Setting Core Values as Bedrock for Baguio’s Ecological Future
(Paper presented to the First Baguio Environmental Summit, April 23, 2012, University of the Philippines, Baguio City, Philippines)
By Michael A. Bengwayan, Ph.D. Environmental Resource Management Philippines
Director, Cordillera Ecological Center,
Nature is the first ethical teacher of man. If you don’t believe this, then, you will not understand. The very reason why Baguio is mired in serious environmental problems is due to the lack of understanding this fact. People were born in an age when people loved the things of nature and spoke to it as though it had a soul. The woods were formerly temples of the deities, and even now simple country folk dedicate a tall tree to a God with the ritual of olden times; and we adore sacred groves and the very silence that reigns in them no less devoutly than images that gleam in gold and ivory. In the stillness of the mighty woods, man is made aware of the divine.
Thus, ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected, because deep ecological awareness, ultimately, is spiritual awareness. Every social transformation … has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalised expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of man.
Sadly, in its haste and yearning for so-called development and progress, the City of Baguio is destroying the very thing that makes it alive—its environment. Dirty politics, corrupt politicians, poor and improper planning and management have turned the city into garbage piles, scarred landscape, deforested woodlands, atmosphere with heavy pollutants, dirty creeks and rivers and destroyed natural formations.
The entry of SM, the biggest corporation has turned things for the worse. And maybe for better. Trumpeting for a parking lot, it wanted to cut 182 trees which I resented and which led me to organize massive demonstrations and protests against the tree cutting and planned earth-balling. The protests are already nationwide and nowhere than now have people in Baguio been more galvanized to fight for their trees and environment.
There is reason to hope that the ecology-based revitalist movement we started– Save 182 and Save 133– will seek to achieve their ends in true tradition. The main hope for changing Baguio’s present course may lie … in the development of a world view drawn partly from ecological principles – that give human face and human heart.
There is a must for Baguio’s citizenry to relearn ecology. A new kind of ecology. That of deep ecology. The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess coined the phrase deep ecology to describe deep ecological awareness. Deep ecology is the foundation of a branch of philosophy known as ecophilosophy, Arne Naess prefers the term ecosophy, that deals with the ethics of Gaia.
Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centred. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or ‘use’, value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans – or anything else – from the natural environment. It does see the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views human beings as just one particular strand in the web of life.
Care flows naturally if the ‘self’ is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves … Just as we need no morals to make us breathe … [so] if your ‘self’ in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care … You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it … If reality is like it is experienced by the ecological self, our behaviour naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics.
If we acquire deep ecological awareness we become intuitively aware, ineffable knowledge.
Logic does not lead us from the fact that we are an integral part of the web of life to certain norms of how we should live. However if we have deep ecological awareness, or experience, of being part of the web of life, then we will (as opposed to should) be inclined to care for all living nature. Indeed, we can scarcely refrain from responding in this way.
The earth mourns and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,
and few men are left.
In vernacular societies, spirituality and awareness of the natural world is part of everyday existence. The main hope for changing Baguio’s present course may lie … in the development of a world view drawn partly from ecological principles
The central idea of Deep Ecology is that we are part of the earth, rather than apart and separate from it.
Two key ideas have emerged out of scientific thinking that support the view of ourselves as part of the earth. The first idea comes from Systems Theory and the second idea is called The Gaia Hypothesis.
Systems Theory sees our world in terms of ‘systems’, where each system is a ‘whole’ that is more than the sum of its parts, but also itself a ‘part’ of larger systems. For examplae, a cell is more than just a pile of molecules and itself is a part of larger systems eg. an organ. An organ is on one level a whole in itself, but on another, it is a part of a system at the level of an individual person. A family and a community can both be seen as ‘systems’ where the ‘parts’ are people.
The Gaia Hypothesis takes this idea further and applies it to the whole planet. All of life on earth can be seen as whole that is more than the sum of its parts, this whole being like a huge super-lifeform that we call ‘Gaia’ (after the name for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth). Living systems have a tendency to keep themselves in balance but also to adapt and evolve over time. Scientists have found that the earth also has these tendencies, with feedback mechanisms to ‘keep in balance’ the temperature and oxygen levels of the atmosphere, just as our bodies maintain the temperature and oxygen levels in our arteries.
The Gaia Hypothesis is stating that the earth is alive and that we are part of it. This is something that many cultures have known for centuries.
Facing the scale of social and ecological crisis in our world can leave us feeling numbed, overwhelmed and powerless. Yet there is often little place for such feelings in conventional politics or in our society at large. The dominant response is to deny or distract ourselves from any uncomfortable feelings about the state of the world, and to carry on with ‘business as usual’.
If we see ourselves as part of the world, it becomes possible to see that such uncomfortable feelings may serve a valuable function. Just as it hurts when we put our finger over a flame, ‘pain for the world’ alerts us to the injuries of our world and can move us to respond. Allowing ourselves to feel for our world also opens us to a source of energy and aliveness, and a strength that comes from connection to something more than just our narrow selves.
Spirituality is to do with our inner sense of connection with something larger than ourselves and with our relationship with what we see as sacred. This can give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose beyond material success and those special moments where we feel that connection more deeply can provide an important source of strength in difficult times.
If we see ourselves as part of the ‘Tree of Life’ – the interconnected web of beings we call Gaia, then a Deep Ecological approach to spirituality might emphasizeour relationship with this larger whole. We may look at life itself as being sacred, and see the possibility of the larger force of life acting through us in our work for earth recovery. This ‘life-centered spirituality’ can be an important source of inspiration to face and respond to the problems of our world.
It is waiting for you..