Dam if we don’t

This is not another post-typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) and Parma (Pepeng) climate-change/ urban planning editorial. So many experts have written more relevant pieces about what went wrong and what this ravaged country needs to do. Today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer has lots of commentary on climate change, those damned dams, Metro Manila’s (lack of) urban planning, etcetera etcetera. I have nothing to offer more than agreement with what my old geology professors used to teach us in class and are saying now to the general public – we gotta work with nature, not change it for our own purposes.

And yet, AS USUAL, the finger-pointing has started – the usual blame it on the monkey instead of me circus has taken the nation’s front pages in recent days. In today’s headline, local officials are crying that these huge dams are a “clear and present danger” to the lives of residents and properties of areas covered by these dams. (Interestingly, our copy at home is probably an early edition, given that today’s actual headline in the online version is different.)
“In the House of Representatives,” to quote PDI, “two lawmakers announced yesterday that they had filed a resolution calling for the suspension of the construction of huge dams.” Hooray for ancestral lands of indigenous peoples. But wait.

“‘The giant dams are clear and present danger to lives and property during the rainy season,’ said their resolution, ‘During prolonged dry spells, they don’t help any,’ they said.” Now let me get this straight, and this is how I read this generalized statement – these dams pose a threat when it rains, regardless of the fact that they do prevent FURTHER flooding during storms because they collect the water, and then during dry spells they “don’t help any” regardless of the fact that they DO collect water, even in small amounts? Is it me or do these solons need a smack in the head? Can we hold elections now and rid ourselves of EVERYONE in the current administration? Note to self: DO NOT VOTE ANYONE WITH A PREVIOUS TRACK RECORD. That includes Noynoy and Mar. TABULA RASA. There goes more than half of my ballot. Oh, well.

Yes Pangasinan was heavily flooded (an Uncle of mine and his family were among the victims). MAYBE this was aggravated by the release of water from these dams.

While I agree on the premise that a 21st-century approach is needed to modernize the hydroelectric systems of the country, these dams were borne of the need to provide LONG-TERM, clean and  stable sources of electricity for Luzon, demonizing these dams merely show what little these officals have done in terms of long-term planning for their constituents. Did anybody EVER propose alternative sources of energy and irrigation in these areas THE ENTIRE TIME these dams were online? Maybe, maybe not. The point I’m making is that the finger-pointing has started again. We Filipinos seem to enjoy this exercise whenever a calamity befalls us, probably because it soothes us of the feeling that the real blame is on our side.

Take the case of Quezon City, the richest city in the country. A reader points out (in today’s Letter to the Editor, “City richest in income, poor in basic services“) the irony that in the current mayor’s ninth year (!) “it’s only now that SB has thought of (the need to assess and identify the areas critical and dangerous in times of flooding).”

I’d like to see Madam Gloria’s plan to rehabilitate Metro Manila (GMA Approves Metro makeover plan) push through and implemented even by her successor. Let’s see if political will truly exists, not just in the current and succeeding administrations, but also among the citizens as well. LONG TERM means we gotta change our lifestyles. WE as is all of us (Ten more years of floods for Metro folk).

But what is clear is that government should take the lead, as reiterated in today’s Editorial (Amorphous), and not throw the responsibilities at an ambiguous commission that has no clear mandate on policy-making. Can this commission throw the millions of informal settlers (voters) out of Metro Manila just like that? And would we expect recession-hit western countries to heed our plea for ONE BILLION DOLLARS in aid (not loans, but aid and grants!), because the Philippines is the posterchild for climate change disasters (Philippines seeks US$1 Billion for reconstruction)?

The future is bleak, even as technocrats and policy makers address the myriad issues of climate change when the world makes another round of decisions (or indecision) at Copenhagen this December (Bangkok climate talks end in recrimination).  What can our ravaged country do in terms of global policy, if what the world needs isn’t even heeded by the world’s largest economy (US threatens to derail climate talks)? It reminds of a scene in the documentary “Age of Stupid” by filmmakers Franny Armstrong and Lizzie Gillett where a woman, presumably one of the council people who voted against an environmentalist-businessman’s proposal to build a series of windfarms as a source of energy in a local town in England, tells to the camera how concerned she is about climate change and alternative energy. Still, the proposal was turned down mainly (according to the film) because the wind turbines will destroy “the view.” It’s so easy to mouth environmental slogans. “Green is in.” So what? How ready are we, really, to change the way we believe things (tck tck tck The World is ready)?

Let’s see how far a change in lifestyle people can accomplish. Over at CNN, I heard of Paul McCartney’s proposal for people to abstain from eating meat on Mondays. Called “Meat-free Mondays,” the former Beatle suggests that eating less meat will help the world rid large amounts of greenhouse gases. In the same CNN report, it was noted that methane gas from cows (produced when cows belch and pass wind) comprise 18% of the total greenhouse gases produced every year, compared with 12% from cars. Having no meat on mondays will lessen the demand and potentially rid the earth of 10% of the 18% that cows, almost all of them raised for commercial consumption, produce.

That means no more meat, especially beef, for me on Mondays for the rest of my life. That’s a challenge I’ll take to myself.

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