Tag Archives: climate change

By learning more, we can do more. [Text and concept by this author. Background image by Amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management: 16 Jul – 5 Nov 2016

This is somewhat a repost of previous blogs but I am glad to share with you the news that UP Open University is offering the non-formal online course, Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (RCRANRM) again! Developed in partnership with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), the 6th run will begin on July 16 and end on November 5, 2016. Enrollment ends on July 9, 2016.

By learning more, we can do more. [Text and concept by this author. Background image by Amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

By learning more, we can do more. [Text and concept by this author. Background image by Amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

We are all blessed that this age of internet opens up a new world of learning–distance education (DE). This mode of learning allows busy professionals, students, and stay-at-home parents to pursue undergraduate, higher, and non-formal learning without the need to go to classrooms physically.

RCRANRM runs for 16 weeks (one semester) and is designed to introduce learners to the core concepts, methods, and tools in climate change mitigation and adaptation particularly in the context of food security, agriculture, and natural resource management. While this is a non-formal course, participants have to comply with specific requirements in order to complete the course and receive certificates.

I would highly recommend this course to those interested in climate change, professionals engaged or hope to be involved in environmental work, and students who would like to pursue a career in environmental management. It is also suitable for media practitioners and personnel of legislators and policymakers especially those who want to have deeper theoretical background in climate change issues and policies in the context of agriculture and natural resources management.

I had been one of the students of the course’s first run in October 2013 to January 2014 and can attest about how much the course helps busy professionals like us understand climate change more deeply.  I hope that you will find this course very timely and significant. We see the impacts of climate change everyday and attending this course will help us contextualize it in the national setting. Such contextualization is necessary when developing appropriate responses and action. Let me end this post with a simple reflection:

“Climate change forces us to think of it in terms of food security. When we eat rice today, let’s think of the farmers and our natural assets that make all these possible–the soil, the sunshine, and the rains–and reflect on our situation as creatures who need to survive and our role as citizens who need to be more responsible.”

Hope to meet you online soon!

UPOU FMDS Contact Details:

Mr. Larry N. Cruz | Faculty of Management and Development Studies, UPOU | Email fmds-cep@upou.edu.ph | Telefax: (6349) 536-6010

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.) (Full disclosure: I am RCRANRM’s course coordinator.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

The National Greening Program and climate action

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

(Note: This is a copy of a paper that I had submitted in ENRM 236: Governance of Upland Ecosystems, in November 2014. I am currently enrolled in the course, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management in UPOU.)

I. Introduction

The horrors of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) may probably linger in our minds for as long as we live. Many wondered and are still puzzled as to how a country that is so used to strong typhoons and cyclones seems to be still unprepared to the magnitude of strong typhoons like Yolanda, which caused the loss of more than 6,300 lives and more than 1,000 still missing (NDRRMC, 2014).

The aftermath and damage of Yolanda as well as all the other equally-damaging typhoons paint a gruesome picture to our national landscape. We (those who have not been significantly affected) can go on with our lives without much of ‘psychological scars’ but the memories will forever be painfully etched for those who have lost their loved ones, homes, and properties.

Now, in the quiet after the storm, we are faced with two clear choices: (a) to simply go on with our lives not really caring or (b) doing something meaningful that will have lasting impact to the lives of others. The second choice can be done through an act that is as simple as planting a tree, most especially, a mangrove tree. Why mangrove trees? What program can we look at to give us the bigger picture of reforestation as part of our country’s climate action? Through this brief paper, we are taking a closer look at the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with focus on mangrove trees.

II. Multi-tasking mangrove trees (a snapshot from literature)

Mangrove trees do significant environmental services. They are typically medium in height and very tolerant, allowing them to survive in brackish water. The Philippines are believed to be hosting more than 50% of the world’s 70 mangrove species (FPE, 2014).  Mangrove trees’ benefits are summarized below:

  • providing protection and shelter against extreme weather events, such as storm surges, floods, and tsunamis. Mangroves absorb and disperse tidal surges, for example, “a mangrove stand of 30 trees per 0.01 hectare with a depth of 100 m can reduce the destructive force of a tsunami by up to 90%” (Hirashi and Harada, 2003, as cited in Wetlands International, n.d.)
  • acting as carbon sink by absorbing significant amount of carbon dioxide; mangrove trees are capable of absorbing up to 4 times more carbon than their counterpart in tropical rainforests (Ranada, 2013).
  • providing habitat, food and nourishment for rich varieties of animal and plant species (e.g., many marine and fish species reproduce and spend time in the mangroves as juveniles or adults (Wetlands International, n.d.).
  • contributing to ecological balance by preventing sedimentation, which leads to siltation in coral reefs; accumulated soil and debris also facilitates the expansion of lands (FPE, 2014).
    • producing timber and plant products as these species of trees are useful and valuable; wood from mangrove trees are perfect for construction and are commercially used for pulp, wood chip, fuel, and charcoal production; meanwhile, certain species are used for medicinal purposes (WWF, n.d.)
    • Contributing to tourism revenues as they add beauty to  beachfronts and coastal communities; the diversity of marine species in the areas also attracts snorkeling enthusiasts (WWF, n.d.).

Indeed, mangrove trees provide valuable environmental services and are proofs of how rich and blessed our country is. Their significance should also be seen in the context of climate change. More severe weather events are expected in this part of the world. Storm surges, such as those that happened in Tacloban City, are caused by extreme or very strong typhoon winds, which eventually cause sea waters to surge over and submerge coastal towns. Super typhoon Yolanda was observed to have caused storm surges of up to five meters high (McIvor et al., 2012b, as cited in Primavera, 2013).

While mangrove trees will not stop strong tidal waves and storm surges, they do tend to lessen impact and act as buffer zone. They also absorb carbon dioxide, which significantly contributes to the rise in global temperature.  Indeed, mangrove trees are our multi-tasking super-trees! It then becomes necessary that mangrove areas’ rehabilitation be an indispensable part of any greening and reforestation initiative. Let us now consider DENR’s National Greening Program.

III. Understanding the National Greening Program

The NGP is primarily a two-pronged initiative, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts and poverty alleviation by addressing the need for livelihood of marginalized upland communities and even lowland families (DENR, n.d.).  The program involves reforestation in public lands such as forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservation, sites targeted for urban greening, inactive mining areas, and other suitable lands. (DENR, n.d.) What is noteworthy about the program is its multi-agency approach, requiring government agencies to conduct their own tree-planting activities. For example, agencies such as the Departments of Labor and Employment, Justice, National Defense, and Interior and Local Government, Education, and Public Works and Highways have issued circulars and administrative orders requiring their regional offices to conduct tree-planting activities.

Rehabilitation of mangrove areas is part of the goals of NGP. It is targeted to cover about 380 kilometers of coastline (Ranada, 2013). Region 8, being prone to strong typhoons, is among its beneficiaries. Aside from its participation in the NGP, Eastern Visayas is also conducting the Leyte Gulf Rehabilitation program, which had been allotted a budget of P38 million. It targets to rehabilitate the mangrove and beach forest areas from Palo, Leyte to San Juanico Bridge, Tacloban City, and other areas along the San Juanico Gulf (spanning the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar) and covering about 38.5 km of coastline (DENR Region 8, n.d.).

IV.  Success and criticisms

The NGP covers all the regions and has so far led to the planting of more than 397 million trees (DENR, 2014). Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), which has been significantly damaged by Yolanda, is indeed benefiting from the NGP. In 2013, a report has indicated that the government is planning to reconfigure the plans for Eastern Visayas primarily because of super typhoon Yolanda; more focus will be given to the rehabilitation of coastal areas over reforestation efforts in upland areas (Ranada, 2013). So far, tree-planting activities are taking place in coastal areas in Tacloban City and Dulag town in Leyte; Guiuan, Llorente, and Balangiga in Eastern Samar; and Basey in Samar (Ranada, 2013). Meanwhile, Borongan, Easter Samar has already targeted the planting of mangrove trees in about 1,150 hectares in the Leyte Gulf area (Azura, 2014).

There are accounts of successful implementation. For example, the program had been observed as directly assisting communities because it requires the employment of locals, many of whom have been rendered jobless after Yolanda’s wrath.

However, there had been problems and criticisms as well. The following are just some of them:

  • failure to adopt science-based protocols in mangrove rehabilitation. For example, planting at the seafront is not ideal because it leads to high mortality (i.e., the lower intertidal to subtidal location is not a favorable spot for mangrove trees) (Primavera, 2013).
  • planting of wrong species of trees or devoting more areas for fast-growing species meant for commercial purposes (Ranada, 2014)
  • lack of massive and serious educational and social marketing programs (Primavera, 2013)
  • planting of wrong species of trees (e.g., fast-growing bamboo varieties, which cannot withstand storm surges and low water supply) (Primavera, 2013).
  • expansion of fishponds (many were illegally established) ultimately reduces mangrove areas
  • poor implementation of greenbelt laws (e.g., PD 705 of 1975, PD 953 of 1976, PD 1067, DENR Administrative Order 42 of 1986, DENR AO 76 of 1987, Fisheries Code of 1998, etc.)  (Primavera, 2013)
  • seemingly lopsided view of trees as income-generating goods against the need for protection and conservation; there are reports of intentional burning so that more trees will be funded, ultimately generating income for the planters (Ranada, 2014)
  • weak monitoring instruments (Primavera & Esteban, 2008)

I have also observed that most of the NGP documents and reports focused mainly on the number of trees to be planted and had already been planted rather than the over-all impact to ecological and societal goals. It is understandable that economic gains must be ensured so that the people can benefit equitably from the use of our natural resources. However, I also think that more seriousness and efforts must be given to the meaning of NGP to our long-term survival vis-à-vis climate change and environmental protection.

In the context of mangrove plantation, I think that there is also lesser importance given to it. The projects and reports show small percentage of areas (and funds) given to mangrove rehabilitation. There are also few materials on these very important tree species.

V. Moving forward

We have began this paper by recalling the pains and damages from super typhoon Yolanda. I have chosen this topic because I feel that we need to do more about our coastal ecosystems, primarily, our mangrove areas, in the context of climate change and environmental management. These “multi-tasking” trees deserve more attention than what we are giving them at the moment. The following are just some of the interventions, which we can still do or adopt:

  • our responses should be more “people-centric”; the NGP seems to be partnering with both the public and private sectors, however, I have yet to see a significant number of people or organizations who are actually authentically engaged
  • the NGP managers should also develop reports that meaningfully carry lessons and best practices, and not just show statistics on the number of trees planted or areas covered
  • more massive information dissemination and social marketing must be done and such efforts should not also concentrate on the cold statistics alone
  • the tendency to look at tree-planting as “easy money” sources (thereby, leading to rampant burning) may be prevented by establishing credible third party “Bantay Kagubatan” squads all over the country (e.g., volunteers, students, employees of private offices, etc.)
  • Most importantly, perhaps, we need to “re-appreciate” our forests by connecting them to our spiritual growth—seeing them as our anchor, that ever-nurturing force which gives us strength, refuge, breath, and sustenance. This may be done through more values formation activities and integration in the educational system, faith-based and church organizations, corporate social responsibility interventions, media engagement, and deeper people and private sector engagement.

We need to put our acts together before another Yolanda—probably stronger—hits us again, totally unprepared.

References

Azura, B. (2014, April 2). CENRO-Borongan to rehabilitate mangroves in coastal areas, Sinirangan News. Available at http://www.sinirangan-news.net/2014/04/cenro-borongan-to-implement-p1-billion.html

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (2014). National Greening Program Annual Accomplishment Report (2014), NGP Website. Available at http://ngp.denr.gov.ph/index.php/site-administrator/ngp-accomplishment-report

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (n.d.) National Greening Program, DENR website. Available at http://www.denr.gov.ph/priority-programs/national-greening-program.html and http://ngp.denr.gov.ph/

Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Region 8. (n.d.). EV to benefit from the 1B peso mangrove rehab project. Available at http://r8.denr.gov.ph/index.php/86-region-news-items/330-ev-to-benefit-from-the-1-billion-peso-mangrove-rehab-project

Foundation of the Philippine Environment (2014, February 17). The Lay of the Land: Ecosystem Diversity in the Philippines (website of the Foundation of the Philippine Environment). Available at http://fpe.ph/biodiversity.html/view/the-lay-of-the-land-ecosystem-diversity-in-the-philippines

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. (2014, April 17). Updates regarding the effects of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Available at http://www.ndrrmc.gov.ph/attachments/article/1177/Update%20Effects%20TY%20YOLANDA%2017%20April%202014.pdf

Ranada, P. (2013, November 20) DENR to restore mangrove forests in Yolanda-hit areas, Rappler. Available at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/disasters/typhoon-yolanda/44182-denr-restore-mangrove-forests-yolanda

Ranada, P. (2014, June 22). Rethinking the National Greening Program, Rappler. Available at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/60948-rethinking-national-greening-program

Rath A. (n.d.). Mangrove importance, World Wildlife Fund website. Available at http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/mangroves/mangrove_importance/

Primavera, J. (2013, December 19). Shelter from the storm: Coastal greenbelts of mangroves and beach forests, Philippine Star. Available at http://www.philstar.com/science-and-technology/2013/12/19/1269584/shelter-storm-coastal-greenbelts-mangroves-and-beach

Primavera, J. H., & Esteban, J. M. A. (2008). A review of mangrove rehabilitation in the Philippines: successes, failures and future prospects. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 16(5), 345–358. Available at http://repository.seafdec.org.ph/handle/10862/93

Wetlands International (n.d.) Mangrove Forests (Website of Wetland International). Available at http://www.wetlands.org/Whatarewetlands/Mangroveforests/tabid/2730/Default.aspx

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Connect and learn with us! [The image here is a screenshot of our FB Page.]

Landscape ecology page in Facebook!

This will just be a very quick post as I am in the middle of work deadlines, business affairs, school work, and personal and domestic errands (whew!). I also just came back from a short trip to Iloilo City (one of my favorite places down south) and our project team needs to work on important deliverables. I wish everyone–who is also experiencing hectic schedules–positive energies and strength! May we all accomplish our goals for the week and the months and years ahead!

Connect and learn with us! [The image here is a screenshot of our FB Page.]

Connect and learn with us! [The image here is a screenshot of our FB Page.]

Anyway, I am happy to share with you that our Landscape Ecology class in UPOU* has developed a Facebook page called Leaders and Learners for Landscape Ecology! It is devoted to discussions on landscape ecology and environment in general.  [Update: The original site was created and administered by a fellow graduate student (who seems to be very passionate about the environment!), Mr. Anton Antonio, however, we had experienced problems in accessing it the past month so we have created a new page.] For this academic year, I was invited by Sir Jun (Dr. Inocencio Buot Jr., Dean of the Faculty of Management and Development Studies of the UPOU) to help in managing it. I am both pleased and humbled to take on this role and hope to be able to help in small ways in promoting deeper love for Mother Earth, through this FB page. I must also mention my classmate, Ruen Balmores, who volunteered to help me out in managing the site. He is, in fact, overseas so his gesture to help means a lot. Thank you so much, Anton, Dean Jun, and Ruen! Mabuhay kayong lahat!

I won’t keep you so you still have time to visit the page! Please visit it and know more about landscape ecology, climate change, and the environment and connect with like-minded citizens. We will also be happy if you can send questions, comments, and suggestions.

Caring for the environment is the best way to show our love to our fellow brothers and sisters. Most importantly, when we care for the environment, it shows how much we appreciate our roots and our greatest Source.

Namaste!

*I am currently taking the course, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management (MENRM).

__________________

This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014-2015 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Bangui windmills, Ilocos Norte, Philippines [Photo credit: Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Solar energy for Filipino households: Is it viable?*

Bangui windmills, Ilocos Norte, Philippines [Photo credit: Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Bangui windmills, Ilocos Norte, Philippines [Photo credit: Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

[For a more detailed discussion of this topic, please download the full paper. The link is embedded in this post.]

The Philippines, being an archipelagic nation, is considered as among the most threatened countries in the world when it comes to climate change. In fact, according to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an increase in annual rainfall and rainfall variability in the Philippines since the 1980s are already being observed and these trends are expected to cause the most serious impacts in the future.  It had been ranked as the highest country in the world in terms of vulnerability to cyclone occurence (CCC, 2011). The Philippines will continue to expect an increase in extreme weather events–the most recent is super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)–including tropical cyclones and droughts. Natural disasters in the last 20 years had affected 80 million people, making it as a country with one of the highest levels of mortality risk, scoring 8 out of 9 from the UNISDR’s Mortality Risk Index (CFU, 2011). A continuing rise in the sea level is expected and this will significantly impact residents and communities in coastal areas. Climate change is a daily reality in the Philippines and significantly causing challenges and difficulties in agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, and almost all if not all of the country’s industries.

The idea of low carbon development (LCD) may have began many years ago but several sources say that it was first used or adopted formally during the Rio Convention of the United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC) in 1992. This strategy is being taken by both developed and developing countries that aspire to deal with climate change through the adoption of low carbon development pathways, green growth, reduction of dependency on fossil fuels, and thereby, reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) (ESMAP, n.d.).

This post looks primarily at LCD particularly the use of clean or renewable energy (RE) as a form of low carbon intervention. RE is considered as a good example because it can contribute to GHG mitigation, is practical, can be done at the household level, and supported by legislation [1] (with the enactment of Republic Act 9513 or the Renewable Energy Law of 2008).

It is about time that Filipinos appreciate RE more deeply, particularly that the cost of electricity here is very expensive. Tiglao (2014) reported that “based on Meralco’s tariffs (using residential rates of 200 kilowatt hours per month consumption) which averaged 24 US cents per kilowatt hour in 2013, the price we way for our electricity, believe it or not, is the fifth highest in the world.” He further elaborated that “if our electricity prices were the criterion for membership, we are in the league of the richest countries in Europe, and our rates are even a bit higher than Japan (Kansai region), 24 US cents, and Singapore, 23 cents.” Indeed, I have made my own comparisons, and our rate here in Quezon City for April 2014 was higher than a friend’s rate in Boston, US!

There is indeed a strong clamor for lower electricity rates and this can be a very effective intervention where people can feel, on the gut level, the benefit of being more responsible ecologically. Forget about the rah rah rah on highfalutin concepts–people don’t really get them nor do they have the time to think about them when they are still agonizing over their latest Meralco bills–let us show practical ways in which people can really go the environmental way and really feel that they are getting something out of it. Making RE more accessible and understood may ultimately lead to wider household-level application. This will address the question, “What is in it for me?”

Certainly, renewable energy–as with climate change and low carbon development–must be demystified. Ownership of decisions begins with knowledge and acceptance. Renewable energy will continue to be just among those misunderstood concepts, away from personal priorities, as long as it is never made familiar and accessible. And this is why I am writing this piece.

This post (and even the full paper where this came from) is not very exhaustive.  What it hopes to do is develop a simple analysis on the viability of the shift to solar energy at the household level in the Philippines (relying on a small set of data) [2], particularly from seven selected households in the NCR). A quick literature review (online sources) reveals that there are estimates done already but most if not all are done by solar panel suppliers and do not give the complete picture (e.g., actual costs that consider interest rates of loans from banks, etc.) Again, this blog is rather short so if you want to read my full paper (draft and unpublished), you may download it by clicking this:  Low Carbon Development at the Household Level_M Velas-Suarin_19 May 2014

Based on the calculations, these seven families may be able to convert to solar power at an investment of roughly PhP 66,200 (roughly about USD 1,512.11) for a household system with a requirement of 87 kWh to PhP 316,800 (about USD 7,236.18) for a household system with a requirement of 409 kWh. Assuming that the conversion will be made possible through bank loans with loan tenor of 10 years, the families in this study will reach the “recovery point” (vis-a-vis their current costs of electricity and cost of investments) beginning from the last quarter of the 7th to the middle of the 11th years.

In simple terms, this means that the families will begin enjoying “free electricity” beginning from the 8th to 11th years and onwards. Assuming that the solar power systems installed have a life span of 25 years [3], the families will be enjoying “free electricity” for 14 to 17 years, worth about PhP 134,400 (about USD 3,069.89) to about PhP 1,076,675 (about USD 24,592.85).

To look at one household more closely, say, “Household Red” (with consumption of 409 kWh/month), its estimated investment cost of PhP 316,800 (PhP 481,793 including interests) can be covered through a bank loan, which may require an average monthly amortization of PhP 4,014.94 only (again, using a 10-year tenor). This is lower than the household’s Meralco bill of roughly PhP 5,277 a month! See the table below for a summary of the calculations for the seven households. (Note that this is Table 12 in the paper.)

A table summarizing the calculations of investment costs for converting to solar energy, based on 7 households. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin. See the full paper for a fuller discussion.]

A table summarizing the calculations of investment costs for converting to solar energy, based on 7 households. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin. See the full paper for a fuller discussion.]

These calculations did not consider the possibility of earning rebates by being connected to the grid. They also did not consider the yearly degradation of the solar systems and whether the families will have higher level of consumption in the future. Nevertheless, installing a solar system is still a viable project in terms of reducing family expenditure for electricity and being more ecologically-responsible. At the worst case scenario, they will enjoy “free electricity” for a significant amount of time, say, 12 years.

To reiterate, the process of calculation done for my paper (which I consider for further development, for example, for my graduate course work**) is quite simplistic. Other factors and assumptions must be considered in the future. Factors such as reversal or billing or rebates–which may be considered as savings or income if the household systems are connected to the grid–must be considered. For example, Section 7 of the RE law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations have provisions for a net metering system, a system that allows a generator of electricity to have two-way metering scheme where he will be charged for the electricity he consumes and credited for the energy he produces and eventually contributes to the grid. (See Climate Change and Clean Energy Project in the references for the links to the RE Law and its IRR.)

Over all, the conversion to solar energy at the household level is very viable, even for low-income families. However, the government and the private sector should continue to work together to ensure the system’s affordability and availability of better financing, for example, in the form of low-interest loan packages and subsidized/socialized arrangements for the lower income group. The interest rate used in this brief study is 7.5%, based on a commercial bank’s long-term rate (with collateral). The market should appreciate that households can be motivated to shift to more ecologically-friendly lifestyle if there are enough drivers and incentives. The government and market should adequately provide such mechanisms for wider public engagement and positive action.

Low carbon development: What is in it for me?

How can people take climate change and low carbon development more personally and in the process, engage in public discourses and more positive action? How can people actually see it as beneficial to them on a more personal level? Basic things must be considered first, among other things:

  • people prioritize their economic security and for as long as environment and climate change are seen as entirely separate things/concepts, it will be tough convincing people to address them or relate them to their daily decision-making;
  • climate change and LCD ‘compete’ with more urgent, dramatic, and emotional issues of our times–even if climate change actually makes living in a tropical country more risky and dangerous (one cannot think of solar panels when he is hungry!); and
  • a system of reward and incentives must be practiced at the household and community levels so everyone feels responsible, developing or increasing a form of social pact and solidarity.

Therefore, any intervention must consider and respect individual desires and aspirations, which ultimately drive people toward decision-making and concrete actions. For example, a family will not be motivated to shift to more environment-friendly lifestyle such as the use of cleaner energy if it considers the shift as costly, time-consuming, bureaucracy-laden, and technically difficult.It is hoped that this post can contribute to advocacy and social marketing efforts and stronger policy review and implementation. It is also hoped that this will lead to more in-depth studies and analysis in the future.After all, any law’s relevance should be measured in how well it protects the welfare of individuals and communities and such a protection takes the reality–that everything begins in the personal level–into consideration. Any societal transformation requires a personal commitment.


[1] Note, however, that the RE Law is still a relatively new law so certain assumptions must still be done (e.g., performance of household on-grid systems).

[2] The author used the actual electricity bills of seven households in her personal networks, current rate of interest for financing through a bank loan, and quotation from a Philippine suppliers or solar panels and systems

[3] Based on industry estimates. The rated power output of solar panels typically degrades at about 0.5%/year. The majority of manufacturers offer the 25-year standard solar panel warranty, which means that power output should not be less than 80% of rated power after 25 years (Maehlum, 2014). More details and explanation are in the Maehlum article. See references in the full paper for the source URL.

*This post is based on and mainly carries excerpts from the paper that I had submitted in the course, Low Carbon Development-Integrated Course, an e-learning course provided by the World Bank eInstitute. I had been very lucky to have been accepted for the 29 April to 19 May 2014 run of the course. Thank you, WB eInstitute!

**I am currently a student of the program, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management (MENRM), at the University of the Philippines Open University.

References:

Climate Change and Energy Project. (2013). The text of the RE Law was accessed at http://www.cenergy.ph/downloads/RA_9513.pdf while the law’s IRR was accessed at http://www.cenergy.ph/downloads/IRR_RA9513.pdf

Climate Change Commission. (2011). National Climate Change Action Plan 2011-2028 (Philippines). Available at http://www.emb.gov.ph/portal/Portals/54/Images/NCCAP.pdf

Climate Funds Update. (2011). Update on recipient country – Philippines. http://www.climatefundsupdate.org/country-pages/recipient-countries/recipient-country-philippines

Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (n.d.). Low carbon development. Available at http://www.esmap.org/Low_Carbon_Development

Tiglao, R. (2014, January 9). High electricity costs root of our backwardness. The Manila Times. Retrieved 7 May 2014 from http://www.manilatimes.net/high-electricity-costs-root-of-our-backwardness/66574/

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not request for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
The baobabs. Image credit: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince and Climate Change*

Are you ready to take action? I am! You can begin by reading more about climate change (this post can be a good start!). Post and share this badge also. Image credit:  Gateway to the UN System Work on Climate Change found at http://www.un.org/climatechange/take-action/

Are you ready to take action? You can begin by reading more about climate change (this post can be a good start!). Please feel free to repost and share this badge as well. Badge courtesy of Gateway to the UN System Work on Climate Change found at http://www.un.org/climatechange/take-action/

 

Introduction

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”                   –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

This familiar line from the well-loved tale, The Little Prince, is a source of inspiration for the exploration of the statement, “climate change is a social problem and not just an environmental problem,” a take-off point for this paper.  [Note: I had submitted this paper--with some portions deleted for the sake of brevity--last February in one of my courses in UPOU.]

For those who have not yet read the book, The Little Prince is a touching story of a little boy and a pilot who accidentally met in a desert. The story revolves around their conversations and the stories that the little boy (whom the author had referred to as “the little prince”) had shared, with the straightforward innocence of a child. The book, while mostly written through the use of simple language and narration, is filled with philosophical underpinnings and significant life lessons, elevating it as among the world’s best works ever written.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye,” is probably the most popular and favorite line from the book. It can be interpreted in many different ways but the simplest lesson there could be that the most important things in life are those that can only be felt from the heart–things like love, joy, commitment, and kindness. The issue on climate change can best be appreciated from the same place because it involves human behaviors and decisions–the same things that no one can touch and the same things that are slowly changing the face of the earth or all creations, an appreciation of the environment

The Little Prince takes the readers on a journey toward deeper self-awareness and for the readers who assume that Antoine de Saint-Exupery demonstrates a semblance of respect for all creations, an appreciation of the environment. It invites readers to look at their lives through the lens of a child and examine their actions, decisions, goals, and aspirations and the ways through which they live their lives and relate with the world (including with the roses, volcanoes, and the trees). Does love, for example, require a kind of relationship where one needs to tame his or her partner in order to strengthen the trust between them? Consider the following excerpt from the book, which carries the conversation between the prince and the fox:

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…” (de Saint-Exupery, 1943, p. 64)

Was the author simple talking about love or was he also alluding to humanity’s relationship with nature when he wrote this particular section? No one knows for sure but this brief paper–drawing some thoughts from The Little Prince and those of other authors who tried to analyze the tale–hopes to contribute to the discourses on climate change and environmental manageent in general, particularly as we highlight our role as social beings in the whole scheme of things.

Discussion

Thoughts on life and the environment from The Little Prince

In Douban.com, an unnamed author suggested that “The Little Prince implies a philosophy of life: it warns the modern people against being alienated by desires such as domination, possession and vanity. Modern people should learn from children and try to keep their innate characters, be faithful to love and friendship and have the sense of responsibility, creative spirit and imaginative power (李千钧&候桂杰,2006).**

The concepts such as alienation by desires, domination, possession, and sense of responsibility are central to human existence. It is said that human beings are moved and motivated by personal goals and desires amid a culture that expects them to care for their children and families. In fact, in the Philippines, the family system is so closely-knit that it is not surprising to see adult children and grandchildren supporting their loved ones even through their old age. However, such inherited and assumed responsibilities require economic decisions that may sometimes hurt the environment. This is where the lesson of The Little Prince become significant and practical. Among other tings, humans are reminded about the importance of discipline and hard work as they interact with the environment, for example, in this passage:

“It is a question of discipline,” the little prince said. “When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly the baobabs, at the very first moment where they can be distinguished from the rose-bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youths. It is very tedious work,” the little prince added, “but very easy.” (de Saint-Exupery, 1943, p. 20)

Munakata (2005), a science educator and author, also thinks that The Little Prince speaks about the impact of human control over nature and science. He has reflected, for example, on this passage:

Indeed, as I learned, there were on the planet where the little prince lived–as on all planets–good plants and bad plants. In consequence, there were good seeds from good plants, and bad seeds from bad plants.  But seeds are invisible. They sleep deep in the heart of the Earth’s darkness, until someone among them is seized with the desire to awaken. This little seed will stretch itself and begin–timidly at first–to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward toward the Sun. If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose-bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognized it (de Saint-Exupery, 1943, p. 18-19).

Following Munakata’s (2005) argument, the book can be a helpful tool in highlighting the role of the human population over the environment, particularly as people, organizations, and cultures recognize the importance of environmental science, which is, in fact, a multidisciplinary science.

Humans, not just science, contribute to climate change

The natural sciences provide sound explanations about the natural causes of climate change. Such causes include the greenhouse effect, solar activity, radiative forcing, continental drift, variations in the earth’s orbit, and ocean currents (Collins et al., 2008). Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the 20th century” (Alexander et al., 2013).

Indeed, such an analysis from among the internationally-recognized authorities on climate change presents a solid justification for humans to seriously think about their contribution. More than ever, it is becoming clearer that climate change us not solely an environmental problem. For if it is, then all that humanity can do is apply the best solution and approaches in environmental science and the problem on climate change can be resolved.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Climate change is an issue that encompasses many if not all facets of our existence, for example, from the sociological, economic, and political dimensions to the ecological aspects. Therefore, adapting to it and minimizing its negative impacts will require not only an analysis and positive action from the vantage view of environmental science but also from the perspective of the social sciences including sociology.

Climate change and the human-environment interaction models

Most if not all human-environment interaction theories and models covered in this course’s textbook, Socio-cultural principles of human-environment interactions (Malayang, 1999) are helpful theoretical frameworks. While each model has its own failures and weaknesses, they provide, when taken as a whole, in-depth analysis of human-environmental interactions and relationships.

For example, the actor/actress-based model of human ecology, while seemingly “human-centric”, supports the argument that individual behaviors have greater impact on environmental adaptation. According to Rambo (1983), a culture’s environmental adaptation takes form and develops from the decisions of thousands of individuals as they figure out and decide on how they can interact with their environment (Malayang, 1999).

Climate change, as IPCC reported, is becoming significantly caused by decisions and actions of the people. People in modern times have discovered and embraced the comforts of air-conditioned homes and offices, the efficiency of cars and airplanes, and technology-driven lifestyles where mobile phones and internet had seemingly become necessary fixtures. All these material ‘necessities’, comforts, and excesses ultimately contribute to climate change.

A fellow member of the class, Articona (2014) has shared in Module 8′s discussion form that individuals exhibit the tendency to exploit available resources “for personal gain and convenience.” She cited dynamite fishing method as an example. In her argument, she highlighted individual fisher’s decision to use it because it is more convenient and makes the work easier.

This is a good example that illustrates the influence of individual decisions and actions toward the development of a culture. A human being with his own desires, needs, and wants, will decide based on factors such as convenience and ease. This tendency toward a ‘more comfortable and easier option’ has to be explored without necessarily making quick judgements, for example, that people are simply individualistic, egocentric, and selfish.

in some sense, they are, but solutions and adaptation schemes to climate change should consider these human tendencies if nations and communities are to deal with it more realistically.

What will convince an individualistic fisherman, for example, to shift to a safer and more environmentally-friendly fishing method? What is in it for him? He has a family to feed and has no capital. The answers should go down to the gut level, in the same way that climate change should be considered in a very personal level.

This author has also highlighted in a course assignment that climate change merits a closer and more personal attention. The urgency of climate change necessitates that it becomes ‘closer’ to the hearts and minds (and stomachs!) of the people. It should be seen as intrinsically connected to poverty issue and how should we authentically address it (Velas-Suarin, 2013).

Meanwhile, Supangan (2014), in a discussion forum for Module 10 (political ecology), cited the dynamics of flashfloods and illegal logging. She related illegal logging activities to corrupt politicians who derive economic benefits from these destructive activities. She also believes that addressing corruption will ultimately protect our forests.

The political ecology model, the basis of Supangan’s (2014) example, considers “the flow and distribution of power among individuals and groups in a human population” (Manangan, 1999). The exercise and distribution of power, therefore, are the drivers to the changes in a society. While the model is quite a complex thought and merits a more extensive discussion, the example of corruption in the backdrop of power can bring significant havoc to both the environment and the human population.

Is this the concept of corruption reflected in The Little Prince as well? This passage may very well serve as reminder:

“Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of that baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.” (de Saint-Exupéry, p. 19-20)

The author’s illustration of the baobabs. Image credit: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The author’s illustration of the baobabs. Image credit: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

One can only wonder whether de Saint-Exupery was referring to the corruption (and similar human frailty) when he wrote these words. However, one can almost be certain that the author uses symbolism (from nature) to put his message across: human beings must not wait for the time when the baobabs are already “too many” to conquer. Climate change can be considered in the same breath: the people must not wait for the time when it is already too late to do something about it.

Conclusion

The exploration of the statement, “climate change is a social problem and not just an environmental problem,” has hopefully brought us to helpful insights and arguments, with some help from The Little Prince and several human-environment interaction models.

Clearly, human decisions and action have significant impact on climate change and the environment in general (in the same way that the environment shapes and affects human cultures). Physical sciences alone cannot explain climate change; a comprehensive analysis requires that the human and social dimensions are adequately and thoughtfully considered. These are the intangibles and to quote de Saint-Exupéry again, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (p. 68)

Munakata (2005), as he explored The Little Prince, touched on the challenge of finding a perfect balance between the people’s economic goals and environmental protection and preservation. He thinks that the conflict makes it “difficult to nurture one without compromising the other. It is our role as educators to make students aware of conflicts such as those between large corporations and environmental groups and to convey to students how our daily actions affect the environment.”

It is hoped that in the journey towards adapting to and dealing with climate change, the people and human societies are forever reminded of their responsibility toward one another, their intrinsic link with the environment, the need to curb one’s wants and desires for the greater good, and their power to make a difference. As de Saint-Exupery reminds us profoundly,

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important. Men have forgotten this truth…but you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.” (p. 70)

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*This is a paper that I had submitted to Dr. Joane V. Serrano, faculty-in-charge for ENRM 221, Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, University of the Philippines Open University, where I am currently doing my graduate course work.

**A Google translation tool was used to determine the English equivalent of these Chinese scripts. However, the tool only came up with “Breaking the Guijie and Climate.” In the author’s references, an annotation was found with the name, “Hou Guijie”, so s/he is assumed as the source of the quoted material. See note under “References.” 

References

Alexander, L., Simon, A., Bindoff, N., Bréon, F., Church, J., Cubasch U., et al. (2013, September 27).  Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis Summary for policymakers. Retrieved 11, February, 2014, from http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/spms2.html

Articona, K. (2014, February 3). [Discussion forum in Module 8 of ENRM 221– Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, UP Open University]. Message posted to http://myportal.upou.edu.ph/mod/forum/view.php?id=23963

Collins, W., Colman R., Haywood, J.,, Manning, M., Mote, P., et al. (2008, October 6). The Physical Science behind Climate Change. Scientific American, Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/science-behind-climate-change/

de Saint-Exupery, A. (1943). The Little Prince. London, UK: Mammoth.

The self analysis of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Reflected in The Little Prince (2012, May 30). Retrieved 12, February, 2014, from http://book.douban.com/review/5448099/

Malayang, B.S. (1999). Socio-cultural principles of human-environment interactions. Quezon City, Philippines: UP Open University.

Munakata, M. (2005, 2005, June 14). Lessons from The Little Prince. National Science Teachers Association. Retrieved from http://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=50640

Supangan, K. (2014, February 10). [Discussion forum in Module 7 of ENRM 221– Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, UP Open University]. Message posted to http://myportal.upou.edu.ph/mod/forum/view.php?id=23962

Velas-Suarin, M.M. (2013, October 31). [Reflections on climate change, an assignment submission for an online course]. Unpublished essay submitted in the course, Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, UP Open University and SEARCA.

Note about the first footnote (*):

The author from Douban.com must have used the following material (the original annotation was directly lifted, with no editing):

Li Qianjun, Hou Guijie. (2006). From Breaking the Traditional Fairy Tale Narrative to Criticizing the Sickness of Modern Civilization – Comment on Stylistic Innovation and Ideological Connotation in The Little Prince by Exupéry, Journal of H IT (Social Sciences Edition), 8 (6).

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not request for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

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We can no longer take our environment for granted. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Philippine Agenda 21: Setbacks and hopes for the future*

We can no longer take our environment for granted. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

We can no longer take our environment for granted. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Given the current state of the environment, the Philippines (along with many countries all over the world) did not fare well in terms of achieving or accomplishing the goals and objectives lined up in Agenda 21. The insights of our class members as well as the authors of different assessment papers reflect the general assessment that the country did not even accomplish half of what was intended or hoped for (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 29). The official assessment paper (2012) summarized the three glaring developments that somehow contributed to the slow progress of PA 21 and the worsening state of the Philippine economy, society, and environment:

o Economic, environmental, and social problems have persisted and even worsened (e.g., population growth, social disparities, pollution, deterioration of the environment, etc.);

o New challenges and risks have been compounding the already fragile state of the environment and the economy (e.g., climate change and accompanying natural disasters, unsustainable use of resources, etc.)

o Changes in priorities and approaches of the administrations after 1998 have relegated the importance of ‘sustainable development’ as a guiding principle (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 3)

PA21 had a lot of promises and put a strong message across, however, it “became a weak advocacy when subjected to the economic objectives of the nation.   PA21, in order to work, necessitates the changing of the framework and guardians of development from fundamental economics” (Draft Report: Philippine Rio+20, 2012, p. 37).

This reflection underlines the importance (and necessity) of developing and implementing development strategies that are strongly anchored on ecological principles and considerations. A country cannot be considered rich or its people prosperous if the  environment is degraded and in a sorry state.

Why did PA21 not deliver?

It is not fair to categorically that PA21 is a total failure. It was not. For one, it shows the country’s deep appreciation of ‘sustainable development’ as a concept and as a guiding principle. Secondly, it demonstrated a strong political will amid eras of weak governance structures. Many will agree that the launching of PA21 was probably the highest point of the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos. As Malayang (1999) succinctly said, “…it carries a high level of legitimacy and has a significant social, political, and moral competence as such.”

Third, while there had been perceived “intervention gaps and omissions,” (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 29), it sets the foundation for a better and stronger policy environment and institutional development. It is not up to us to justify the seemingly slow progress of PA21 but the reality is that changes do not happen overnight; it is really up to our generation and the next to build on from what others had began and established and fix what needs fixing.

For the sake of understanding the slow progress of PA 21, the assessment paper offered the following insights:

o “The role and nature of the interventions partly explain the low ecosystem score. The available interventions, despite their strategic importance, have had little capacity to change or improve the conditions along the criterion in question, the low scores may be attributed to the low level of PPPP (policies, plans, programs, and projects) implementation and intervention gaps and omissions;

o The presence of intervention gaps and omissions reflects the failure to resolve governance issues and put in place the required governance mechanisms; and

o Although the governance is a determinant of the quality and adequacy of interventions–and hence the resolution of policy gaps and omissions–it does not merely apply to how a particular intervention is carried out. At another level, governance underlies the quality of all interventions across the four criteria.[1] It is substantively a criterion in itself…” (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 30)

I think that such an assessment is right on the dot. We have accomplished so much in terms of crafting the needed laws and policies and adopting international covenants but we have very weak governance structures, both in the national and local levels.

A perfect example is the governance structure in the environment sector. We have the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as the lead agency in all matters that govern the environment (including conservation, protection, and management) but it is also the same one that issues permits for mining and logging. It is like hiring a gardener who is tasked to protect your garden but equally given the discretion and powers to allow neighbors to harvest fruits and vegetables from it. In an ideal world where everyone is honest, this might work. However, reality dictates that such a conflict of interests within one body invites confusion, inefficiency, and corruption.

Putting PA21 back on track

Clearly, PA21 could have been a good start but it was marred by societal, economic, and institutional/systemic weaknesses and challenges. Even the document in itself had gaping holes, for example, baseline were not discussed and analyzed and most of the strategies do not have objectively verifiable indicators (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, pp. 4-5).

Trying my best to avoid repeating what others already said about the ways to move forward, I recommend the following steps and strategies with the caveat that some of these may have already been articulated before:

o Improve, ‘re-energize’/reinstate PA21 and the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (or a similar agency) as clear policy and institutional bases for sustainable development; ensure that PA21 (its improved version) is the framework that will be seriously adopted in development planning;

o Revisit the role of DENR (and other environment-related government agencies) and develop a stronger governance structure (e.g., establishment of an environmental protection agency, among other things);

o Review of all environmental laws and regulations and analyze which ones contradict each other, need enhancement/amendments, and lack enforcement mechanisms;

o Strengthen the capacity of local governments to enforce environmental regulations and protect their environment vis-a-vis the Local Government Code and existing mechanisms such as the local development councils;

o Strengthen environmental education and ensure this is meaningfully integrated in educational curriculum in both public and private schools;

o Launch a nationwide values formation and social marketing campaign to link corruption with poverty and environmental degradation; put media to task and require all media outlets to render public service (e.g., offering free airtime) for broadcasting/publishing of important environmental- and development-focused messages; and

o Establish formal PPP (public-private) mechanisms where everyone can contribute to setting up and management of environmental funds, education, programs, and policy/lobby work.

More importantly, there should be personal reckoning and transformation in every one of us–the environment is our source of life and sustenance; we can no longer regard it recklessly and impudently.

       We are part of the failures and successes of the past and future PA 21; we are answerable to our children and the future generations that they will bear.


[1] Natural capital protection, equity, poverty eradication, and efficiency in resource use.

*This is an essay/reflection that this author had submitted to Dr. Joane V. Serrano, faculty-in-charge for ENRM 221, Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, UPOU, 16 January 2014.

  References

Civil Society Counterpart for Sustainable Development. (2012). Draft report: Philippine Rio+20, country paper (civil society organization). Manila, Philippines: Lingkod Tao-Kalikasan. Retrieved from http://lingkodtaokalikasan.org

 Malayang, B.S. (1999). Socio-cultural principles of human environment interactions. Quezon City, Philippines: UP Open University.

National Economic and Development Authority. (2012). Assessment  of the Philippine Agenda 21: The prospects for a green economy, and the institutional framework for sustainable development (Final draft). Pasig City, Philippines: National Economic and Development Authority. Retrieved from http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1033philippines.pdf

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not request for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Children deserve clean rivers where they can swim in full abandon.

Environment and its state of degradation: A case of emotional and moral disconnect?*

Children deserve clean rivers where they can swim in full abandon.

Children deserve clean rivers where they can swim in full abandon.

Life is a continuing journey and my understanding of the environment continues to change and evolve over time. I grew up in Manila but spent many summer vacations in Aurora, my mother’s hometown, where the rivers are still crystal clear. Back then, I knew early on that we must be doing something awfully wrong in the city because our rivers are murky and dirty.

It gives me a certain sadness when I see young children swimming in the dirty waters of Pasig River and Manila Bay. How can our society allow this? Children deserve clean and crystal-clear waters, just like the rivers of my childhood, where I can play and wade–I never really learned how to swim properly–in full abandon. I cannot forget when my niece once asked me, during a trip to Aurora, “Why are rivers here in Aurora clean?” She got so used to seeing dirty river waters in Metro Manila that seeing a clean river surprised her immensely (Velas-Suarin, 2011, para. 4).

My UP education and later, my work experiences, opened my eyes further to the realities of poverty, of industrialization that relies on consumerism and extractive industries, of forests that continue to disappear. I hungered for more knowledge and experiences and the more I dig in, the more I realize that we are creating too much imbalance around us. We extract more than we give and return.

I have chosen a profession in the social development and environment sector as it allows me to grow as a person and at the same time contribute, albeit in small ways, toward improving our situation. If I can convince more people to plant trees or clean up rivers and waterways, I would really be grateful. I know that we can never really go back to how things were before but a future where we can be more responsible consumers and stewards is still very possible.

The state of our environment has let me to this path. There are still many questions in my mind and I still have to fathom the meaning of life completely, but one thing that is constant and that is environment. She is that indispensable element of our existence; the completeness of things, those physical objects and living things, those sparks and energies and magic that envelope us, nurture us, and make us live to fulfill our true destiny.

Environment is the cradle where we fall asleep; it is the first light that we see when we are born; the very last sound that we hear as we move on to higher dimensions. It is simple yet complex (Malayang, 1999, p.3). It gives us sustenance, always giving, always forgiving. Yet, it could mean destruction and havoc. No one can completely understand it. Oftentimes, I ask myself, “Is the increasing strength of climate-related disasters the result of our actions and decisions or is a natural feature of disasters, regardless of what we do now?”

I will leave this question so we can ponder about it and perhaps discuss in our virtual classroom.

The Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Environment: different lives, different perceptions

We have different perceptions of the environment. Such perceptions are shaped by our needs, upbringing, histories, experiences, culture, and how we consider the living and physical objects that we see around us (Malayang, 1999, page 4). While it is nearly impossible to categorize someone as completely materialistic or purely sacred or spiritual–each person has his good and bad sides–everyone has his or her own predisposition. For example, a person who grew up in a coastal community will likely have stronger affinity with and regard for the ocean and its resources than someone who grew up in an upland environment.

However, despite the differences, we share a common environment. For example, we breathe the same air and drink the same water. We derive similar sustenance and nutrition from the same fruits, vegetables, and animals. Ironically, despite our common sources of life, we continue to act irresponsibly as shown in the level of pollutants in our air, soil, and water bodies. We know that cutting trees excessively affects ecological balance (and contributes to massive flooding), yet we find it difficult to replace the trees that we have been cutting.  

From perceptions to action

What have our different perceptions done to us and our environment?

When we open our eyes and look around us, our decisions and actions show a convolution of behaviors, mostly negative–if we look at the level of degradation–toward the environment. I ask myself whether it is just plain ignorance (not understanding it completely and its importance in our lives), a simple case of forgetfulness or carelessness amid our harried and busy lives (for example, forgetting to bring a reusable bag for shopping), a result of misprioritization (looking at it as not among the higher priorities in life), or rooted from a deeper emotional and moral (or spiritual) disconnect.

When finding the answers, should we explore from the heart?

Perhaps, we have not really considered it close enough, from the core of our beings, in the same way that we had embraced ourselves, our loved ones, and even the more ‘emotional issues of our times–issues like poverty, corruption, violence against women, child trafficking, and the like (Velas-Suarin, 2013, p. 1). We suddenly remember or think about ‘environment’ only when super typhoons like Yolanda knock us down completely, without any defenses. After rebuilding our homes and communities and going back to the nitty-gritty of life, we seem to forget again. It goes on and on, like a vicious cycle. Perhaps we ought to think about it closely enough; to think of it as a very personal and urgent concern and as among our highest priorities in life, or better yet, an indispensable element in the pursuit of our aspirations and priorities in life.

  • Consider the following list, for example:
  • Good health
  • Loving relationships
  • Spiritual growth (and peace of mind)
  • Flourishing career and/or financial independence
  • Societal solidarity/philanthropy

Most people will have a list similar to the above if asked to draw a list of what they consider are the most important things or priorities in life. We may want to test this hypothesis among our family and close circle of friends and we will probably get the same list (or something similar to it).

It will be very rare (or nearly impossible) to see someone writing down goals or aspirations such as the achievement of “ecological balance” or an “environmentally-sound lifestyle”. After all, many of us consider ‘environment’ as an entirely different or separate thing. Or, in many cases, many people see it as not that important side-by-side with their families or careers, for example.

We know that we breathe the same air and drink the same water, yet, we still cannot figure out the whole equation. Somehow, we surmise that our life goals and aspirations are sets of events and accomplishments that are not necessarily connected with the state of the environment. If we think closely enough, we will figure our that we are wrong.

For us to move forward in this so-called green movement or in the more comprehensive and complicated realm of sustainable development, it is important that even with our imperfections and differences in perceptions, we attain a higher and deeper awareness of our natural and inextricable connection with the environment, our source of life. Whether you are a Muslim, I a Christian, and my neighbor a Buddhist, we all breathe the same air.

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*I am doing a graduate course work and this is an essay/reflection paper, which I had submitted to Dr. Joane V. Serrano, faculty-in-charge for ENRM 221, Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, at the University of the Philippines Open University.

References

Gore, A. (2009). Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc.

Malayang, B.S. (1999). Socio-cultural principles of human-environment interactions. Quezon City, Philippines: UP Open University.

Velas-Suarin, M. M. (2011, May 23). My niece asks her Mom, “Why are the rivers here in Aurora clean?” [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.meilbox.net/2011/05/23/my-niece-asks-her-mom-why-are-the-rivers-here-in-aurora-clean/

Velas-Suarin, M.M. (2013, October 31). [Reflections on climate change, an assignment submission for an online course]. Unpublished essay submitted in the course, Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, UP Open University and SEARCA.

____________

This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
An aerial view of a coastal village in Concepcion, Iloilo after Yolanda. (Photo  credits: Iloilo Provincial Administrator, Dr. Raul Banias/AFP, shared through rappler.com)

Adopt-a-Community: Embarking on Relief and Rehabilitation After Yolanda

An aerial view of a coastal village in Concepcion, Iloilo after Yolanda. (Photo  credits: Iloilo Provincial Administrator, Dr. Raul Banias/AFP, shared through rappler.com)

An aerial view of a coastal village in Concepcion, Iloilo after Yolanda. (Photo credits: Iloilo Provincial Administrator, Dr. Raul Banias/AFP, shared through rappler.com)

Super Typhoon Yolanda had left us wondering what hit us. Described by many scientists as among the strongest typhoons ever recorded, it caused the loss of more than 2,000 lives and is estimated to lead to economic losses of about $12 to 14 billion. (Source of data on economic losses: Charles Watson, Kinetic Analysis Corporation, as reported in International Business Times, 13 November 2013.)

Almost a week after the disaster, we hear news of bodies still strewn around on the streets and sidewalks, looting and chaos, unorganized relief efforts, and weak disaster management by both the local and national governments. While this is not the time for finger-pointing, it is important that we recognize the hard lessons from this very unfortunate event so that we can move on and start rebuilding.

What went wrong and how can we effectively manage the relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts? Below are take-off points, which may, hopefully, reach the authorities fast and be seriously considered in the drawing of a plan post-Yolanda and even in long-term disaster risk reduction and management planning.

1. Understanding the science behind natural disasters (particularly those that are climate-related). It is very important that the people truly understand the science of natural disasters. Terms such as “super typhoon” or “storm surge” must be described in simple and layman’s terms (graphic, if need be) and disseminated widely particularly to those who are most vulnerable (e.g., residents in coastal communities). However, it is necessary that awareness-building is intrinsically-linked in our daily lives and not just something that we do during the typhoon season.

The first step begins in incorporating climate change and disaster response in the country’s educational system. This is slowly being done but there should be more concrete steps about it. The development of a national mentoring /teaching plan for climate change adaptation and disaster response and management should be done and such a plan must be adopted by all elementary and high schools in the Philippines. Children, young and old alike, should understand climate-related challenges and issues completely. Awareness begins the process of empowerment, which redounds to the benefit of their families (and their communities). (By the way, SEAMEO has already developed a very useful handbook on how to integrate climate change issues in the school curriculum so please visit this link for more details.)

The next step is ensuring that the LGUs (including local executives) are part of the education process. For example, after Yolanda, local chief executives (and even national leaders) had admitted to being ‘shocked’ by the sheer strength of Yolanda. They knew it was going to be strong but no one had foreseen such an unimaginable impact and dimension. As we see it now, no one thought that most of Tacloban City (and the other affected communities) will be submerged in coastal waters because of storm surge.

2. Development of a climate change and disaster response toolkit. The strategy above needs a strong knowledge management (KM) component. A communications plan that will not gather dust in government desks and shelves should be localized and widely used, like a “Bible”. A helpful material, for example, is a climate change and disaster response toolkit for LGUs, uniquely packaged based on local conditions (e.g., the toolkit of a Samar coastal community should be different from the toolkit of an upland community in Oriental Mindoro). This toolkit should have detailed disaster risk maps and complete guide to preparing for and management of disasters.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Climate Change Commission can be the lead agencies for this. It brings to mind the heartbreaking speech of Mr. Naderev Saño, the country’s climate change commissioner, during the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland. As I said in an online forum–I am currently attending a non-formal course related to climate change–”I salute him for having the courage to stand up for the people and challenging global leaders to act fast.”

His appeal should always be remembered. “I also believe that participation in global meetings is very important. However, governments should go beyond pronouncements because they carry the inherent responsibility and power to make a huge difference in equipping local executives in responding to situations that they do not yet completely grasp. In the case of coastal towns/cities like Tacloban, Palo, and Guiuan, local chief executives should be thoroughly equipped so they know how to prepare. For example, if they understood the complete picture (including the terminologies), they would automatically know that their usual evacuation sites are not really going to be safe anymore. Even the simple preparation of providing life vests, for example, for those in the coastal areas, could have saved lives. (Although it may be wiser to go to higher and safer grounds in such locations where the danger of storm surges is imminent.) Developing such tool kits is not going to cost much. They can also be developed through partnerships with the private sector. A more pro-active approach, even through small steps, will certainly mean more in terms of saving people’s lives and resources.” [Quoted material is mostly lifted from my statement in the online forum mentioned above. For more details about the course, please visit this link.]

3. Localizing disaster preparedness but remembering that the locals may be affected, too. The law on disaster risk reduction (RA 10121) mandated the creation of Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Councils and this is an important step. Yes, we have the Local Government Code (LGC) and believe in local empowerment. However, in natural disasters, the locals are the ones directly affected and they include local government employees. That means, even local executives and public servants with strong capacity and the best intents, may be immobilized also. Local chief executives and their social workers, doctors, and policemen need to deal with the loss and trauma of their loved ones, too. It is therefore, wiser not to rely on them during the first week/s of the relief phase. (See also no. 5 below.)

4. Adopting communities as entry point for relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction (3Rs). It is always easy to point fingers. In the news and social media, we hear of government officials (with the ‘support’ of the media) pointing at one another, trying to figure out who is to be blamed for what seems to be a disorganized way of dealing with the 3Rs. Even international media has apparently joined the fray. It is indeed a tempting place; where one can easily conclude who is doing what wrongly. After a while, one gets tired of listening to the witch-hunting and asks, “What can we do then?” I believe that the LGC, while still an imperfect law, has equipped many LGUs in the country already and they are the perfect source of ‘people power’ (provided that they had been been thoroughly equipped in disaster management as well).

Why not ask an LGU for example, to adopt Palo, Leyte or Guiuan, Eastern Samar? Let a “sister” LGU or a group of LGUs help either of them to recover. It need not be a single LGU/entity holding the hands of the affected communities. Help can come from private corporations or even non-government organizations like Gawad Kalinga or Habitat for Humanity. The idea is for a single unit of affected community (e.g., Guiuan) to be directly adopted and assisted by another LGU (or group of LGUs) or private sector organizations. What is happening these days is that there are so many help and pledges coming from all directions but efforts seems so scattered that many affected communities have not been adequately reached yet by basic relief goods such as food and water. This “adopt-a-community” approach will lead to more focused and directed efforts, minimizing wastes and maximizing resources. Funds can come from the national coffers (and donations). (Let us not expect the “mentor-sister LGUs” to shell out significant funds for the affected community because the LGC is still mostly an ‘unfunded’ law….but that can be a topic for another blog post!)

5. Short and long-term planning for infrastructural reconstruction. After very disastrous natural calamities, communities often have to deal with the destruction of power, transportation, and telecommunication structures. In the aftermath of Yolanda, many communities lost telecommunications facilities that it was difficult at first to ascertain the extent of the damage. Even  network reporters had to wait for several hours to reconnect to their Manila headquarters. Roads had also been blocked by fallen trees, posts, debris, and human and animal remains that it was challenging to deliver relief goods and bring medical and humanitarian services at the most opportune time. In a country like the Philippines, we should no longer have excuses such as “not expecting the intensity of super typhoons like Yolanda”. I think the line, “I did not imagine such a magnitude”, while understandable, should already be banned from our vocabulary (and mentality). We should remain hopeful and steadfast but be more realistic and prepared for the worst.

Therefore, we should expect that roads will be destroyed and become full of debris and that power and telecommunication lines will be damaged or torn down. We should already expect those consequences and, therefore, planning one day before or after a disaster is definitely not the right time. We should plan way, way ahead of the disasters. Let us be inspired by the culture of ants. They religiously and meticulously save for the rainy days; they expect the rainy days to be harsh. And the size of our brains is way way bigger than the ants’ (!).

Short- and long-term plans should include manpower component. For example, we cannot expect local engineers and policemen to clear the roads or repair the telecommunication towers! They and their families had been affected, too, remember? A disaster strikes? So what? A contingent from specific organizations (through the DPWH, for example) had already been planned (and booked on an on-call basis) since 3 or even 12 months ago. A team is ready to clear the roads on Day 1. A government/private plane is automatically assigned to them early on, during the planning stage. It will be like pushing a button, with everyone knowing what to do or where to go immediately after a strong typhoon.

Long-term planning should be based on feasibility studies. For example, can the Philippines consider putting underground cables for power and telecommunication lines instead of overhead? We expect about 11 to 25 typhoons in a year (NSCB cited that for the years 2004-2007, the number increased to 39), and yet, our power lines are all overhead. There are geological and environmental concerns that must be thoroughly analyzed and evaluated, however, underground cabling might be a more practical approach. Definitely, underground cabling costs more in the beginning but considering the costs of constantly rebuilding power and telecommunication lines, it may be a good prospect for the future. I know that there are already a few housing developers who have built private villages with underground cable network (one such model is in Tagaytay) so those cases must be studied. The Philippines is in the “Ring of Fire” and, indeed, utmost care and best technologies are needed in developing an underground cabling system.  Nevertheless, we can learn from countries like Japan–an earthquake-prone country as well–where there are already many underground cabling systems in place. (Singapore is also among Asian countries that are already utilizing underground cabling.)

Stand-alone power facilities may also be the answer to perennial power outages due to strong typhoons. Renewable energy-based systems are good candidates for stand-alone facilities because they can harness local sources of power. And they are certainly more earth-friendly!

We should also review our housing design and materials. While storm surges may ultimately drown even the strongest of houses, our shelters, in the right locations and in the appropriate design and materials, should always give us a true sense of security. Indeed, poverty prevents us from building stronger and more resilient houses. However, indigenous materials and technologies still have strong potential for providing some or most of our housing needs. Look at the stone houses of Batanes, for example. They have been withstanding the strong winds and typhoons in the northern islands.

Many individuals and professional organizations have already been advocating for the development and adoption of relevant land use plans. When developing towns and cities, local governments, particularly those in the most vulnerable areas (e.g., coastal communities) should use the geohazard maps already done by DENR (although DENR should continue to update and enhance them). Settlement areas must be in safer grounds. Relocating the most vulnerable people entails a huge investment but it is not an impossible task.  Relocation, if it is the safest and most practical alternative, must still allow people access to their sources of livelihood and income through reliable infrastructures such as roads, public transportation, warehouses, and marketplaces for their goods. I surmise that even fisherfolks–who must be close to the sea–will prefer higher and safer grounds if they are assured that they can go to work conveniently every day.

6. Deepening empowerment and promoting the right values through the media. The media (both international and national media) are doing a great job in spreading the word about disasters and their aftermath. We see excellent coverages and editorials. However, there is still too much sensationalism, particularly in the local media. Pictures and videos of hungry people and dead bodies on the street put across strong messages, but, let us not forget the good news also. There is an imbalance somewhere. The media have so much power. It needs to speak for and about HOPE also, about rebuilding, about DOING. It can motivate people to help the government in cleaning up the debris and remind them that they are strong and not helpless. That they can rebuild their communities. Alas, the media seems to devote more air time for people crying, getting angry because the relief goods are not coming, and blaming the government for not helping them. They must certainly be heard and we must empathize with their pains. However, it is not the role of the media to ‘fuel the fire’ of hopelessness, anger, blame, and self-pity. How else can one respond if a reporter asks her how does she feel after she had lost her daughter in the storm surge? Of course, she will cry. Definitely, the media should show the grim and sad pictures but they should equally encourage positive reactions and behavior and highlight the good news however small they may be. (See no. 8 below also.)

7. Re-energizing the social welfare department. With all due respect and profound thanks to the people of DSWD (who must be working so hard these days!), I suggest some re-energizing exercises and retooling programs. It seems that the department is stuck between wanting to reach out to more people and ending up being immobilized for the most parts. It is not entirely their fault. The department is contending with a government that seems unprepared for the worst-case scenario and local pressures and challenges that seem insurmountable. It may want to go back to the drawing board and think of long-term platform for the 3Rs, particularly in managing the relief aspects and then later, the initial stage of rehabilitation. For example, it can develop a ‘“food/cash-for-work” scheme where victims of disasters (who are physically and mentally ready and fit) may be mobilized (on voluntary basis) to do certain tasks such as the clearing of roads,cleaning up of debris, and planting of trees. Studies reveal that people who are experiencing post-disaster trauma and dealing with so much idle hours tend to feel depressed more. Providing them opportunities to work and become busy (as well as cash or food as compensation) can help them in rebuilding their lives and gaining back the confidence to move on.

However, a good exit strategy (and long-term economic interventions) must also be put in place to avoid long-term dependence on these temporary work schemes. The people should also be thoroughly briefed on the importance of the program not just to them as individuals but also to the welfare of the whole community.

Through this post, I am appealing to DSWD to reconsider their ‘food pack strategy’. Perhaps it is better and more practical to simply assign this task to the civil society and private sector. The private sector can easily take care of this aspect and DSWD may just be the one to coordinate the efforts or provide the relief/feeding and contact centers. DSWD, should probably focus more on becoming the guiding light amid the darkness; the triumphant voice in the middle of chaos; and the hands that will comfort the grieving and the disheartened. Social welfare ‘angels’ should talk to the people rather than hand out food packs; they should touch them and hold them. They should cry with them if need be but they should be the anchor from which they can begin sailing again. The emotional and psychological aspects, alongside the survival needs, should be part of the plans for interventions during disaster situation.

8. Even in disasters, CARING for one another should still be the order of the day. Filipinos come from close-knit families and are very compassionate people. We should hold on to those values even in the middle of disasters. I was disappointed when I heard in an ABS-CBN news coverage that Secretary Dinky Soliman (DSWD) supposedly said that looting is socially ‘acceptable’ during times like this (or something to this effect). I cannot remember the exact words but it put across the message that it is alright to steal and to loot during desperate moments. While we should understand the reasons behind looting incidences, it was very disheartening to hear about a government official supposedly such a remark (or allowing reporters to share that remark on national TV). Being the head of DSWD, she should be the last person to say that. She is certainly entitled to her own opinion in her private moments but saying such a remark to a reporter from a big TV network seems unnecessary (and may have consequently sent the wrong signals especially to the young people?) Do desperate moments justify stealing and looting? It can invite long debates. I agree that we should understand (not condone) the circumstances of people in desperate situations and are hungry. However, what is difficult to understand is having your own social welfare secretary supposedly saying such a remark when people look up to her as a source of caring, hope, inspiration, and direction. I respect her leadership but hope that she will clarify her remark and instead call on the affected people to give something, even a simple smile, rather than take something which is not rightfully his.

At the end of the day, we only have one another. Let us be instruments of goodness and kindness, despite the harsh moments in our lives.

God bless you, Pilipinas!

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