If we only learned from data

Antonio Claparols (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If only we learned how to forecast the data that we had collected in the past, then perhaps we could have made a better life. If only we used our skills and knowledge to plan ahead, we could have charted population growth, demographic movements, typhoon paths, water consumption, the amount of forest cover and forest felled, rivers and oceans. Then maybe, if used properly, our planet would not be under siege by climate change.

An American-commissioned census in 1903 revealed that typhoons would only pass by the Island of Luzon and rarely hit Mindanao. As early as 1900, figures showed that we had over 22 million hectares of pristine virgin rainforest rich with watersheds and river systems teeming with countless endemic species like the tamaraw in Mindoro, tarsiers of Bohol and the monkey-eating eagle.
In the book Censo De Las Islas Filipinas Tomo Uno of 1903, population data on Pasay City was pegged at only 6,542; Pasig City had only 11,278 people while the entire Philippine islands was inhabited by 6,987,686 individuals, indicating a population growth rate of 1.1 percent.

Knowing this trend, perhaps we could have managed and planned for a better world. Now, the global population is at over 7.655 billion, way past carrying capacity of the planet. The current Philippine population is at 110 million Filipinos, a massive jump from 1903 numbers.

Where did all the data go? Was it not used? If we knew about all this data, all we needed to do was to forecast and control the population. We could have seen how much forested land we had, prevented logging and engaged in conservation efforts instead. The same goes with our marine environment, species and agriculture. 

In the summer of 2017, unprecedented extreme weather hit the northern hemisphere. Three major hurricanes arose in quick succession at the Atlantic. The epic 500,000-year rainfall of Hurricane Harvey dropped enough water to fill a million gallons of water per every person in Texas while California wildfires burned more than a million acres. Floods hit South Asia before the record-breaking summer of 2018 brought an unheard-of “global heat-wave” just like what was described in the book The Uninhabitable Earth by David-Wells.

Why did we not learn from the late Elinor Ostrom, the great economist who spoke about environmental economics and public good, the tragedy of commons? How about Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx and Karl Polanyi? Men who, among many, spoke about the relationship between man and nature, as well between economics and the environment.

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