Wasted Energy

At the heart of energy conservation in Jamaica is our unwillingness to give up things, especially cars. For some reason we’ve gotten it into our heads that having a car to drive to and from work and wherever on weekends is the be all and end all of having ‘arrived.’ Where that destination is I haven’t a clue. However, Jamaicans are faced with the major failure of our transportation system and that is clouding our vision as to which achievements to really strive for. A car key isn’t really a status symbol for our society at the moment as much as it’s a burden and a mirage.

I’ve had many a conversation with my father about how the transportation system was ‘when him was a bwoy.’ Back then they even had bus time tables – gasp! – and buses that ran on time. Daddy was born in the 1950s. Contrast this with an experience my grandfather had in Jamaica recently. He’s lived in the US since forever but has decided to relocate to Jamaica – kinda. He gets around quite fine by the bus system in sleepless NY, as do I for my daily commute and aside from the MTA’s growing fares and fears; a few rude bus drivers and the problem plagued E train things are pretty good. He and I can depend on the bus & train to guess where we need to go. So Grandpa gets on a bus in Jamaica, with a similar expectation I think, and dared to ask the conductress if she had a timetable available. Now even I, as someone who has taken the bus in Jamaica but a handful of times, could have warned him off asking this question, but he didn’t ask me he asked the bus conductress. Said bus conductress had to be asked twice or three times because she simply ignored him even as he persisted. And when she bothered to answer it was to cuss him off and vent her anger at his having asked such a ludicrous question. It just so happened that at the bus stop was one of those bus inspectors who said that Grandpa should have addressed the question to him, not the bus conductress. Now, ahm, who better to ask about time tables than the person who actually travels the route? Nevertheless, the gentleman was able to give Grandpa some information but still way short of an actual time table. Note three things: (1) the bus inspector did not in any way reprimand or speak to the conductress about the manner in which she responded to a paying customer; (2) this is an awful case of bureaucracy run amok coupled with inefficiency resulting in plain foolishness; and (3) Jamaica’s service industries – save the dwindling tourist one – have absolutely no concept of customer service.

We have to fix our transportation system. Daddy’s favourite example is that if he gets up one morning – at an unholy hour I might add – and his likkle cyar won’t start he should have the option to hop on a bus or train and get to work efficiently. He has that option in New York. We don’t have that option in Jamaica. Not only would most of us outright dismiss the idea of taking the bus, simply because it’s too complicated and time consuming to figure out what to take where, but we will be cry at the thought of paying taxi fare. Say nothing of the traffic that we’d still be stuck in while in said taxi. The traffic in Jamaica in the morning and evening rush hour is r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s. There are too many cars on the road. And they’re bad cars too; cars that barely pass inspection or don’t even have to go through the process because in Jamaica a likkle dollars goes a long way toward circumventing the system. The boon we thought we were getting when all those damned ‘deportees’ were coming in from Japan really wasn’t a boon at all. After all, Japan got rid of most of those cars because they no longer met their environmental standards. Yet we gobbled them up thinking that were ‘arriving’ somewhere with our new bran’ status symbol when in fact we were dooming ourselves to sit round in traffic. Once again, we’re too concerned with the burdensome task of living (in this case trying to move around efficiently) to really think about how our choices affect our lived.

Not only is it costing too much to buy gas these days but the majority of cars in Jamaica cannot burn the fuel to ensure maximum or even close to that efficiency. Ethanol is but a small step towards burning fuel efficiently or cleanly. No surprise that this initiative is coming from none other than Mr. Philip Paulwell, and is further evidence of the man’s doltishness and short-sightedness. The cost of energy is just TOO MUCH and we need to tackle that infinitely more far-reaching problem of how to improve our energy consumption. Why can’t we tackle the problem with serious, long term vision? Like I said before, doing business is about making a profit so whatever cuts into that bottom line of a business either has to be improved or it will disqualify the will carry out the business. Wage ‘unrest’ aside, it is the cost of energy that’s kicking our asses and holding us back. Daddy also informs me that Jamaica refines oil in such an inefficient way that it’s a major stumbling block in our quest to build a home grown manufacturing sector as well as attract foreign investors to do business in Jamaica. He knows this because he used to work on Jamaica’s power plants and so is intimately acquainted with the process or producing energy. He’s also an engineer who builds power plants and the like in NY. In short, he’s not someone shooting of his mouth, and it is actually fascinating to hear him talk about this stuff because what we need to do to improve our energy-producing efficiency seems to sensible yet we’re dragging our feet with ethanol production and fluorescent light bulbs. These are small and ultimately ineffective steps in the larger picture.

We need to think of a comprehensive from-the-ground-up energy conservation policy. One that urges every household to not just turn off the lights when they’re e not in use, but to look at the ways in which they contribute to Jamaica’s energy bill. Chief among these initiatives needs to be a revamped, functional transportation system. Additionally, we need to look at other sources of energy – soalr, hydro and wind power. That we could power our homes with the sun’s free energy and cut back on our dependence on oil in power plants by harnessing the wind’s awesome power is not an unreachable goal. It is within our reach but we need good leadership and a skilled and willing work force to get the job down. God didn’t give us so much strong cool breeze jus’ to keep us cool…it’s an asset and we need to harness its power. The technology exists and we have bright people langushiing in paper-pushing desk jobs or finding ways to survive within the ‘informal’ sector or just escaping to another country altogether. It is a shame that both our natural and human capital are going to waste.

Most of all we need the railways. Rail is the most efficient way to move a lot of people. Again another opinion from Daddy but I’ve seen it myself during my own commute: An E train has about 10 – 12 cars, each of which holds about 50 people sitting and 55standing. That’s 1,050- 1,260 people per train, and an E train leaves its main station ever 3-4 minutes during rush hour. That’s a lot of people per hour, at least15,750 . And that’s only the E train in one direction. Can’t see a better deal than that, really. And the argument that ‘only certain people tek bus’ is ludicrous. I see all manner of people on the bus in NY from the Jewish and Italian grannies blinging more than any hip-hop star could ever hope to, to the Jamaican nanny rushing to take of someone else’s kids while hers are left back home. There’s nothing wrong with using a bus and train system that works. Think also of the jobs an organized and efficient system would generate – from a skilled middle class to entry-level low skill work, and the towns that wallowing in an inaccessible nowhere who would now be linked to major city centres. Think a widening of the work force pool and the increased ability of young people to access schools and other training facilities; think of opening up areas of Jamaica that are at the moement closed from anyone except those with a four-wheeled beat. The possibilites are endless. We must begin to harness them.

The road to a good energy conservation policy goes through an improved transportation system. This is something that touches the lives of every single Jamaican, whether we’re entombed in our cars during rush hour or squashed together on a bus or careening around some death trap corner in a route taxi. Another thing to take action on but we sit back on an opportunity to come together and improve all our lives.

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