What a constantly low oil price does to oil-rich countries is similar to what a long bitter winter does to the people of Yakutsk in Siberia. It makes them ill. Particularly when economies do not nurture the development of a “strong immune system” through diversification. Oil exporters that suffer from an appreciated exchange rate, a narrow industrial base, and a skewed distribution of productive capacity in favor of non-tradable sectors are particularly susceptible to the effects of a lengthy “winter” of low oil prices.
Sir Arthur Lewis and others have known for quite some time that oversized resource discoveries like those in present day Guyana can have harmful long-term economic consequences. What they did not known until recently is how easy it is to catch Dutch Disease. Once it was thought to be transmitted primarily via exchange rate movements, following a large inflow of foreign currency, due to a natural resource find, a surge in commodity prices, remittances, foreign aid, or investment. Today we know that catching Dutch Disease is much easier than anyone previously envisaged. It can even happen without real appreciation of the currency. Occasionally, Dutch Disease can arise from the inequality in the distribution of resource rents.
The resource boom increases spending on non-tradable luxury goods and services disproportionately. With increased demand in these sectors, workers leave off manufacturing and agriculture. Even the state disengages itself from any foresight exercise that can enable it to build a smart specialization framework towards a knowledge economy. What is poorer, is that once resource wealth is distributed narrowly, the distortions escalate as income from rents drift upwards to wealthier agents.
Next is a scourge of pervasive poverty and an influx of guns and gangs in neglected communities that now bear a disproportionate amount of environmental burdens from factories and industrial estates. Inside ‘sacrifice zones’ the poor coexist with wastewater from industrial estates and landfills reeking with tons of trash caging them inside the triple helix of low socioeconomic status, polluted surroundings and the misery of ill-health.
This means that persons with a lower socioeconomic standing that already experience a compromised health status due to material deprivation and psychosocial stress, also receive the highest exposure to pollution; and this exposure then exerts larger effects on their health during the COVID-19 pandemic than it does on the rest of the population flourishing in prim parks and prissy glens. Post-COVID-19 cartographers must set out to measure the impact of traffic-related air and noise pollution on disadvantaged communities along the Beetham Highway. The substantial local variation in exposure and the mutual production by all of us, open up discussions on fairness. The obligation to address every inequality is born out of both international treaty standards and human moral perspectives.
Some lives just don’t seem to matter. Bigotry decrees who gets to inhale the soft smog that blankets the Beetham Estate from the La Basse. Xenophobia decides who builds factories on cheap lands where children of colour play hopscotch at school in the shade of a chimney that burps a bitter morning mist across the hillocks of Laventille. Prejudice determines how chemical plants proliferate among the undervalued in Couva while the bourgeoisie are buoyed in ocean breeze villas listening to Norah Jones on Alexa peering over Deans Bay sipping a stirred Bombay Blue Sapphire drizzled with juniper in tonic water. Once, environmental justice focused on the relationship between race and the distribution of waste and industrial sites. Today, its scope embraces every kind of socio-demographic difference in environmental impact exposure.
In 2020, factories may pay property taxes. But they can also contribute to a Carbon Tax to meet the expenses to clean up the environment and remedy underlying conditions they created among the defenseless. Additionally, the “polluter pays” principle can be used to impose a charge on the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) equivalent to the corresponding potential cost caused through future climate change – thus creating a financial incentive to cut emissions.
This can be done through two different policy instruments. The first charges a tax for each tonne of GHG emitted. The second is a cap-and-trade emissions trading system. The Coronavirus disease, Greta’s Extinction Rebellion, Dutch Disease and Bernie’s “Healthcare Act for All” are all interlaced. We must envision a future in which every citizen can have health care coverage and pay nothing when they visit a physician. A “Healthcare for All Act” can offer a benefit package that can be financed by a new tax on “extreme wealth.” There is no unraveling of environmental injustice outside of capitalism.
The poor are always in the way of profits so they are placed on lands believed to be worthless. Now there is no real estate more precious than Sea Lots to develop a picturesque waterfront of floating restaurants and night clubs or Laventille with its vistas of the Gulf of Paria and not needing loathsome retaining walls to buttress elevated dwellings. So environmental injustice is much more than just pollution. The spatial distribution of environmental burdens calls for legislative attention if the straight talkers are indeed truthful about injustice. There can be no sustainable development inside of prejudice.