The role of the environment A complex question

The role the environment plays in our lives is an interesting one. It is complex. Looking at the recent split of portfolios the Cayman Islands Government has undertaken, in the same manner as her international counterparts when a new government comes to power, the coupling of the environment portfolio is often an uneasy bedfellow.

The reason for this? Well, the environment has a plethora of meanings that are not always easy to define. Let’s compare the environment and the role it has on our lives, in comparison to some of its political adversaries.

Tourism – people like to travel. It’s one of the largest industries in the world. A huge proportion of the world’s population is reliant upon the tourism industry for an income. For example, in 2010, 23.4 per cent of the Cayman Islands’ gross domestic product came from directly from tourism.

Education – is a necessity and provides the basic skill set for a local workforce. From a personal perspective, education is often the link to furthering your personal development and getting to where you want to be in life. As an employer, you want people with an abundance of the right skills and experience.

Most people, if asked, would think both tourism and education (for example) are important and could definitely point out the relevance of these two areas to their own lives, beliefs and aspirations.  The same could be said for health care, labour, finance and home security etc. So why does environment seem such an awkward topic?

Well, to start with, its definition is linked to so many different areas such as finance, tourism, culture, sport, education, development (planning), agriculture and health, to name but a few. In a diverse hot-spot such as the Cayman Islands, it is almost impossible to discuss the environment without touching on another subject area, particularly tourism. However, the highly relevant role of the environment in many different spheres (certainly politically) is actually a weakness.

The ‘environment’ is chopped up and dissected, providing different meanings or priorities to different people.  A definition of the environment for one person could be very different to another and implementing environmental laws therefore touches many a nerve, as individual perspectives cloud judgements about the bigger picture.   

“So what?”, I hear you cry? Well, unfortunately, the environment is also massively complex in terms of our understanding of it and therefore protection of it. When species are extinct, they’re extinct. When the sea level rises, it rises.  These impacts are far-reaching and long lasting – longer than most holidays, degree courses or even our lifetimes.

Flora and fauna play a critical part in the world’s natural balance, regulating climate, providing oxygen and fresh water, and providing a balance in biodiversity that is essentially the main cog in the world’s wheel.  Often its position as a ‘resource’ means it gets abused, dilapidated and taken for granted in the name of commercialism. The multi-functional role of the environment is therefore its nemesis.

The only way to ensure a sustainable future is to recognise the environment as the key to life on earth and for each of us to take the time to identify the part the environment plays in our own lives, much as we could do with education and tourism.

We should perhaps think about long-term impacts rather than personal development or gratification.




Justin Uzzell