Thursday, April 2, 2015

Realities and the 11th Hour

(published 22 September 2014, MST)

Holding a white cup, 33-year-old Rodne Galicha of Romblon province kneels in front of a portion of the Cantingas River in Sibuyan Island. He scoops water to fill his cup, marvels at how clear the water is, and drinks all of it.
“Refreshing!” he exclaims. The river is more than a refreshing source of water; it is also a source of power.
The scene is taken from a 10-minute feature on the Sibuyan Isle River Camp project that Galicha has undertaken in tandem with the Romblon State University. The feature (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKyMs5gaMN0) was streamed all over the world last week during Hour 11 of the 24-hour stream called 24 Hours of Reality, in the run-up to the Climate Summit happening this week at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The Sibuyan Isle River Camp project is not your typical camp. It rounds up college students and makes them aware, first, of the global problem of climate change. In the clip, Galicha speaks with camp participants and challenges them to explain climate change to their parents and elders back home—in less than 60 seconds. Climate change and its ill effects are a reality.  That people face greater threats is a reality. These are things everyone, even those who do not have access to much information, must know. 
But there is a second reality: That despite the threat, hope is possible and solutions are many. These are not big, overwhelming acts of transformation but real things everyone can practice every day.
The eight Rs, for example. Many of us are already aware of the three Rs - reduce (lessening consumption), reuse (using a thing for its original purpose), recycle (using a thing for a new purpose). At the river camp, the students learn about the other Rs: repair (fixing what’s broken, instead of buying again), refuse (saying no to acquiring things for the sake of acquiring them), rethink (asking whether your acts affect yourself, your neighbor, your community), reforest (planting a tree, because it’s easy), and reconnect (recognizing that everything comes from the earth; we and nature are one).
In the end, it all boils down to one thing: a ninth R - respect. Respect for nature, respect for others.
Galicha is proud that Sibuyan Island is powered, 90 percent, by clean energy—specifically water from the river. The hydro-power plant in Sibuyan uses water from the Cantingas River to provide 900 KW of power to all three municipalities of the island, with a total population of more than 56,000.
The project, installed by the Romblon Electric Cooperative, cost P140 million and was partly financed through a loan from the Rural Power Project, a WB-supported project implemented by the Development Bank of the Philippines.  
Prior to this hydropower plant, the island did not enjoy a stable supply of electricity.  It was plagued with power outages that in turn hampered growth and development. But things are different now.
* * *
The rest of the 11th hour (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ViED9uOFy4&list=TLVNn8tAu5QFOOR3BcL4fA-LsgOWtNyYNo) is devoted to stories of other young people who have made a difference in building awareness of the climate crisis. Former United States Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore sounds very hopeful about the youth’s participation in the climate initiative.
The young, he says, are unencumbered by experiences of the past. They look at reality with fresh eyes. Their candor and truth-telling are penetrating. And in their eyes, it is clearly wrong to destroy the climate balance and diminish the prospects for future generations. 
He then cites young people from all over the world, from a 14-year-old boy in Malawi who, frustrated that he had to drop out of school, happened upon a blueprint for a windmill in a magazine and decided to build one. He eventually built several to power his village. 
There are university students in China who built solar-powered scooters which they use to get around campus.
Students in Barbados collect used vegetable oil for conversion to biodiesel.
And in the US, the combined green power of schools taking such steps is equivalent to avoiding the annual CO2 emissions from 192,000 average American homes—although, Gore notes, the participation of the Ivy League schools has not been felt much.
Back here at home, what happened last Friday—when Metro Manila and environs experienced heavy rain and flooding from the effects of Mario —reminded us of the “new normal” that we have to contend with on an increasingly frequent basis.
The problem is not going to go away. It’s too big and too real to be ignored. So what do we do? There are big ways and there are small ways.
An example of big would be high-level meetings and summits like the one in New York that our own President is set to attend—I wonder what he will say. Countries of the world meet on a regular basis to discuss how they will bring down the level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, even as national economic interests have so far gotten in the way. 
More likely, though, it will be the small, practical, doable things that will keep our hopes up. They are so small we won’t have an excuse to say “pass.”

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