Words by Waynnie Melendres
Art by Hazel Cruz
Two weeks into ECQ, social media was flooded by photos of the Sierra Madre. You’d think they were your typical travel photos at first, but read the captions. It’s Sierra Madre visible from Manila! The view was super clear, thanks to the absence of smog and other air pollutants.
Another lockdown post that went viral was this video of an ostrich running freely around in a subdivision in Quezon City. Why there is an ostrich in the city was a puzzle, but people didn’t seem to mind – the ostrich looked like she was having a good time.
Around the world, there were also a lot of sightings similar to these – the water in the canals of Venice clearing up, elephants laying on corn fields after getting drunk, the Himalayas clearly visible from afar – the list goes on.
These are not things that you’d typically encounter on a normal day. It’s as if nature took the time to enjoy her time alone, with no humans to interrupt her as we are forced into our homes during the lockdown.
Thus the birth of the pandemic joke, “Nature is healing, we are the virus.”
The sightings were so wonderful yet so rare, we wouldn’t think of them being possible pre-pandemic. But if we come to think of it, is nature really healing?
Thus the birth of the pandemic joke, “Nature is healing, we are the virus.”
Aside from making us laugh, the memes also paved the way in starting a discussion about the actual situation of the environment.
Let’s take a look at some of the environmental issues that we’ve seen in the Philippines during the lockdown.
The country enjoyed a moment of good air quality.
During the lockdown, experts have seen a sharp decrease in air pollution as compared to pollution levels just before the lockdown. Sadly, we won’t get to enjoy this improved air quality beyond the lockdown. The major contributors to air pollution were found to be factory and mass transport emissions. Once the pandemic restrictions ease – when cars go back to the streets and factories resume their operations – we won’t be able to see Sierra Madre from our windows again. That is, if we don’t act on the root causes of our air pollution problem.
But the country also suffered an increase in waste pollution.
The country has also seen an increase in waste disposal during the lockdown, especially of medical and hazardous waste. The wearing of masks and face shields were made mandatory by the government. Used masks and face shields are considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of properly. However, with the current garbage disposal system being employed in the country, wastes are not segregated properly and are mixed with non-hazardous waste. This puts a risk to the health of the garbage collectors and the people living near dumpsites.
The continuing rise of COVID-19 cases also comes with the increased medical waste being disposed of by hospitals on the daily. The disposal of medical waste is a tedious process as they contain high amounts of hazardous components, and they could be dangerous to humans if not processed well. The increase in these wastes posed a big question on the efficiency of the disposal of medical wastes in the country.
The pandemic also poses a threat to our ecosystems.
The source of the COVID-19 virus is still unknown.The existing studies as of the moment point to the possibility that the virus is rooted in illegal trade of pangolins. Illegal wildlife trade has been an issue in several countries. Wild animals, when taken out of their natural habitat, become more prone to catching diseases, making way to the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
Several groups have also taken advantage of the pandemic to act on their selfish interests. Some of the communities in the rural areas, particularly those of the indigenous people, are displaced from their areas in the middle of the pandemic when resources are scarce and their only source of sustenance is the environment they are in.
The environment plays a big role in our well-being.
If there’s anything that the COVID-19 tells us about our environment, it is that environmental issues go hand-in-hand with other social issues – may it be health, economy, human rights, and more. When we take care of our environment, we also protect our health, as well as the well-being of our fellow countrymen.
In the Philippines, environmental issues are often overlooked. Despite the fact that our country has rich natural resources, issues that negatively impact these resources are not given much importance. This is not to say that environmental problems bear more weight than other issues. If anything, as we look deeper into environment issues, we’d see how it’s entangled with other social issues.
In the present case, we could see how the environment would play a big role in our health. An environment with polluted air can increase our chances of developing respiratory diseases. Exposure to wastes, especially hazardous wastes, could negatively impact our health, making us susceptible to acquiring infectious diseases. The imbalance in our ecosystem caused by the depletion of our forests and the continued illegal wildlife trade were found to be key factors in the emergence of animal-to-human diseases.
The indigenous people are the forefront in the conservation of the environment. Having their communities displaced in the middle of the pandemic because of private groups’ selfish interests puts their lives at great risk, especially since health services and medical assistance are not readily available to them. It also puts at risk the very environment that they have strived to protect and uphold for centuries, contributing also to the imbalance in the ecosystem.
To say that we are the virus is counterproductive. We are part of the ecosystem, and therefore we are part of the balance. It’s true that human behavior has caused the environmental problems we are experiencing now. With that being said, we can still contribute to the healing of nature if we change our behaviors and mindsets into those that seek to uplift the well-being of the environment.
No, nature is not yet healing, but the “nature is healing” memes signify a good start. These memes show that it’s possible for us to still achieve a healthier environment, and gave us a glimpse of what the world would be like if we changed how we treat Mother Earth. Now, all we need to do is to take action towards the true healing of nature.
No, nature is not yet healing, but the “nature is healing” memes signify a good start. These memes show that it’s possible for us to still achieve a healthier environment, and gave us a glimpse of what the world would be like if we changed how we treat Mother Earth.
What can we do as citizens?
We may feel restricted from doing our part for the environment now that we’re still in quarantine, but we can still help in solving environmental issues through the individual efforts we could do at home.
According to Greenpeace Campaigner Marian Ledesma, here are some of the things we can do as citizens:
- Bring your own plastic-free kit: cloth bag, collapsible cup, bamboo/metal straw, cutlery, etc.
- Look for packaging-free or plastic-free goods /when shopping or doing your marketing.
- Support SMEs that have alternative delivery systems (reuse and refill).
- Shop at zero waste stores that have alternative delivery systems (using refillable containers or bags they will collect after your use, shops that’ll refill your containers).
- If you do get fresh produce/groceries delivered, choose stores that pack them in eco bags or drop them off in boxes they can reuse.
- Wear reusable PPEs, such as fabric masks and reusable gloves.
- Call on your local and national government to have a comprehensive single-use plastic ban.
These may be minimal efforts, but small impact is still an impact.
Some of the problems affecting our environment are out of our control as citizens. That’s why aside from doing our own individual efforts, we should also call on the government and the business sectors to act on environmental issues, as they hold on a wide scope of production and business operations. In order to do this, we must make use of our collective action to call for the following:
- National and local bans on single-use plastic packaging, bags and products.
- Corporations must shift to alternative delivery systems, take responsibility for their products’ waste and phase out single-use plastic and other disposables.
- Cities implement zero waste approaches for waste management through reuse, recycling and composting.
- Corporations take responsibility for their products’ waste (extended producer responsibility).
Social media is powerful in spreading our messages, especially since it’s a very convenient way we could get connected with people. We can make use of social media in advancing these calls, and in making information more accessible to a wider audience so that more people will also be encouraged to take action.
If you have environmental organizations in your schools or local communities, it would also be good to get involved. These organizations provide more in-depth education on the environment issues we are facing today, and provide you opportunities to participate in projects and activities that aim to help the environment. If you’re not ready for the commitment, there are activities and donation drives by these organizations which you could participate in without being a member.
The pandemic must serve as a wake-up call to us. When we work towards a greener, healthier environment, we should never forget to take into consideration the other social factors at play. Working towards a sustainable future means no one is left behind, and no issues are left unsolved. Let us protect our lives as well as everyone else’s by protecting our environment.
Waynnie is currently a senior BA Development Studies student in UP Manila. She likes pouring her thoughts through writing and art. She is an advocate of sustainable development and indigenous peoples’ rights.
Born and raised in Lipa City, Philippines, Hazel is a creative who is currently studying in the University of the Philippines Diliman. In her down time, she likes to create digital art and write in her journal. With her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, Hazel dreams to help create a more sustainable future for the world.