The Tricky Thing with Climate Change

Saving the climate from irreversible damage and adapting to its changing conditions are not easy. In my opinion, there are two main problems when confronting these two tasks.

The first one concerns the attitude people have towards “fixing” climate change and its related problems. To be straightforward, turning off the lights in your room for one hour (while the rest of your house is lit up) will NOT save the environment and help people adapt to the warmer temperatures.  Fixing these twin problems would require an encompassing and comprehensive analysis of all perspectives or disciplines before proposals of solutions can be put forward. In their desire to feel good about contributing to the efforts of saving the planet, some people think that simply turning off appliances when not in use will already do the job. However, although the action is commendable (and economical), a more widespread and systemic approach should be undertaken.

For instance, consider the activity of planting trees to reduce floods. It has become a popularly marketed event among members of the current generation of youth because of its relative ease and straightforward execution. But simply planting trees haphazardly is just that – it is too simple. A more systemic solution would be to first consider geographical, geological, ecological, engineering and economic, as well as sociological perspectives. For instance, from a geographical and geological perspective, one should look into the land forms and water forms in a region to determine the areas that are especially prone to flooding and where additional greenery can be strategically placed in order to drain the excess water. From an ecological perspectives, one should look into the type of trees that you are planting – whether these are compatible with the living and non-living components of the region that you are planting in and whether they are resilient enough to different events like flooding and exposure to pollutants. Using an engineering and economic perspective, one should take into consideration the alternatives to tree planting. The following questions can be raised: what infrastructures can aid in flood control? How much do both alternatives cost and is it more likely to bring more benefits to the community if infrastructure construction is pursued instead of planting trees? What is the value of the future benefits of these potential infrastructure projects? Lastly, from a sociological perspective, one can assess whether the communities living in those areas will be compliant to the project implementation and whether these will be compatible with their day-to-day living activities.

Thus, using a multitude of perspectives, a number of considerations and constraints are taken into account and “planting trees” becomes a more efficient and effective program of action. It also becomes clear that solutions to multi-faceted problems are never simple in design and implementation. Some would say, however, that this only results into paralysis since people are more intimidated by the problem than hopeful of the solution. However, failing to take into account different perspectives might only worsen the problem or cause other problems to arise. For instance, let’s say that haphazardly planting trees can cost the government or the community millions of pesos, to the amount of 100 million pesos worth of land costs, planting costs and maintenance costs (water, fertilizer, etc.). On the other hand, its predicted benefits (in terms of ecological services, physical damages averted and lives saved) only amount to 80 million pesos. Clearly, the 20 million pesos which could have gone to other uses are lost. Furthermore, the trees might not be durable or resilient and die within the first few years of its planting. The species might also not be compatible with other species and can cause adverse environmental damage. Hence, I would argue that an informed solution is always better than one that is blindly pursued.

The second concern is the fact that there tends to be freeloading when it comes to working towards solutions to these problems. To put it simply, people think that the environment is simply too big to be their concern and their concern only. It’s everybody’s concern so everybody must be working to fix the problem. Thus, people have no incentive to take part in these solutions because they think that everybody is doing it anyway.

For example, environmental groups and lawmakers sympathetic to the environmental movement may not receive much support from the public because the public think that they are already doing enough. In reality, however, the absence of support from the public only makes solving the problem even more politically difficult than it already is. Other government officials may think that the absence of a public clamor indicates weak response and popularity. Hence, they will also not have an incentive to take part in the movement because they do not see it as politically attractive for their image. Also, because people may think that their individual actions do not matter, personal irresponsible actions such as throwing trash in the wrong places and wastefully using electricity in the house become easier to do. It would seem that the guilt that accompanies these actions are cast aside because people are reassured by the thought that their actions won’t matter in the bigger picture. But when all these actions are aggregated, the problem is exacerbated, as what happens when esteros are clogged with trash.

These realizations came to me as we were conducting our interviews with the disaster risk reduction and management officers of Marikina City and as we shared what we had learned with our coordinator, Ma’am Marge Salandanan. Efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change should be multi-faceted in nature and should involve as many people as possible. Anything else will only result into misguided and insufficient efforts to intervene.

For now, perhaps the best courses of action (for us students, at least) would be to conduct information dissemination campaigns and fora, with the main objective of making people see and understand that the environment is a cause that is worth fighting for because it affects everyone, regardless of one’s position in society. On a macro-level, taxes on emission-emitting or pollution-generating products or activities like cars and plastic bags of consumers, effluents and particulates from factories should be raised. The rationale behind this is that, with taxes imposed on their products, these economic actors will be able to internalize the cost that was once not borne by them, but by the public (through damaged properties, lives lost, etc.). However, this is very unpopular with politicians, of course, who fear that their constituents will not vote for them given these higher prices.

The tricky thing with climate change is that it is not an easy problem to solve. Nevertheless, I’m still hopeful that big changes can be made with small steps. As our coordinator, Ma’am Salandanan, once said, “The Philippines has many problems. But we can work on them one at a time.” The issue of climate change is no different.

-Danilo Lorenzo Atanacio (2012-57960)


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