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How we can save the planet and ourselves

If people in power show a strong commitment to protecting the environment, then there is hope

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How we can save the planet and ourselves

A farmer burns part of a mountainside in the southern Philippine province of South Cotabato. Slash-and-burn agriculture, also called fire-fallow cultivation, is a method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a forest. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

The ongoing burning of the rainforest in Brazil under its newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro is an indication of the destructive power of a dictatorial leader. He is allowing thousands of hectares of rainforest to be cut down and burned.

Toxic fumes engulf many Brazilian towns. He is changing the forest into grazing land for beef production. It is disastrous, it adds to global warming as the rainforest absorbs huge amount of CO2.

Billions of cattle raised for beef emit millions of tons of methane gas annually that contribute to global warming. It is a policy whereby the rich get richer and the indigenous people lose their ancestral forest land.
In the Philippines, more than 90 percent of the original rainforest cover has been destroyed. Illegal logging companies find ways to circumvent the ban on logging and continue to eat away at the environment, destroying species and plants.

Activists defending the remaining forests have been killed. A Global Witness report released on July 29 ranked the Philippines as the worst violator of the rights of environmental and land defenders in 2018.

One of the most influential Philippine environmentalists was Gina Lopez, a good of friend of mine, who passed away recently at 65. She was from a leading family and became the most active and dedicated secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and closed 29 mines for destroying the environment.

She was known as a person of great integrity. She served for only eight months but provoked the ire of the pro-mining group members of the Commission on Appointments composed of senators and congressmen, and her appointment was not confirmed. She continued supporting many NGO environmental causes and received a U.N. award for her work in child protection.

At the Preda Foundation, conservation work goes on. We are planting 3,000 more mango trees with the Aeta indigenous upland farmers of Zambales. This is to give them more livelihoods, prevent landslides and soil erosion, protect hundreds of species and offset carbon emissions to help reduce global warming.

Once in the early 1950s, when I was growing up, we had an organic vegetable garden. I ate the beans and peas raw. They were delicious. That was before the destructive onslaught of chemical farming in the 1960s when there was widespread indiscriminate spraying of pesticides in the United States and in Europe. They were fossil-based synthetic fertilizers and they poison and damage the planet. Farmers were persuaded to use them.

Chemical farming changed everything in agriculture and the food production industry. The publication of the challenging environmental science book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson in 1962 challenged the chemical industry and caused an uproar, and so the environmental protection movement was born.

Today, environmentalists and conservationists are fighting to preserve the planet’s ecosystems and reminding us that all life on earth depends on preserving the balance of nature in a healthy environment where the oceans, forests, plants, crops, insects and all wildlife can live and thrive in harmony in a sustainable way.

Spewing plastic into oceans

The latest U.N. report, the first in 15 years, predicts that up to a million plants and animals and fish are in danger of extinction in the next 20 or 30 years. It is happening by allowing deforestation and spewing plastic into the oceans and rivers. If the killing of the magnificent elephants for their ivory continues at the present pace, they will be practically extinct in 50 years.

Twenty thousand elephants are being killed every year — that is 55 a day. This is shocking and avoidable. Some countries in Africa have strong protection measures, while others do not. Some Asians want the elephant tusks carved into ivory ornaments and they pay high prices. Although the trade in ivory is now banned, China may circumvent it.

Some very ignorant and deluded people with weak procreation ability think rhino horn has medicinal properties to aid their drooping and flagging sexual prowess. They are wrong; it is useless as a medicine.

The South African government won permission to open the rhino population to trophy hunting. It is "a kill them to save them" policy. It is all wrong. The northern white rhino is now extinct, and if this policy continues then the southern black will be extinct too.

It is ignorance, quackery and greed that cause mass extinction. Only about 5,000 black rhinos exist today, almost 2,000 of them in South Africa. At the turn of the century there were many thousands across the continent.

The U.N. report says one million species are at risk of extinction and humans are causing it. We have to change our lifestyle, stop eating beef, eat more fish and be more vegetarians. The fish too are endangered poisoned by millions of tons of plastic dumped in the oceans.

Despite this gloomy picture, there is hope to preserve the planet and wildlife. Brian O’Donnell, director of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, said in a statement during an ongoing conference in Geneva that there is still time to halt the mass extinction. They are working with National Geographic to preserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030 in a project called the Global Deal for Nature.

Another 100 groups of scientists and environmentalists working together have a plan to preserve half of the planet by 2050. It means that they will campaign and lobby for an end to the plundering of natural resources, massive extraction of minerals and deforestation. It is widespread in the Philippines and is destroying the ancestral lands of the indigenous people. They will promote massive planting of trees and the banning of plastics as much as they can.

The irresistible urge for capitalists to have endless economic growth and development is destroying the environment. The 1972 book "Limits to Growth," commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome, foresaw the present disaster of unlimited economic and population growth on a planet with finite resources. The warming of the planet is also causing the extinction of species. The development banks have funded coal-fired power plants, polluting industries and especially the plastic-based industries. A faster switch to renewal sources for electricity is the answer.

Electing people to government with a strong commitment to the environment is the only hope to change damaging policies and to save the planet together with the many actions and projects of the public. It is a healthy, chemical-free environment that will provide us humans with a sustainable planet and provide healthy organic food free of deadly pesticides and chemicals.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com

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