My Climate Story

2005 – I visited Mindanao for the first time. I was told that they don’t really experience typhoons at all. For Luzon, Baguio in particular, it gets its fair share of typhoons but I remember them not being too extreme.

2012 – I joined a group of volunteers who traveled to Iligan in Mindanao to conduct play activities for children affected by typhoon Sendong. We went to two evacuation centers and had storytelling, did origami, and sang some songs for the children there.

We visited the areas where houses used to stand, those by the river. They’re all gone. It was surreal how tragedy sneers right at your face. We walked through the city. The funny thing was everything seemed normal. Business was on a buzz, as usual. People walked by as if nothing happened.

2014 – Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, the strongest typhoon to make landfall ravaged Tacloban and other areas of Visayas and Mindanao. I was living in Manila at that time but the super typhoon’s strength was felt even at this part of the country. Haiyan claimed countless lives and destroyed several homes and properties.

The following year, some of my friends and I organized an outreach for children of Barangay Paglaum in Tacloban. We introduced the hygiene 5 through breakout sessions. The kids were also given basic hygiene kits. Aside from this, we helped coordinate a magic show for two Child Friendly Space areas in the community.

It was sad to see the devastation first hand. And for most Filipinos, this was a confirmation that climate change is real.

2020 – Addressing the COVID-19 crisis is, understandably, the immediate priority but we should also give equal attention to climate change and the destruction of natural environment, which come to think of it has led to this pandemic. The Philippines, according to the 2020 Global Climate Risk Index Report, is ranked second among climate-vulnerable countries. It is, therefore, in our best interest to aspire for a regenerative, resilient, and equitable future.

On July 18, the Climate Reality Project Global Training commenced with the objective of empowering 14,000 Climate Reality Leaders. I was trained back in 2016 in Manila and now is a mentor to some trainees. It gives me hope to feel the enthusiasm of these individuals towards climate action. It’s a long way to go and there would be a lot of challenges and disappointments that we’ll be encountering but we should press on and do what we can. That’s the only way to go. There’s no planet B after all and it’s up to us to work together for our survival.

 

 

Musings on Whatever: Faith, Religion, and Happiness

We shouldn’t talk about politics, religion, and money. Or so they say. With people having strong views on these sensitive topics, I can see why many choose to steer away from such conversations.

But lo and behold, social media opened the Pandora’s box of people’s deep-seated stance on political and social issues, whether as an informed decision or simply siding with one’s biases. What I am hoping for as an opportunity for open communication to better understand each other led to hate posts and judgments, and losing friends and family in the process.

Enter religion. As a Christian, I grew up believing that our purpose is to sow love and kindness in the world. As you can imagine, this is not always evident in the words and actions of those who claim to follow Christ. Interestingly, all Christians are expected to be morally perfect; as environmentalists like me are expected to be vegans or vegetarians. But it’s not so much as being perfect but the striving to be decent human beings. Which brings me to how the religious try to defend the, in my opinion, questionable leadership of the country. Seems like a case of cognitive dissonance to me.

I watched “PK” an Indian film that bravely explored the world of different religions. Its about an alien who tried to make sense of different faiths and in the end concluded how religious leaders espouse meaningless rituals and beliefs. Incidentally, I got to read “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris which criticized different religions. It got me thinking about my own faith. And I asked, “What if all I believe in are but a social construct?”

Sometimes having the mindset of “learned meaninglessness” where there is no grand purpose, it just is, can help us not to take everything seriously. But we also want to be happy. In Viktor Frankl’s book, “Mans Search for Meaning,” it states that happiness cannot be pursued. It must ensue, that is, there should be a reason to be happy. That reason could come from meaning we realize from work, from experiencing something or encountering or loving someone, and from turning predicaments into achievements or finding meaning in suffering.

It’s a crazy world we’re living in right now but my faith still gives me hope as I try to find meaning in this collective suffering we’re experiencing. It is my prayer that you find reasons to be happy, too.

The New Normal

Damn, when will this virus die? I wish to wake up one morning and find this COVID-19 gone. But we know it will be here much longer. So what now? Two key things that countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have done to successfully stop the chain of infection and flatten the curve are aggressive contact-tracing and mass testing.

We can’t help but compare these to how our country is dealing with the crisis. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Tipping Point” explains that human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. So maybe we shouldn’t be comparing because we have a different context? I do want to believe that the government is doing its best despite challenges. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is slow response, misplaced priorities, and incompetence from these leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing! I mean, seriously?!

But there’s still hope thanks to young leaders like Vico Sotto demonstrating excellent crisis response. Contrary to that Ok Boomer’s claim that the young are pretty stupid. Look who’s talking!

I read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” which analyzes globalization and emphasizes the inevitability of the rapid pace of change affecting the way we do things. I think a “flatter,” more accessible world led to the fast spread of the virus. And a “flatter,” more connected world, plus this crisis, is speeding up our transition to a mostly online lifestyle from business, to entertainment, to socialization. Businesses, in particular, would have to adapt quickly if they want to survive.

It’s fascinating and sometimes scary how things change fast. Yahoo used to be the preferred search engine but we’ve been “Googled” and we’re like, “Yahoo, what?” Angkas was a savior in Manila’s horrendous traffic situation but is currently cannot be the transport option due to physical distancing measures. In place of that, bikes are in. Who would have thought that working from home could apply to most of us and that Zoom meetings are now a regular part of our lives. This could mean that there’s really no need for offices. Feeling like a germophobe? It’s okay, that’s completely acceptable, to the delight of hygiene-related commerce. The virus has practically affected every aspect of our lives, harshly on the marginalized, as always.

I remember someone remarking that there’s nothing normal about the situation we are in right now. But we have to adapt and try to thrive in this so-called new normal. This can actually be an opportunity to build a greener and more inclusive future. We should all read “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” by economist E.F Schumacher (yes, I’ve been reading a lot of books, lately). Because it’s not all about the money. It’s should be about people. Isn’t that the kind of economy we should aspire for?

There’s also a lot of ongoing conversation on school opening and accessible education, and all that. Since we’re realizing what’s truly important, it would probably best for education to focus more on connecting to nature, and being kind, and becoming decent human beings. So we don’t end up with insensitive, privileged idiots running the world.

 

 

 

On Plastic Pollution (again)

It’s so freakin’ hot! Yep, climate change is real. In case you’ve forgotten, increasing temperatures is one impacts of the changing climate. If only we had more trees which can have a cooling effect in cities. But no, these are obstructions to wider roads and malls and buildings you want to put up. With this heat, it would have been nice to take a dip in a pool or go to the beach. Nicki Minaj’s “Let’s go to the beach, each, let’s go get a wave…” is inviting. That, unfortunately, could not happen anytime soon.

May is the “Month of the Ocean.” But with this COVID-19 crisis, I can’t help but wonder how we are to deal with all the plastic from PPE to food packaging, and relief goods placed in plastic bags which sadly could end up in our oceans.

The campaign against single-use plastic has been gaining momentum in the past years but with the current situation, it seems like we have to deal yet again with the issue of plastic pollution.

I would not discount the fact that plastic is useful, convenient, and cheap. But impacts to health and the environment are as always not captured in the price. Who pays for the real price? Oceans choking in plastic, wildlife dying, and possible health impacts due to toxicity (though more studies have yet to be done on this).

So where does that leave us? Well, at least for me, I do my best to avoid single-use or unnecessary plastic (plastic PPE is acceptable, I suppose, but I hope better alternatives can be created soon). Sometimes, it irks me when I say, “No plastic, please” or “No need for the paper bag,” and out of habit, they’d just do the opposite. I force a smile and take a deep breath. There is still a lot of raising awareness that has to be done (plus, let’s not forget government and corporate action!).

No, you’re not saving the environment when you keep on buying the reusable bags in the supermarket which you forget to bring the next time you go shopping.

A common question, “Is paper any better, it has a huge carbon footprint?” That’s true but it’s not as toxic and as persistent in the environment so maybe it’s a lesser evil? Re-usables is still the best bet.

But hey, I also recognize that options at the moment are limited. The important thing is we try to do what we can to reduce plastic use so that the next time we go to the beach, it won’t be plastic we would be swimming with.

Hello, Goodbye

“The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It saves on introductions and goodbyes. The ride does not require explanation – just occupants.” (Waking Life)

People come and go, as I always say. And that’s probably my coping mechanism of not being too affected by departures and my attempt of not getting too attached to people. I used to be a social butterfly but, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I finally convinced myself that I already have enough friends. How many friends does one exactly need, anyway? Is it 5,000 which is the limit on Facebook?

But somehow these friends end up leaving. Life happens and we grow apart. You meet someone whom you connect with and then your paths will never cross again. I’m learning to be at peace with the fact that perhaps it’s meant to be like this because we have fulfilled our purpose for each other. It’s sad but I think there’s also beauty in that. The inevitable goodbye could make you value relationships more.

Same thing with life. Knowing that there is a definite end makes you not take it for granted. We are all going to die but this is one truth we seem to rather forget. For me, reflecting upon death once in a while helps me to keep things in perspective and focus on those that matter. In Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” she said that the days are long but the years are short. So might as well make the most of each moment.

Moments pass but they can also last forever. When we hold on to memories of old friends, those almost forgotten, and those who choose to stay.

 

Dear Earth (2020 Edition)

Dear Earth,

Happy birth of the environmental movement day! Yey!

The COVID-19 crisis is allowing you to heal but I do know you don’t subscribe to ecofascism or extremist views of environmentalism where people have to die to prove a point that we have actually brought this upon ourselves. I share your view that we have to protect wildlife and take a closer look at how the meat industry is contributing to pandemics. Sadly, we would rather talk about conspiracy theories.

Understandably, beating this virus is the priority now but I hope we also realize the urgency of solving climate change and other environmental issues which are taking countless lives, too.

Have you seen “Honeyland”? This documentary that puts a spotlight on Hatidze, one of Europe’s last wild beekeepers. I think you’ll like it. While watching, I wondered if I could actually live like Hatidze; a life devoid of technology, electricity, and the conveniences of city-living.

Hatidze’s mantra of “Half for me and half for you” whenever she collects honeycombs from beehives she tends is a reflection of sustainability. Something we have forgotten. Something we are realizing at the moment as we wonder if things will be going back to so-called “normal.” Of fast-paced lives chasing after opportunities of consuming more or trashing the planet. Yet we’re not any happier.

But hey, this is also an opportunity of building a “new normal.” A future that is more mindful, more regenerative, and more equitable.

Here’s to our collective healing!

Cheers,

Green Guy

 

The Rain

The rain poured, the heavy clouds finally letting go. Perhaps sharing our collective grief.

I remember going home one night, caught in the storm and drenched miserably as I walked through knee-deep filthy water.

I tried to recall the last time I actually enjoyed the rain. A flashback of squeals of delight came from the distant past when childhood was all about playing, and having fun, and having a laugh – even under the cold rain.

The rain also brought memories of my hometown, Baguio, which seemed to get its fair share of showers. Gloomy and gray, yet somehow welcoming – that feeling of home. The same feeling I got when I spent a short while in Bradford, in a country far away.

The rain reminded me of countless typhoons, of the much needed water for drought-stricken fields and farms, of thirsty rivers and dams, and of people doing the “sun dance” wishing for clearer skies.

The rain could mean many things. But it’s just the rain.

 

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

Convo in my Head: The Coronavirus Scare (Part 2)

A: It appears the crisis has gone worse from our last conversation.

B: Indeed, it has.

A: And WHO got it wrong. Everyone should be wearing masks.

B: Well, not to defend WHO or anything, but that advice of just using masks when you’re sick is in the context of scarcity of resources.

A: I understand frontliners should be prioritized when it comes to PPE but the wearing of masks should not have been discounted as a preventive measure for the disease.

B: I totally rely on WHO for a more ‘informed’ decision-making, them being the expert and all, but I don’t know anymore. There’s even this issue of WHO ignoring Taiwan! What’s up with that?

A: It’s all political, in the end. Sadly even at such time of crisis.

B: Guess what, I re-watched “Contagion” and its similarities to COVID-19 are surreal – the transmission, the symptoms, the deaths, conspiracy theories, politics… minus the anarchy.

A: Yeah, we don’t end up as crazy, selfish people. In real life, there is still… humanity.

B: Except for a few VIPs, and tissue hoarders, and incompetent leaders, and…

A: Hey, hey, hey! You’re getting ahead of yourself! You’re always complaining! Did you do anything to contribute to the solution?

B: Haha! Touche!

A: Seriously though, seeing the goodness of the human spirit makes me want to cry.

B: I remember someone say, “I’m not a doctor but maybe my music can make someone feel better.”

A: That could mean the world to someone grieving or to someone who is anxious.

B: A small act of kindness could mean something to someone, without the giver even knowing.

A: So what have we learned so far from this crisis? Or realizations, if you may.

B: At least for me, I have come to realize what’s important – family, friends, relationships, connection… and food! We should be growing our own food.

A: And higher standards for politicians and government officials, please. I hope we don’t forget…

B: And we should check our privilege. Watch Parasite and The Platform, for inspiration.

A: And note to self, “Stop touching your face!”

 

 

 

 

 

Go home and plant ‘kamote’

I remember back then when exasperated teachers would blurt out, “Go home and plant kamote,” for students who wouldn’t be bothered to make an effort in their studies. It’s sad that farming is looked down upon but in times of crisis, when food is scarce, we realize that we should have been planting kamote all along.

As most parts of the Philippines is currently on community quarantine due to COVID-19, decreasing food supply and imposed limited movements have made our situation more challenging. Local government units distribute relief goods but thankfully, there’s a clamor for fresh produce not only to support farmers (#SupportFarmerspH #ReliefPH) but eating fruits and vegetables to keep healthy is another defense against the disease.

Advocates of home-based gardening have also started promoting the #TipidTanim Challenge encouraging households to plant now to enhance local food production for family consumption. Agriculturists and experts have conducted online lessons on basic vegetable gardening. In support to this, #IAmHampasLupa is crowd sourcing where the public can get free seeds. Local government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, some cities and barangays, and even individuals have already initiated seed-giving efforts.

During this time of the COVID-19 crisis and also as a response to the impact of climate change which we continually experience, let’s reconnect to the earth, reconnect to our food, and promote food security. And as we continue observing physical distancing and washing our hands, let’s stay home and plant kamote.

 

 

 

Quarantine Thoughts

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that I feel a bit anxious about the COVID-19 crisis leading to this “extreme enhanced community quarantine” we are in at the moment. I recognize the privilege I have of being able to work from home, having a roof over my head to begin with, and is so far not sick. I’m away from my family but knowing they are well makes me feel grateful.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that it’s sad how this crisis is yet again exposing the reality of poverty, inequality, and incompetence. I know the local government units are trying to do their best. But we definitely could do better. Death becoming just a number should have been avoided. I salute those who call out what should be called out. And true leaders should take advantage of this feedback instead of being defensive.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that the strength demonstrated by frontline workers is encouraging. We usually think that disasters and crises bring out the worst in us but it’s actually the opposite. People are donating money, food, masks, and whatever they could pitch in. Strangers are offering free rides to those in need. Artists are performing live online. Free books, and free lessons, and free movie streaming abound. It’s heartwarming to see this solidarity.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that I support the call for #FreeMassTestingNow. And no, politicians and VIPs should not be prioritized. Otherwise, as someone brilliantly suggested, cough in a politician’s face and wait for the test result.

So, how about you? What would you tell me if we were having coffee right now?