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?"