By Digoy Fernandez ONE does not have to be a genius to figure that any large city â Metro-Manila, for example â generates a huge carbon footprint by way of car and truck emissions, the generation and improper handling of waste, buildings and homes that are not green enough, and the lack of enough green spaces that can serve as carbon sinks while generating oxygen at the same time. In the case of our own metropolis, short-sightedness on the part of many past administrators would find them making decisions on the basis of expediency rather than the consideration of the longer term suitability of the city as a habitat for man, flora, and fauna. Thus, if a road had to be widened, any tree getting in the way would be immediately cut or destroyed, instead of seeking out a win-win solution where the road could be widened but not at the expense of such trees. Instead of encouraging the practice of separating garbage at the source in each and every single household and institution, we still have unsightly garbage dumps containing all sorts of detritus. This situation is what attracts the scavengers who seek to eke out a living by trying to salvage the recyclable or usable materials from plain garbage. There are already too many environmental problems in the city begging for attention. For now, we will focus on the simple task of seeking empty spaces in the metropolis and converting these into green spaces. As a example, I just have to point out what I have done within my own property and in the alleyway adjoining it. Not to mention the adjoining streets and some of the areas in our village park. Over the years, I have taken to picking up seedlings âmany of them sprouting now that the rainy season has started â and putting them in small pots or containers for future planting activities. Lately, I have tried to obtain more balete (climbing fig) varieties, knowing that these grow very quickly and also attract all kinds of birds. I am still mourning the loss of practically all or our Aratiles trees that were cut down upon instructions by a village official because she found them messy! Aside from disappointing many villagers, their children, and even househelp from the pleasure of picking and eating the nice sweet berry-like fruits of this tree, we also deprived a lot of birds and other living creatures that depended on this link in the food chain. Now that I have whole banks of trees growing in my property, I can enjoy the sight and sounds of many birds that have made our place their own. My friend, the nature habitat specialist Ed de Vera, passed by one day and pointed out that my trees had a whole family of yellow orioles. I see them at various times during the day, together with other birds, frolicking near our fishpond area. It does not take much to create a green space. Even companies get into the act. I saw this in some of the companies like Toyota that have set aside areas for mini-forests in their properties. A green space can range from a few square meters to a few hectares. The idea is to keep the space well planted, using organic methods only, and allowing nature to take its course. That is the logic I used when we set up the mini-forest in our village. We planted the trees close together to simulate a forest environment, and then left nature to weave its magic. Pretty soon we had a combination of tall trees and small saplings in a small space of a few hundred square meters, providing an attractive base for other flora and fauna to take root in. Unfortunately, good intentions can only go so far. A series of unenlightened do-gooders subsequently introduced âinnovationsâ like concrete pathways and even a gazebo into the mini-forest, aside from the sacrilegious act of placing pebbles to act as a floor for the whole forest!!!! The whole purpose of keeping the area as pristine as possible went down the drain. Succeeding teams of do-gooders even used a portion of the mini-forest to âburnâ fallen leaves and twigs, destroying fully a quarter of the area previously planted. This should serve as a lesson to all concerned. Just because one has set aside a green space for plants and trees does not guarantee that it will remain that way. One will have to literally fight the attempts of others who see nothing of value in green spaces. That is why it is also important to choose potential green spaces that will not be used for other purposes. One idea is to utilize those neglected portions of the parks or similar areas that have been set aside by law for green spaces. The area where we live has a large property owned by one of the countryâs better -known families. This property was earmarked for development a few years ago, but residents of adjoining villages objected strenuously. I am hoping that the property remains as is because it has become home to countless numbers of night herons. One can see them start to take off at dusk, heading for Laguna de Bay to do their fishing and eating. They can also be seen at times making the return trip after a satisfying hunt. My friend Ed de Vera and I have been witness to this spectacle many a time, and we never tire of watching the night herons fly off to feed. Another time, I was able to catch a glimpse of some fireflies in the same area, which means that they also made use of the stream traversing the property. There is nothing that evokes memories of days gone by than the sight of fireflies. When the birds, butterflies, moths, bees and hornets, and even bats move in, one will know that he or she had done well with a given green space.
Recently in Environment Category
ONE of the stories related to me by my late father about his friends’ exploits while they were still students at the Ateneo (before the War), were the times they played hookey and swam across the Pasig River. Needless to say, they would often get caught and earned the ire of the Jesuit prefects of discipline. But the point being made here is that, in those days, the Pasig was clean enough to attract people to jump in for a relaxing swim. Many years later, I found myself helping the late Roberto T. Villanueva, a good friend of my late father, as a consultant in the newly established office euphemistically referred to as the Coordinating Council for Philippine Assistance Program (CCPAP). The CCPAP was charged with overseeing the inflow and expenditure of bilateral and multilateral funds meant to help spur or maintain economic and social development. One time, it was suggested that I look into the cleaning of both the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay. As a committed environmentalist, this was the sort of project that got me excited, until I made a series of phone calls to development agencies and donor institutions. In short, they said that there were dozens of clean-up studies floating around, and that only political will was needed to get the project off the ground. The problems of the Pasig and Laguna de Bay are numerous, and some of the proposed solutions only serve to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems concerned. First, and most obvious, is the amount of garbage together with human and industrial waste being dumped into the two water systems daily. So, cleaning up the river and the lake would have to go beyond carting off the garbage and waste on a one-time basis, or, even on a regular basis. More important would be to attack the core of the problem and stop the people and institutions from dumping waste into the two systems. And this is where political will comes in. For example, in countries like Korea and Taiwan that had similar problems, they tackled the problems with gusto and hacked away at the sources of pollutants until, to a large extent, their riverine and lake systems were cleansed. I saw this in various trips to Korea over decades where the Korean authorities literally created a buffer of land between the roads & human habitats and the rivers. In the case of the Han River, for example, one sees parks and playgrounds right beside the riverbanks, and no one is allowed to simply dump garbage or waste directly into the river. I would also venture a guess that they make extensive use of waste treatment plants before any of the waste water is reintroduced into the water systems. In the case of the Pasig, therefore, one would have to literally move the illegal human structures away from riverbanks and into new habitats further inland. The vacated areas must then be quickly converted into parks or playgrounds before new sets of squatters move in. This is where political will comes in because the rights of the people soon to be dispossessed must be respected, but their eviction also pursued. Industrial polluters must also be “convinced” to invest in waste treatment plants so that whatever is treated is recycled or pumped into the river in a literally drinkable state. Anyone who is familiar with the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay knows that both are heavily silted. Instead of the former depths of about 5 meters, we now have average depths of only 2 to 3 meters. A top view of the lake on Google Maps will show not only the proliferation of fishpens, but also the extent of the siltation. Most of the silt emanates from the nearby Sierra Madre range and the foothills that abound in Rizal and Laguna provinces. The wanton destruction of forest cover and nature habitats has resulted in the loss not only of precious topsoil, but any other kind of soil, leaving these areas previously rich in tropical growth now relatively barren. Talk of dredging the river must consider that the Pasig is a relatively short waterway. Its mouth in Manila Bay is not too far from the other end, Laguna de Bay. The water flows back and forth depending on the tides, making it difficult to consider bringing in large dredgers to do said work. The problem is compounded by the very low overhangs of many of the bridges that span the river, a prime example of which is Jones Bridge. Dredging the river cannot be done in isolation of the wave action at its mouth in Manila Bay and the silted area that is Laguna de Bay. Then, there is also the problem of what to do first: Clean up or Dredge or Aerate, etc. Those of us who are topical fish hobbyists laugh at the fears expressed by many on the presence of the so-called Janitor Fish, which is more properly called Plecostomus. A computer search of the species will make one realize that what they accuse the fish of being is not really correct. I have had this species of armored catfish in my aquarium tanks and in the relatively large fishpond I have at home, and have yet to see signs of the behavior they are accused of. The Pleco subsists on a diet of algae and small crustaceans, and maybe the small occasional fish that wanders into its mouth while it is feeding in its typical upside-down position. Myth busted! The task is a Herculean one, and I salute Ms Gina Lopez and her Bantay Kalikasan Foundation, together with the government agencies that have finally bit the bullet and started on this interesting exercise. This will not succeed overnight, and will probably be a 10- to 20-year project. Then, just maybe, my generation may be able to jump into the Pasig to take the proverbial swim without gagging on the refuse and detritus that plagues the river just now.
WHEN certain buddies of mine decided to once again take up the hobby of setting up and maintaining tropical fish aquariums, we vectored directly to our usual complete source for this enervating undertaking, our schoolmate Wilson Ang, founder and head of Bio-Research. This was after a fairly long hiatus, mind you, because time and circumstance had managed to pry many of us away from this hobby. In my case, I lost all my fish (accumulated over many years and placed in a humongous 400 gallon tank and a smaller 110 gallon tank) to a wrongly applied cleaning agent by a contractor many moons ago. Right then and there, I decided to spend more time – and money – in my other hobby, serious amateur photography, with the Camera Club of the Philippines as an ideal venue for this avocation. But this is another topic for another time. While in the main corporate offices of Bio-Research in Sucat Road in Paranaque, we realized that our good friend Wilson had gone beyond his traditional setting of tropical and marine fish. He had managed to accumulate distributorships for what looked like a serious water pump and waste-water treatment business, among other things. But more important, he managed to convert his 4 hectare property into what he hopes will be a suitable habitat for the various flora and fauna he has accumulated – and continues to accumulate – over the years, some for sale and some for keeps. (Read about some of what he is doing in this area in my son Jayvee’s blog, A Bugged Life. But what struck me was a little project that Wilson had started to undertake. In the herbal gardens that he has strewn all over the property, he has a specific medicinal plant that seems to be sprouting successfully. The name of this herbal plant is ASHITABA, one of the elite among plants considered for their medicinal qualities. Legend has it that an old Japanese man went off to an island basically to spend his last moments on this earth, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is said to have observed a tribe of old, sickly, and decrepit looking monkeys head off to a certain place where he witnessed them eating some vegetation daily. The result? The monkeys that ate these plants – that turned out to be the Ashitaba medicinal plant – soon got well and went back to where they came from, only to be replaced by a steady stream of incoming sick monkeys. So, hoping against hope, our terminally sick man partook of these plants and, before long, found himself strong enough to go home where he was diagnosed free of the dreaded disease. It seems that Ashitaba is well known and has been documented in Ming dynasty Chinese medicine records of the 16th century. It is said that Ashitaba is, strictly speaking, a weed, which accounts for its ability to propagate so quickly. Containing a considerable amount of chlorophyll, it naturally does best in areas with full sunshine. I placed the samples Wilson gave me in different parts of my garden and validated this observation. Wilson Ang is now giving back, in a way, to people by propagating this plant and giving it for free to friends. Thus, the samples he gave me are being planted and, hopefully, will multiply so that I can spread them around to the sick people in my village. But what I plan to do is turn over a reasonable number of these plants to our village garden club, many of the members belonging also to the senior group, so that they can plant them and take care of distributing the leaves to those who need them. Another name of the plant is the TOMORROW LEAF. Why so? Well, it seems that the more one plucks leaves from these plants, the more they propagate new leaves even more lushly the very next day. And after a reasonable growth, one can cut the stem and plant the cutting to generate yet another plant. I found many related sites through Google Search and will post some of them here so anyone can do further research on this plant. It seems that the plant is good in tackling the following disorders (per the handout given to me by Wilson): Lungs, Coughing, Asthma, Digestive System, Intestinal problems, Kidneys and Kidney Stones, Urinary Tract bleeding, Liver, Gall Bladder, Hepatitis, Gall Stones, Suppression of growth of cancer cells, Constipation, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Blood Poisoning, Skin Allergies, Rheumatism, High Cholesterol levels, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and a host of others too many to list down. As proof of the effectivity of the plant, he trotted out a staffer of his who has had the unfortunate situation of living in an area with both air and ground pollution. She had developed a hacking, wheezing cough that was not amusing at all and extremely convenient for all concerned. After only three days of munching on four leaves a day, she improved dramatically. I have been taking the leaf (4 a day) for a week now, and noticed that my blood sugar level has gone down by a significant measure, since I self-test every other day. Does it work? I am betting that this medicinal herb is what it is touted to be. Wilson gives the plants to friends for free. But some others have taken advantage of his generosity, because he found that one person who had apparently gotten a couple of plants from him had developed a small patch somewhere in the north where he sells the leaves for P3 each. Oh well..... http://www.organicashitaba.com/ http://www.organicashitaba.com/articles.html http://www.helium.com/items/851529-ashitaba-chinese-herbal-medicinal-plant
By Digoy Fernandez If only the process of sweeping out the baggage and detritus of the old year could be so simple. Just get a broom and sweep away! Unfortunately, life in real time suggests that the only way to get rid of old baggage is to sweep clean oneâs own psyche, more like an emotional cleansing. At the very least, even if the problems of the old year manage to carry on into the New Year, one would be better conditioned, mentally that is, to tilt with the windmills that 2009 promises to bring to bear on oneâs already tired shoulders. A comment was made to the blog on global warming, insinuating that it is a problem of the elite or those who would raise the specter of rising ocean levels just to obtain paltry grants. Well, speaking for myself, I donât get paid a single cent to blog, nor do I rely on anyoneâs largesse to support this private initiative in favor of the environment (among other concerns, of course!). It is true that the planet has had to deal with catastrophic events in millennia past. But if we just think of the rough time span that homo sapiens has been on this earth, this would be the equivalent of a hiccup in the face of millions â perhaps billions â of evolutionary years. The great difference is that the recent crisis has been largely man-made, mainly through the rapid use of non-renewable resources, the constant emission of effluents into the air and the worldâs water systems, and the creation of incredibly large carbon footprints per capita that the worldâs dwindling forests can barely cope up with. (FYI, trees generally are able to process carbon dioxide from the air and convert them into oxygen, etc.) Who will be affected by rising ocean levels? Will this be merely a subtraction in the number of islands in a given archipelago? Well, try filling up a pan with water â with simulated island masses on it â and find out the harsh truth: rising seas will not discriminate on who or what they drown. Rich or poor, same same! Even if only 1,000 islands will be left of the supposedly 7,000+ islands we have in our archipelago, this will not mean that the islands left behind will be intact as before. They will also suffer severe diminution in size, leaving only areas maybe more than a couple of meters above water able to survive. Almost all existing shorelines of the big islands will be obliterated and will see a literal âsea changeâ, i.e., the encroaching seas will take over much of existing dry land. In which case, man had better learn to live in the hills and high mountain areas of of the world. Unfortunately, many of the worldâs poorer people live along the periphery of the normal habitats available to man, such is their inability to obtain more advantageous locations for their makeshift housing. Therefore, the poor would be most affected by rising ocean levels, whereas the rich will be able to secure better upland-inland areas for themselves. So, except for those coveted beachfront properties that the rich seem to gravitate to, the great masses huddle tightly in areas vulnerable to inundation, close to rivers and seas. Because this problem is one that affects everyone regardless of social or economic status, it is important to find out how one contributes to or helps minimize global warming. Again, this is not a problem generated by the elite for its benefit, because all mankind will have equal opportunity to drown in the encroaching waters as the Greenland ice, glaciers, and polar caps melt. There are already evident signs of this as we witness the sad plight of mighty polar bears drowning or starving as their normal hunting grounds melt into the oceans. I have a tongue in cheek name for the so-called Environmental Concerns committee of my village: The Tree-Cutting and Environmental Destruction Committee. This is a well-deserved sobriquet given their total lack of consideration for true environmental preservation and appreciation of the impact of their actions. If the strict implementation of PD 953 were to be observed, I figure they owe millions of pesos in fines and penalties for their wanton destruction of the existing tree cover and even half of the mini-forest we planted two decades ago. How can we talk about the economy and keeping afloat when we canât even take the first step towards keeping the country afloat, period! And just in case anyone out there is interested, look up the many opportunities that now exist in the areas where environmental concerns are pre-eminent. Biofuels, hybrid motors, hydroponic and organic farming, tree farms with selective cutting, safe waste disposal methods, etc. These are areas that will not go down with the sinking economy, simply because more and more people know that these are vital to the planetâs survival. We must, therefore, consider what baggage to leave behind in this year, and begin to think about new and better initiatives that would help both the earth and the people who live in it. Initiatives need not be big: A tree planting every month for each individual, stopping the use of non-biodegradable products, renewing & recycling, helping poor families get ahead with proper tutoring and assistance with microfinance and other such successful models, and so forth. We just have to take that first all important step!
By Digoy Fernandez IN my last post, I took a swipe at the callous indifference of many urban dwellers who view trees as pesky leaf shedders or as green fodder that must be cut down whenever and wherever. While a single tree felled by a villager may seem to be of no consequence in the worldwide scheme of things, the fact is that we don’t only have a few trees going down each year. Countless numbers of trees are felled or burned down to make way for concrete or new planting ground. The earth’s greenbelt is fast fading, and the carbon sink that these trees are, fail to make up for the increasing amount of carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere. Last Sunday, during our regular weekly breakfast meeting of friends from our village, our soon to be retired high official from the ADB mentioned that their agency recently had to reassess their environmental programs because of alarm bells being sounded by their European counterparts. It seems that these agencies are truly worried about the effect of rising carbon levels and the effect these have on the melting of glaciers and the big snowy areas like that in Greenland. The net effect, of course, has been a steady rise in sea levels from 2 mm – 3 mm a year. A seemingly insignificant figure, once again, but truly alarming when one considers that the sea has risen by about a meter since turn of the last century. And the pace is picking up rather than slowing. In practical terms, rising sea levels would mean flooding of many parts of Metro Manila, especially those that were low-lying swampy areas to begin with. At least a third of the Metro area would be under water, with pressure to go inland toward the mountain areas. Now, those mountain areas have been much abused in the past until the present, with clear cutting resulting in denudation and the lack of topsoil and decent forest cover. Increased inland migration would put further stress on these already fragile and overdeveloped habitats. A substantial number of our 7,100 islands would probably go under for good, and provide good coral reef starting habitats. Good for the fish and other sea-life forms, bad for us. People who live in coastal areas and who make a living from the sea will be forced inland, and will have to adjust accordingly. The many creatures that find their beginnings in the mangrove and riverine areas will probably take another generation to replenish themselves as their old habitats end up in deeper waters. To think that the preservation or planting of a single tree can make such a difference, especially if millions of people all over the world thought the same way!
By Digoy Fernandez ONE fine morning, I was rudely awakened from my short morning nap -- yes, age requires one to cat nap every now and then -- by an obviously disturbed neighbour and fellow tree lover who was distressed by an apparent policy wherein the village officials and staff approved the cutting of any tree within the subdivision for the amount of P2,000. Of course, I was happy that someone else was bothered by this violation of PD 953 that not only mandates the planting of trees along streets and parks in subdivisions, but also exacts a heavy penalty on the unwarranted cutting down of said trees. Over the past two to three years, I saw a group of misguided village officials begin to cut down trees they did not like, whether on empty lots or along sidewalks. These officials earned for themselves the sobriquet “Putol Boys” from others who were bothered by the cutting down of trees but who preferred to remain silent on the issue. First, they cut down the second row of trees in the entire park, one that gave the feeling of a canopy to the area, to make way for flowering bushes and plants. I know enough about gardening to observe that flowering plants do best along semi-shaded or full sun areas, but that these areas should not be earned by cutting down trees to provide space for them. We have a very big park, for heaven’s sake. Second, they cut down trees not in the approved list, doing away with alibangbangs, mahogany, and neem trees, among others. To think that we had only included in the list the obviously destructive and extremely large trees like the gemelina, the brittle acacias brought in from New Zealand, giant ipil ipil, etc. They even cut down trees in empty lots, and only sort of stopped when I told them that maybe absentee owners planted those in anticipation of building in the future with the benefit of a large shade tree in place. What takes the cake is that they cleaned the village of all aratiles trees, the favourite of many birds, bats, and even village children and adults. Sheesh! In my street alone, they cut down about seven to ten shade trees (alibangbang, neem, and caballero), making our area look like the Gobi desert when the sun is out in full force. Unfortunately, some neighbours believe that we already have too many trees. This I do not believe, because my friend Ed de Vera and I helped – at one time or the other – formulate tree planting and preservation rules that have seen other villages in the vicinity look like nice subdivisions that one sees in other countries. In my brother’s neighboring subdivision, they fine anyone who cuts down a tree about P20K and then order the erring homeowner to plant exactly the same tree in exactly the same place. Yes, we had rules in place at one time or the other, but many of these seem to have been conveniently forgotten by subsequent administrations. Instead, we seem to have developed a “concrete” mentality wherein everything that can be covered with concrete should be so covered! If a test were to be taken with respect to my own village’s carbon footprint, we would loom large as a substantial contributor to global warming. Many times, village officials roll out the arguments that trees get in the way of power lines or cause leaks in the water system, or destroy sidewalks. These points are valid, but they do not constitute a reason to go through a clear cutting exercise. Each tree’s case should be studied – and indeed, it should under the terms of PD 953 – and examined to see if a happy medium can be achieved. For example, at one time in the past, former Sec Jun Factoran and I managed to save a large acacia tree whose roots had punched a hole in our water pipe. We arranged to have the offending root excised and wrapped in concrete, and then repaired the water pipe. Happy solution that pleased everyone. We got to keep the tree and the water system was spared any more damage. However, in most cases these days, the village officials take the path of least resistance and cut down trees galore. Many times in the past, friends and I gave seminars to the village staff and officials on the proper way to maintain and prune trees. If they had only listened then -- and also watched the Meralco subcontractors like hawk – our trees would have formed perfect Vees under the power lines and not look like the jumble of leaves and branches we have today because of the faulty pruning methods used that only created more water sprites and shoots. I have long refrained from mentioning my village because I still live here and have many neighbours of various persuasions, some pro-environment, others paying less than lip service to the cause, if at all. But like my angry neighbour, I guess enough is enough, and we should stop the cutting of trees before our village registers a collective temperature about 10 degrees above the ambient temperature elsewhere.
By Digoy Fernandez ONE of the unintended casualties of the present financial crisis is the temporary sidelining of the Global Warming debate from front and center in the attention of the world and its leaders. While understandable, we hope that the world will not lose focus on this very important aspect of our survival as a species on this planet. The falling price of crude oil is welcome, of course. But it may also deflect efforts aimed at conceptualizing and bringing to actual production various alternative fuels and their respective machinery. Low crude prices should not tempt car manufacturers, for example, to keep on producing gas guzzling SUVs, but make them realize that the reprieve may be temporary. In this era of difficult funding and credit, we hope that enough wise financial institutions and foundations find the motivation to support the development of alternative fuels and machines that use them. On the other hand, one unintended beneficiary of the decline in global economic activity and production may be the ability of the planet to regenerate itself. Hopefully, less harmful economic and personal activity would mean less greenhouse gases produced, and a chance to make up for lost time in the battle to clean our air. It will also mean less rapacious use of non-renewable resources as production winds down, and economic necessity forces firms to become more efficient and smart in the use of their resources. Even now, we see signs of a slight decline in the throw-away mentality that has long been the bane of those advocating the wise use of non-renewable resources. Recycle and Reuse may just catch fire with ordinary citizens! Maybe even the sardines and tuna stocks of the world will be given a chance to replenish themselves. Except that hunger and food will probably be the last need of man left, even as we shed off other non essential needs and desires. There is still hope, after all, for the move to alleviate pressure on the world and its resources, even in the face of a financial crisis.
By Digoy Fernandez AT the risk of offending some of my colleagues who are in the mining industry, I guess I will have to just state the obvious: There will almost always be a severe conflict between the needs and/or operations of the mining industry and the need to protect the environment, especially in relatively pristine areas where the Web of Life is already at a fragile state. Unfortunately, very few mining concerns bother with the niceties of keeping their operations sustainable while at the same time taking steps to avoid degrading the environment they work in. Among the more serious problems that environmental activists accuse some miners of are: the clear-cutting of new and old growth trees to provide a venue for their facilities; the violation of the rights of settlers in the lands to which they have mining claims; the disposal of mine tailings directly into adjoining rivers or land; the lack of proper safety mechanisms to protect the lives of those working the mines; etc. Most good mines, by their nature, are located in mid or highland areas. Clear-cutting results in the loss of precious topsoil and the many flash-floods that the lowlands are subject to precisely because there is no longer any soil to absorb the water from strong rainfalls. Clear-cutting also destroys animal and floral habitats, rendering many a precious site useless to future generations of Filipinos. Worse yet, is the combination of clear-cutting and strip mining, especially if the place is left as is by a predatory mining concern. Fortunately, there seems to be a solution to the problem caused by the degradation of the mining areas. I read somewhere -- but canât seem to locate the article I set aside -- about a microbe that manages to break downs the degraded areas over time and converts them into places that can once again sustain life. Much like the way wet garbage and other waste can be converted into useful natural fertilizer and topsoil. Mine tailings that find their way into streams and rivers end up poisoning everything they touch along the way until they are finally deposited along the shorelines where rivers empty. The poisons used in mining operations and other residues end up killing many forms of life in the lowland and marine foreshore areas. If we follow closely the theory about life having started at the waterâs edge, we probably can fathom why the destruction of these marine and brackish water habitats will mean not only the loss of a lot of marine life, but also the livelihoods of many people. Every now and then we hear of a corporation setting up its operations in a remote area, and then proceeding to stake its claim and dominance over the area by kicking out the people who may have already settled in said area. This inevitable conflict between residential and human rights versus the right given to an entity to extract mineral resources is one that is played over and over again, usually to the detriment of the settlers. It is not surprising, therefore, to see Church elements take the cudgels for the aggrieved parties in consonance with the teaching regarding the Preferential Option for the Poor. That is why those few mine operations that adhere to environmental standards and maintain a decent human rights regime deserve not just our applause but also our gratitude for their concern for the long term welfare of the planet and the people who live in it. Thus, mining operations and economic development CAN exist side by side with environmental sustainability, but it takes a lot of doing. And will most likely cost more, but will be more rewarding both for a mining corporation and its various publics over time.
By Digoy Fernandez THE mention of waste segregation and the decision not to use incinerators for getting rid of trash just made me think of something unusual: Medical Waste. Many years ago, I used to go to daily mass in one of the country’s better hospitals because it was very near my office then. Until I bumped into a friend who also went to daily mass, sometimes in the same hospital chapel I would go to. My friend is in the insurance industry and is known as one of the more honest adjusters around, giving accurate assessments of fire and other damage in behalf of insurance companies. He asked me if I also had the habit of bringing my son to said hospital, knowing full well that this particular son was practically my shadow and companion in many an adventure and activity. When I answered in the negative, he said simply: "Good." And then, he explained why he thought bringing children to hospitals is not such a good idea. According to him, hospitals, by their nature and business, tend to provide safe havens for many dangerous microbes that, over time, have began to develop strong resistance to antiseptics and other cleaning agents. And, he stressed further, the worst places were most possibly the ICU units! Yikes! That soured me on ever visiting ICU units again, even for close relatives. I also remembered a proposal given to me by one of my foreign partners years ago touting mini-incinerators designed to get rid of what hospitals refer to as "Red Bag" waste. These are those used swabs, disposable linens, among others, that one tends to throw away after regular use in a hospital. The brochures stated that Red Bag waste tended to end up with other regular waste in landfills and wherever else waste is dumped. In our local milieu, that would mean that, aside from the filth and bacteria that a rag-picker would be exposed to, those who make a living from sifting through garbage would then be subjected to materials that could have come into contact with people with infectious diseases. Yikes, again! Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act and proof that incineration causes the production of poisonous dioxins scuttled any move in that direction. But I still wonder to this day if our local hospitals follow any specific protocol in the disposal of their Red Bag waste. I Googled this subject and found many ways recommended in the task of disposing of said waste. Thus, there is no shortage or remedies. One of them is to simply subject said Red Bag waste to an antiseptic bath (until I remembered the thought that many bacterial and viral strains may have developed resistance to such cleansing!), to the use of superheated steam to cleanse infected materials. In the US, the burning of some medical waste, especially body parts, is mandated by law. Here, we have no alternative but to use less controversial alternatives. Some quarters suggest that hospitals look into the possibility of examining their materials use and go for those that do not contain any possible toxic ingredients (e.g. mercury in thermometers since alternatives exist) or those that would turn into poisons when they begin to break down in landfills or dumps. This reminds me to check out my local hospital on their Red Bag waste disposal policy!
By Digoy Fernandez THE heading of this particular blog is sure to jolt a few sensibilities given its pretty sweeping characterization of the Filipino’s penchant for abusing many of the God-given attributes of this country. I had not planned on writing on the topic of the unfortunate trees in Plaza Roma, but something just clicked and "made me do it"! First of all, I will not make any accusations against the two major parties -- Bambi Harper and Secretary Lito Atienza -- involved, not only because I know them well, but because I know that the fault sometimes lies elsewhere. When I read about the contractor that supposedly massacred said trees instead of following the instructions to ball some of those worth saving, I was reminded of what happens all too often when ignorant workers proceed to "trim" branches of trees. Supposedly to prevent them from hitting electric wires or from becoming too extensive and dangerous in times when typhoon winds can cause them to break and cause damage. Meralco, for example, has an excellent manual for use by its people, and now, their sub-contractors, in the trimming of trees. Unfortunately, all these sub-contractors do is to use long bolos (machetes) and proceed to hack away at branches of trees. In other countries, the "tree doctors" and maintenance personnel in charge of this task first study the tree involved, visualize the way they want the branches to spread out, and, work with the knowledge of how their trimming activities will affect the tree's health and future growth. They use tree trimmers or small chainsaws to cut off the offending branches, apply paint or an antiseptic to the portion cut to cauterize the "wound." They know that indiscriminate cutting or trimming will only cause water-sprouts to grow and spread, causing even more dense foliage than before, defeating the purpose of the exercise. They also fail to paint the wounded limb, which will then allow moisture to come in and cause rotting, and the inevitable insect infestation. Besides, no one should trim during the rainy season. The wet season will surely cause fungus to take root in the wounded portions of trees not well cut or trimmed. Best time to do trimming activities is during the months of January to March! Why do I say this? Because I saw my pet peeve, the Meralco sub-contractor working our area, in our village the other day, hard at work chopping off the tops of our trees. These people are no less culpable than the contractor who got his signals crossed in the ill-fated Plaza Roma incident. Meanwhile, I always watch my favorite shows on Nat Geo, Discovery, and the Animal channels, and am almost always struck by the beauty of the world’s many (fast vanishing) wild places. But nothing catches one’s attention like a meandering stream or a pristine river making its way through a wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, there are practically no more clean rivers in highly urbanized areas these days. Unlike during the pre-war times then my late father and his friends would play hookey from their classes at the old Ateneo in Intramuros in order to swim across the Pasig. To do so now would invite sure sickness and possibly death from the many noxious and poisonous bacteria and other strange flotsam and jetsam in the river. (By the way, the Pasig River ferry is a pleasant cruise, as my classmates and I found out as we made our way from Guadalupe to Escolta in order to have a joyful lunch in the Binondo area!) The care for nature and our habitat is something that can’t simply be learned in school. Parents have to teach and ingrain in their children why trees are beneficial, for example, instead of setting a bad example and cutting them down because they shed leaves! Households have to perfect the task of separating garbage, and contractors have to respect this practice and not simply dump everything together in a landfill. This will defeat the practice of waste segregation in the first place. We also have the duty to teach children not to litter, not to leave used chewing gum under tables and chairs, not to urinate in [laces other than toilets, and other minutiae like these. Then, maybe we will begin to see a sea change in the terrible attitude many Filipinos have with respect to the things they take for granted, especially their habitats.