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Sunday, 23 August 2009

notes and letters home #119

I was skimming through Jeffrey Sachs’ book: Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (Penguin, 2008), and i thought i should jot down some notes. I've taken liberty with some of the text. Am just glad this is a blog and not an academic paper. He he.
Sachs, like most economists, believes that China, India and Brazil will rise to economic dominance in the world stage. He argues that in particular, the rise of China is causing massive global change. China"s demand for raw materials from around the world is huge and rapidly growing. It needs forest products for residential and commercial construction. And this will lead to large-scale deforestation especially in Southeast Asia which supplies China’s demand for tropical hardwood. The environmental consequences are ominous and the Philippines will not be exempt. The Philippine Cordillera is a source of raw timber. The forested mountains of the Cordillera and of Mainit, are not immune from logging, legal or otherwise.
(Be wary when those rich magnates or high ranking military or politicians start visiting your local forests to ‘protect’ them).
In addition to the consequences of China’s rise as a major global economic power, are some of the impacts of climate change as cited in the Stern report, the IPCC AR 4th, etc. Warmer temperatures will lead to increased disease transmission due to widening geographic range eg malaria expanding into highland areas (in Australia tiger mosquitoes that carry dengue fever are expanding down into southern latitudes). Climate change aided by pollution, will cause a decline in Agricultural productivity, and availability of water. The threat of natural hazards will be heightened. The Philippines will face threats of extreme weather: more severe typhoons and prolonged droughts. It is also under constant threat of volcanoes and earthquakes.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Mainit like many a Cordillera village or hamlet, meets many of the criteria of a self-sustaining community. It has moderate temperatures and is ideally situated with access to freshwater all year-round, good soils and fields with means of irrigation. It is relatively safe from tropical diseases but this could all change drastically.

Sachs is a proponent of sustainable development. In the Cordillera the problems posed by climate change and water stress can be countered with sustainable development. Foremost is the need to protect invaluable water resources and thus ensure the supply of potable water. Sanitation and hygiene issues have to be attended and brought to a manageable level or standard. Efficient agriculture and irrigation strategies such as drip irrigation, low-till systems, crop diversification, elimination of pesticides, domestic trade etc, should all be considered. The protection of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices can help conserve biodiversity. And to sustain food resources, people should learn to reduce meat consumption, and stop fully the consumption of endangered species as frogs, snakes, birds etc. Agriculture systems may also be complemented with a blue revolution: sound aquaculture such as fish farming.

The Cordillera is our homeland. Mainit is our home. It is not just where our parents or grandparents and their ancestors come from. To continue to enjoy this privilege, we cannot wait for the world to act. We cannot rely on government, NGOs, or foreign aid. But we can act now. Lobby the local officials and policy makers. As parents, talk to schoolteachers about curriculum development and raise issues such as littering and pollution, and the problems associated with local livelihood activities such as the use of mercury in small-scale mining.

Sachs showed very graphically the huge disparity between US military spending ($600B) and US aid ($20B). The developing world can only thus live in hope that america will come to their aid even in the event of dire crisis. And to live in hope that America will somehow suddenly shift policy and priority is folly. Fighting wars averts leaders' eyes and distracts them from even the basic commitments to the world’s poorest and dying people. America have their destiny- Sachs and others say that the end of the american empire is nigh. And we have ours.

Our geography is not our destiny, i agree with Sachs, rather it shapes our destiny. Respecting our fragile environment is the key. Our geography determines what industry we can have, the type of services we need eg infrastructure roads, schools, medical, and utilities, telecommunications, our agriculture etc. A strategy for sustainable development will take into account our natural resources, local climate and soil types, relations with our neighbours, the integrity of our political institutions etc. These are the variables that need to be balanced for a stable society.

Having lived in Australia for some time now, i can appreciate the paradox of enrichment: that humanity’s success in appropriating the earth’s resources could prove to be its downfall (vide Sachs). This was highlighted during the years of hubris syndrome suffered by the Bush, Blair and Howard governments. Power went to these men's heads. They believed they knew best. The war in Iraq is just one such delusion. Their supreme arrogance in implementing policy favoring the rich at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged, at the expense of the environment, really hit hard. It seemed that their policies were geared to achieving a high standard of living for them and their mates and their families for generations on end, at whatever cost. I often wondered if this was achieved - that the world is left with billionaires, but if they didn’t have a planet to live in – what’s the point?