Reflections on climate change and its “Signos”

This was a reflection I made after watching “Signos,” a Philippine documentary on climate change. The documentary was required media in the coursework of my masteral elective subject, Geography 255: Environmental Hazards and Disasters.

The embedded video is an seven-part series from YouTube. Please bear with the low quality, but this is the only copy of the documentary I could find online.

Signos was a very good reminder. Not an orientation, nor an initial comprehensive discussion, but a reminder.

My consciousness on climate change began when I was twelve. I was particularly fond of animals at that time, especially any furry ones, and there was this documentary which discussed climate change. Its scenes had a very strong impact on me, but not as much as how a clip showing a drowning, helpless baby polar bear did. Helpless. Drowning. These were just some things which horrified me, made my hairs shiver, and make my goosebumps act up. It was at that young age that I realized how what I did could kill a young animal by taking away its home. It was at this point that I started to become conscious of the magnitude a person’s attitude could contribute to create mass impact.

I believe in climate change. I believe that it is happening, and that man’s activities accelerate it. I have listened to different studies and takes on how it couldn’t be true, how it’s naturalness comes into existence, and how man could do nothing about it. But for me, there is inevitable proof how man has contributed to the worsening of the environment’s state; the correlation of pollution, resource loss, health impacts, and the change of nature became exponential and flew up the charts together with the starting point and effects of industrial revolution, which was man’s leap toward urbanization. Too much outputs and activities snowballed fromt here: congestion, diseases, excessive salination, disturbance of natural patterns, … There were too many sideffects, if I may call them, to the benefits that industrialization andurbanization brought.

The green revolution happened with the coming of international charters, and with the commitment of countries around the world to lessening their resource use, and thus there was affirmation on the effects of climate change. I welcomed this revolution happily, but, as how it is in an economy, opportunists capitalized on green. Suddenly everything was for a green cause, even if health options, mobile phones, and events were more profiteering than supporting towards the revolution. It may have sparked awareness because of the widespread promotion, like an Information Education Campaign, but it hardly really educated people. (I use “educated” here referring to attitudes, appreciation, and application of knowledge, not on teaching the youth about concepts and earning environmental degrees.) Policies were reformed to incorporate mitigation of climate change effects, which was effective in some countries, but as is how developmental efforts really work, the strict enforcement and monitoring and first-world countries showed effective results than in countries like ours, still in the developing stafe, which took a ningas cugon on the implementation, with poor enforcement, and with minimal instillment of environmental values in the people.

I find this ineffective. Climate change is rapid, but human action to address it is slow. Let me focus on the Philippines. It is good that environmental values were mandated to be put into the curriculum, so student youth become conscious and learn about their 3Rs, their everyday habits, and so on. But the youth continue to see their supposed role models in the home and in the community smoking, smoke-belching, leaving faucet taps open, leaving lights on despite not using them, ignoring the proper use of chargers, and any other normal everyday activity that may occur. The foundation, so meticulously built at the earlier stage of student development, could crumble by the age of seven, because parents had not been educated, and pass away irresponsible actions as acceptable, bringing a new standard to the youth.

The economy driving the physical environment is another thing. Muntinlupa was the very first city in the metro that championed brown bags to eliminate plastic. It took years for others to adopt this practice, and to date some areas haven’t complied to the law reducing plastic wastage. Products are continued to be served in styrofoam packages and sponsored drinks are still served in plastic cups and bottles. Prices are still higher for paper utensils and straws and plates, forcing the consumer market to opt for plastic instead of paper. Garbage segregation is mandated by law, but the presence of dumping bins after every other five houses is not implemented. MRFs are only present in advanced cities. The media does not really practice responsible exposure; shows still leech on convenience of series that sell face value than meaning and integrating principles, environmental awareness being one of them.

On the natural environment, it is mostly up to the conservation foundations and preservation advocates to address biodiversity problems (extinction, endangerment, and scarcity of population). Citizens, who are supposed to be conscious and drivers for change, play the role of by-standers and leave the responsibility to those who are willing to take on the role of the police and the playmaker of the stage. I may not have statistical basis but I’m willing to bet that the average professional or adult worker, no matter how high-ranking or involved in the companies requiring higher education, is not aware about his everyday practices. Or simply, does not care. After having gone through offices and working with a variety of colleagues, it is rare that an individual consciously practices good environmental habits. In professional practice, I have come to realize that those who are more attuned to climate change are those who are closest to the natural environment, and who experience the changes everyday. No matter how slight or slow the lateness of birds and the appearance of migrating fish species, it is the farmers, the fishermen, barnyard and grazingland workers, who can warn about climate change signs. It is the indigenous people who advice preservationists about their observations on changing migration patterns and the evolution of insect breeds. It is the person who frequents the company of greens and blues who can pinpoint the hotspot of diseases, and how it can be traced to different areas. Local expertise matters.

An international setting may vary in culture and many other social aspects, but what happens in the Philippines may be narrowed down to descriptors to get common denominators of how Eskimos observe how the tilting of the earth has changed, or how Africans can tell that heat is beyond their everyday situation. And how the rest of the world observes how the developed countries switch on more lights and use up more resources, because they can.

Experience has taught mankind that mitigation is something that can reach as much and help as such, but the human as a driver is what makes the difference. I go back to not only educating but instilling a drive to practice environmental responsibility. The question is how. Climate change is a threat, and despite its exposure, there always seems to be a burden by the lack of awareness, forgetfulness, and indifference by the people. I emphasize forgetfulness here, and that is why the first thing I stated is that Signos is a good reminder. It was for me. I have been aware of this matter for more than a decade, I have my advocacies, and I have my practice, but yet, I needed a reminder. A reminder that could shock me all over again, and give me the chills by a permanently flooded place, lahar country, and parasite-filled tummies. Signos reminded the reality of the effects of climate change, which an average professional does not experience everyday. Perhaps it was effective for me, and most likely it will impact differently on every other person, but a reminder always sparks a sleeping memory or emotion.

I reflect here on the idea of everyday reminders. Of hybrid insect vectors, of dying polar bears, of rapidly-spreading diseases. Of something that can jolt the monotony and everyday patterns that can cause indifference to the effects of climate change. Of something that can make an unconscious person wake up at night to pull away an overcharged plugged device, or remind an advocate why he or she is an advocate in the first place. This goes to instilling that drive in people by using that psychological strategy of tiny shocks, and of making them value how their little action can go a long way, and making them think of the melting glaciers and the poisoned corals. And of that happening everyday. Up until now I have been reflecting on how to bring this into action, because my childhood strategy on telling-off smokers did not work, while awareness campaigns in college only reached a small audience. My strategy of meaningful conversation in my previous offices may have sparked some awareness into my colleagues, but that further narrowed down the people I was able to reach because of my focused method of spreading awareness. I’ve come to realize, in the long run, that a person can achieve something small by working by himself, but that roundtable discussion in Signos, representing different expert representatives converging on the same issue, created larger credibility and impact towards a viewer. That, coupled with a popular host, admired by a tier of our population, expanded its audience network. A host, experiencing the effects himself, also gave the relateable factor. Signos, being media material, made it easy and put it in front of the people’s receptive nature when in front of the television. And these are common denominators that can be used as strategies for future action: collaborative, promotive, relatable, and exposed. These could be pinpointed strategies for future awareness actions.

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