R. Rose
December 4, 2009

Combatting climate change

The past couple of weeks have been characterized nationally by an intense campaign which went far beyond the bounds of constitutional provisions to evoke strong political and even personal differences that had their bearing on the results of the referendum. As we enter the traditional Christmas season there is need to cool passions and to lighten the air even as we maintain our sobriety. This week therefore we can attempt to take a lighter look at some relevant social and political issues.{{more}}

How things can change in the space of one week! If ever we needed proof that one week is a long time in politics, then the week between November 23rd and November 30th has provided us with concrete evidence that that is so. Two days before the November 25th referendum, Prime Minister Gonsalves must have been looking forward to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Port of Spain with great anticipation. For one, not only is the host Prime Minister “tight” with him but he is also a popular political figure in the twin-island state. Then, the Summit itself was coming just two days after his momentous challenge to the British neo-colonial Constitution which had been thrust on our country at independence.

True, by that time (Nov 23rd), any astute reading of the political climate would have indicated that it was unlikely that the two-thirds majority required would be achieved (as the British colonialists had intended). But a strong showing of well over 50 per cent support would redound to his benefit in two ways. First, it would indicate that the Vincentian electorate had come of age and were courageously determined to fashion their own governance structures. Though falling short of the 67 per cent support, P.M. Gonsalves could go to Port of Spain strutting with head held high, and receive the adulation of his Caribbean and Commonwealth colleagues for his courage in spearheading another aspect of the decolonisation struggle.

Secondly, such a margin would also satisfy what has been one of his reasons for choosing the particular date for the referendum. The clear politicization of the campaign meant that any of the camps emerging with a more than 50 per cent support could feel confident in the run-up to the next general election. Such a result for Dr. Gonsalves, after testing the waters, could indicate that all he needed was a good Budget and a relentless campaign to blame his opponents for the failure to clear the two- thirds hurdle and he would have the inside track in the race for electoral triumph at the next time of asking.

However, politics is not so straight forward, so by the night of the referendum and the big setback as represented by the results, even the ebullient Dr. Gonsalves must have been having second thoughts about the Port of Spain stage. To his credit, he did go to the Summit and returned, not in adoring triumph but rather, much chastened by his experiences. His keen political brain and formidable intellect were utilized in trying to, in his oft-repeated words, “turn the setback into an advance.” As a result, to the joy of many of us who have often wondered why such an important issue has been on the backburner for so long, climate change has now become a prominent banner on the political flagship. Our own Dr. Reynold Murray who departed these shores after our refusal to appreciate his efforts in the direction must at least have felt heartened.

The Prime Minister is “right on the ball.” Climate change is not only perhaps the single greatest global challenge, but in the field of real politics, it is an abiding issue. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines for sure, the political climate has changed, whether irreversible or not is a matter for as much debate as the global issue. We will see its manifestation in many ways. For one, there must be a not-so-subtle shift in the delicate political equation, relating to increased confidence for the Opposition and a dent in the standing of the governing party. That will extend all the way down to the supporters on the ground. For the first time since 2001, the aura of invincibility of the ULP has disappeared and its vulnerability exposed.

We are now witnessing the postponement of the presentation of the National Budget for the crucial year of 2010. We have had such postponements before but in the circumstance this may well have psychological effects. It will be interesting to witness the dynamics when Parliament does meet, and the extra-Parliamentary tactics of the Opposition. Talk of climate change? Climate change has bearing on the environment, and both the political as well as the administrative environment will be affected. Opponents of the administration will become emboldened by what they perceive as major breach in the political wall, and it will take great political skill to manage the fall-out.

One of the effects of climate change is flooding of low-lying areas. In political terms the referendum results have indicated that this is a real threat. In low-lying areas like the Grenadines, there is evidence of flooding on a coastal as well as political scale. But not only in low-lying areas. The entire Leeward areas experienced a political flood in the referendum. Strange for areas well above sea-level, but such is the phenomenon of climate change. The biggest manifestation was in South Leeward, not physically low-lying generally. But maybe it is political representation that is low-lying. Based on the November 25th results, capital city Kingstown is in grave flood danger.

It means that defences must be strengthened, not just sea defences, but political defences in particular, if the ruling party is to survive the effects of climate change. But in so doing great care and planning, meticulous effort and hard work will be required. It will require ensuring value for money, a lesson which must be absorbed from the referendum experience. Combatting the climate of political change is as formidable a task as combatting the negative effects of climate change on the environment.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.