"Man, being the superior organism, has not only won over his rivals - all organisms that constitute the biosphere. He has also assaulted Nature."
- AV Rotor, Treaty of Nature and Man (Light from the Old Arch)
Frantic exploitation of natural resources through illegal logging operations, followed by slash-and-burn agriculture (kaingin), has brought havoc to the Philippines in the past century. The detrimental results are measured not only by the denudation of once productive forests and hillsides, but also destruction through erosion, flood, drought and even death.
An example of this kind of ruination brought about by abuse of nature is the tragedy in Ormoc City where floodwaters cascading down the denuded watershed, killed hundreds of residents and countless animals. It took ten years for the city to fully recover. Ironically, before the tragedy, Ormoc, from the air, looked like a little village similar to Shangrila, a perfect place for retirement.
Decline in Carrying Capacity
A land area designed by nature to sustain millions of people and countless other organisms, was touched by man and we are now paying the price for it. Man removed the vegetation, cut down trees for his shelter and crafts, and planted cereals and short-growing crops to get immediate returns. He hunted for food and fun, and in many ways, changed the natural contour and topography of the land.
Following years of plenty, however, nature reasserted itself. Water would run unchecked, carrying plant nutrients downhill. On its path are formed rills and gullies that slice through slopes, peeling off the topsoil and making the land unprofitable for agriculture. Since the plants cannot grow, animals gradually perish. Finally, the kaingero abandons the area, leaving it to the mercy of natural elements. It is possible that nature may rebuild itself, but will take years for affected areas to regain their productivity, and for the resident organisms once again attain their self-sustaining population levels.
There are 13.5 million square miles of desert area on earth, representing a third of the total land surface. This large proportion of land may be man-made as history and archeological findings reveal.
Fifteen civilizations, once flourished in Western Sahara, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, the Sinai desert, Mesopotamia, and the deserts of Persia. All of these cultures perished when the people of the area through exploitation, forced nature to react. As a consequence, man was robbed of his only means of sustenance.
History tells us of man’s early abuse of nature in the Fertile Crescent where agriculture began some 3000 years ago. Man-made parallel canals joined the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to irrigate the thirsty fertile valley. In the process, the balance of Nature was overturned when the natural drainage flow was disturbed. Because the treaty was violated, nature revenged. The canal civilization perished in the swamps that later formed. The sluggish water brought malaria and other diseases causing untold number of deaths and migration to the hinterlands. Among its victims was Alexander the Great.
Carthage had another story. Three wars hit Carthage, known as the Punic Wars. On the third one, the Romans plowed through the city, ending reign of this erstwhile mercantile power, and removing the threat to the Roman economy. After the conquest, the Romans pumped salt-water inland and flooded the fertile farms. Today, Carthage exists only in history and in imagination of whoever stands atop a hill overlooking what is now a vast desert.
Omar Khayyam, if alive today, cannot possibly compose verses as beautiful as the Rubaiyat as written in his own time. His birthplace, Nishapur, which up to the time of Genghis Khan, supported a population of 1.5 million people, can only sustain 15,000 people today. Archeologists have just unearthed the Forest of Guir where Hannibal marched with war elephants. The great unconquerable jungle of India grew from waterlogged lowland formed by unwise irrigation management.
It is hard to believe, but true that in the middle of the Sahara desert, 50 million acres of fossil soil are sleeping under layers of sand awaiting water. Surveyors found an underground stream called the Albienne Nappe that runs close to this deposit. Just as plans were laid to “revive” the dead soil by irrigation, the French tested their first atomic bomb. Due to contamination, it is no longer safe to continue on with the project.
The great Pyramids of Egypt could not have been constructed in the middle of an endless desert. The tributaries of the Nile once surrounded these centers of civilization. Jerusalem appears today as a small city on a barren land. It may have been a city with thick vegetation. This was true of Negev and Baghdad.
Need of a Conservation Program
For the Philippines, it is high time we lay out a long-range conservation program to insure the future of the country. This plan should protect the fertility of the fields, wealth of the forests and marine resources, in order to bring prosperity to the people. As of now, the country is being ripped apart by erosion and floods due to unscrupulous exploitation by loggers and kaingeros.
It is only through proper management and effective conservation, such as reforestation, pollution control, erosion control, limited logging, and proper land use, that we can insure the continuity of our race. All we have to do is to keep ourselves faithful to the treaty between nature and man.
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