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.
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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 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.