President David Granger: Thank you, Chairperson, for your brief introduction. It’s a sea of green; you all look so beautiful today. Chairman of the People’s National Congress, Mr. Basil Williams; General Secretary of the People’s National Congress, Ms. Amna Ally; Minister in the Ministry of Communities, Ms. Valerie Patterson; MP Jermaine Figueira; Chairman of the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region, Mr. Rennis Morian; Mayor of Linden, Mr. Carwyn Holland; Councillors and officials; good people of Linden and members of the community of Upper Demerara-Berbice; fellow Guyanese.
I’m sorry to wake you up so early on Sunday morning. I know the Pastor would have been awake earlier anyway, praying to save lost souls; so he has a lot of praying to do. I have to be at Uitvlugt, so I have asked for a change in the timing because the St. Luke’s Parish Church there, a Presbyterian church, is celebrating its 175th anniversary today. So I have to go across the other river, but it’s always good to be here and to share these important milestones in celebration with the people of Linden.
Today is not National Tree Day, but when I got into office in 2015 I declared the first Saturday in the month of October to be the National Tree Day. Today, as you know, is the 1st of October but for me it is important because it was on the 1st of October only last year that I created something called the Department of the Environment and that is one of the cutting-edge departments in terms of our environment. So the first Saturday in October will be next Saturday and I hope that the people in Linden will come out again to have another tree day. I know Linden has its own national anthem and everything.
[Audience member laughs]
We should celebrate ‘greenness’ – greenness is about the whole country and I call ourselves in Guyana the ‘green state’ and as you know for the last two weeks I have been out of the country and my last event was in Geneva where I addressed the Conference of the Minamata Convention. Many of you don’t know about Minamata; you don’t know how it tastes like, you don’t know if you have to eat it with a fork or if you have to eat it with fingers. What is Minamata? It is a Convention that Guyana joined – signed onto to protect the environment against the harmful use of mercury. As you know mercury gets into a lot of the food products but the most danger caused by mercury is in small and medium-scale mining where people use mercury to separate the gold and once that gets into the soil it gets into the air, gets into the water; people who consume that water or sometimes even fish and other foodstuff could be poisoned and eventually they can die because of mercury poisoning.
So the Minamata Convention was very important and I was able to address the world stage, you can say, in Geneva, Switzerland about Guyana’s commitment to eliminating the use of mercury in small and medium-scale mining. But just before that, I also addressed the Inter-American Defence Board – a lot of Generals there, the largest concentration of brass in the western hemisphere, and again I spoke about the environment. I spoke at my old school, the National Defence University, the Centre for Hemispheric Defence Studies but again, I spoke about the environment and when I spoke at the United Nations General Assembly two Wednesdays ago, again it was about the environment. It was about people, it was about peace and it was about the planet. Those three letters mean PNC – People, Peace and Planet- PNC right? And it was important because this was the time of the year when we have seen so many catastrophic events in our region of the Caribbean.
Never before has so much water been dumped on Houston, Texas – a hundred centimetres in forty-eight hours. The amount of damage that has been done to Barbuda, Tortola, British Virgin Islands – what’s going on? These events are catastrophic and I told the Generals and I told my old school there in Washington that what happened to Barbuda is worse than warfare. What is happening in the Caribbean is worse than war and, my brothers and sisters, believe me that damage is being caused by global warming. That damage is being caused by climate change and though hurricanes only occur at a certain time of the year when the waters off the coast of West Africa get warm, they create low-pressure systems and because of the rotation of the earth and other environmental factors they move westward across the Atlantic.
Every year there will be hurricanes and the warmer the water gets, the more frequent and the fiercer those hurricanes will be. That is what is happening! We are seeing frequent and fierce storms largely because of global warming and our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean are in jeopardy.
Some people criticised me offering help. You tell me something? If your neighbour’s house burned down, he has no food, he has no water, nothing to eat; he has no shelter, children left exposed, you wouldn’t say temporarily, “Come and let me help you till you get yourself on your feet?” People have no compassion in this world, no humanity? All you say is, “Look, we have, you know, let’s help you to get over this difficult period” but the point I’m making is these difficulties will go on unless we change the way we treat the environment and that is why I am here today because climate change and global warming are contributory factors to the damage, to the destruction and to the deaths which are being caused particularly in this Region.
There are Guyanese all over the Caribbean, as you know very well. Once you hear there is a bombing, Guyanese dead. Once you hear they got some terrorist attack, Guyanese dead. I don’t know how Guyanese get all over this world, but once somebody got to dead they got to be there. It means that we have brothers and sisters in Tortola, in Barbuda, in Antigua, in The Bahamas and this is my concern, that is our concern. Here in Linden, we are not free from flooding. In the Potaro-Siparuni, in the Rupununi we are not free from flooding and sometimes these floods are caused because of the river systems in this continent. Sometimes the Rupununi dry, but the rivers in Brazil are rising and start to affect us.
So we are dealing with a climatic phenomenon and here in Linden we have to be careful because Linden for over a hundred years has been producing bauxite and there has been environmental damage. You fly over some of these areas and you can see what looks like old sores and once we continue to extract minerals from the soil; once we continue to cut down trees, we will be faced with the challenge of climate change and global warming because as the Amerindians say, “trees hold up the sky, if you cut down the trees the sky will fall” and the sky is starting to fall. If you cut down the trees the sky will fall that is why it is so important for us to be here today because the trees keep the earth cool and Guyana is located in what is called the Guiana Shield and the Guiana Shield is one the coolest places on the planet.
The Guiana Shield stretches from Columbia, to Venezuela, to Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil.
That’s G-u-i-a-n-a. There are four ways to spell Guyana you know. Guiana is the geographical feature bigger than Greenland. G-u-y-a-n-a is where you are at present. G-u-a-y-a-n-a is what you call part of eastern Venezuela and G-u-y-a-n-e is what the French call Cayenne. Well, you call it Cayenne, the French call it Guyane. Cayenne is the capital of Guyane.
The Guiana Shield is bigger than Greenland and this place is real cool man because we help to keep the earth cool. When other countries generate carbon dioxide, the trees absorb those noxious fumes. We store carbon. In fact, countries like Norway pay us to keep our trees standing, in other words trees are more profitable standing than cut down. That is what calls our attention to the importance of this day. Trees are more valuable standing and countries, particularly industrialised countries in northern Europe, are prepared to pay us to keep our trees standing. In other words, it is profitable to have trees and Guyana is still eighty-five percent covered with forest. When people come to this country, I tell them, it looks like a sea or bowl of broccoli and it pays us to keep the forest standing. We must walk on two legs, as the saying goes, if you want omelette, you have to break the eggshell, but at the same time we must make sure that we replant the trees that we cut down so that we would regenerate and I’d like to refer you to the remarks of His Worship, the Mayor, you’re not doing this for yourself you know, you’re doing it for your pickney them. You’re doing it for the pickney.
So this exercise is very important, and I refer to Guyana as the ‘green state’ because we need to protect our biodiversity and our wildlife. I know some of you like your lil pepperpot and your souse; you have wild meat festivals, but the wildlife, like our trees, are more valuable alive than dead and people are prepared to come to this country. Over eight hundred and fifty species of birds; we have some of the largest animals in the world. The Anaconda is the largest snake in the world. The Arapaima is the largest freshwater fish in the world. The Harpy eagle is the largest eagle in the world.
All these things come from Guyana – the largest snake, the Bushmaster, the largest poisonous snake in the world. You have spiders bigger than your shoe. Giant spiders come from this country; the false vampire bat comes from Guyana, but where do these animals live? They live in the forest. They live under the trees and if you cut the trees down, you remove their habitat. You destroy their habitat. This is an amazing country. This is no Anguilla. Any Anguillans here? I have to be careful, I have to be careful.
I’m not attacking Anguilla, but you know we are the largest country in the Caribbean and this a country you can be proud of because of its beauty, because of its bounty… beautiful coastland. We don’t have a lot of beaches, but the beaches we have are very pretty. Shell Beach and so on are very pretty. Beautiful grasslands right here in Region Ten, the Berbice grasslands. Sometimes Lindeners don’t like me to tell them that Linden is not Region Ten. Region Ten is bigger than Israel. Region Ten is nearly twenty thousand square kilometres, but you have beautiful grasslands; you have wetlands. Our Canje Pheasant comes from the wetlands, the swamps.
You have highlands and you have islands. Some people get the two mixed up, so I have to be careful. When you tell them it’s highlands, they say oh yes, I come from the highlands, I come from Wakenaam but we have highlands in the Pakaraimas, Roraima. Sometimes they’re so beautiful, they’re covered with clouds, you can hardly see them. We have islands: Wakenaam, Leguan and Hogg Island alone are the size of the British Virgin Islands. Some people say the island is bigger than Barbados, that is not true. They are bigger than the BVI, that’s before and after the hurricane.
We have beautiful rivers. We have beautiful waterfalls, we have lakes. Those of you who would have gone to the Essequibo Coast would have seen lakes. So, this landscape that God has given us is so beautiful and so varied but its fragile and we need to protect and preserve it, not only because it’s the habitat of those animals but because it will sustain life, it will sustain food, it will sustain our medicines. The extractive industries have been very disruptive and they need to do less damage and help to regenerate nature or else climate change is going to affect us more seriously than at present. All these floods, the hurricanes, the drought are caused, in part, by climate change.
So my brothers and sisters, today is a very significant day not only for Wismar and Linden or for the party; not only for the country but for humanity because what Guyana is and what Guyana is doing is important for the rest of earth. There are many countries which do not possess our resources, our capability to absorb carbon dioxide, our freshwater sources and that is the importance of why we are gathered here today, and what we are doing.
‘Green’ is what we are, ‘green’ is what we do because our whole environmental policy, our National Development Policy, depends on keeping Guyana ‘green’ and out of this ‘greenness’ we can develop eco-tourism. People are prepared to pay good money to come to Guyana to see those animals and those birds. Your children will be able to establish tour companies so they can travel of the rivers and see some of those rare birds, see some of the rare animals, see the waterfalls, go by Rockstone. You can establish eco-tourism.
Iwokrama itself! Twenty-eight years ago President Desmond Hoyte, the second leader of our great party, had the vision to establish the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, and this is the heart of our ‘green state’, the centre of our ‘green state’, where we keep trees, where we keep the vegetation, where we keep our flora and fauna intact, so there could be many industries, there could be many educational initiatives.
Your children when they come out – I remember when I spoke with the Linden Foundation encouraging children to go into STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and as you know, any school that has laboratories, any school that is committed to Science education is going to get help from me because I want our young people, particularly from those communities where Science and Technology are important elements in the curriculum, to understand that they are the ones who are going to build bridges.
We have a river that is a thousand kilometres long- the Essequibo River. Not one bridge! That thing hurts me bad. Not one, a thousand kilometres, we don’t have a single bridge. You have to pay pontoon to cross over our own river – and look at the high fees they cost. If Government charged… I can’t go there. If Carwyn try to charge that he’s out of work you know, but what people charge to cross the Essequibo River! All I’m saying is we need scientists, we need engineers who can build bridges, build highways to develop this beautiful country.
So when we speak of a ‘green state’ it’s not just a colour, not just a song, not just a rhyme; it is where Guyana is going to go, energy generation, particularly ‘green’ energy, sustainable energy. We want to make dieseline and gasoline and these fossil fuels history. Countries like Spain, whole countries are now boasting that forty percent of energy generation is from sustainable sources, from the sun, from the river, from the wind, you can get energy, and that is the direction we’re going under this administration and this country.
So people of Linden, people of Wismar, I’m very happy to be here with you again to share this important tree planting exercise. Whether it’s in Bartica, at a previous tree day, National Tree Day, my Minister of Agriculture told me that if every household in Bartica planted one breadfruit tree, Bartica alone could produce a million pounds of breadfruit a year. I know some of you all don’t like breadfruit, but I see people here who descended from Bajans and as I told you all before earlier this year, I had lunch with the Heads of Government of the Caribbean and when a man see breadfruit his eyes lit up. He said, “Where I come from”, (I can’t call names you know) he said, “Where I come from is the breadfruit capital of the Caribbean” and you know I said, “Look, we got fish too you know” because like he only wanted to eat breadfruit.
Eighteen varieties of breadfruit in that country alone; they love breadfruit. So if you all can produce breadfruit I’m sure you all can send breadfruit till the island sink and all. But planting trees is not just ornamental; you can make a living and every now and then when you lil’ hungry and you ain’t get no wuk, you could always pick a breadfruit and eat.
So my brothers and sisters, I’d like to congratulate the Chairman of our Party in this region for this initiative. I’d like to congratulate all Lindeners for leading in this National Tree Day observance 2017, but I’d like to ask that you pay attention to the previous speakers and care those plants so that your children can come and not only shelter under them but also pick the fruit and they, learning from their parents and grandparents, will do the same for their children and grandchildren.
Congratulations! Thank you and may God bless you all.