A Green Mind

I woke up thinking how using the AC demands more electricity which primarily is sourced from coal thereby contributing to carbon emissions hastening climate change. But William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, “The Upcycle” claims that this is more of a design rather than an environmental problem. If the energy comes from a renewable source, then you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the comfort provided by an air-conditioned room.

Same thing with taking a long shower. Nothing wrong with that if the water is recycled.

And this applies to products which don’t necessarily have to end up as trash if they follow the cradle to cradle concept, a holistic and waste-free way of manufacturing.

While reading this fascinating book in the bus, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder how difficult it is to pocket the tiny bus ticket that people put more effort in stuffing it in corners and crannies. Don’t get me started on the supposed inspection of these bus tickets. We do know there’s a better system and is already existing at that. Another design flaw.

Would it make a difference if I confront them? I once did that in the jeepney when this full grown, obviously educated woman, just mindlessly threw the garbage on the floor and I told her, “That’s not the garbage bin.” She just looked at me innocently as if she didn’t do anything. And that’s what I end up doing when encountering such individuals. Stare at them spitefully and they stare back confused wondering what they did wrong.

Littering is bad and everybody knows it but we’re just too lazy to care, that is, if we care at all.

Speaking of trash, another frustration I have is with straws and plastics. When you say, “No straw/no plastic, please” vendors or servers sometimes find that amusing. I was told, “Remove the straw yourself.” So when I see my friends using straws, I judge them, a little. I observed that for most people, these things are not a big deal.

How about health? We know that fastfood, processed food, and too much meat is bad news. Bad for the environment, too. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s available, it’s cheap, and they taste so good, as well. I still eat fastfood sometimes because it’s that convenient. And real food is difficult to come buy these days. I was a pescatarian for a while wanting to be a vegetarian but options can be very limiting. Add to that the idea of micro plastics in my fish and pesticides in my veggies. Besides, according to “The Upcycle,” we should celebrate diversity and that includes diversity in diet. So right now, being a flexitarian is the best option for me.

I don’t know if it’s just a trend but more and more people are turning to organics, and healthy living, and being more mindful and more sustainable in their ways. This is the right thing to do but who am I to tell people how to live their lives. As zero waste advocate Lauren Singer puts it, what environmentalists can do is to show everyone that there are other better options.

I remember the quote from Inception: “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” So I guess my goal, since it’s Environment Month and all, is to plant seeds of green ideas and hope that these would grow in the minds of people. Because the truth is (and this is not some kind of an alternative fact), environmentalism, this seemingly hopeless idealism, is for humanity’s survival.

SuperAdobe Construction with Super Volunteers

Who’s crazy enough to give up their long weekend which could be spent for rest or a quick getaway in the beach in favor of doing hard labor construction work for three days? Well, that’s what we, Greenpeace volunteers did, when we decided to help out in the building of SuperAdobe earth houses which would be part of the Climate Resiliency Field School Training Center in Gerona, Tarlac.

Developed by architect Nader Khalili, the founder of California Institute of Earth Architecture, SuperAdobe is a form of earth bag architecture that makes use of sand bags, barbed wire, and soil. The structure can last for years and can withstand severe earthquakes and typhoons. It can be an emergency shelter in times of disasters as the construction is designed to be easy, simple, flexible, and fast to complete.

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Photo by Conan Rogador

Indeed, the concept is simple but it’s also very systematic as it involves some precise measurements with a degree of flexibility.

Learning more about this fascinating technology is one thing that motivated us to volunteer. The Center, which is a project of the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1), would soon be used to train farmers on ecological agriculture. Personally, being part of the construction work became a sort of a test if a frail, skinny guy like me would be up to the challenge of actually doing hard labor.

Clay soil, which mind you is difficult to work with, was mixed, transported, and filled in sacks. These then were piled on top of each other and were thumped flat. In between the sacks, barbed wires were placed to serve as mortar and reinforcement. Before that, the barbed wires would have to be tamed (yes, there’s such a thing). And we had to go through this cycle several times until our muscles were sore, our skin sunburned, and our shirts soaked in sweat.

Additionally, we created French drains by digging canals around the structure and filling them with gravel. We also cleared and leveled an area that would be a site for the Training Center’s amphitheater.

This definitely deserves a “feeling accomplished” Facebook shout out. Especially to the strong independent women, the female volunteers, who seemed to have the strength of Wonder Woman and worked those construction tools like pros. Who says that only men can do heavy work? That’s another unique feature of SuperAdobe houses, anyone can build it.

The experience has been tiring but fulfilling. Even made more rewarding to get to work with amazing individuals who show the true spirit of volunteerism, the genuine desire of giving of the self for a greater cause.

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Photo by Shyo Sayajon

A Plastic Tale

I’m cheap, easy to manufacture, and you could mold me into any form you wish. You can use me once and throw me away and forget about me altogether. That, unfortunately, is not the end of my story. Because apparently, I can outlast your life and be here forever.

Sometimes, I get recycled but mostly I’m buried or dumped or kept somewhere away from your sight. Other times, you burn me and I give my last breath of life through toxic fumes. Or I let the wind carry me up in the air or I just float endlessly into the sea.

Life in the ocean can never be lonely. I’m reunited with all my kind at the North Pacific Gyre where we form a garbage patch. And thanks to the biggest plastic polluters, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, we could soon conquer the ocean.

I feel guilty, though, as I cause the death of countless animals when they mistake me for food or when they get entangled in my deadly embrace. And ever pervasive, I can break down into micro plastics ending up in your plate of fish.

I know it’s more convenient to use plastic bags instead of reusable ones. Or to buy bottled water instead of carrying a refillable bottle. Or choose disposables instead of washing up. Or drink through a straw instead of simply sipping one’s drink. But there’s already too much of us that maybe it’s about time that you reduce your plastic consumption.

Hey, I won’t take it against you. It’s the least I could do considering that May is the Month of the Ocean. And if it’s not too much, maybe you can even sign the petition calling for ASEAN to unite and act to protect the oceans from plastic and marine debris.

Every single piece of me ever made still exists today. However, I’ve stayed long enough and I’m ready to move on.

Greenpeace whale installation

The environment in a win-lose state

The plight of the environment is in constant push and pull.

Lawmakers rejected the appointment of Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary citing her lack of qualification among others leading to the decision and that her passion and commitment for the environment just wouldn’t cut it. In the end, it’s all political and business interests still prevail. So sad for the country.

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But last April 22, during the Earth Day, the Paris Agreement took effect in the Philippines. This is a great milestone as this would allow us to participate in the next Parties to the Paris Agreement meeting and gives us access to climate funds.

One time, in a fast food restaurant, I requested that my drink be served without a straw. The server told me to just remove the straw myself. Let’s add that then to the ever growing plastic trash.

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But there’s one good news for Baguio. The long overdue ordinance that bans plastic and Styrofoam is out. Please don’t let this be another good law that nobody really follows.

Long weekends call for a getaway and that’s what we did as we headed to Tingloy, Batangas. A quick Google search would tell you how this island is pristine and it would paint a picture of paradise. Nothing could be further from the truth. The supposed unspoiled Masasa Beach was filled with a bunch of partygoers with their mindless drinking while literally trashing the place.

The island hopping tour brought us to another beach which was full of garbage. When I started picking trash, the local guide just told me not to mind the rubbish.

Photo from the Pinoy Traveler

But I’m still hopeful when I remember my trip to El Nido where taking care of nature is a priority and ecotourism is practiced. Why can’t other tourist destinations follow suit?

The plight of the environment is in constant push and pull. Still a long way to go towards sustainability. When will we wake up from this slumber of environmental indifference?

Aesthete

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I like to stand at the summit
And gaze at the sea of clouds
The magnificent mountain ranges
The sunset
The sunrise
I like how the cool wind embraces me
Tousling my hair
Like gentle hands giving its affectionate gesture
Dancing through the branches and leaves
Making them wave their hello
I like the refreshing smell of the air
The scent of wood, and soil, and vegetation
I like how the birds tweet a tune
And crickets and night creatures with their orchestra of sounds
I close my eyes and stretch my arms
Taking it all in

Aesthete (adj.): Someone with deep sensitivity to the beauty of art or nature.

Do you enjoy nature, too? If so, do your part. Be stewards of the environment. Happy Earth Day everyone!

Turned off from switching off?

It all began in Australia in 2007 in a lights off event. Now, dubbed as “Earth Hour,” it became an annual worldwide movement organized by WWF encouraging people to switch off their lights for an hour as a support for climate change action.

But is this simply another feel-good event that doesn’t really have any significant impact?

Critics say that the reduction in power consumption is negligible. Well, that’s true. And Earth Hour events when not managed well actually contribute to a lot of waste generated and more energy consumed.

But the whole point of Earth Hour is raising awareness on climate change and other environmental issues. Because frankly, there are still climate deniers, people who are oblivious to how we are destroying our planet, and those who need a little nudging to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

So I say switch off the lights. As you go beyond the hour and be more proactive in conserving energy.

Switch off the lights and let this be your vote in support for cleaner sources of energy.

Switch off the lights and continue doing something to combat climate change by reducing the stuff you buy, by being a responsible consumer, by re-using and recycling, and by lessening waste.

Switch off the lights and be part of this collective environmental movement.

Let the naysayers be for at the end of the day, taking action is better than inaction.

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HANDs! Project: Looking back and looking forward

People often choose to forget the past as looking back can be painful. But when it comes to disasters, lessons from history should always be remembered. This could help you survive when disasters strike again.

This is one lesson I got from the second and final leg of the HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

In 2016, the HANDs fellows visited Manila, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. This year, we headed to Phuket and Phang Nga, Thailand and Kobe, Japan.

The Thailand phase started with a site visit and dialogue at the Bangla Village Mangrove Forest. Members of the community expressed how the mangroves helped protect them from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and are therefore very motivated in preserving the forest.

We then headed to Baan Nam Kem where we listened to stories of the tsunami survivors and learned about community based disaster risk management.

The rest of our stay in Thailand was spent in Yaowawit School, a real-life education facility for orphans and less privileged, which was founded by German philanthropist Philipp Graf von Hardenberg initially meant to help tsunami victims.

Lectures and workshops on sustainability and gamification were given by Robert Steele, a sustainability expert, and Ruttikorn Vuttikorn, a game designer. After which, fellows had to design games and activities for the “Alarm Cat,” a disaster and environmental education program for students of Yaowawit. It was a joy to interact with the children of the school and be able to promote disaster preparedness and environmentalism through creative means.

We said our khop kun krap (thank you) and bid goodbye to the heat of Thailand as Kobe, Japan’s cold embrace welcomed us.

The trip in Japan began with a tour of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI) which was established to archive and preserve the memories and lessons from the 1995 Great Hanshin-awaji earthquake. Hearing stories and going through the interactive exhibition of DRI was emotional but the importance of learning from the past to minimize risk and damage in the future is further emphasized.

A session and site visit of another disaster, the Toga River flash flood highlighted how providing sufficient information and education on disaster could save lives.

We learned about local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education from non-profit organizations namely Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner. We also participated in the “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a disaster drill program of Plus Arts, and facilitated games and activities for children.

Guided by HANDs adviser, Hirokazu Nagata, the fellows developed disaster and environmental education action plans to be implemented in our respective countries. We got additional inspiration to be more creative and to think outside the box from Kiito, Design and Creative Center in Kobe, which served as our work station.

HANDs Project provided a rare opportunity of visiting many places, learning from various experts and institutions, and forging friendships with co-fellows. And though the research trips ended, this is simply the beginning of more collaborations as we continue building our hopes and dreams towards a more resilient and more environmentally sustainable future.

Photos from HANDs! Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

Learn more about HANDs! Project here.