As we observe Earth Day today, we are reminded of the precarious state that besets our ailing planet. Excessive abuse of our lands by transnational corporations, logging and mining companies, and agro-business firms are some of the reasons behind the greatest threat to our existence – climate change.
The destruction of our environment in the form of rampant deforestation, irresponsible mining, intensified emissions from factories, unsanitary disposal of wastes, and threats of biochemical warfare, does not just kill ecosystems and expose communities to hazards, it also drives economic inequality and environmental instability.
A tragic contradiction in the Philippines, a country rich in biodiversity, shows that a large chunk of its population remains poor despite the abundance of natural resources. The growing gap of the rich and the poor, amid the continuing degradation of the environment, is indicative of the intense profiteering of those in power at the expense people’s lives.
The disadvantaged groups, those who are socially, economically, and politically marginalized, would be the first in the line of fire and the main victims of the impacts of environmental degradation. It is the weak who suffer more during disasters and it is the poor who are hit the hardest during calamities.
The farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous communities who depend on the natural environment and ecosystems for their homes and livelihoods, are in greater proximity to hazards than higher-income groups.
Looking at current environmental conditions as the main determining factor of poverty is not enough to understand the reasons why families live in environmentally vulnerable areas. Our national economic policy is biased towards the few who are driven by the pursuit of profit at all costs, with insufficient attention to the environmental implications of economic activities.
Unless we took urgent steps to come up with measures that would prevent transnational corporations and agro-business firms from plundering our lands and resources, the individual struggle for sustainable environmental use would not be enough to protect the environment and our people.
Let us remember that environmental vulnerability and greed-driven economic activity do not operate in isolation. The National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) identifies ‘healthy environment’ as one of the 10 basic needs of the Filipino people.
As we develop ways to protect our resources, improve our waste disposal, and secure our lands from environmental plunder, we should all work hand in hand to save our planet. Earth Day is a reminder for us to put forward the interests of disadvantaged groups and make poverty eradication the centerpiece of economic, social, and environmental policies.