Save The Earth Now Or Lose It In Thirty Years, Say Environmental Experts
Deafening silence loomed over the night of 14 September as Filipinos braced for the landfall of the world’s strongest cyclone of 2018. Before the clock strikes 12 and Typhoon Mangkhut unleashes its horror in some parts of the country, flights were cancelled, classes suspended, work operations dismissed earlier than usual. In the metro, there were few brave souls who risked the streets doing their last-minute businesses and reveries. Those families tuned in to news—ever since the cyclone’s entrance to the country’s area of responsibility—took refuge inside their homes, trying to reach relatives from the north where the typhoon is expected to hit hard. Seldom you would hear the rumbles of vehicles from the road and neither there was a sound from the sky, as if the malevolent storm is still gathering strength despite its already horrendous intensity.
At 1:40 A.M. (Philippine Standard Time) 15 September, Typhoon Mangkhut (locally known as Ompong) made landfall on Baggao, Cagayan, wreaking havoc with maximum winds of 205 km/h and gustiness of up to 285 km/h. Its diameter of 900 kilometres was enough to engulf most of the Philippines. Thousands of residents in Cagayan and Isabela have been evacuated days prior to the arrival of the typhoon yet there were still those who chose to remain and fortify their homes, making them front row-seat witnesses to the viciousness of Mother Nature.
The scenes were reminiscent of the tragedy of 2013. The only difference was Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) was stronger, and nobody expected the damages it would cause. We were betrayed by our own knowledge and prejudice. And heartbreakingly, 6,340 souls paid the price.
“Nature is only reacting to what we do,” Jewelmer Joaillerie’s EVP and Deputy CEO Jacques Christophe Branellec said. “That is the way that the planet is trying to re-establish the balance. The more unbalanced we go, the more drastic these natural disasters will be.”
We cannot prevent natural disasters from happening and with our increasing misuse and abuse of our natural resources, these disasters would just increase in intensity. What is necessary is for the government, environmental sectors, and sustainable businesses to come together. Here, we interview advocates from each sector who share the same vision and advocacy.
“Whenever we’re sick, our antibodies fight the infection. It’s the same thing with Planet Earth," Jacques Christophe used the allegory of infection to explain the extreme natural disasters. Jewelmer pearl farmers witnessed the horrors of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which was a pivotal moment not only for them but all those who survived the tragedy. "One of those antibodies is typhoons… Typhoons are not only an environmental concern, but it’s a concern that touches all aspects of lives. It urges us to address the existing problems behind them.”
As Jewelmer pearl farmers and marine biologists are at nature's mercy to produce the perfect golden South Sea pearls, its founders Manuel Cojuangco and Jacques Branellec (father of Jacques Christophe) established the Save Palawan Seas Foundation (SPSF) in 2006 to restore and preserve the biodiversity of the country’s famously called “The Last Frontier”.
"We see the possibility of developing models that the rest of the country can learn from and apply in their own locales," Branellec said. "For this to produce continuous and lasting results, it would help to engage the local government in supporting these initiatives, so we could expand our reach and make an impact on as many communities as possible."
Senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, also believes that the fight towards the protection of the environment should be of “whole-of-society” approach, as mere rules and regulations implemented in select institutions or municipalities have small-scale effects. “We need to further cultivate a green and sustainable culture,” Legarda said. “We should promote environmental consciousness in our curriculum and culture as a Filipino. Everyone, old or young, rich or poor, must and can contribute to this cause.”
Balancing the scales of nature
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau, “The Philippines is considered a mega-diversity country rivaled only by a few countries in the world when it comes to variety of ecosystems, species, and genetic resources.” For the record, our country hosts more than 52,177 described species of which more than half is found nowhere else in the world.
Despite these natural treasures nature has given us, “we experience an alarming rate of destruction… brought about by overexploitation, deforestation, land degradation, climate change, and pollution, among others,” DENR-BMB said.
On the topic of endemicity, environmental advocate and former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez said, “Global Climate Action Summit delegates should discuss how we can nurture and protect the endemicity of the Philippines for the benefit of the communities living in those areas. Climate strategies should not be just dry and technical, it must be full of heart.”
Based on Lopez, 51 per cent of possible cancer cures come from shells and just recently, scientists discovered more than 100 new marine species in Verde Passage, Batangas during the California Academy of Sciences expedition, making the Philippines "the centre of the centre" of marine biodiversity. With that being said, she believes that researchers in the Philippines and around the world should join forces to explore our natural resources with the non-negotiable commitment that the society in general would benefit from it and not for personal interests.
“Our manner of living is currently unsustainable—we keep on building, cutting up mountains, whilst there is technology of building which doesn’t need mountains to be cut up. All this research should be culled together even if it means going against big business interests,” she emphasised. What she said rings true with the staggering number of fatalities from the wrath of Typhoon Mangkhut which also claimed the lives of miners and residents in Itogon, Benguet who resisted from evacuating. “We need a [governing] body to make sure the intelligence and creativity of the scientific and research sector benefits our planet."
On the other hand, Legarda, who championed a number of laws designated for the protection of the environment and attended international conferences like the 23rd Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) expressed her disappointment that, “Even with laws, it had to take extreme weather events such as typhoons, the habagat-induced rains, and the stronger episodes of El Niño phenomenon, among many other disasters, for us to realise that climate change is real and our nation is among the most vulnerable to its impacts.”
The devastation brought by Typhoon Haiyan served as a wake-up call for the Filipinos to be more vocal and join climate and environmental warriors in their campaigns. Since 2013, campaigns have become more intense because the level of degradation has become more intense as well. “For instance, a 2016 report, The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, showed that the world produced 20 times more plastic in 2014, which is equivalent to 311 million tons than it did in 1964 (15 million tons), and at this rate, oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish (by weight) by the year of 2050,” Legarda quoted. “According to the Ocean Conservancy, the Philippines is one of the top sources of plastic trash dumped into the sea with 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste and half a million metric tons of plastic-waste leakage per year,” she said further.
World Wild Fund for Nature - Philippines (WWF-Philippines) Chairman Aurelio Montinola III also expressed his dismay on these statistics, quoting the title of the 2018 Lopez Group Annual Reports, We are Running Out of Time.
“What is frightening is the speed, the intensity, and the unpredictability of Climate Change in the past 5 to 10 years,” Montinola said. “It [the title of the said report] is an apt description of the state of affairs, and a reason why so many companies and individuals are jumping on various environmental programs in a broader and more intense manner.”
“We should allow science to lead the way. We need better systems and technologies in predicting our weather and identifying climate and disaster risks and vulnerabilities,” Legarda emphasised. “When there is a clear assessment of a community’s situation, local officials will be able to plan and respond accordingly.”
For Montinola, the effect of Typhoon Yolanda on the Filipino people’s consciousness was quite impressive. “We are more aware on the environment and climate change. Note our better disaster preparedness in Typhoon Mangkhut—more evacuations, less lives lost compared to Typhoon Haiyan; as well as the closure of Boracay Island and focus on sustainable tourism,” he said.
“We are guided by the belief that humanity owes something to nature,” Branellec stated, as pearl farms being bio-generators and great indicators of the environment’s health—cultivating the richness of marine life and at the same time thriving from a healthy marine ecosystem. “Working with nature humbles us and what we would like to promote is the value and practice of giving back." At present, Jewelmer is working on The Blue Edge, an initiative to bring together pearl farmers who seek to contribute to the health of our oceans and climate, as well as to inspire consumers to engage with these important environmental issues. "There is much to be achieved from coming together," Branellec said. "We recognise the importance of these partnerships and initiatives in order to preserve our thriving marine ecosystems.”
Likewise, Montinola finds partnerships among other stakeholders as necessary for us to move forward as a country in these endeavours. “’Open Dialogue’ is significant for the Philippines. We need all actors—civil society and environmentally conscious subsection of the private sector—to come together for teamwork on climate actions,” he said. “WWF Philippines has consistently engaged with the private sector, cities, and non-government organisations to find and implement climate solutions. We believe that critical engagement with all stakeholders is key.”
Youth—hope of a ‘greener’ Earth
The future of Planet Earth rests upon the hands of today’s youth, these environmental champions said. The calamities we face now are just the end bit of the teaspoon nature serves upon our mouths. And if we do not do anything about it now, the future we dread can be a monstrous dish we do not have any choice but swallow.
“They need to be educated on what is happening as well as involved in these causes,” Lopez said. She further explained that many youths nowadays live in urban jungle, totally immersed in technology, blind to the beauty of nature. “They need to go out and feel the environment otherwise the world they inherit is not going to be one that will nurture their growth and development. We need to make sure they are not consumed by materialistic values which will deaden their initiative to make a difference.”
Meanwhile, WWF-Philippines has established both a National Youth Council (ages 16-25) and a Next Generation Council (ages 26-40) to give a voice and a platform for environmental action leaders and eco-warrior followers. “It will be their world, so we have faith that they will find creative and effective ways to mitigate climate change. As we say at WWF, ‘together possible’.”
Legarda finds that the challenge for today’s Filipino youth is channeling their passion and spirit into actual action and change in this era of social media and digital devices. For her, posting on social media is a great way to raise awareness, but communicating their thoughts to their national and local officials, or those who can reform policies and programs, for instance, would be more fruitful. “With information on climate action readily available on their smartphones, I know that the youth can initiate and sustain efforts to help address climate change and disasters, while inspiring many more others along the way,” Legarda said.
“The younger generation can also do a great deal by being proactive, by not turning a blind eye to things that they see are wrong. It’s the little things we do every day that makes the biggest difference. Adverse environmental conditions in the past can only teach us to face these challenges as one community—to work together and to work with nature. This is the heritage we dream to pass on,” Branellec said.
Cover photo by Franz Sorilla IV