Allow me to wear a hat I don’t usually use, for the sake of making this entry seem like “commentary.” (LOL)
James Lovelock used to be the butt of jokes for people familiar with the Gaia hypothesis, but I suppose the guy has the last laugh, at least for now. “Planetary homeostasis” may sound too science-fiction-ey for people like Richard Dawkins, but if the disasters that befell the Philippines are to prove anything at this point, it’s that Nature has a cruel sense of karma.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that in the wake of the disasters at Northern Luzon, the managers of San Roque Dam may face raps for the flooding and landslides, specifically in Pangasinan. I don’t like dwelling on technical questions – I’m not an engineer – but I think that this is a good question of human ecology and the consequences of development.
There are still people in Northern Luzon that live below the poverty line, but the development projects in the Cordillera, the Ilocos region, and Cagayan Valley keep on coming. Rapid development – aggressive development, at that – came at a rather tragic cost: lives were lost to landslides, flooding caused massive damage to crops, and desolation is the order of the day in my homeland. While these “destructive” projects and policies towards development have led to an improvement in the quality of life for many people, it came at a large cost: the desecration of the environment that led to the devastating calamity.
I’m not blaming the Government, as much as that part of the blame – if not most of it – should go to a history of development aggression.
There is nothing wrong with development as long as it is not invasive, it is not destructive, and that it does not harm the environment. None of us would let go of the conveniences and luxuries made possible by having electricity, or let go of gains made possible by advanced irrigation techniques. None of us can break down dams and bring back the mountains and the rivers. Yet when development policy is applied in terms of carbon-copying blueprints to different contexts without regard to environment and culture, you plant the seeds of disaster.
If I remember an Anthropology class once, my professor described an instance in the Cordillera where the old irrigation canals made with stone were replaced with modern plastic pipes. The once-pure, potable water that flowed through the canals were replaced with murky water that not only killed the native rice, but also posed a significant danger to the health of the community. It was not reversible, of course, and thus began a long history of imported rice varieties and a continued dependence on development that, on many levels, disrupted the cultural practices of the locals. So many of them were displaced, had to move, and the rest is history.
Many other parallelisms can be drawn from cultural changes brought about by development aggression. Destructive development leads to displacement, turning a culture of self-reliance into a culture of dependence. Granted that the effects of development cannot be reversed, and that the structures that provide us with a tangible perception of development cannot be destroyed and everything goes back to normal. It goes to show us the what-should-have-been: sustainable development.
Development – whether done sincerely or done to enter more bullet-points into one’s political resumé – cannot be rushed. Things like micro-dams, windmills, and solar-powered generators for the North were shelved in favor of big structures that, while helpful for generating electricity and irrigation, crossed the line for a) Mother Nature to be pissed, or b) human beings planting the seeds for their own destruction. Beyond the very useful equations and calculations is the larger social costs of aggressive and destructive development: displacement, poverty, and injustice.
A long history of development aggression can only be corrected with a succeeding – and perhaps even longer – history of sustainable development. Beyond roads, dams, and infrastructure projects, the succeeding administrations should consider the long-term effects of their initiatives (again, done either sincerely or in the name of political achievements). We should also factor in culture and indigenous knowledge; more than carbon-copies of blueprints done in other places, we should look to the knowledge of our ancestors on how they were able to provide a good life for their people. Then we should translate that to our context today. Like bamboo homes, how they designed irrigation systems, and how we can explore alternative power-generation projects without devastating the environment to imbalance and inevitable disaster. More than that, there’s the need to make these projects work without displacement, without aggravating poverty, and without highlighting injustices that we already have.
The abuse of Nature is the abuse of man, and in the end, it is man who suffers. If anything, the disasters of the past month should give us the insight that Fate is not without a sense of irony; to push the limits of Nature may have a cost that we cannot pay.
Now to get rid of this wedgie.