run out. We have literally murdered agriculture, not to add the culture of growing our own food.
We encourage our people to waste energy much the way Americans do-or did, until the recent oil-shock. Worst of all, we absolutely refuse to look at alternative energy, at alternative ways of developing the country so that we not only move forward, but we do so in a sustainable manner.
Take the new performing arts centre or whatever they call it, that is due to replace the existing facilities at the Savannah. The cash-laden Government proudly announced that a $700 million complex will replace them. Dollars always impress: $700 million for this, $800 million for a new stadium, however many billions to realign the capital's skyline, and so on.
When you have such money, why bother with some "ole fogeys" who are making what seem to be ludicrous suggestions for our future? They'll be long dead by the time these projects come on stream anyway. Colin Laird's design for the new Savannah complex was the complete solar-panel-roof of the new Grand Stand that would provide power, almost for eternity, for the entire facility. That makes sense for anyone who cares to peer into the future, who can envision what a developed country will look like 50 years hence. But why worry? We have oil and oil money to burn.
Sweden recently announced that it aims to be the first "green country" in the world. It is using its current wealth to diversify its energy sources away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Its neighbour, Denmark, currently draws 20 per cent of its energy (electricity) from wind turbines; by 2025, it hopes to take this level up to 50 per cent.
Japan, which has an installed capacity of 1200MW in solar power, uses half the solar modules made worldwide, for residential applications. Norway, a major oil producer, gets 45 per cent of its electricity from wind turbines. Germany is second only to Japan in usage of solar energy, while India, the giant that's awakening, has established that it has a solar potential of 600GW of power a day.
Given that we have another 20-30 years of fossil fuels, does it not make sense to plan for a future in which we are less dependent on oil and gas? Can the politicians, especially those in government, not see that we need to shape a "green" future, a country in which we balance ecology and development?
But for them, the burning question is not what we attain 50 years hence, but what will they say on elections platforms in 2007. While the Government preaches "Vision 2020", in practice it remains mired in the five-year mould that is detrimental to the country.