(Note: This was supposed to be the first article for a magazine column that did not push through. I chanced upon it in my email while looking for a contact. I wrote it in June 2014.)
As a climate advocate, I try to maximize my trips with any occasion to speak on the issue. I had just that happy opportunity when a week before I left Manila, I got an invitation to give a talk at the College of St. Benilde for the country’s biggest and longest hackaton, “Hack the Climate Manila”. The event is the brainchild of two Princeton graduates, Jacob Scheer and Michael Lachanski, who are out to save the world by gathering techies to create climate change mitigation apps.
My talk falls square three hours before my flight. I reminded the local organizers to ditch the Pinoy time and start the program early, so I can make it to the last call for boarding. To be on the safe side, I did an online check-in the night before.
Then came the Hack the Climate day. I took an FX from Antipolo, then the early morning MRT, and got down right smack to the gate of Benilde. There was a palpable excitement in the air, the kind you feel when do-gooders converge. One of the few and far between feelings that there is still hope for the world. The program started on time and I presented an abridged version of Al Gore’s Climate Reality slideshow, which I always get hot and freshly updated from The Climate Reality Leadership Corps, of which I am one of the couple of dozen Filipinos to have the privilege of being part. My email address was on the last slide, and I told the participants that if they have questions, they could email me, as I had a plane to catch.
Jacob Scheer gave me a gift, something to pass the time with on the plane, which I tried to. And there it was, right on the first chapter, facepalm. It was the conundrum. And I’m not talking about the whole book either, there is too much to be discussed about that, but only a few little lines, on which author David Owen wrote, just for me:
“…even when we act with what we believe to be the best of intentions, our efforts are often at cross purposes with our goals. That’s the conundrum.”
It’s an idea that is not really new, but I never thought of it as something that applied so strongly to me. Having been an active environmentalist for the last 15 years and changing my life as much as I could, I never saw myself as the culprit. Yet, there I was, just after my 44th climate presentation, having reached more than ten thousand people in key cities across the country and gaining a huge carbon footprint in the process, sitting on the plane, on my way to my tiny home, my bike and my natural and organic products, stunned. I closed the book and thought deeply the rest of the flight.
Life is complicated, and green’s not always black and white (incidentally Green’s not Black and White is another little book by Dominic Muren that boasts of being “the balanced guide to making eco-decisions”). One might wish a book would come and save all our problems, but as I have been learning, only I could save my problems, especially if the problem is I.
I’m not the self-flagellating type, but I can be hard on myself when necessary. It is not only needed, but of utmost importance for my work and advocacy to walk the walk. To speak in front of people on how to solve the climate crisis, one must be beyond reproach. Full disclosure: I’m not yet that. There is still a lot of work to be done. And it is somehow reassuring to know that everyone is a work in progress, and that the feeling of blessed unrest (another book by Paul Hawken!) is enough to keep one going.
And so everyday is a new adventure, an opportunity to clarify intentions and work towards the goal. I find that it is a matter of being conscious of everything I do, things I buy (or better yet, not buy), of everyday choices that could transform me from a basic bright green to a subtle shade of sage.
The practice has immense benefits for the soul. It is something like the positive feedback loop in melting of ice sheets, only this time it’s really positive, because in climate science it is really negative. I’m not joking, you can google it. But let me spare you the surfing trouble.
The arctic ice sheets are the earth’s natural reflectors. They bounce out 85% of sunlight, while the dark ocean only reflects 5% and absorbs the heat. The more that the planet’s and ocean’s temperature get warmer, the faster the ice melts, further lessening its reflective capacity, and exposing more of the dark ocean that absorbs more heat, therefore further warming the earth and hastening the melting of ice. That is the positive feedback, a loop that feeds itself, but negatively, as science shows.
Ecological mindfulness, on the other hand, is the really positive positive feedback loop, only the sun is the outside driver that calls for change, the warm ocean is the desire to be a better human for the planet, and the ice are the deeply entrenched belief systems, habits, and day-to-day automatic programs that keep us from being our best green self. The more conscious we are in what we do, the more our destructive habits and programs melt away.
While in climate science it is never good to melt the ice, it is always best to melt the ice in ones heart for Mother Earth. #