Hidden-nomics (5): the unlisted, immeasurable, unfathomable value of the environment

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Image courtesy of: https://josemariasison.org

Dear Reader,

The poem I shared was written by Jose María Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (I think it later turned into a song) I hope you would overlook his political inclination and appreciate how beautifully and realistically he depicted the struggle of our natural environment through the forest.

The issue here goes beyond the hidden (read: unmeasured/unmeasurable/subjective) value of the environment. It’s the fact that most of people don’t even take the time to stop and wonder what natural resources mean to their existence.

Without clean air, they would be breathing toxins that would make them sick, rendering them perhaps sterile and sickly in the future.

Rising seas would eventually diminish land area, increase housing prices and affect agriculture, industry and services (imagine how the tourism sector would fare!) among others.

Wide-spread droughts would expand desertification and turn fertile soil into waste territory- useless for human, animal and plant alike.

Are more examples needed?

In Sison’s poem, the forest could have perfectly been substituted by the sea, river, plateau, mountain, meadow, ricefield, and so on. He would’ve talked about water nymphs, trolls and Bigfoot. He would’ve invoked fishermen, woodcutters and farmers as brave warriors protecting their homes against villains. He could’ve even talked about you, defending your own house from shameless vandals who would try to ransack it, empty it, and destroy it, leaving you homeless and bereaved of resources.

So why is it that some people still can’t relate?

The first time I’ve been made aware of the environmental problem was when I was 10. Since then, I haven’t stopped reading about forecasts, as well as materials about immediate and longer-term responses to the detected problems. I remembered being so impressed with what I read that I started then and there to voluntarily clean the beach near where I lived, reduce my fresh water consumption and recycle as much as I could. I would also scold people in my school whenever I saw them throwing trash on the ground. I took everything very seriously.

I remember handing stickers to my classmates and telling them about the things I learned, the dolphins and whales that are becoming endangered, the dodo bird that got extinct because of game hunters… some of my peers believed me, some just considered me a geek. Nevertheless, I know some of them took note and became more aware of their actions towards their surroundings.

23 years have passed since then, more than 2 decades since that first Greenpeace pamphlet I read explaining the locust plague. The same types of campaigns are still being carried out, but the effect is not the same. I ask myself what the problem could be (don’t you?). After all, the information was fact-based; data seemed solid and the campaigners didn’t scrimp in using alarming vocabulary.

Then it dawned to me: the constant bombardment of intense information, based on massive data has lost its effect. Perhaps in the ’70s, that kind of messaging was able to shock passersby. But in this millenia, people just look, read and go on with their lives, appearing to be desensitized.

How to reverse this? Go beyond speaking to the people individually: beat messages of empowerment and directly thank the citizens for their little daily efforts. Make them realize that when many small actions are summed with the rest of what others do, the outcomes become a great, big help to the environment! 

It is of no surprise that people feel a great weight on their shoulders, pressuring them, forcing them to save the sea turtle, the baobab or the elephants- elements that probably seem so far and unfamiliar to them. The fact is that when it comes to discussions on environmental issues, the initial reaction would be enthusiasm, then anger, followed by a common call for action. Afterwards, bewilderment will rise into their eyes when they start to hear about the tons of water they could save a day, the thousands of species disappearing each hour, or the volume of greenhouse gases they could help prevent from being emitted.

So why not, instead of asking them to DO, also thank them for what they’re currently SACRIFICING to contribute to the cause?

We should all gear towards the turning point. We should resist their despair. We should retaliate their common cry, “There’s no way we can help because a million others would be doing the opposite” with, “You’re already doing your best. Congratulations! Thank you! Keep it up! And when you feel ready to do more, go ahead and do it!”.

Let politicans do what they do best: politics. Let lobbyers influence decision-makers that their agenda is far more important than anyone else’s. Let the activists raise their voices in protest. Let the researchers continue their work on just how fast we are nearing to doomsday.

In the meantime, you, me, us, we can simply be more aware of our actions towards the environment. I’m not even talking about the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic. I’m talking about our immediate environment: how do we consume? what do we consume? what do we do with our waste? do we defend our immediate environment when harassed? do we tolerate vandalism?

It really boils down to what lives we want to lead, and what world we would like to leave behind for our children, or our neighbor’s children, if you don’t plan on having your own. The point is, we should start factoring in the environment when making decisions. Even if it just means saving on our monthly water and electric bill.

It couldn’t be too hard. Human nature has a great level of plasticity, in the sense that it is equipped to adjust according to the circumstances. We just have to will it. We just have to want it.

And as usual, dear reader, I will end this one by encouraging you:

Think about it.

 

 

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Ina at anak 1 (Mother and Child 1)

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Ang pagiging ina ay ang pinaka-magandang tungkuling ipinagdasal kong magampanan. Sana, sa pamamagitan ng mga sulat sa hanay na ito, ay mailarawan ko ang mga panahon sa pagsasama ng mag-iina na hindi gaanong binabahagi ng karamihan. Wala namang masama doon, takot lamang tayo sa panghuhusga at mararahas na salita ng kapwa natin tao.

Motherhood is the best and most-fulfilling project I have ever sought in my whole life. With this series, I wish to show that side of mother-child relationship that most people prefer not to talk about. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not “instagrammable” and exposes both subjects to judgement and harsh comments.

Ina (Mother):

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Anak (Child)

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Of thieves, value and the bitcoin

On the eve of the Epiphany (Feast of 3 Kings), our house got robbed. Thankfully, not many things were stolen, only some jewelries. The loss of my meaningful trinkets upset me a lot (not to mention the fact that my sense of safety and security were both shaken up). After all, they weren’t only pretty, shiny things- they also held great sentimental value as most of them were gifts. Of course, for the thieves, the only value those jewels have is their monetary value.

For centuries now, men have assigned value on different objects ranging from salt to gold. Those same objects were even used as a means for payment because of the value attached to them. Consensually, society has given value on objects that would otherwise be just “things”. That is why the crooks who broke into our house were tempted to steal my jewelries: to make the most of the accumulated value held by the precious metals and stones.

I suppose that their end game would be to exchange those knicknacks for money, another “value holder”- commonly accepted in exchange for goods and services, and also useful to amass value (although its value could potentially decrease in time, while the value of jewelries could go up).

All of these got me thinking how much the things we hold valuable have changed now. It’s no longer news that digitalisation has allowed for the birth of new tenders and payment methods. Currently, it has become possible for many people to purchase, settle debts and save money without having to use real cash (through credit or debit cards, mobile transactions, e-money or different investment vehicles). Why is that? well, just as is the case with money, all these new means of payment work out because of a consensus. Aside from the convened value they hold, an important part of it also depends upon the public’s willingness to support the value agreed.

The same goes with the biggest frenzy at the moment: the bitcoin. I’ve been trying my best to express my thoughts about it, but I found an article online so I simply decided to translate it and share it with you, dear reader. Please stay tuned for Colorfulifesite’s opinion on this subject.

Note about the article’s author: The original article was written by economist Daniel Villegas of the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM) for Dinero En Imagen online news. Mr Villegas was kind enough to give me permission to translate this simple, straight-to-the-point and insightful article so non-Spanish speakers could get a glimpse of his illuminating ideas.

Gracias D. Villegas, ha sido un verdadero placer aprender de su artículo.

I bought bitcoin and I realized why it could be the start of a great bubble

By: DANIEL VILLEGAS

EDITOR. Economist at the UNAM with exprience in macroeconomic indicators.

 

Mexico City – The bitcoin euphoria has reached suspicious heights.

Nobody imagined that at the start of the year, this cryptocurrency’s value would rise up to 1,695% in 2017. Indeed, when it was created, it started with a value of 908 which hiked up to 17,600 US dollars.

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Image courtesy of: http://www.dineroeimagen.com

Public opinion has also escalated regarding this digital currency. Even the Bank of Mexico, the country’s Ministry of Finance and the National Banking and Securities Commission have said their piece about it (arguing that it is not a legal tender in the country).

(Investopedia defines legal tender as “any official medium of payment recognized by law that can be used to extinguish a public or private debt, or meet a financial obligation.”)

In a joint press release, members of the Mexican financial authorities warned that the virutal assets are used as a device to store and interchange electronic information, without any legal support from any of them or from the government.

Despite this, many Mexicans still take their chances on the bitcoin, without minding that its soaring price is sustained on a fragile backing: the belief that everybody else thinks it has value. A common factor among the biggest financial crises in the past.

This presents a great problem since Mexican bitcoin enthusiasts could be living in an informational bubble that fogs their reality.

Why? because people purchase bitcoins with the hope of eventually using it to spend on goods and services they regularly acquire, without having to covert it to Mexican pesos.

The problem

We tried to discover just how acknowledged this cryptocurrency is; that is to say, how much do people know or not know about this type of “digital asset”.

Some would be ready to reply, “of course they (vendors) won’t accept it, it’s better to change it to pesos”, to which we should then respond that one of the purposes of the bitcoin is to serve as a (direct) means of payment (eg: one can possess 3g of gold but most probably no shop would accept it to pay for a purchase).

The experiment was disappointing: we talked to nearly 15 business establishments- most of them located in a shopping center- to inquire whether they would accept my bitcoin as payment. The answer was always a firm NO.

Some didn’t even have the slightest idea about the bitcoin, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

According to the National Survey for Financial Inclusion 2015, only 44% of the adult population are “banked” and only 9.5% of them rely on mobile banking services.

Add to this the fact that 92% of the respondents revealed thay they prefer other types of payment such as credit cards or digital transactions.

This is but a small proof of why it could be difficult for the bitcoin to be accepted as a regular means of payment in Mexico.

So then, if it won’t work as a payment method -and most probably it won’t do so for a long time-, why are people risking their money investing on the bitcoin?

Perhaps we could turn to one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes.

In one of his most cited passages, he proposed an experiment:

“A contest… where the participants would have to select 6 of the most beautiful faces among hundreds of pictures.

The winner will be the person whose choice approximately matches the average preference of the rest of participants.

This way, each contestant would have to choose NOT those who they consider more beautiful, but those whom he thinks will please the rest.”

How would this apply to the bitcoin? Keynes used this make-believe contest to explain the behavior of investors and the weakness attributed to these types of markets.

This weakness refers to the gradual increase of people who invest in businesses they don’t really know much about. (So proportionally, there are more and more people putting their money in enterprises they are ignorant of. Remember the most recent financial crisis triggered by junk bonds?)

Additionally, he explains that a “conventional valuation” (ie: agreed estimated value) established as a result of the “mass psychology” of many ignorant people is prone to violent alterations due to strong changes in opinion, as a consequence of factors not highly related to the probable returns (of the investment).

(That is to say: the evolution of the bitcoin’s value is more susceptible to public opinion, than to the changes in demand -because supply is already capped- or the arrival of other cryptocurrencies.)

This is the most worrying part: the belief that the bitcoin could make people rich could end at any given time, and this could easily mean an abandonment of the investment and a substantial crash in its price.

Simply put, the question as to “how far would the bitcoin’s price go?” is at this moment, more for psychologists than for financiers.

(End of article)

***

To be continued…

Colorfulifesite responds: Why do rich people say “Money can’t buy happiness”?

The short answer

Because they spend their money un-wisely. On the wrong things.

The longer answer

People with lots of money, proclaiming that it can’t buy happiness are implying that as of the moment, the things they’ve purchased have not brought them what they were looking for. But before we get to the longer answer, the first question is: Would you recognize happiness if it looked you in the eye?

To be able to find happiness, we must first define what happiness is for us; and be honest in doing so, because the quest for happiness is a lifelong commitment to ourselves (whether we admit it or not). And once defined, we would spend time, money and effort into having that in our lives.

The problem is that we confuse happiness with other concepts imposed by society in general. Social media posts seem to promise us fulfillment by finding the “right” person- and so we spend money on dates, clothes, cosmetics, gifts, and who knows what else? Our peers look happy when they acquire more money, increase their investments and save resources for rainy days. And sometimes, culture dictates that we spend what little we have on “rituals” such as costumes, decorations and gifts, when what we really seek is belongingness.

Colorfulifesite has identified two of the most confounded concepts of happiness:

1. When we believe our happiness depends on others

As children, we observed how adults appear to be happy when faced with acknowledgement. So we incorporated that information in our little minds and from that very moment, we started to automatically pursue it from people that surround us. Now, that is not bad. In fact, recognition is useful to reinforce positive behavior. Yet as we grew older, we started to let ourselves be defined on what others think about us: their approval, acceptance, admiration, criticism, etc… As a result, we don’t think twice in exerting all manners of effort to gain that esteem.

Similarly, notice how some would spend time and money on travelling or eating out, then show pictures of the trip or dishes, just to earn “likes”, “hearts” and comments on social media. This behavior simply feeds something toxic within,  and the more it is nourished, the fatter and hungrier it gets. The by-product is easily confused with happiness, but one day, without noticing, we will end up living for “it” and internally killing ourselves in the process.

2. Confusing the means and the end

Money is a medium of transaction. We use it to purchase goods and services to cover our basic needs and when that is done, we spend the remainder to fulfill our whims.

So the system goes… we try to earn money to buy the things we need and want, and logically, we try to have more to be able to purchse more. However, somewhere in between earning and purchasing, people get caught up in acquiring more and more money, they seem to forget its utility. I would even go as far as dare say that there are those who use their saved money to buy more money (through investments, foreign currency, etc…), and so they end up amassing great sums of it, without any intention of putting it to good (or bad) use.

Money cannot buy absolute happiness, but it can produce a cheer or two

As Chomsky pointed out, the problem with the type of consumerism today is that it isolates people in tiny little islands, making them deprived of human contact. And miserably so, for human’s survival has always depended on being part of a society. This is how our species was able to reproduce and stand the test of time.

Perhaps, if we propose another definition of happiness, people can then seek a different, more genuine but simpler contentment. A type which would not depend on the ever-changing fad, nor on what others might think, rather, a happiness that would be based on associations, human relations,  the potential to show and receive compassion, to give and welcome comfort, to experience love…

Notice how people coming out of theaters, movies, concerts, or even a gym class, seem less detached than those who just came from shopping. If rich people spent their money creating or strengthening human relations, they might have a better chance at finding happiness. Of course this is not a scientific law, it’s a humble expression of frequent observations. But, dear reader, if you have observations of your own, please remember to leave a comment on this article about what you’ve perceived.

 

 

 

 

A lesson in retrospect

She was always hesitant to make friends over the internet. Most men she met were gross slobs, and correspondence with women would stop after a couple of messages. But this guy seemed very different. He was well-spoken, formal, even. It was as if one of Jane Austen’s characters time travelled and made a Facebook profile.

It took some time, but slowly, and through heated political (virtual) debates at first, she started to learn more about him: he was a ballet dancer, he was not much older than her, but possessed an old soul’s wisdom, he was American but considered himself Canadian, he was gay, he sent money to many Filipino families, and he loved the Philippines. His age, former profession and exposure would explain his online demeanor. She was in awe.

Pretty soon, they started swapping life stories. He learned about her love for writing, she discovered about his foster son; he told her about his poor beginnings, she shared about her dreams; he confessed his concern for the Philippines, she owned up having authoritarian tendencies; he admired her mastery of the English language, she praised the athletic discipline ballet dancers possess… and so forth.

The messages they exchanged, whether long or short, interesting or trivial, personal or professional, got her through the day. She was thankful for the distraction at first, but eventually, she developed a real appreciation for this peculiar, interesting and bordering-the-eccentric man. Her admiration for him grew when she discovered that he held the title of a “Ballet Master”. He told her that himself, but she already knew it, thanks to her Google searching abilities.

She would respond to him no matter what her mood was, regardless of the battles she was waging. As a personal challenge, she set herself up to always reply with the same courtesy, richness in vocabulary, and coherence that caught his attention. She never told him so, but his correspondence provided her a peaceful oasis amidst the terrible sandstorms in her heart- choking her tears, clogging her chest, blinding her sight. At least when she wrote to him, she was forced to breathe right and dry her eyes so she could type correctly. It gave her a purpose for herself, she felt useful and appreciated. Lifted and encouraged. She never thanked him for that.

Because she was sinking deeper and deeper in her quicksand, she had to excuse herself from their exchanges. He, gentleman that he was, acknowledged how tough her situation must be, and sweetly bid her adieu.

That was the last time she heard of him.

That would also be the last time she would neglect the people in her life, no matter what issues she has.

To regret is to waste time. But to mourn the deceased, whether superstition or not, could help ease their final journey. So mourn, she will.

Farewell, Edward. Thank you.

*This article has been updated on January 1st. Edward was not octogenarian, as was previously written.

To the friend who left

Dear friend,

I was quite surprised with your slow, unnoticed retreat. Was it too sudden, or were you gone already? Perhaps I was too preoccupied with my own projects and woes, that I wasn’t able to perceive your need for company. Maybe I was the one who slipped away, not you. It’s also possible that both of us simply drifted apart at the same time.

Nevertheless, I didn’t write to keep tabs. Nor did I send this message to make you feel bad. I actually wanted to thank you: for sharing your time with me, for helping me when I needed it, for trusting me with your secrets, and for letting me give you advice when you felt lost. I learned a lot from you, I laughed a lot with you and I wouldn’t be the person I am now if not because of you.

I’m sorry if I did anything that made you change your mind about our friendship. I wish I could say I want to know if there’s anything I could do so we could be friends again. But the truth is, if I hadn’t even noticed you gone, then I guess this is the natural course of our relationship.

I wish you all the best in life.

To you, dear reader

Dear reader,

It’s been more than a year since I started this personal project that is blogging and I couldn’t be happier with how this has evolved. And because of this, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you for reading the thoughts I (struggle to) express in this site. I realize now how messy some of the articles are, yet you still come back for more. So…

Thank you for giving me another chance again and again and again. I’m currently learning how to improve my writing skills and I promise to put in every ounce of determination I have so I could at least give you a smooth reading experience.

Thank you for bearing with my out-of-this-world ideas. Don’t be shy, reader! proof of this is the fact that the top 3 most-read articles in 2017 are:

  1. Personal Interview
  2. Chomsky’s quote on Neoliberal Democracy- a reflection
  3. Featured Artist: Aisa Marie Corrales

… where the most normal article of them all is the interview.

Thank you for recommeding Colorfulifesite to your friends. I know you do. You don’t have to, but you do.

Thank you for coming back and reading some more! you inspire me to think new thoughts, to strike a balance between encouraging discussion and being true to myself, to be a better writer, to be an even more ambitious researcher and to be a critical observer.

Thank you for your kind words, your critique, your suggestions and your commendation.

Thank you to some of you who reestablished contact with me through this blog.

Thank you. THANK YOU!

And like last year, I would also like to show my appreciation by holding a mini-contest:

Share any of my articles in Facebook or LinkedIn, and if you show a proof of that “Share”, you’ll automatically enter a raffle. Last year two readers won and they both received a typical Spanish sweet treat (turrón). Who knows how many I’ll choose this year, and what I’ll send them?

It’s just a humble way to share my blessings.

Winners will be announced on January 2, 2018.

THANK YOU!