Local Leaders Need A Paradigm Shift In Environmental Thinking – OpEd


For some years,, I knew i was going to write this, even if I have been harping on it many times in my own silent struggle and battle to correct a very tiny bit of the wrongs we have done to our world.

The many physical activities have delayed me, to a point, distracted me to open up my mind and think about the world in a completely different way, and to challenge the change I wanted to champion. I found this incredibly hard to do, but also liberating and enlightening at the same time.

This time, however,with the unfortunate event in East Visayas where thousands have died, thousands more were lost, livelihood destroyed and families as well as dreams were broken, I think it is time for local leaders to stop all their status quo and move into a paradigm shift in environmental thinking.

Beyond any environmental disaster is an ethical issue. And an interdependent world requires global ethics. I often reflect on the distressing irony that here, in the Philippines, declared to be the 2nd worst country always to be hit by disasters, is a victim because of the thinking and wrong understanding of leaders on environmental degradation and climate change, despite having had limited contributions to creating these problems.

The World Bank ranks our country next to Vietnam and 10th most vulnerable country in the world to sea-level rise, storms and flooding respectively.However, with human development indices of 139 and 138, gross national income per capita annually of $1848 and $2242, and carbon emissions of 0.02% and 0.01% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, respectively, citizens of countries like ours, Vietnam or Cambodia hardly created these issues for themselves.

But, on a mico-level, we are more and more becoming victims because of the wrong decisions of our local leaders. Take for example a politician of Baguio who said, “we need the businesses to keep the economy of the city growing. If they cut trees, they have permits and it is happening in their private lands.” Such distressing notions are carried forth even by government agencies that are mandated to protect the very world…but hardly lift a finger to do so.

Yes, it is your ‘right’ to promote business, but it is likewise your responsibility to ensure that it does no ‘net’ damage to any other person or life-sustaining form. Yes, it is the right of other people to earn money and make themselves rich, but it is their responsibility to ‘offset’ the externalities of these possessions and activities, by not destroying naturally-existing offsets like trees which act as carbon sinks.

Often times, we speak of human rights but are afraid to face the larger truth–environmental justice. We fail to comprehend the importance of species, ecosystems, habitats, landscapes, succeeding generations and the environment as a whole and not only human communities.

Every day, our leaders have an opportunity to redefine the way they think about what it is to live, and what the evolution and progression of humanity we should be striving for involves, what ‘success’ looks like, and to acknowledge that it is illogical, unethical, and selfish to continue along the path we have been.

The current path has done wonders for humanity in many ways…but the current trajectory will not (can not) lead to any of us further prospering. We need to personally accept our responsibility to the Earth and others, and our leaders who represent us collectively on macro scales, have to change and accept collective responsibility on our behalf. If some people are able to achieve such a huge change in the way they think, feel and act on an individual level, then I believe our local leaders can do this on a wider scale too.

The thing that makes us human is self-reflective awareness, which gives us the ability to feel emotion, the essence of life – let’s not stumble backwards into the relatively primitive consciousness.

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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