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Sustainable development: the key to protecting the environment

This morning, the Manila Cathedral held the launching event for the Living Laudato si’ Philippines movement.

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If you will recall, Laudato si’ is the second encyclical of Pope Francisco published three years ago. This encyclical dealt with wanton consumerism, irresponsible development, environmental degradation, and global warming. Through Laudato si’, the pontiff called all peoples of the world to take a swift and unified global action to save the environment through sustainable development.

Aside from fighting the leyenda negra by attempting to bring back the Spanish language in order to redeem our Filipino Identity, environmentalism is my other advocacy. In fact, If I’m ever asked which between the two I’m more concerned about, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. I may not write much about it, but I support it through action: I do not litter, I teach my kids to do the same, we segregate our waste, and we respect plant and animal life. Besides, so much has already been written about environmentalism that any views from me will be considered a mere drop of water in an already filled bucket. And there’s too much writing, but so little action. Anyway, all I can say is this: much of Filipinas before, especially during the supposedly “exploitation-filled” Spanish times, was a haven for nature, fauna, and flora. This beauty inspired the creativity of many a poet and artist. But many of these natural wonders today are either gone or polluted, replaced by “progress” in the guise of unmitigated real estate development and a hurried and careless urbanization of picturesque and ecologically friendly towns. All this in the name of capitalistic greed and avarice, a consequence of “gobbleization”.

When I started La Familia Viajera a few years ago, my friend Arnaldo warned me that it’s going to be a “logistics nightmare”. But the desecration of our country’s natural resources is a major factor why I wanted my family to travel with me. Traveling, at least for me, is fueled not solely by my passion to search for traces of our country’s Hispanic past, nor are they spurred exclusively by a responsibility to document maltreated Fil-Hispanic heritage sites. I wanted my family to visit our country’s natural wonders because I fear that one day, any time soon, those natural wonders will soon disappear. Or that they might meet the same fate as the Pásig River or once lush forests that are now commercial centers. That is why as much as possible, I wanted to travel regularly, with all members of my family, from my wife down to our youngest daughter, all seven of us. Those travels are not just for my enjoyment but for my children’s as well. Furthermore, traveling is not merely for enjoyment, it’s educational. And when my children grow up and those natural beauties (including heritage sites) that we’ve visited through the years will have disappeared, they would still be able to see them, at least through our blog’s photos (unfortunately, Arnaldo’s warning came to pass: we’re no longer updating our family blog because we couldn’t afford to travel anymore).

I fear not for myself but for my children with regard to environmental degradation. But of course. My generation is probably the last that did not worry about an environmental apocalypse. Let me just borrow a few lines (written in original Tagálog spelling, another one of my unpopular advocacies) from Filipino folk band Asín to explain this fear:

Ang mğa batang ñgayón lang isinilang,
¿May hañguin pa cayáng matiticmán?
¿May mğa puno pa cayá siláng aaquiatín?
¿May mğa ilog pa cayáng lalañguyán?

Right now, it’s not enough to be simply “environmental” in order to save our natural resources. Protecting the environment nowadays is not just about throwing one’s waste in a designated trash bin or turning off electrical appliances that are not in use. It is not just about tree planting events. This is not just about hating illegal logging. Environmentalism is something that “needs to be done”, but without derailing the economy.

The keyword here is sustainable development. The International Institute for Sustainable Development explains this much better:

All definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system—a system that connects space; and a system that connects time.

When you think of the world as a system over space, you grow to understand that air pollution from North America affects air quality in Asia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could harm fish stocks off the coast of Australia.

And when you think of the world as a system over time, you start to realize that the decisions our grandparents made about how to farm the land continue to affect agricultural practice today; and the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty when our children are adults.

We also understand that quality of life is a system, too. It’s good to be physically healthy, but what if you are poor and don’t have access to education? It’s good to have a secure income, but what if the air in your part of the world is unclean? And it’s good to have freedom of religious expression, but what if you can’t feed your family?

The concept of sustainable development is rooted in this sort of systems thinking. It helps us understand ourselves and our world. The problems we face are complex and serious—and we can’t address them in the same way we created them. But we can address them.

The recent case of Borácay’s controversial closure is a clear picture of what strict implementation of environmental measures can do. In only six months time, Borácay was able to heal itself from the “cesspool” that it once was due to indiscriminate business practices. Blueprints for sustainable development programs can now enter the scene in order to maintain the small island’s ecological continuity. The success of such programs can later be applied to a much bigger setting.

Going back to Laudato si’. In the said encyclical, Pope Francisco reiterates the traditional teachings of Christianity regarding the environment: that creation possesses inherent goodness (“each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection”), and that dignity does not depend on human utility. While we humans are a part of creation, we were set apart by God to “cultivate and care for” the gift of creation (Genesis 2:15). This responsibility is not for His sake in the first place but for ours and our children’s children.

Lastly, it will not hurt nor demean our businesses if we add some spirituality to them, or at least, some spirituality in our business objectives. Spirituality in a way tends to ward off unchecked utilitarianism in our commercial endeavors, thus evading any eventuality that might lead to environmental harms.

The foregoing makes me wonder: are there still Catholic CEOs and board of directors who pray the Rosary?

Click here and here for more information about sustainable development, and here for Pope Francisco’s encyclical on the environment and sustainable development.

We should all act NOW.

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One thought on “Sustainable development: the key to protecting the environment

  1. Pingback: Sustainable development: the key to protecting the environment – Living Laudato Si Philippines

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