Image courtesy of: https://josemariasison.org
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.