Safeguarding Sustainability

Leadership

September 11, 2018 | BY Marga Manlapig

With a global emphasis on finding measures to counteract climate change and shifting to a more ecologically sustainable mind-set environmental activists Anna Oposa and Rodne Galicha stand at the forefront for a new generation.

It was the American environmentalist and outdoorsman Yvon Chouinard who stated, quite bluntly, that, “most of the damage we cause to the planet is the result of our own ignorance.”

Indeed, the insatiable greed of previous generations for such things as crude oil, wood, precious metals, and maritime products such as seafood, coral, and pearls—without thinking about the impact it would have on the environment—has severely affected the delicate ecological balance in many parts of the world. This has resulted in erosion, overfishing, the death of key coral reefs, and wide-scale deforestation. Likewise, the need to control resources such as food and water in deserts or under-developed nations has also led to strife and, alas, the loss of innocent lives.

Fortunately, a younger, more socially-conscious generation is taking up the cudgels for Mother Nature and is pushing for a greater emphasis on environmental awareness and sustainable living. Here in the Philippines, sustainability warriors like Anna Oposa of Save Philippine Seas (SPS) and Rodne Galicha, the country manager for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, stand at the forefront and are, in their own ways, influencing the nation’s mind-set.

Meet Anna Oposa and Rodne Galicha

As co-founder of SPS, Anna playfully refers to herself as its Chief Mermaid, but it’s a title with serious responsibilities. Her organization is geared towards protecting the Philippines’ wealth of coastal and maritime resources through disseminating information via education and communication campaigns, along with community-based initiatives.

 “When I started pursuing marine conservation in 2011, my only goal was to get the government to listen and prosecute illegal wildlife traders,” she says when asked as to how her advocacy began. “Now, I want to see experiential environmental education integrated in the [national standard] curriculum. I want to swim and dive in a sea where I won’t find plastics or other types of trash.”

Today, SPS is a registered non-stock/non-profit organization that continues to champion a love for the oceans through projects such as the Shark Shelter Project on Malapascua Island in Cebu. Anna, too, has grown into a well-honed eco-warrior who holds an MSc degree in Conservation Science from the Imperial College London, which she earnt via the auspices of the British government’s Chevening Scholarship. She has also served as a consultant on environmental matters for the Climate Change Commission and the Asian Development Bank, and is one of the 50 international councillors on the World Future Council.

Born in Romblon, Rodne Galicha was educated at the University of Santo Tomas and eventually found himself teaching environmental ethics and sociology at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He is best known as an environmentalist and a human rights activist focused on climate justice thanks to various initiatives regarding biodiversity and the conservation of natural resources since 2007.

Today, in his capacity as Philippine manager for The Climate Reality Project, Rodne continues to open the eyes of the public to a most inconvenient truth: that man’s own greed and exploitation of nature may very well lead to his destruction.

Sustainability and Environmentally Conscious Living In The Philippines

If you ask Rodne Galicha about promoting sustainability among Filipinos, he will surprise you by saying that it is a concept that runs deep in our veins, a part of the nation’s cultural framework.

“The concept of sustainability can be traced back to the lifestyles of our own indigenous communities,” Rodne explains. “[Including] our capacity to bounce back and adapt to changing environments and circumstances through the years. However, due to a massive paradigm shift, we have been influenced by an obsolete view of industrialisation, ecosystem monetisation, and thus are treating nature as a mere resource for utilisation.”

Rodne adds on that “once upon a time, we belonged to a people dependent solely on the abundance of nature, living with it in harmony. We have to deviate from the belief that we only need to conserve, protect, and rehabilitate our planet because we need to survive.”

Anna has noted that Filipinos are becoming savvier about sustainability. “More and more people are bringing their own reusable bags because they recognise the harmful effects of plastic,” she declares, adding, “More options are available for locally-sourced produce and personal care products.”

From his observations, Rodne is proud that many indigenous peoples are actually working towards sustainability, to the extent of risking their own lives in order to protect an increasingly endangered environment from further exploitation and destruction.

Despite positive forward movements, Anna remains concerned that a steadily growing population and the strong consumerist culture that pervades many urban areas may have more devastating effects on the world in general. “I honestly think that the environmental situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” she warns. “Storms will get stronger; shorelines will continue to recede—but this may shake people into action.”

Moving Forward

While the Philippine government has passed numerous laws on environmental protection and sustainability, Rodne believes that the real issue lies in the lack of measures for their implementation.

As a result, he and The Climate Reality Project  are championing the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) among which are the provision of clean water and improved sanitation; the generation of clean and affordable energy; as well as the provision of decent work and reduced inequality among social classes. It appears to be a small step, but it is a significant one which Rodne hopes will have a long- standing impact on Filipinos, particularly those from the younger generation. Indeed, he is optimistic that the young can help a great deal with regards to promoting and implementing measures for sustainability.

He comments that “with collective action on doable solutions as well as a timely sense of urgency, we can gradually bring back the natural harmony that was,” he says. “There is still hope especially among the youth as they mobilise themselves to secure their future.”

For Anna and SPS, the work goes on. She hopes that, in the long run, she and her organisation could work more closely with multi-national corporations and government agencies as these are in a position to assert significant influence on the public Likewise, she wants to grow the advocacy further in terms of environmental education drives and waste reduction projects.

Indeed, these philanthropists believe that true sustainability involves finding a balance between utilisation and conservation: being able to harvest necessary resources without causing damage to ecosystems in order to ensure that there will be more than enough for generations to come.