TURNING POINT: The Earth: Ours to Love, to Live

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/23 April) — The 22 of April is celebrated annually as Earth Day to raise worldwide awareness on the need to care for and protect the planet from excessive and destructive human activities.

This annual celebration began on April 22, 1970, or 44 years ago, in the US at the time when the protest marches and songs of the hippies against the war in Vietnam reverberated in the streets and valleys of America. The flower culture resonated loudly in the hearts of the young around the globe, inspiring protest movements not just against the devastating war but, in the case of the Philippines, against the establishment and American imperialism.

While the Earth Day movement did not spring basically from the anti-war protests, some energy against the war had apparently seeped into the movement, allowing it to gain force and enthusiasm in bringing about awareness and attention to critical environmental issues and concerns in the US and eventually throughout the world.

The emerging consciousness on the environment was sparked to life by the works of Rachel Carson, a former marine biologist with the US Fish and wildlife Services. In her writings, Carson articulated the inter-connectedness of nature and all living things and the vulnerability of the environment to unrestrained human interventions. What, however, gave impetus to the environmental movement was her book “Silent Spring” published in 1962. The book exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT to the ecosystems and to public health and eloquently questioned modern society’s faith in technological progress.

In Silent Spring Carson wrote that DDT, the most powerful pesticide ever developed in history, had not only seriously disturbed the ecosystems but had tremendously and adversely impacted on the health and well being of living organisms including humans. The pesticide was developed in 1939 and gained recognition during WW II by wiping out for the U.S. troops the malaria-causing mosquitoes in the South Pacific islands.

Carson explained how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage. The pesticide did not only kill, in one crop application, targeted insects but many others for weeks and months, and remained toxic in the environment even after its dilution by rainwater.

When small creeping animals and the birds from the skies fed on the dead insects, and when the same were devoured by their predators, or eaten by accident by other bigger animals, the toxic contamination multiplied and moved up in the food chain endangering everyone within. The author concluded that DDT and other pesticides had irrevocably harmed all organisms exposed to them and had contaminated food supply of the entire world.

Carson’s voice in the wilderness soon echoed in different nooks of the earth and started to awaken people from their environmental slumber. Many began to ask and raise issues on things and events happening around them, like air and water pollution, chemical and thermal industrial wastes, solid and domestic wastes, oil spill, overharvesting of ocean resources and ghost fishing, denudation and degradation of forest lands, and such other perceived hazards to biodiversity and the environment, not only on the persistent use of pesticide but also of chemical fertilizers and the adoption of genetically-modified organisms to raise and continue to improve crop harvest.

However, the greed for individual and collective (national) wealth side-by-side with the need to feed and supply the material needs of a runaway global population has exacerbated the continuous and wanton extraction of the resources and the irresponsible exploitation of the environment. Needless to say, all this has resulted to the phenomenon of global warming and climate change.

It is no accident, therefore, that the weather patterns throughout the world have experienced wild fluctuation, from extremely freezing winters and to long killing dry spells in various places in recent times. This and the recent environmental disasters that killed a great number of people and destroyed $billions worth of crops and properties in Asia alone, like the earthquake that put to rubbles villages in China, the earthquakes and tsunamis that struck and staggered Indonesia, Thailand and Japan; the quake that devastated Bohol, and the double whammy of a horrible typhoon and ocean surge in the advent of Yolanda (Haiyan) that ravaged Tacloban, Samar and other places in central Philippines, only affirm that our planet is sick and needs urgent attention and care.

In our individual ways, we can do some healing of the planet. For instance, we can help reduce carbon emission by walking or biking a reasonable distance; enhance carbon sequestration by forgoing the cutting of trees through reduction to the minimum the use of papers in communication and in recycling used ones; avoid eating in restaurants that use disposable Styrofoam food holding materials; and we can save in the use water by some practical system of reusing and recycling, say, water used in washing clothes and dishes may be used in washing cars and in watering the gardens.

In celebrating Earth Day in our respective homes, educating our children continuously on the life and dynamics of the Earth and encouraging them to share their knowledge to others either through drawing, painting and writing has multiplier effect. We may also initiate family activities like planting trees and herbs wherever possible, beautify our immediate surrounding with vegetable and flower gardens, and dispose our garbage responsibly. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., was a research and extension worker, professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He was a British Council fellow and trained in 1994 at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, on Participatory Planning and Environmentally Responsible Development. Upon retirement, he served as national consultant to the ADB-DENR project on integrated coastal resource management. He is the immediate past president of the MSU Alumni Association)