In the office, I make an effort to use both sides of paper. I encourage my colleagues to segregate garbage (which seems so difficult to follow) and urge them to avoid single-use plastic.
When eating out, I tell my friends not to use plastic straws or challenge them to eat more veggies.
I constantly talk about the little things we can do to contribute to caring for the environment.
Some people do try to support environmentalism but others, I’m afraid, just find me overbearing whenever I start talking green. And sadly, a lot of people just don’t care – they have other stuff to worry about and environmental issues are the least of their concern.
There’s also the question whether individual action can actually cause real impact. Taken collectively, it can influence corporations. But these corporations can take advantage of it weaving corporate action as sustainable when it’s far from the truth. Case in point, Starbucks replacing plastic straws with sippy cups made from more plastic. Starbucks claims the plastic lid is recyclable unlike plastic straws but do they really get recycled?
Another downside of these individual environmental actions is that it can make people feel that they don’t need to do anything else as they already did their part. Annie Leonard, in an article, said that civic engagement is the real source of power to make a difference.
The key then is consistency as well as continuous involvement in environmental initiatives. We do this not really to save the earth because it is us who need saving. We are actually saving ourselves and the human race.
“We have to be angry but humble… We have to fight joyfully.”
This statement came from 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Nigeria, during one of the learning sessions of the Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). Centered around the theme, “Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self,” CURLS is an experiential learning journey that aims to promote the concept of Right Livelihood by living rightly on earth.
Plagued by neoliberalism, characterized by liberalization of trade and investment, privatization of goods and services, and changing of public regulation to support corporate interest, the earth has been treated as a commodity. The market considered as its very soul results to materialism and complete disregard of our impact to the environment. Changing this deeply rooted mindset can be frustrating. It angers me as an environmentalist. Yet “We have to be angry but humble…”
I do my part and expect others to do the same. At the expense of sounding preachy, paired with occasional bursts of exasperation, I point out how we’re not doing much. How we can’t even do the most basic things like segregating waste or refusing single-use plastic! We even reason how individual choices wouldn’t matter as long as corporations continue what they’re doing. Being angry and humble at the same time sure is becoming more challenging.
During CURLS, learning about the disappearance of Laotian Sombath Somphone, a dedicated community and development worker, was heart-breaking. Environmentalists, activists, earth’s healers, those who fight for what is right, are being harmed for the work that they do. This elicits anger and fear but Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng encourages us to keep on fighting. And we have to fight joyfully in spite of it all.
Sulak Sivaraksa, another Right Livelihood Award Laureate, said that before you heal the world, you should heal yourself first and be liberated from structural violence. Sulak mentions of an ideal society where there is equality, fraternity, and liberty from greed, hate, and delusion.
Perhaps we should learn from Bhutan which uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of development, a departure from the usual Gross Domestic Product, or as Nnimmo refers to as “Gross Domestic Problem.” The fact that Bhutan has never been colonized, practicing Buddhist culture, made it easy to embrace the idea of GNH which is about holistic development and collective happiness. For GNH, there are nine interdependent domains being considered namely health, education, living standards, time use, psychological well-being, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience.
Another example worth emulating is the communal living of the Konohana Family, an eco-village in Japan. They practice sustainable agriculture, they follow the law of the universe, and everyone contributes to the community.
Chulalongkorn University where trees abound, birds and squirrels freely roam about amidst busy students transported in electric buses, right at the center of a highly-urbanized city like Bangkok was the perfect learning environment for CURLS. It made me appreciate the idea of nature and modernity co-existing.
In a predominantly selfish society, there are still those who fight joyfully. Those who remain connected to the earth. Through CURLS, I met some of these people. I also learned valuable insights that could help me towards my path to healing the earth, the society, and myself.
Angelo Abcede, an environmental advocate and a vegan; Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Food and Ecological Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace; and Drei Castillo of Good Food Community became part of the panelists.
Virginia gave an overview of the Diet for Climate Campaign of Greenpeace. She explained that Filipinos are eating more meat and less fruits and vegetables because of the notion that meat is nice, necessary, natural, and normal. This, however, is leading to health problems and negatively impacts the environment. She also mentioned that 30% of crops are grown for animal feed and 14% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock production.
Lessening one’s meat consumption or having meat-free meals a few times in a week already helps. For Angelo, having undergone multiple brain surgeries due to brain tumor, he believes that shifting to a vegan diet that upholds the principle of compassion paved way to his speedy recovery.
As someone who works closely with farmers, Drei said that the organic movement is growing but it’s still a struggle on the production side especially related to value chain. To contribute to the campaign, she encouraged constant conversation on the issue, getting to know our farmers, and changing our habits.
During the event, Angelo also introduced easy to prepare meat-free recipes – classic hummus made by blending chick peas, cumin seeds, roasted tahini garlic, and olive oil; and mushroom pulao, a sort of Indian fried rice cooked in spices.
Climate change might be too big an issue but our collective action through our individual food choices can already contribute to the solution.
Follow this link to learn more about the campaign: http://bit.ly/2G1AlS7
Buying groceries can be challenging for me because I have this mental checklist, a criteria that I base my decision on, before buying something. Ideally, it should be organic or natural, environment-friendly, locally produced, and has less packaging.
I always check the ingredients list. If I recognize most of the contents, none of those words you can barely read, then I’ll buy it. I used to eat a lot of junkfood but now, I mostly eat fruits and nuts for snacks! Occasionally, I buy sweets and pastries but I’m also trying to lessen my sugar intake (and the same goes with salt).
I remember a chef saying that you should train your tongue to eat real food. Kids hate veggies because early on, they get used to artificial food bathed in too much salt or sugar or flavoring. Once your tongue gets used to natural flavors, you’ll realize how, most of the time, the food being served is too salty or too sweet.
Minimalism is about mindfulness. Being mindful about the food we put in our bodies is something we should strive for. We should change the mindset that eating healthy is a punishment or is a way of robbing yourself of the good stuff because it’s not.
Plastic is deemed evil for a reason (i.e. toxicity, pollution, etc.) but its usefulness in terms of food safety and food preservation is undeniable. A Quartz article explains that “Plastic is the symptom. Our centralized food system is the disease.” And a systemic issue will take time to be resolved.
One thing we can already do, however, is to start getting rid of unnecessary plastic. The good thing is more and more people are becoming aware of this. A lot of efforts are now being done to tackle the challenge.
There’s the ban of single-use plastic in some cities and municipalities, even among corporations. People are refusing straws and are opting for better alternatives – paper straws, bamboo straws, metal straws, and glass straws. There’s even a collapsible and seaweed-based edible straw. Speaking of edible, an alternative plastic bag made from cassava can be eaten or is compostable (as opposed to the oxo-degradable bags which just break down into micro plastics).
A growing group of individuals are starting to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle bringing re-usable bags, and jars, and containers when they go shopping; and re-filling their re-usable water drinking bottles instead of buying bottled water.
We have all these better options and it’s such a simple decision to make. It’s a matter of saying yes to the simple solution with big impact and letting go of the attraction of convenience.
With people becoming more concerned of the state of the environment, who are also clamoring for safe and healthy food, the organic movement is slowly gaining attraction worldwide.
I got to learn more about the movement when I participated in the 2018 Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA) Organic Foundation Course. ALGOA is a project initiated by International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)- Asia.
This year, there were 27 participants from 12 countries namely Korea, India, Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Bhutan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
Goesan County in Chungbuk Province, Korea was the perfect place to have the training program with its natural and beautiful environment. It is one of the birthplaces of organic farming in Korea. It is almost isolated that not so many Koreans themselves know of the place but it turns out that this could be an advantage for the preservation of nature and for organic agriculture to thrive.
During the Welcome Ceremony, the Mayor of Goesan said that he had three presents for us – the fresh air, organic food, and sticky corn. We, the participants gladly enjoyed these three.
Organic agriculture, as defined by IFOAM, is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. In its core are the principles of health, ecology, fairness, and care. These principles were evident when we talked to local farmers, visited farms, and went to Hansalim, a cooperative established by both producers and consumers. One farmer we talked to said that they provide safe and healthy food for consumers and in turn, the consumers ensure that the producers can continue to make a living through farming. It was truly inspiring to see this sense of community built on mutual trust. It was also equally inspiring to meet young farmers. Young people would not normally choose to go into farming and prefer to work in offices in the city but it’s amazing how these individuals chose a road less traveled, so to speak.
During the training, we learned about JADAM organic farming (low cost agriculture); biodynamic farming (farming that follows the rhythms and cycles of nature); Organic Guarantee Systems; value chain; innovations; and marketing methods among others. Our minds were fed and our bodies, too – with organic produce that is local, fresh, and diverse.
To cap off the course, we attended the 4th ALGOA Summit, which brought together local governments and the private sector to discuss policies and ways to promote organic agriculture.
David Gould of IFOAM Organics International said that all of the Sustainable Development Goals can be linked to food. We must then realize the connections between healthy people, healthy food, and healthy farms. It’s still a long way to go for the organic movement to be truly embraced but through our collective efforts, we can work together towards a more sustainable future.
Earth Day is just around the corner and if you’re looking for inspiration so you won’t merely celebrate the day but take action, here are some environmental films which you may want to watch. Frankly, every day should be Earth Day because caring for the environment is actually for our own good. But what do I know. I’m not as smart as the politicians in my hometown, Baguio, who think it’s necessary to put up a mall and a parking podium at a park; and drive away people from the area to pave way for a trade fair. Just bloody brilliant, isn’t it?!
Now, some of the films can be depressing but I hope you join the cause and be an environmental warrior after watching these.
1. The Lorax
Based on Dr. Seuss’ children’s book, this is a story of a world without trees. It’s also about greed and how businesses tend to disregard the importance of the environment for the sake of profit. SM Baguio and Baguio politicians, you should watch this (related story: For the Trees!)!
Another animated film, WALL-E, paints a dystopian Earth covered in garbage with people turned obese due to an automated lifestyle (sounds like the present Earth if you ask me). Featuring the love story of two robots as a subplot, WALL-E is a cute, funny, and hopeful movie to watch.
3. Racing Extinction
Animal species are going extinct and it’s our fault. Dealing with illegal wildlife trade, climate change, and other environmental issues, the documentary is a call for change of habits for the survival of species.
4. Food, Inc.
We don’t really know where our food comes from. The documentary, Food, Inc. exposes the unsustainable industrial production of meat, grains, and vegetables. I hope the movie can make you more mindful about the food that you eat.
Okja is not your typical action-adventure film. It’s also a social commentary on genetically-modified organisms, ethical diet, and environmental activism. It revolves around the story of friendship between a young girl and Okja, a super pig. Okja will make you cry but more importantly, it will make you think.
4. A Plastic Ocean
This year’s Earth Day focus is to end plastic pollution. A Plastic Ocean may convince you to stop single-use plastic that ends up in the ocean and eventually on your plate.