Enviro – 28th November 2016

Simon McGuinness, National Coordinator of Cuba Support Group Ireland uses Cuba as a case study of sustainable development in his MSc module level course at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Simon’s contention that Cuba is the only currently successful model for sustainable development is supported by the World Wildlife Fund in their Biannual Living Planet Report 2016.

Simon presented information to support this conclusion and identified headings under which Cuba excels. He also contrasted Cuba with Ireland, using WWF data, Haiti under a number of sustainability criteria, for example ecological footprint and human development indices. Cuba contrasts with Ireland for example the former having an ecological footprint of 1.68 hectares per person, below the global threshold of 1.8 hectares defining the sustainable limit of the planet. This contrasts with Ireland’s 5.2 hectares per person, on the basis of which we would need three planet Earths to support the Irish lifestyle.

Cuba has a totally organic food production process having abandoned its highly industrialized, and fossil fuel dependent, system of agriculture in the 1990’s without the need for intensive fossil fuel consumption. Farming is combined with forestry (agro forestry). The greening of the island of Cuba is impressive by any standard. “Food miles” are unknown with a food metre, i.e. the distance food travels to the Cuban consumer measured in metres, is one of the lowest in the world. Care of the elderly citizens, lack of homelessness, excellent health and educational facilities are all in stark contrast with continuing and escalating failures in western societies to meet even basic human needs. Panellists Robert Navan and Joe Dunne participated in the discussions which followed.

Simon explained that Cuba, like Haiti, was once a main centre for slavery and, through colonial exploitation, experienced the destruction of its forests. The Cuban Revolution from the early 1960’s, but has actively replanted them again and Cubans rate environmental conservation very highly. Cuba’s ability to cope with hurricane Matthew, a category 4 hurricane, which hit it and Haiti a few weeks ago, is illustrative. With direct impact, hitting each island with the same ferocity with waves 30-40 feet high, with concrete roofs ripped off buildings yet meant that not one person died in Cuba. In contrast, whereas more than 900 people died in Haiti, poor people, left to fend for themselves, totally unprotected from the elements. The Cubans success was a result of the pre-evacuation plans that the island has whereby people are bussed out of the path of the hurricane well in advance of the hurricane. When they return they are accompanied by teams of reconstruction experts, equipment and materials. Also the dense forests act as shelter belts reducing the ferocity of the hurricane. The flow of heavy rains brought by the hurricane are slowed down by the forests in the case of Cuba whereas in Haiti huge mud flows result with the eroded sediment rushing down the deforested hillsides inclines causing huge and deadly mudslides. Cuba’s sustainable excellence has been achieved in spite of and to an extent as a result trade blockades by the US, the longest and most intensive blockade in human history.

Presenter: John Haughton

Interviewee: Simon McGuinness  

Studio guest: Robert Navan

Panellist: Joe Dunne