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Young Star

Foot traffic

EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING - Margarita Buenaventura - The Philippine Star

Between you and me, I used to not understand why we had to care for the environment. Back in grade school, we were told that we were “stewards of nature,” that it was our responsibility not to be litterbugs and to make sure that we didn’t waste electricity. To love nature is to love God, etc. We must take care of it! But nature is so vast and encompassing — why take care of something that practically engulfs us? If an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs couldn’t kill the trees and the rivers, how can we humans wreck an entire planet? Who am I saving by wearing this “I Heart Mother Nature” T-shirt that was probably made in a sweatshop?

The politics of the environment, to a 14-year-old me, were so real. I was also a proper idiot. Throughout the years I’ve seen how humans can destroy so much more in this world than an entire asteroid — something that came from outer space, for heck’s sake — ever could. We are the worst things to ever happen to the Earth, and that is my most unbiased opinion about our species. We’ve injured baby turtles with our coffee stirrers. We’ve killed elephants who have suffered to entertain us with rides and tricks. It’s a long list of offenses, and it’s easy to feel guilty about it. I certainly did, so I sought out a way to be wiser about the way I treat the environment, and challenged myself to reducing my carbon footprint for a week.

It probably comes as no surprise that this isn’t very easy to do. In fact, I would go ahead and say that it was pretty damn hard. My initial impression of what one’s carbon footprint involves makes me think of tycoons in suits taking private jets with stripper poles and LED lights. (Yes, I am mostly thinking of Iron Man.) What many of us, like myself, don’t realize is that our carbon dioxide emissions occur even in simple, everyday acts. In 2006 (the latest year available for carbon emission data), the Philippines’ carbon emissions per capita — or per person — clocked in at 0.81 million metric tons. That was 10 years ago, by the way, and it was 20 percent more than what every Filipino produced since 1996. Granted, it’s not as high as a country like the US (almost 20 million metric tons!) or even Canada. But it’s certainly enough to get you thinking. And so began the challenge.

According to the Internet, there are many ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint. The obvious: stop taking private planes. I knocked that out pretty easily with my reduced purchasing power. Great, so now onto the little things. Through a mishmash of .org sites, I’ve gathered that these will help me become a better green citizen:

1. Drive under the speed limit and maintain a steady speed while driving.

2. Keep your tires inflated.

3. Carpool as much as you can.

4. Unplug unused chargers and other electrical appliances.

5. Eat less meat.

6. Buy local.

There a lot more ways to do it, but I figured I’d start with this. The thing you need to know about me is that I live in the provinces — as in, on the foothills of a mountain range — and I work at odd hours (not in like a hooker way, but a different kind of freelance) which often limits my traveling options. There are no trains in my area; buses or jeeps are neither frequent in my area nor kind to the environment. I tried to be smart about using a car, so I volunteered to carpool with my mom every morning. It worked, sometimes, but I’d still end up having to drive into the city on my own because of a whole bunch of reasons. (Routes, times, and so on.) I felt guilty for using up so much space and energy in a vehicle that could fit at least three more people, and considered letting hitchhikers keep me company. A good concept, perhaps, but an ultimately terrible idea.

Determined not to give up so quickly, I considered the other rules. I tried to drive under the speed limit, but uh, how do you do that when every road in Manila runs at 3kph? The traffic situation, I realized, is so bad for the environment because of how much gas we consume while idling. What a terrible thought. Imagine all that we are slowly killing because of our aircon units on full blast while stuck in EDSA gridlock. I sure thought about that while I stewed by myself — which almost always makes me hungry.

Now this, I am proud of say, was my wisest moment in environmental protection. Instead of caving into my hunger by ordering fast food, which is not only bad for your health but for the Earth, I decided to buy local. And by that, I bought a bunch of suman at my parents’ regular suman lady (dude, I live in a province) as my snack. No plastic consumed! No meat eaten! (Eating beef contributes to methane production, as your science teacher will remind you.) I continued the practice even at the mall, in which I flat-out refused to keep my purchases in any plastic bag. (“But ma’am, you can’t walk away with three pairs of shoes in your hand.” Girl, just watch.)

So I thought, Great, I’m on a roll. I’m practically planting trees right now. I came to realize, during my week of consciously reducing my footprints, that caring for the environment was only fun when it wasn’t hard. I liked it only when it was convenient for me; when I didn’t have to sacrifice little luxuries just to make it to the end of the day. I certainly tried to remember to unplug those chargers, but when you’re hurrying to make it to work, it’s not something you’ll consciously think to do. Nor do you think of the PET bottles you throw away when you drink mineral water in this heat. The environmental destruction is, sadly, part of us already. It’s so ingrained in our everyday life that the little things — which become huge, Earth-changing things — become very hard to sacrifice in the name of nature. It’s a harsh truth, but a necessary truth to live with. But it is an eye-opening reality, one that can make a hardcore skeptic such as myself think twice before throwing something in the trash. You never know what that simple act can do to an entire planet.

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