Thursday, July 31, 2008

Saving our environment

Planet Earth has never been in a more precarious state than now. In the past, we can easily point the blame to natural causes for the changes in our climate. But in recent years, these changes have been due mainly to human activity rather than natural changes in the atmosphere.

While progress ushered in better and more convenient lifestyles, it has also enhanced the warming capability of the natural greenhouse effect, the natural system that regulates the temperature on the earth. Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, land use and agriculture have disrupted the balance of this system with the amount of greenhouses gases released to the atmosphere.

The international scientific consensus is, and it is almost unequivocal, that our world has been getting warmer and warmer over the past 150 years. Our planet has experienced an increase in temperature consisting of warming and cooling cycles at intervals of several decades. Global warming, however, is predicted to be the long-term trend, as we are already feeling the impact of widespread melting of snow and ice, rising sea levels, and shifting of climatic zones. Scientists have predicted changes that include acidification of the oceans, reduced snow cover and sea ice, more frequent heat waves and heavy precipitation, more intense tropical cyclones, and slower oceanic currents. This is like telling a patient he has cancer and the prognosis is bad.

Those in the developing or less developed countries are the most vulnerable to this climate change. They have less capacity to adapt and mitigate the impacts of global warming, and their livelihoods are often dependent on resources linked to climate. Water supply will also be threatened, especially when forests and watersheds are destroyed. Overall future impacts are expected to be negative.

The recent disasters that wrought havoc to the Philippines because of tropical cyclones, volcanic eruptions and mudflows speak eloquently about the human neglect of the environment. Although we live in a geographical location where tropical cyclones are formed and where the Pacific Ring of Fire and several earthquake fault lines are found, the wanton devastation of our verdant forests and haphazard and inadequate government response to mitigate air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have both contributed to the catastrophic impact of natural disasters. We cannot continually rely on humanitarian and relief effort alone every time we try and salvage our country from disasters. In addition to building a national capacity to deal with natural calamities, we need to mainstream relief and rehabilitation efforts with the larger objective of environmental restoration and preservation.

Take Typhoon Frank, for example. Affecting more than 470,000 people across 20 provinces, the typhoon hit the Philippine province of Iloilo the most. It flooded nearly 225,000 hectares of farmland and damaged 16.8 metric tons of agricultural produce. Due to the typhoon’s high winds and heavy surf, it also capsized a ferry boat with 750 people on board, the majority of whom perished.

Although we should be thankful for all those who opened their hearts and wallets in helping Typhoon Frank’s victims, we should also condemn those who contributed to the degradation of Iloilo’s forests and watersheds such as profit-motivated loggers, government officials who ensured the protection of the logging business over and above the interest of saving the environment, and perhaps, ourselves for our apathy and complacency about the perils to our ecosystem. We cannot continue to live through a cycle of disasters that we can help prevent. We need to act now because the survival of our natural habitat is under serious threat.

Restoring our forests and protecting our watersheds will prevent flooding and ensure a steady supply of fresh water. Time is of the essence because our sources of water are becoming scarce. Deforestation also removes more than just trees, and clearance of our lush forests causes the whole extinction of species and engenders climate change. The line must be drawn: either we allow the market forces to determine our forests and all of nature as a capital asset that can be exploited, or we respect nature and its bounties as a non-renewable resource which must be protected at all costs.

We need to save our environment for future generations. Our children and their children depend on us in ensuring a liveable planet, where cars will be more fuel efficient, our industries will not be dependent on fossil fuels, our plants, refineries and factories are all equipped with efficient air-pollution equipment, and where the environmental protections enjoyed by our forests, rivers, wetlands, wildlife habitat and public lands have all been restored, and all these efforts integrated with the larger objectives of sustainable development for the benefit of humankind.

Today’s priority is to save our planet. We, humans, may soon become “the living dead,” the term biologists use to describe species whose habitats or gene pools are so diminished. Our extinction is only a matter of time if we do not stop the degradation of our environment.

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