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How we can save the planet and ourselves

August 25, 2019

How we can save the planet and ourselves 1

FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

THE ongoing burning of the Amazon rainforests in Brazil under the 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. He is transforming the forests into grazing lands for beef production. Toxic fumes have engulfed many Brazilian towns. It is disastrous, it adds to global warming, as the rainforests absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. 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 forestlands.

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, 2019 ranked the Philippines as the worst violator of the rights of environmental and land defenders in 2018.

One of most influential Filipino environmentalists was Gina Lopez, a good of friend of mine, who passed away recently at 65. She became the most active and dedicated secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). She closed 29 mines for destroying the environment. She was known as a person of great integrity. She served as environment secretary for eight months but earned the ire of the pro-mining members of the congressional Commission on Appointments and her appointment was not confirmed. She continued supporting many nongovernment organization and environmental causes, and received a United Nations (UN) 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 livelihood, prevent landslides and soil erosion, protect hundreds of species, and offset carbon emissions to help reduce global warming. (See photos on www.preda.org and www.predafairtrade.net.)

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, which 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 Rachel Carson’s environmental science book Silent Spring in 1962 challenged the chemical industry and caused uproar. Thus was born the environmental protection movement. Today, environmentalists and conservationists are fighting to preserve the planet’s ecosystems and reminding us that all life on earth and our lives depend on preserving the balance of nature in a healthy environment where the oceans, forests, plants, crops, insects, animals and all wildlife can live and thrive in harmony in a sustainable way.

The latest UN 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’ time.

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; others do not. Some Asians want the elephant tusks carved into ivory ornaments, and they pay high prices for them. 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. This is all wrong. The Northern white rhino is now extinct, and, if this policy continues, the Southern black rhino will also become extinct. 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 UN report says 1 million species are at risk of extinction and humans are causing it. We have to change our lifestyles, stop eating beef, eat more fish and be more vegetarian. The fish, too, are endangered, poisoned by the 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 the ongoing conference in Geneva that there was still time to halt the mass extinction. They are working with National Geographic to preserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030 through a science-based plan 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. They will promote massive planting of trees and the banning of plastics as much as they can.

The irresistible urge for capitalists for endless economic growth and development is destroying the environment. The Rome Statement in 1972 on “The Limits to Growth” 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 renewable sources of electricity is the answer.

Electing to office people 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.

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