Skip to main content

The view from not so far away...

Or, What We Have Forgotten...

There is a way of thinking about the world around us that has become so persistent that we take it for granted. We think of nature or the environment as something out there, as being about trees, wild animals, mountains, pristine lakes and oceans. We think of ourselves, humans, as being above nature because we are rational, calculating, and conniving. We think of our cities as being separate from nature. We think of our technologies as management tools that we can use to control nature. We speak of Ondoy as a natural disaster.

It's time to change our habits of thinking.

Ondoy, the natural disaster, is gone from our country. That particular typhoon is over but we are still in the throes of a social disaster created by nature and humans both. The possible human causes for this social disaster include, among other things, excessive
waste generation and improper waste disposal, lack of foresight in the zonation of our cities, our contributions to greenhouse emissions, and not knowing how or refusing to read the landscape for what it is. The landscape is the visible, congealed aspect of human and non-human forces transforming space over time. The effluents of our technologies and the products of our actions do not stay in some bounded and defined, human, socio-cultural space. They leak out of our homes, our offices, schools and industries and become part of the environment, some of them eventually posing threats to our own health and well-being.

Even when we think we are not touching nature or are ourselves untouched by nature
, we are in fact altering nature. Anthropologist Barbara Adam, who wrote about the links between humans, the environment and invisible hazards, says it all: "Every in/action counts and is non-retractable." The environment is not pristine nature somewhere over the rainbow. The environment is here and we are in it. The environment is a work in progress and it is made by many hands and innumerable actions over time -- time that stretches several millenia before today, and time that will stretch on even after we're gone. To say that we can think 100 years ahead is to say that we are shortsighted. Our politicians, our putative leaders, are stuck thinking in six-year cycles. Our government was totally unprepared for the aftermath of Ondoy and much of it was due to a lack of foresight. The victims of Ondoy who are still on their rooftops, those who have lost their homes, and those who have lost their loved ones -- they suffer and we suffer with them not just because of a natural disaster but because environmental disasters are also social disasters.

We cannot go on believing
that we thrive separately from nature and that nature is pristine and untouched by human effluence. Nature is more than just a pleasant vacation spot for those so inclined to spend their holidays in "The Great Outdoors." We cannot continue to think that climbing the world's highest mountains, or that our most sophisticated technologies symbolize man conquering nature. Such foolish arrogance is untenable. We are inextricably intertwined with nature. In 1972 the anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that "advanced technology ties us in even more closely with the habitat we both make and inhabit... having more impact upon it we in turn cause it to have more impact on us." He knew then what we must remember now. And now, "How are we to live?"


padma said…
For those who might be interested, see:

Adam (2000) Timescapes of Modernity.

Croll & Parkin (1992) Bush Base: Forest Farm.

Cronon, W. (1996) Uncommon Ground.

Geertz, C. (1972) The Wet & the Dry: Traditional irrigation in Bali & Morocco in Human Ecology vol. 1, no. 1.

Guha & Alier (1997) Varieties of Environmentalism.

Ingold, T. (2000) Perception of the Environment.

Shaw, R. (1992) ''Nature,' 'Culture' and disaster...' in Croll & Parkin.
Feliz Perez said…
Clap clap clap!

You might want to add this to your very interesting reading list:

Bankoff, G. (2002) Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazards in the Philippines

Been browsing through it in the bookstores. Seems interesting.
padma said…
Thanks, Fi. We should have a copy of that book!

Popular posts from this blog

Lola of Maipon

It's all too easy to fall asleep under the blanket of everyday life and to smother dreams with the mundane things I surround myself with. But once in a while, along comes a sparkling vision that jolts me out of my daily sleep and reminds me of the existence of convictions and worlds so different from my own. "Our beloved LOLA of Guinubatan, Maipon, Albay is the last true messenger of God. So, let us follow her holy teachings so that we will gain TRUE SALVATION without sufferings and without death." In another story I, the intrepid heroine, the adventurer seduced by mysteries, the pilgrim in search of truth, would follow them back to Guinubatan from Session Road, thirsting to see and hear their Lola for myself. However, it's all too easy -- much safer! -- to fall back asleep under the blanket of everyday life, and to smother dreams with the mundane things I surround myself with. Then along comes 9 a.m., and really, it's time to down the dregs of coffee at the bott

Cordillera Folktales and Story-telling

It was cold and wet outside on the day of the launching of The Golden Arrow of Mt. Makilkilang and other Cordillera Folktales . But inside Mt. Cloud Bookshop we were warmed by stories read and performed by the Aanak di Kabiligan community theater group. Storytelling on a stormy afternoon. Paco Paco. A Benguet story from the book, published by the Cordillera Green Network. Aanak di Kabiligan means children of the mountains. The theater group was born out of the Cordillera Green Network's eleven years of conducting workshops in which children transform their grandparents' stories into theater productions. Here they perform the title story of the Golden Arrow of Mt. Makilkilang and Other Cordillera Folktales.

Birds of Baguio and Benguet

The Little Boss and I went to see the Birds of Baguio and Benguet Photo Exhibit at the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary . I carried her so she could see them up close and she pointed to each and every photo demanding, "What's that? What about that? What about this one?" I dutifully read out the name of every single bird featured in the exhibit: Scale-feathered Malkoha, Luzon Sunbird, Citrine Canary Flycatcher, and so on.We discussed the colors of their feathers and the shapes of their beaks. Some of the birds were already familiar to her. The crow and the shrike are frequent visitors in our garden. Shrike in the hands of the Artist-in-Residence, with the Little Boss' first hesitant touch. Taken October 2013. Once a young shrike in flight crashed into our picture window and lay on the ground, stunned. The Little Boss and the Artist-in-Residence held it lovingly in their hands and as soon as it pushed against their palms they gently released it. That was The Littl