Sunday, June 1, 2014

World Environment Day June 5, 2014: : The Politics of Ecology and Beyond

This article serves as reminder in observing World Environment Day.  
Dr  Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog 
Lesson on Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday 

 Dead Tree Standing, Mt Pulag, Benguet

“As politics starts with good citizens, so ecology starts with us who in
mind and spirit respond to the call of unity and harmony with nature.” - AV Rotor

Recently I was a speaker on ecology before students at St. Paul College QC. It was in observance to Guidance Week with emphasis to values education.   It was also a demonstration of integrating art in science teaching, an alternative methodology that makes a subject not only better understood but experienced. Hence it is also called experiential learning.

When I received the invitation, I said why can't  I try the approach I used at St. Paul?  Prof. Arlene and I had a lengthy talk regarding the outline of my discussion which I am going to present - and if you would allow me – I will use it in conducting a similar exercise with you which would take some ten minutes. 

First, “governance in the hands of the few,” mean autocratic and monopolistic rule, which has led to abuses of power in manipulating the affairs of the state.

v  Throughout history such abuses have been committed not only in closed societies, but in open societies as well.

v  Dictatorship – call it benevolent dictatorship which was claimed as the trademark of Lee Kwan Yu, Park Chung He, Chang Kai Sek, et al (including Ferdinand Marcos) – is without the shade of radical dictators like Pol Pot and Stalin.
v  We often hear people asking, “What about World Bank and IMF, GATT which led to World Trade Organization?  Do they also bear the brand of dictatorship?”

Second, there is “low priority of government on effective resource management” is true.  Let us look at it this way as gleamed from Prof. Arlene’s paper. 

v  Environmental management today focuses on ecology and conservation. There is much debate until now whether it is better to adopt total log ban or selective logging.  It is a sort of battle between fundamental and practical ecology.  Remember the Alaska oil pipeline conflict?

v  The thrust of environmental management in colonial times was exploitation. Our best timber was exploited during the Spanish and American colonization, and Japanese occupation. The Japanese mined Taiwan’s ancient forest. The Dutch thinned the Indonesian forest. Other colonies suffered the same. 

v  The strength of our economy when we were second to Japan in Asia was based on a vibrant exportation of raw materials such as lumber, copra, sugar, ores, etc. 

v  Cash crops economy as dollar earner bears the design of our sound economy in the past, but the player is the agri-businessman and not the small farmer.

Third, environmental degradation is a syndrome of modern society.

v  It dates way back to pre-history, but the problem is exacerbated by the growth of population and affluence.

v  Aborigines too, were also destructive to the environment.  Slash-and-burn is the most destructive method of farming. Today Easter Island is a no man’s land. Much of Peru’s original vegetative cover started to decline with the Incas, so with the forest around Lake Teotihuacan in Mexico.

v  The first recorded animal that became extinct in the hands of man is the mammoth. 

Fourth, forest denudation follows the concept of the Domino theory, a kind of chain reaction. It is loss in diversity on three levels, namely

v  Genetic diversity.  Varieties and cultivars of plants, breeds of animals, strains of microorganisms are forever lost.

v  Species diversity. The species itself can be eliminated on the surface of the earth.  Examples are the saber-tooth tiger and the dodo fowl.  Thousands of species all over the world are endangered as their natural populations continue to dwindle mainly because of human exploitation.

v  Ecosystems diversity.  The loss of natural habitat is the worst kind of environmental destruction.  Deforestation will not only eliminate the resident organisms, the forest itself is lost.  It will never be one again, contrary to the belief of many.

Fifth, authoritarian rule in the Philippines from 1972 to 1982 spawned politicians and cronies whose concern for the environment cloaked a distinct privilege of exploiting our natural resources.

v  This opened a floodgate in post-martial era leading to drastic decline of forest resources, as shown by deforestation records.

v  Forest reserve was stable for years at over 15 million hectares until 1972.  It fell in 1982 by 14 percent and continued on to decline after.

v  The plunge was in 1990 when our forest reserve was cut to almost half that of the end of martial law.

v  By 1997, our forest reserve represents only 18 percent of our total useful land (land-use area) which is 30 million hectares. It continued to decline after. 

v  What is appalling is that our land area devoted to different uses (other land-use area) such as subdivisions, industrial zones, golf courses, resorts, and the like, grew to 75 percent in 1997 as compared to 12 percent only in 1960. Our farmlands today have shrunk tremendously, the main reason we resort to importation of rice and corn, fruits and vegetables, and other commodities. 

v  Without forest we will experience desertification.  Much of Southern Cebu, Northern Luzon, the two Mindoro provinces, Eastern Samar, Masbate and other provinces have virtually lost their original forests.

Six, people’s participation in environmental conservation through community organizations and NGOs is a potent force barely tapped.
Let us consider the following:

v  Growth of Civil Society. Citizens from different parts of the world regardless of affiliation, ideology, race and belief picketed the hall where the World Trade Organization was to be signed. They nearly succeeded.

v  Greenpeace, a radical organization blocked the trade route of wildlife items, demanded governments and corporations to comply with environmental laws.

v  Time launched the search for Heroes for the Earth.  They are the likes of Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Schumacher (Small is Beautiful), Cousteau (Oceanography pioneer), Macliing (Chico River project rebel)
Seven, there are social scientists who believe that ecology struggle is part of a larger ideological struggle.

v  Andre Gorz (pen name Michel Bosquet) sees ecology struggle not as an end in itself but as an essential part of the larger struggle against capitalism and technofascism.  He champions a “shifting of power from government the state and political parties to the local community and the web of social relations that individuals establish amongst themselves.”

v  Rudolf Bahro, a German philosopher, wrote “Historical Compromise” in which he blamed monopoly capitalism’s constant search for new profits as the major cause of the environment crisis threatening humanity.

Without being ideological however, there are pieces of thoughts we can gather in creating a world order of ecology. Let us consider this excerpt.  To wit:
“The privileged today are not those can consume most but those who can escape the negative by-products of industrialization – people who can commute outside rush hours, be born or die at home, cure themselves when they are ill, breathe fresh air and build their own dwellings.” (Ivan Illich a social thinker, and author of “Vernacular Conviviality”1980.

This is related with the lessons on non-cash technology advocated by the Asian-Pacific Food and Fertilizer Technology Center in Taipei. I had the privilege to study in the center under Dr. H.T.  Chang, the proponent of this concept which is in line with those of Ernest Schumacher who wrote a book, “Small is Beautiful” which offers a people-based beyond the corporate formula of development, and Dr. James Yen, adviser to PRRM (Philippine Rural Reform Movement), the precursor of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) which was headed by Senator Juan Flavier, then its director general for many years before becoming Health Secretary and Senator. 

“The progressive farmer is one who prepares his land more thoroughly, manages his nursery better, keeps his field more cleanly and has better water control – mainly through his effort and those of his family or community.  Non-cash extends further than mere savings of direct expenses. It keeps him away from debt and compromised market deals.  It means more harvest, free from residues of chemical fertilizer and spray. Ultimately non-cash technology means better home, education for his children, and a healthy environment.”

I remember the principal character of the “Mountain Man” who discovered the Redwoods of California and fought for their preservation.  President Lincoln took no time in signing the declaration of the area as a national park. This same man was dying, and it was his wish to die on the mountain alone. As he waited for death he saw the living giants that he thought he was already in another world. It was a turning point in his life, a new beginning.

I am sure there are amongst us persons of his own kind.  And if none can meet his measure, then we the members of the academe must create one – a thousand – from among the youth under our care.

May I invite you to reflect on this piece I wrote.

An Ecologist’s Prayer

When my days are done
let me lay down to sleep
on sweet breeze and earth
in the shade of trees
I planted in youth and old;
and if this were my last,
make, make others live
that they carry on the torch,
while my dust falls
to where new life begins -
even an atom let me be
with you dear Mother Earth.
                       - AV Rotor 2000

Updated 2013 ”A Reaction Paper to the Political Ecology of Deforestation. Paper presented by Prof. Arlene A. Ancheta in a Social Sciences Research Colloquium, University of Santo Tomas, Nov. 23, 2000

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