Thursday, November 17, 2011

Environment: Endangered Treaty of Nature and Man

City Jungle of concrete, wire and smog

Abe V Rotor

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.

Man, being the superior organism, has not only won over his rivals - all organisms that constitute the biosphere. He has also assaulted Nature.

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 ploughed 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 Rubaiat 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 few thousands 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.

Ecological Philosophy - “If a river dies – so with all the stars that shine on its waters.”
Painting by AVR in acrylic

10 Important Concerns of Ecology
1. The world everywhere, from the tundra down to the rich tropical forests, faces unabated threats to wildlife destruction, as human activities continue to defile nature not only of its flora and fauna but of natural habitats.

2. While the target of conservation is the protection of plants and animals particularly those that are considered to be facing extinction and are being endangered, the greater concern of ecology is the protection of natural habitats and ecological systems.

3. On another front of human activities often characterized by man’s quests for the “good life” through industrialization he believes to be the prime mover of progress and development, the production of unwanted by-products threatens the earth’s dynamic processes, Already the emission of gases from burning fossil oil has resulted to two serious consequences; thinning of the ozone layer and the building up of heat of the atmosphere resulting to global warming.

4. As human population continues to escalate which is going to double the present 6 billion mark by 2025, more and more people now believe that only by heeding the Malthusian prediction that our world may be spared of unimagined scenario of mass starvation and death.

5. On the other hand, quests for new frontiers of science has led us to the fore – unlocking the code of heredity that may soon replace conventional breeding, resulting thus far in the production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Genetically modified Food (GMF).

6. The other frontier is man’s interplanetary travel beyond the distance of the moon, and for such ambitious adventure, man will have to learn to adjust to life in space and in the planets he targets at visiting. Interplanetary travel takes years, many years. Into the unknown man carries the environment of the earth in a capsule or bubble. Space biology studies not only the effect on man but to plants and animals as well – some kind of man-made ecological system in space. We have virtually started a new field, space ecology.

7. If a third world war is to come, what kind of war is it? People are in a quandary, even those who are witness to the last world war and different wars after that. On media, a third world war if really global and the enemy stalks, respecting no boundaries of politics, culture and faith. It will be a war everyone is concerned of – real or psychological, covering the ultimate warfare materiels - nuclear, chemical and biological.

8. On the concept of human habitat, how ideal can planning get close to it has been demonstrated in some models, which is far from the answer of what a human community should be. The crux of the problem is in drawing up a treaty between nature and man. Could this be an alternative to cities and high rise buildings?

9. Terms like ecotourism, ecomigtration, ecozones, etc. are jargons often disguised economic programs, rather than ecological in purpose. As such, projects of this kind must be reviewed in the light of ecology rather than economics.

10. Zero waste management is ideal, it is a utopia of a modern world. But looking at the experiences of industrialized countries like Japan, Germany and Norway waste is just another resource waiting to be tapped. Why not? Isn’t garbage the excess of our wasteful luxurious living?

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 destroyed 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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