Sunday, October 12, 2014

Olive Senior: Colon Man and the Panama Experience

Olive Senior
On Wednesday, October 1, 2014, Olive Senior, in association with UWI Western Jamaica Campus and the Institute of Jamaica, gave a Distinguished Lecture on “Colon Man and the Panama Experience”, in commemoration of the centenary of the opening of the Panama canal in 1914.
A prelude to the programme in the form of folk songs about Panama canal workers, including the popular “Colon Man Ah Come”, was given by singers from UWI led by Lilieth Nelson.
The chairman for the programme, who welcomed all present, was none other than Dr. Simon Clarke, a Colon Man himself, having been born in Panama of Jamaican parents. He was not resident in Jamaica until he went to Calabar High School. He gave us snippets of information about his life there: on racial segregation, he told us about the ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ cities, and newly arrived Jamaicans refusing to leave the ‘gold’ line at the post office!
Dr. Luz Longsworth, Director of UWI Western Campus; Mrs. Nicole Patrick Shaw, Deputy Director, Institute of Jamaica; and Mrs. Winsome Hudson, National Librarian/CEO of the National Library of Jamaica all brought greetings from their respective institutions which had organized the programme.
Ms. Kristen Laing, PR and Marketing Officer, NLJ, then read Olive Senior’s poem, ALL CLEAR, which deals with the large scale emigration of West Indian males to work on the Panama Canal and elsewhere in Latin America in the Caribbean.
The young lady who introduced Olive Senior, on behalf of Mr. Steffon Campbell of CARIMAC, confessed that if she were to tell us of all this award-winning writer’s  accomplishments, there would be no time for the lecture. You can read more about Olive on her website.
The highlight of the evening was Olive’s lecture, based on her newly published book, Dying to better Themselves:West Indians and the building of the Panama Canal,   published by University of the West Indies Press (September 30, 2014). Although Olive began her research for this book twenty years ago, revisiting the subject from time to time, meanwhile writing 14 other books, her presentation radiated the excitement of finding the Colon Man to be  "one driven by the need to improve his conditions; dying to better himself." She also mentioned the “neglected post-emancipation generation of the 1850's” when there existed poverty we cannot imagine today. From that time, Jamaicans have been migrating to Panama in search of employment. Because of the relative proximity of Panama, there developed a “pattern of circular migration that would transform our islands economically, socially and politically well into the twentieth century.” She emphasized the significance of the contribution that Jamaicans made to the development of Panama, as well as that made by Jamaicans who returned with their savings to invest at home. For a more detailed account of her lecture, I recommend you to the articles by Tanesha Mundle in The Daily Observer and in TallawahMagazine.
Better still, buy a copy of the book to read for yourself!
The evening closed with a vote of thanks by Mr. Aubrey Stewart, Campus Chairman, UWI WJC Guild of Students, followed by a postlude of Refreshments and Book Signing. Unfortunately, the first printing of this book has sold out, except for the few copies which had been kept back for Montego Bay, which were soon sold. I will edit this post with information about when books from the second printing become available.
With my 'beach-buddy' Olive before her lecture

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Suggestions for books for 3-6 year-olds

Following my post of Sep 23, 2014, on How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, I'm making suggestions about appropriate books for children to choose from. They can learn to love books from as early as Kindergarten/ Basic School. The purpose of this post is to be a guide to parents, teachers and well-wishers of Jamaican children aged 3-6 in Basic Schools and Kindergartens, who would like to buy books for children but don't know where to begin. See also my blog of March 1, 2014 for books by Jamaican authors for young children.  I used the list of books recommended by children, on CTL's website to find many of the others. Because most of the authors listed live in the USA, and have a bias towards that culture, I haven't recommended books about baseball, football, or the seasons, especially winter and snow which Jamaican children are unlikely to have experienced. I've highlighted one book per author, but together they have hundreds of other books in print.
A comment here about reading: reading means gaining meaning from words and from pictures. The illustrations in children's books are equally as important as the words.  Children build some key reading skills when they read wordless books, or books with very few words. These include comprehension, sequencing, inferring, predicting and reading from left to right and top to bottom in English.  Many of the books listed are for fluent readers to read aloud to children. The importance of reading aloud,  and for the children then to have the books in their hands, cannot be overemphasized.
Authors are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Atinuke and Lauren Tobia: Anna Hibiscus Series, set in modern Nigeria. Delightful books for the enlightenment of people not living in Nigeria, and for the entertainment of those living there.

2. Molly Bang:  When Sophie Gets Angry . Sophie gets really angry but has her own way of calming down. Minimal text, but the pictures also tell the story.
There are several other titles by this author.

3. Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In this children's classic, the caterpillar eats his way through the book.  A teacher or parent would need to read this to younger children, but there's plenty of room for discussion along the way. Eric Carle has over forty children's books in print.

4. Donald Crews: Flying Minimal text. Children would need guidance the first time they look at this book, but afterwards would be able to 'read' the story on their own by looking at the pictures. Donald Crew has many books about transport, including Truck which is a wordless book. Useful in Jamaican basic schools, except for the setting which of course is in the USA.

5. Lois Ehlert: Top Cat . Top Cat rules the house until a new kitten arrives. At first he doesn't want to share but then finds that 2 can be more fun than one. The text is in large print but the vocabulary is beyond most basic school children. Suitable for read-aloud and discussion.
Lois Ehlert has written and illustrated more than 25 children's books, many of them about the natural environment in the USA, so the birds and plants she mentions would not be familiar to Jamaican children.

6. Ed Emberley: Go Away, Big Green Monster! Kids can turn the pages and watch the monster grow then disappear. Pictures provide clues for the simple text.
 Ed Emberley is the author and illustrator of over 80 books.

7. Ian Falconer: Olivia Have fun with Olivia, dressing up, singing songs and wearing people out. Pre-readers can 'read' a story from the delightful pictures, and, with some help, the text is manageable for emergent readers.
Ian Falconer has written and illustrated 10 more Olivia books.

8. Denise Fleming: In the Tall, Tall Grass  - what a caterpillar would see. A few words of simple text in large letters on each page. Children would soon learn to recognize these words. I would like to see this book in every basic school in Jamaica.
Denise Fleming is the author and illustrator of 15 picture books.

9. Mem Fox: Koala Lou A delightful book for parents or teachers to read aloud to younger children and for older children to read for themselves.
Mem Fox had written dozens of children's books and promotes literacy. She gives good advice in her 10 commandments for reading aloud.     

10. Kevin Henkes: Chrysanthemum Text good for reading aloud and discussion.
Kevin Henkes is the author and illustrator of close to 50 picture books.

11. Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Peanut Butter and Jellyfish - a story of friendship. This is another read-aloud book, but non-readers, after hearing it, would be able to tell the story from the pictures.

12. Bill Martin, Jr.:  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - the letters of the alphabet race one another to the top of the coconut tree. Another book I would like every basic school to have. The rhythmic text would soon be memorized by children. It is available as a board book which would prolong its life when handled by
children. I also recommend Chicka Chicka 1 2 3, by the same author.

13. Jerry Pinkney: The Lion and the Mouse and The Tortoise and the Hare  Children who are struggling with letter recognition can successfully read well-known fables in these two beautifully illustrated wordless books.

14. David Shannon: No, David  I say 'yes' to this book, which highlights all the things David mustn't do. "No, David" is written on every page. There are other suitable books by this author illustrator.

15. Rosemary Wells: Yoko  Yet another read-aloud book, but I included it because of its cultural diversity. Although Yoko is disguised here as a cat, from her name and the text she is unmistakably Japanese. Rosemarie Wells has written other books
about Yoko which would also be well-worth purchasing.

16. Mo Willems: Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus  Teachers, when you read this book to children, they will answer the questions! As children become more fluent readers they will be able to read the simple text for themselves. There are several more pigeon books.

My final comment is a plea to make more books available to Jamaican children, especially in Basic Schools. If you are Jamaican, living abroad, paying a visit to Jamaica, why not purchase a few of these books to donate to a Basic School near to where you will be staying?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Help Kids become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers

You don’t often hear of a non-fiction book being hard to put down, and pulling at your heart strings, but that was my experience with “The Reading Zone – HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS ” by Nancie Atwell, which endorsed for me what I have always taken for granted – the value of reading.
My mother used to read to us from as far back as I can remember – Beatrix Potter stories, Alison Uttley’s ‘Little Grey Rabbit’, The Wind in the Willows, Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series. But she had a harder time turning me into a skilled, passionate, habitual, critical reader. Unlike my sister, I wasn’t too keen on the titles my mother picked out for me. I suspect that they were above my reading level at
My mother read this to me!
the time and that I wasn’t interested in the content. I liked to read stories by Enid Blyton, whom my parents regarded as sexist and racist. I was oblivious of this, although I knew they didn’t like her books. They weren’t in favour of comics either, probably sharing the view of The 
Reverend John Marcus Harston Morris who “decried the violence and sensationalism of American crime and horror comics and their effects on British children”,  and who started his own comic, “Eagle”, which they allowed us to read. I don’t remember being captivated by Dan Dare or space travel as a result. I’m still not keen on books about exploring the universe. The books that turned me into a reader were C.S. Forester’s “Hornblower” Series. I also enjoyed historical novels for children by Geoffrey Trease. I have a vague recollection of his making a visit to our school and being disappointed by his appearance and lack-luster presentation.
When it came time for me to read to my own children, many more titles were available than when I was child. Favourites were the “Ant and Bee” books and “What a Mess” by Frank Muir. I started Lucea Prep School in 1982, when there was no internet or Amazon, but that didn’t stop me from getting books. Because of the limited range in the local bookshops, I chose books from the Scholastic catalogue to build up a school library. I encouraged parents to buy books, too, but there was often a distressing delay in getting the books by post. I also borrowed books from Hanover Parish Library to read to the children.

Atwell’s premise, I had seen in other writings before, is that
“frequent voluminous reading is the single activity that consistently correlates with high levels of performance in standardized tests of reading ability.” She follows this up with real life examples of how frequent voluminous reading is achieved in her school, Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Edgecomb, Maine, where “teachers hope that along the way students will become smarter, happier, more just and compassionate people because of the worlds they experience in books.” Doesn’t that describe what we would like our students to become in Jamaica? Atwell says “The only surefire way to induce a love of books is to invite students to select their own.” And “…free choice of books should be a young reader’s right, not a privilege.”  “When kids are reading stories that are interesting to them, when books are written at their independent reading levels, comprehension is direct, they understand.” They don’t have to be taught ‘comprehension’.
Most of Atwell’s compelling argument critiques the system in the US, but the methods and outcomes are equally applicable in Jamaica. Unfortunately, very few children here see any books apart from what is supplied at school. Only a small percentage of eligible children actually use the Parish Libraries. School libraries vary, but few of them have a budget and depend mainly on donated books. Class libraries are few and far between. Most parents cannot afford to buy children’s literature. They are hard-pressed to buy the expensive workbooks required on school book lists. Effectively, by failing to provide a choice of books for our children, we are denying them the opportunity to become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers. Two things must happen for us to turn this situation around:
1.     Convince teachers and parents that children who read for pleasure do in fact perform better at school than those who don’t.
2.     Increase the supply of books in parish, school and class libraries.

My book for 9-13 year-olds 
What I suggest is that, at every opportunity, parents request books for their children from friends and relatives, and that teachers and schools request books from organizations. There is then the question: “what books?” I recommend a selection of books by Jamaican and Caribbean authors, in addition to titles by authors from all over the world, which can be purchased on Amazon, if they are not available in local bookshops.
The problem is to select appropriate titles from the avalanche of available children’s books. Nancie Atwell’s book directed me to lists of books recommended by children who attend her school . As she says, the field of children’s literature changes very quickly, so she herself doesn’t recommend books. The children’s recommendations are updated annually. I have begun to go through this list and in subsequent blogs I will highlight my findings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Books by Jamaican authors for children 8-12 years (Updated)

This is an update of my post of October 2012.
Children who read for pleasure improve their word knowledge, grammar and reading comprehension far beyond what is taught in formal classes. This holds true whether they are reading stories about children like themselves or different from themselves. Why then should we be concerned that books about children like themselves are available for their reading pleasure?
In a blog post in October 2012, Diane Browne wrote 
 “But where is the embracing of the Caribbean literature by the education system so that we may read about ourselves more often than we do, not only in set books, but just in the library at school? Do we think that our children can learn anything from the books being written now? Have our adult gatekeepers read the books and recognized their worth, not only as entertaining stories, but also as self validation, points from which discussion may arise in a young people valiantly searching for themselves, as all young people do? Books allow them to work through their fears, their sources of joy, their experiences, to try on various selves. It would seem a good thing if these selves could be related to their own lives.”
Summer Edwards said in a 2012 blog “Now that I am older and have had a chance to read children's literature from many cultures, I realize that the children's books that have truly made a difference in my life - both my child life and my adult life- are the ones where the stories were set in West Indian places, with characters that talked and looked like me and knew the same things I did.”
In her Reflection on Jamaican children reading  Curdella Forbes wrote “Access to fiction written specifically for Caribbean children and teens is still extremely limited for most Jamaican children…Jamaican fiction outside of the school curriculum is unknown to many children. Some parents who would love to purchase nonschool books for their children cannot afford the cost. Those who can, have extensive options offered by the distributing giant Scholastic. With multiple outlets in the Caribbean, Scholastic leaves its local competitors far behind.”
To help those who would like to purchase books by Jamaican authors, I have updated  my list  and added some links. 

List of books by Jamaican Authors
1. Flying with Icarus  by Curdella Forbes                  2003 (Walker Books)

Carlong Sand Pebble Series  available in Sangsters Book Stores
2. Jojo’s Treasure Hunt by Cherrell Shelley-Robinson           2003 (10-12)
3. Freedom Come by Jean Goulbourne                                  2002 (10 -12)
4. Island Princess in Brooklyn by Diane Browne       2011 (10-14)
5. Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost by Hazel Campbell          2010 (10-12)
6. Tek Mi! Noh Tek Mi by C. Shelley-Robinson et al            2008 (10-14)
7. Every Little Thing will be All Right by Diane Browne 2003 (8-10)
8. Little Island - Big Adventures by Maria Roberts-Squires 2007 (12-14)
9. Jenny and the General by Jean D’Costa                 2006 (8-10)
10. Miss Bettina’s House by Hazel Campbell                        2004 (8-10)
11. Ash the Flash by Hazel Campbell and Nattalie Gordon   2014 (10-12)

Published by LMH,  available at outlets supplied by Novelty Trading.
12. Juice Box and Scandal by Hazel Campbell
13. Tilly Bummie by Hazel Campbell
14. Ramgoat Dashalong by Hazel Campbell
15. Goat Boy Never Cries by Hazel Campbell
16. Be-All-You-Can-Be: Yalena and the Spelling Bee by Lil’ Island kids
17. Fly Away Home and other Caribbean Stories by Andy Mead
18. Project Climate Change by Petre Williams-Raynor
19. Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis
20. Saving Joe Louis by Isabel Marvin

By Diane Browne
21. A Tumbling World - A Time of Fire
22. Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune. Now available as an ebook
23. The Ring and the Roaring Water

By Linda Gambrill (Beenybud Stories)
24. Miss Tiny (7- 9)
25. A Boy Named Neville (7 - 9)

Island Fiction Series (Macmillan Caribbean 2009) available at outlets supplied by Novelty Trading and on Amazon.
27. Delroy in the Marog Kingdom by Billy Elm  2009 (9-14)
28. Night of the Indigo by Michael Holgate  2009 (12-15)

29. Blue Mountain Trouble by Martin Mordecai 2009 (8-12) 

By Cedella Marley
31. One Love (2011)
32. Every Little Thing (2012)

33. A Jamaican Storyteller’s Tale by Lorrimer A. Burford ( 2005)

By Suzanne Francis Brown
34. The Mystery of the Golden Table (Arawak Publishing)
35. Searching for Pirates. A Port Royal Adventure (Arawak)
36. Marcus Garvey. (Suzanne Francis-Brown/Jean-Jacques Vayssieres)(Ian Randle Publ)
37. The Mermaid Escapade (E-Published, Kindle, 2013) 

38. By Helen Williams ‘Delroy and the Marog Princess’ (self-published e-book sequel to Delroy in the Marog Kingdom).

The following stories were written longer ago (‘70’s,’80’s and ‘90’s). They are probably better known than more recent publications, because many of them were on school book lists.
By James Berry
40. Ajeemah and His Son – Harper Collins1993 (8-up)
By Everard Palmer
41.  A Cow Called Boy 1972 (6-10)
42. The Sun Salutes You (Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2007) (8-12)
43. My Father Sun-Sun Johnson 1974 (8-12)(Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2012)
44. Cloud with the Silver Lining 1987 (8-12)(Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2011)
By Jean D’Costa
46. Escape to Last Man Peak
By Andrew Salkey (all reprinted by Peepal Tree Press 2011 in the Caribbean Modern Classics  Series) (12 - up) 
47. Drought (Oxford 1966; )
49.  Riot
50. Hurricane
By Vic Reid (1913 - 1987)
51. Sixty-Five (1960), London: Longman.
52. The Young Warriors (1967), London: Longman.
53. Peter of Mount Ephraim (1971), Kingston: Jamaica Publishing House.
54. The Jamaicans (revised edition 1978), Kingston: Institute of Jamaica.
55. Nanny Town (1983)
56. The Horses of the Morning (1985)
57. The Leopard

In response to comments, I have added the following:
By Geoffrey Philp
58. Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories   There is also a Kindle edition 
59. Marcus and the Amazons (an e-book)
60. The Christmas Dutch Pot Baby (an e-book)
By Renaee Smith
61. The Great Compost Heap

If anyone reading this post knows of, or has written other stories for 8 -14 year-olds, I would be most grateful if you would let me know.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Visit to Rastafari Indigenous Village

Montego River
I’ve been hearing about this for a while and recently had the privilege of visiting there. Arthur Newland greeted us in the Montego Bay River Gardens and led us across the Montego River at the fording.
After crossing, we walked beside the river, then through the trees, up a steep path which led us to an open, grassy area with a fire in the centre. This fire is not used for cooking, but is a symbol of change.
Tebah playing drum at A-dZiko's book-reading at Fontana
   Along with other visitors, I was introduced to Rastafarians busy making drums, Golden Ankh and Tebah, whom I had met at Adziko’s book launch, when he played the drum before she read from “All Over Again”.
   Firstman then told us some of the history of and symbols used by the Rastafari. The movement began in the 1930’s after the coronation of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia. Leonard Howell was among a group of men of African descent, who, from their study of certain passages in the Bible, acknowledged Haile Selassie to be the Messiah. Howell’s followers came from living conditions unsuitable for human beings, but they did not demand that the British provide better conditions. Rather, they sought freedom of spirit and had the intention of returning to Africa. In spite of this, they came into conflict with the law. Howell organized wide-scale recruitment and became the head of a communal society at Pinnacle, near Sligoville in St. Catherine, which is even now, in 2014, under threat of being taken away.   
The Ankh
Although Bible passages are the source of much inspiration for the Rastafarian movement, not all symbols of the Christian Church accepted. The cross, being a symbol of death is not embraced.  Firstman showed us their symbol, the Ankh, used in ancient Egypt to signify life. The loop at the top represents the womb, and the part below it the penis. The crossbar represents children.  The trinity in various forms, such as mother-father-child, heat-air-water, and sun-moon-stars, is another symbol. The Rastafarian colours are red, gold and green, representing blood, the sun and life respectively.
We were treated to delicious fresh fruit - pineapple, papaya, banana and orange - served on a bamboo plate. Firstman told us that Rastafarians are vegetarians, and showed us some of the vegetables they eat, which are grown on land around the village. They also avoid salt.
Rastafarians take pride in their life-style to maintain healthy bodies, minds and spirits, but, like all of us at times, they succumb to illness. However they do not treat themselves with Western medicine; rather they rely on the healer’s knowledge  of medicinal plants and how to use them. The healer of the village showed us the herb garden and told us about their healing properties:  Aloe Vera is used to alleviate sunburn, and is made 
Aloe Vera
into a drink which cleanses the kidneys and the intestines; Broom Weed is a diuretic and is used for heart complaints; Sarsaparilla (known as an aphrodisiac), is used as a blood purifier and for gout; Fever Grass is useful for colic, flatulence and diarrhea as well as for fevers; Noni boosts the immune system and reduces inflammation and is useful in the treatment of arthritis; Marigold is used in the treatment of colds, fevers, coughs, wounds, and infections. Ginger, Rosemary and Basil are popular seasonings which also have their medicinal uses. Ginger is anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral. Basil lowers cholesterol. Rosemary is good for digestive and circulatory problems.
About the Labyrinth 
The Labyrinth
For spiritual well-being and meditation, there is the Labyrinth. It represents a partial journey towards our core, step by step, breath by breath. We walked between the bamboo posts, seeming to retrace our steps, but in fact being led to the centre. Although Marijuana is used by Rastafarians for meditation and to bring about a feeling of spirituality, it was not mentioned, as it is still against the law in Jamaica to be in possession of it.
      Following our walk through the Labyrinth, we returned to the meeting place where the drummers played and sang for us. They made this an interactive experience, instructing us in how to play the drums. 
Our final stop was at the gift shop, where we could purchase jewelry and other craft items handmade by the Rastafarians in the village.

     Since people all over the world are interested in the Rastafarian Movement, the opportunity given to visitors to go to the Rastafari Indigenous Village is a welcome addition to slate of activities that tourists can choose from. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making solar energy a viable option in Jamaica

The high cost of electricity continues to afflict every business and individual in Jamaica. Failing to encourage solar solutions because they would affect the bottom line of JPS is a short-sighted approach. In my letter to the Daily Gleaner, (below) published on June 5, 2014, I recommended net-billing as a win-win option for JPS and customers. However, it didn’t recommend how we could solve the peak demand dilemma.   I’m now suggesting that peak demand for electricity could be reduced by the National Water Commission using more solar generated electricity, produced by individual customers with net-billing, who send electricity to JPS during the day.
NWC is the single largest consumer of electricity in the public sector, accounting for approximately 47% of public sector energy consumption. The average monthly electricity consumption for the NWC is approximately 15,000,000 kWh, and it spends approximately J$280 million per month on electricity. They have the option of pumping water to tanks situated on higher ground during the day, which would flow by gravity during the night. In other words, they can convert solar energy into potential energy for use at night, so they wouldn’t have to use electricity during the hours of peak demand.
Not being an engineer, I don’t know about the practicality of turning pumps on and off, but since it is done in times of water shortage, it must be possible. Where NWC doesn’t have storage facilities, individuals could be provided with black tanks, which many people already have, if that would be a more practical option than building new storage facilities.  The inconvenience of having reduced water pressure during the hours of peak electricity demand would be offset by the lower cost for both electricity and water.

The rationale for net-billing is set out in this letter:
Dear  Sir,
With reference to your headline article, “Solar Power Risk” in the Daily Gleaner of June 3, I think that our policy decisions in relation to electricity should be based on long-term considerations, such as the amount of foreign exchange spent on fossil fuels, and the threat of global warming, rather than on return on investments.
My initial observation is that we have failed to capitalize on the opportunities provided by solar energy. Neither JPS nor OUR have educated the public on the win-win situation which is possible with net-billing. More people might be interested in applying for net-billing if the application process were quicker, and the steps involved, detailed instructions for which are given on JPS website, were less onerous.  Most people are unaware that you do not need batteries to run a solar system if you have a grid-tie with JPS. In fact, going that route is more environmentally friendly and less expensive as shown by the calculation below.
On the whole, companies selling solar systems encourage purchasers to buy batteries. Their pitch is that you can cut your electricity bills and even get off the grid entirely. They also tell you that JPS pays you only half of what you pay JPS per KWH, which is true, but they don’t tell you that batteries would cost more. Also, most people use more electricity in the summer than in the winter. To get off the grid entirely, one would have to install sufficient panels to supply one’s summer needs and then one would have excess in the winter. It would be better to be able to send the excess to the grid in the winter and draw from JPS if necessary in the summer.
      My calculation is based on a monthly average of 200 KWH being sent to JPS in the day, and drawn from JPS at night. (It does not include the excess amounts being sent or drawn). Nor does it take into account escalating costs. I make the optimistic assumption that a battery bank will last for ten years.
Without solar panels
200 KWH x Ja$40 = $8000 monthly x 12 = $96,000 annually x10 years = $960,000.00
With solar panels and net billing (cost corresponding to half of $40.00)
200 KWH x $20 =    $4000 monthly x 12 = 48,000 annually x 10 years = $480,000.00
Savings: $480,000.00
With batteries, no net-billing, cost would be $0, but
Cost of 16 batteries @ $40,000.00 each with life expectancy 10 years max = $640,000
In contrast, as Mr. John Kistle states, JPS would be faced with the challenge of providing everybody with electricity at peak hours after sunset, or on overcast days. Some of that generating capacity would have to be turned off at peak sunshine hours, thus reducing the return on whatever investment was made in a new power plant.  However, solar power would cut down on the amount of fuel needed to run the plant.
Given the importance of the cost of electricity to all of us in Jamaica, perhaps there are some other things we can do. Could there be a consensus, for example, on turning off our fridges during peak hours? Or JPS charging different rates at peak hours?
I think that all stakeholders need to be involved in making these hard decisions.

Yours truly,
Helen Williams

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Environment v. Development

Slash and burn farming, Westmoreland, Jamaica
In response to 'Jamaica Blog Day' here are the ruminations  of a former biology teacher 
on 'Environment v. Development'.
     The human species, Homo sapiens, is one of the most successful species on planet earth, that is if you measure success by ability to live almost anywhere on earth and for young ones to have the expectation of living to average old age. However, if you measure success by the length of time a species has remained unchanged, humans cannot compare with the chambered nautilus, which has been around for 500 million years, and the horseshoe crab 445 million years. Humans in their present form have been around for about one million years and are unlikely to be here for another 499 million years, the way things are going. If you measure success by numbers, we cannot compare with ants which E.O. Wilson has estimated at 10,000 trillion with a combined weight more than the combined weight of all humans. Actually, it isn’t fair to compare the one species of humans with the many species of ant, but for an individual ant species, the numbers would still be impressive. If you measure success by length of life, humans cannot compare with the bristle cone pine which can live for 5000 years, or giant tortoises - over 200 years, or Ming the clam which reached 507 years, before humans killed it trying to find out how old it was. If you believe that Methuselah lived for 969 years, we have certainly regressed, as nobody lives that long nowadays.
     The success of the human species can be attributed to the use of tools, agriculture and fire. These have enabled us to live almost anywhere on the planet, by altering the environment. Instead of having thick fur coats and depositing insulating layers of blubber which enable other animals to live in cold climates, we have built houses and heated them. Instead of hunting and gathering as in the early years of man’s existence, we grow crops and herd animals. There is evidence of agricultural practices going back ten thousand years, so for that long man has been altering the environment. However, the last two hundred years have seen massive developments in agriculture, with machines used to clear vast tracts of land, to prepare it for planting and for harvesting of crops; the manufacture of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides; and the production of higher yielding crops. These developments have resulted in better nutrition for millions of people, which, coupled with advances in medicine which have reduced infant mortality rates and extended life expectancy, have led to a population explosion.
     The first agricultural practices resulted in a surplus of food, which resulted in a division of labour. Not everyone had to grow their own crops, so people were available to do other things, including building. This in turn led to the construction of cities and the development of civilizations.  We have been brought up to believe that civilization is a ‘good thing’. However, civilization concentrates power in the hands a few individuals, giving them control over other human beings and over the environment. Many people have benefited, but vast numbers, from the dawn of civilization until today, endured and are still enduring deprivation. At all high points in the expansion of Western Civilization there were slaves. The ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman Civilizations also depended on slavery.
     Another pervasive aspect of civilization is war, which can hardly be considered to be a civilized activity, and is one of the most anti-environmental endeavours that man undertakes. In the last three hundred years, and more so in the last hundred, with the development of weapons of mass destruction, mankind faces the possibility of total annihilation. There is no such thing as a limited nuclear war. The products of burning resulting from any nuclear war would  result in a ‘nuclear night’. Sunlight would be blocked from the planet for so long that all plants would die. Being aware of these negative effects of civilization, individuals have informed others and led movements, such as the ban-the-bomb protests and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, to discourage those in power from exposing all of us to these dangers.
     Other not quite as harmful results of human practices have been highlighted by individuals and groups, and a stop has been put to them. In nineteenth century Britain, the pollutants spewed out by factories resulted in smog and damaging air quality. Clean Air Acts controlled this. Unfortunately, building taller factory chimneys, so that the pollutants blow further away, results in acid rain causing destruction of forests, and damage to life in lakes and rivers. Legislation to control acid rain is slow in coming.
 Rachel Carson, in her book ‘The Silent Spring’ explained, to the layman, the effect of the insecticide DDT on the reproduction of birds. The concentration of DDT in the food chain would have ended with us poisoning ourselves, so DDT is now banned. Cod fishing, with more sophisticated equipment, in the North Atlantic (800,000 tons in 1968), nearly wiped out all the cod, so in the early 1990’s a complete ban on cod fishing was introduced. The expected recovery has not taken place.
     All development impacts the environment in some way, but given the intelligence we possess as human beings, we are able to assess impact and predict outcomes. We also have the capacity to disseminate this information to educate and inform large numbers of people. What we are not so good at is having the will to make change, especially if one is a politician and the change is not popular.
     In Jamaica, those of us who have cars would be loathe to part with them, and we are grateful for good roads, although internal combustion engines and road building are damaging to the environment. Those who don’t have cars aspire to car ownership, meanwhile utilizing public transport. We bemoan the cost of gas instead of asking ourselves whether we could travel less. Children attend schools far from their homes, while near their homes, schools are under populated. Many other developments, such as the construction of hotels are popular because they provide employment both in the construction phase and when they are operating. However, the environmental damage which some of them cause is irreversible.
     Other developments such as the Hunts Bay Power Plant and the Montego Bay Freezone have severely damaged fish breeding grounds. In addition, Jamaica’s waters are overfished, and the large numbers of fishermen are catching fewer and smaller fish, but efforts at improving fish stocks have been limited rather than drastic. The fishermen themselves are aware of the problem, but few have an alternative source of income. Deforestation is a serious problem, but continues in spite of laws to prevent it. It is hard to catch a man cutting down a tree, which he is able to turn into charcoal or sell quickly. The same people who cut down the trees are among the first to demonstrate because of lack of water or poor roads, both of which result from water running off hillsides too quickly after they are denuded of trees.
     An enlightened leadership with a well-informed followership could do more to prevent environmental degradation in Jamaica, by looking at long-term consequences of choices for development. There are many people with knowledge about the environment, and several, who are highly qualified to do so, disseminate information. There are others, some of them in leadership positions, who not only fail to listen to these experts, but describe them in the most derogatory terms. They misconstrue what they say for the purpose of misleading less knowledgeable people. They say that the environmentalists are more interested in preserving lizards than in people getting jobs. What they fail to realize is that what is bad for the lizard today will be bad for human beings tomorrow. The discussion becomes fogged by the misconception that one has to choose between development and environment, instead of between  the type of development which would have the minimal environmental impact, and one which would have more.
     Jamaica isn’t the only country making unwise decisions. Worldwide, one of the biggest threats to our planet is global warming, which, although having its naysayers, is generally accepted. We know what should be done - cut down the carbon footprint of every one of us - but again it is the will that is lacking. Increasing carbon dioxide levels are likely to cause acidification of the seas, which could threaten even the chambered nautilus with extinction. Will unwise choices eventually lead to the extinction of Homo sapiens, too? Or will the knowledge that we have about how we have damaged our planet enable us to restore the balance before it’s too late?