– Professor S. Narine
By: Kiana Wilburg
The Guyana version of the Carbon Conversations was launched on Monday last, at the Pegasus Hotel. The inaugural “conversation” was taken to an entirely new and thought provoking level than those which have characterized the national discussion on development, resource utilization and sustainability. It featured a one-of-a-kind presentation by internationally renowned Guyanese-Canadian scientist, Dr. Suresh Narine.
Often, discussions surrounding the importance of carbon are restricted to the need for the adaptation of better environmental practices that would see the protection of the world’s forests.
While these talks are usually centered on climate change, Professor Narine sought, in an engaging and eloquent presentation, to engage the minds of his audience on how the nation’s wealth can sustainably benefit all as opposed to the well rehearsed topic of Guyana’s potential to be a rich oil producing country.
The event was well attended by approximately 400 people, with more than seventy percent of the audience being in the 20 to 35 age group.
Those present at the event included, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs Sydney Allicock; Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman, who also has responsibility for the Natural Resources sector; Major General (rtd) Joseph Singh, Special Assistant to President Granger and Sir Shridath Ramphal who introduced Dr. Narine to the audience.
The event represented the first edition of the “Carbon Conversations” in Guyana. The Canadian version of the Carbon Conversations is an internationally known seminar series hosted by the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research, and was launched in March 2012. Since then, the conversations have hosted some of the most influential leaders in the world, including eminent eco-anarchist Dr. Vandana Shiva, to discuss issues around carbon.
The theme for Professor Narine’s talk was “Natural Resources Utilization, Sustainability and Development in Guyana: mutually exclusive?”
Dr. Narine, who is the Director of the Trent University Centre for Biomaterials Research and of our own Institute of Applied Science and Technology, started his presentation by saying that it was a good evening to have a Guyanese gaff about carbon – stating that Carbon is first and foremost an interesting element.
He continued, “Without it in our atmosphere, we would all freeze to death. You are accustomed to hearing about the greenhouse effect… but carbon goes much deeper than this. In fact, it is at the fulcrum of civilization.”
The scientist explained to his attentive listeners the various ways in which the important role of carbon can be identified in everyday life. He pointed to the agriculture industry, where he explained that the cultivation of crops is really nothing more than growing carbon and forming carbon bonds.
Another way of storing carbon is in the form of petroleum. This aspect is particularly interesting considering the significant oil find in the Stabroek Block by American Oil giant, Exxon Mobil.
The scientist said, “We know that those who control fossil fuels control the world. So it’s not just about the forests, which are crucially important, but about wealth. For too long we have been talking about Guyana being rich in resources and…I want this discussion to go into third gear and discuss how those resources can benefit us.”
The Director of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology said that responsible exploitation of the nation’s natural resources also wields the power to ensuring a sustainable future and spoke of how this can be managed. He noted however that one cannot discuss the topic without addressing the issue of governance and how critical it is to this sector.
“We live in a world of constantly evolving crises. Not so long ago oil had gotten so expensive, upwards of $100 a barrel that we started mining the tar sands in Alberta at energy returns on investment and environmental costs which are almost prohibitive… but we were doing it because of our world’s umbilical dependence on fossil fuels. Venezuela and Saudi Arabia are the two last remaining discovered basins that have conventional oil.”
He added, “These are interesting times and they call for very interesting solutions, not crafted by scientists and politicians alone but solutions crafted in unison where a full spectrum of people who will all be affected are engaged, because none will be left unaffected in the future we are looking at.”
It took about 500 to 700 million years for fossil fuel to be formed because it was painstakingly formed from plant and animal sources of carbon deposited and buried below the earth and sea, where the carbon-carbon bonds in this animal and vegetative material was “cooked” at high temperatures and pressures until the material became crude oil.
“The central issue is, the carbon cycle only has the capacity to sequester about 1 gigaton of carbon per year, but since the advent of World War II, we have been releasing stored fossil carbon at a corrected average rate of about 6 gigatons of carbon per year. Since the war and the spawning of the modern petrochemical industry and the birth of the petroleum manufacturing and transportation industries, we have been releasing fossil carbon at a rate incommensurate with the ability of the carbon cycle to sequester this carbon,”
Dr. Narine added. “At the same time, we have severely decreased the ability of the carbon cycle to sequester carbon, by deforestation and changing land use.”
Additionally, he posited that revenues from the extractive sectors must be invested in the sustainable industries and education in Guyana, and must be responsibly spent to ensure that the Land leg of the tripod is protected and maintained (through environmental stewardship and reclamation measures).
He was clear that this means that the proceeds from the extractive industries such as the Oil and Gas and Mining Industries must not fall prey to the scourge of corruption, and pointed out that this can be avoided if good governance is pursued to craft transparent policies developed through consultation with a wide range of stakeholders.
The Professor stressed that political will is still the most important factor in making decisions which will impact sustainable development, as, however flawed, the democratic process is one through which a growing majority of the world is governed.
He lamented however that political will can be hampered by the fact that the political cycle of four to five years is often much shorter than the cycles for successful solutions to systemic problems.
“This often means that politicians are not incentivized to make decisions which may be unpopular in the short term.”
This point by Dr. Narine struck a chord with several members of the audience as was evident in the question and answer segment which also saw impassioned commentaries by some participants.
One member of the audience, distinguished local singer, Dave Martins asked of Dr. Narine, “Well how do we inspire the political will?”
Dr. Narine’s answer was: “Every person here and those at home who will view this tape and attend and participate in other conversations need to understand that they each have a responsibility to let their political representatives know what is important to them – for the vote can be as powerful as the sword. Change through an engaged electorate is one of the most elegant ways in which we can progress as an informed and responsible society. So, make your voices heard, especially the overwhelming number of young people in this audience, for it is you who will inherit the repercussions of decisions made now.”
The event was video-taped and will be available shortly on YouTube for those who could not be there to participate. The portal through which this and other conversations can be accessed, in the interim until the conversations acquire their own web portal, will be http://www.iast.gov.gy
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