Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Environmental advocacy

this should have gone into my green journal. but i haven't written in that journal for almost a year now. and i'm still thinking if i could maintain a separate blog for all entries like these. anyway, a letter to the editor in today's issue of the philippine daily inquirer raves about the looming "environmental crisis" in the country, particularly in the capital and other urban centers. the writer notes a number of environmental problems, including the declining air quality in the city, the tons of garbage piling up near the la mesa reservoir where most of manila's drinking water originates, and the "creeping water crisis". near the end, the letter writer urged secretary mike defensor's department to prioritize mass media campaigns and help educate the public on these environmental issues.

i have nothing against environmental campaigns. in fact, one of my favorite courses at the open university was environmental advocacy. and one simple but important lesson from that course was that environmental advocacy is just like any other communication processes: you have a message which you want to put across to your audience, so you now think of an effective strategy to do that. people in government may lack the money to do many of the good things that they've thought of. but i don't think they lack the creative juices to come out with really great strategies for getting things done. what i think is in short supply nowadays among people in government specifically when dealing with environmental issues is the ability to come out with the right messages, the ones that present long-term solutions and that are not limited to expedient compromises or stop-gap measures.

this ability derives from the capacity to reflect and learn from experience. and there is nothing esoteric about this capacity for learning. as my boss always points out, fishers who go out to sea, find their catch dwindling, and decides to set up a marine protected area, are into this learning process every day of their lives. but this secretary of the department of environment and natural resources who wakes up one morning looking at all these buried bodies and floating timber from the destructive landslides in heavily logged areas of Infanta, but who later decides to renew the big loggers' permits to operate in these areas and actively promotes so-called "responsible mining" as a way of quickly replenishing the government's depleted cash vaults, obviously does not display such capacity for learning from experience.

in the same newspaper, there's a story about this former senator who is waging her own environmental campaign. apparently, this ex-senator is now in a conference somewhere, where she is declaring support for the debt-for-nature swap as a way of helping the country out of its crippling foreign debt problem. this was the same politician who some fishers in batangas have pointed to as being behind the reclamation of the coastal zone adjoining her private property. and the lady politician supposedly had this done because she wanted to increase the size of her property and grow mahogany trees on it. when she was still senator, she had trees planted along the expressways and had all these signs put up along the road displaying lines from a tree poem (i think it was by joyce kilmer). i wonder what my professor would say to that?

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