As I sat with Nick for this interview in June, we were unbeknowingly in the midst of the hottest month in the country’s recorded weather history. Kingston itself broke its own record for the hottest day ever recorded on the island, reaching temperatures of 39.1 degrees Celsius (102.38 for the Americans out there). This is an entire TWO degrees hotter from the previous record of 37.1 degrees. Thankfully, we were indoors in a climate-controlled café while many of the city’s labourers toil daily in the sun as Kingston undergoes a construction boom. As a small island developing state, climate change remains a major impediment to further development, and climate resilience especially will become increasingly important for securing the country’s existence.
Nick Kitchin did his undergraduate degree in environmental science at Florida Gulf Coast University. But it was not in the midst of the campus’s swampy rural campus that he found his calling for climate resilience. Nick grew up in Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second city, where his parents owned a store. Each day after school he had to walk past the infamous North Gully, which is always teeming with plastic pollution. He says it was this daily ordeal which stirred his overarching concerns for the environment.
In high school, Nick enjoyed science but didn’t favour any of the typical career paths; he didn’t want to be an engineer or a doctor. He flirted with the idea of becoming a meteorologist, but the job offerings were limited in a tiny field within an already tiny island. He also struggled with mathematics, which was another barrier to meteorology. What he did know was that he loved geography, proclaiming that he can “name any likkle town on the island”. It was with this knowledge that he decided that his future lay in environmental protection.
As the environmental coordinator for one of Jamaica’s largest hotels, Nick manages the hotel’s recycling infrastructure and create projects focused on climate resilience. Within his first week on the job he had already pitched the idea for a clean up of a neighbouring public beach which was done in partnership with Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica and Jamaica’s Social Development Commission. On the day today, his role managing recycling enforcement utilises a best practice scorecard. The different areas assessed include energy and water saving.
Nick says the work is “very social, very draining”; he spends long hours in the sun assessing the hotel and its surrounding environs. The hotel is based in Hanover, an infamously undeveloped parish in Jamaica. As an attempt to disrupt this, his job also involves educating the Hanoverians of the virtues of recycling. He says it’s hard but he’s had success when speaking to them in Patois, the local dialect and trying his best to breakdown concepts to people who have never even heard of climate change. To this end, he uses more of the soft skills he learned in university than his vast ecological knowledge.
Within the tourism industry, other large hotels have environmental coordinators whilst smaller hotels have carved a name for themselves within an environmental niche. It’s a huge asset for attracting guests. Nick can’t however discount the industry’s oppressive structures. In particular, he highlights class, colour and racial stratification. He’s skeptical about the nation’s leaders pursuing tourism for long term economic growth. He thinks it ultimately takes away from the Jamaican people as it privatises more and more of our natural resources. The industry is also replete overworked and underpaid workers; it’s not something he sees himself in for the long term. He notes how particularly uncomfortable to see people the same age as him, working with him but being paid four times less than him. And of course the land intensive nature of tourism means it’s very damaging to the environment.
Nick thinks Costa Rica provides a model of what a sustainable tourism industry could look like in Jamaica. The country recently celebrated 200 days on renewable energy. With Jamaica’s climate departure now being predicted to happen within the next five years, the country has less time to radically transform itself than ever.