Deflating the balloons mindset

Attending activities can be as enlightening as surfing the Internet.

During the Parents-Teachers Conference yesterday at Martin’s school, one female parent raised a hand to be allowed to speak. The emcee obliged.

The parent reacted to the plan of the school to release balloons into the air during its 25th Foundation Day. Without any explanation on her being an environmentalist, she said that letting go of balloons puts sea creatures into danger. OK, fellow parents as well as the school’s officials must have asked silently: Why the heck?

She explained that deflated or burst balloons are likely to end up landing on the seas, with marine animals eating them like food. She mentioned that there was a study that discovered dead sea creatures with pieces of deflated balloons in their stomachs.

With an enlightened tone, a school official promised to cancel the balloons plan and to consider the parent’s suggestion to just let go of butterflies instead.

Thank God for such activity, the Parents-Teachers Conference. It kind of reinforced the environmentalist mindset in me.

I now realize that balloons may still put life to parties but kids (and adults alike) must be educated that letting go of balloons into the air may end the life of other God’s creatures. Better burst the balloons.

Suggested link on caring for the seas and God’s sea creatures: http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/fish6.html

Let’s vote for Mother Earth on 2009-03-28

March 28, 2009. Saturday. 8:30 – 9:30 PM. Around one billion homes (spread across 80 countries and counting) are targetted to switch off their lights as a global vote to influence world leaders when they meet in December 2009 for Global Climate Change Conference. This meeting will inform official government policies to address global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the homefront, the Catholic Church leads the way. Cardinal Rosales has this to say: “My countrymen, on March 28 let us all join efforts in saving electricity and protecting the environment. Let us try not to use electricity for one hour.”

I will definitely lead my family and ask our neighbors to turn off their lights on March 28 for an hour starting at 8:30 PM. Blogger or not, one should participate in this noble undertaking by first visiting the site http://www.earthhour.org.

Besides, an hour without lights means extra savings from our electric bill. Use it also as an opportunity for family bonding and collective prayers. Never mind the hot weather. An hour of sacrifice is worth generations of life in this battered earth.

It’s a date. Participate.

Will the biofuels craze level the playing field?

The Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) has recently opened a P10-billion credit window to whoever is interested in planting fuel crops, in particular jatropha. The Manila Bulletin Online’s report on this at first implies that the window is available merely to farmer-cooperatives. But reading through it, I found that the loan is up for grabs by any person or group of persons: farmer groups, cooperatives, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), corporations, and “such other individuals/entities which have signified to undertake the production of jatropha.”

Apparently, the LBP took the cue from the Office of the President and was convinced by the Philippine National Oil Company-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC) to invest in such kind of undertakings. But with LBP’s stringent requirements when it comes to loans, the question remains: Will the small farmers get enough?

The proliferation of biofuel plantations nationwide has been touted to create 250,000 new jobs nationwide. I just wonder if that means farmers have to give up their lands (or the lands they’ve been struggling to own) and instead provide labor services to entrepreneurs and corporations. Actually, this has already happened (through leaseback, joint venture, and other types of agreements with “former” landlords) even way before the biofuels craze took the centerstage.

If the jatropha and other types of renewable sources of fuel will be used to care for the environment (which is actually subject to debate) and help urban motorists save on fuel expense, but, at the same time, it will further marginalize the small farmers, then, that biofuels craze must be opposed by all means. For the small farmers cannot afford to sacrifice more in the name of supposed national development and environmental integrity.

I’m afraid that because of the official target or requirement to produce enough biofuels, more and more small farmers will lose their hold on their lands or their hopes to own the lands they’ve been tilling. Of course, one way to at least minimize this impact is through organizing. My organization and its partners will not stop working with our constituents in asserting their rights, which the State is obliged to fulfill, respect, and protect.

About Jatropha
Jatropha, commonly known as physic or purging nut, is a non-edible oil-yielding perennial shrub that has green leaves with a length and width of 6 centimeters (cm) to 15 cm, and can reach a height of up to 5 meters. It originated in tropical America and West Asia. Jatropha comes from the Greek words: jatros (doctor) and trophe (nutrition). It belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae. It is known locally as tuba-tuba. Others call it tubang bakod, tagumbao, tawa-tawa, kalunay, kasla and tangan-tangan.

According to studies, jatropha, which can grow almost anywhere (even on gravely or rocky soil), is a great alternative to petroleum fuel, which has unstable supply worldwide and contributes to the global warming. A jatropha nut contains 30% oil. Three kilos of Jatropha seeds can produce a liter of crude Jatropha oil. A Jatropha farmer can earn P200,000 per hectare year from the processing and sale of Jatropha nuts.

It is no less than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has led the campaign for jatropha. She has ordered the military (no direct connection to its peace-keeping or war efforts) to speed up the propagation of jatropha seedlings in the military camps for nationwide distribution. The campaign started from the passage of the Biofuels Act of 2006, which requires a one-percent blend of locally produced biodiesel in total volume of diesel fuel sold nationwide. (In 2009, the one-percent requirement will increase to two percent.) To meet this requirement, the country needs to produce 78 milion liters of biodiesel oil annually. Jatropha is just one of the crops that are identified to contribute to that target, the other being sugarcane, corn, sorghum, and the like.

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E-jeepneys: Kings of the road be born again!

Sick of the carbon-packed smoke you smell around Metro Manila? Still concerned about the motorists’ using diesel, a form of fossil fuel that’s the major cause for global warming? Air pollution, which is related to human health, and global warming, to that of mother earth, our home, are two decades-old problems that don’t seem to go away. And environmentalists or mother earth advocates look unable to make a dent in this regard.

Well, not anymore. The Southeast Asian environmentalists, at least, are now walking their talk. They do not just come out in the streets sounding like doomsday-heralders. They are now parading along with their proposed solution to the urban pollution problem: e-jeepneys.

No, it’s not e-jeepneys in a sense that it has its own microprocessor like a computer unit. ‘e’ here means electric, not electronic.

As the Phil. Daily Inquirer and Manila Times covered it perfectly, two units of flashy and fancy-looking electric jeepneys were test-driven in Makati City. It served as the launching of this joint project by the Makati City government, GRIPP (Green Renewable Independent Power Producer) and Greenpeace.

Based on Greenpeace-SEA’s site and the news, some facts about the e-jeepneys:

  1. The e-jeepneys are designed by the Solar Electric Company. It costs about P500,000, has a five-horsepower engine and is capable of carrying up to 17 passengers.
  2. The test-drive will continue for six months in Makati City and eventually in key cities in the Visayas. If the test phase is successful, the fleet will be increased to 50 units.
  3. One corollary effect of the project is increased incomes to the vehicles’ drivers (and/or operators?). This is because drivers will no longer spend up to P1,000 for fuel a day as a vehicle relies only on batteries which require daily charging that costs around P150.
  4. City governments may raise the campaign into a higher level by providing facilities that will generate power from the biodegradable wastes of food establishments and wet markets. The power from these wastes will then become an alternative or additional source of power for the e-jeepneys.

Here’s my advice to the project: Go and multiply. Why, it still requires a big sacrifice on people riding an e-jeepney to cover their noses against the smoke belched by other vehicles. There’s therefore a big challenge for the project holders to mass-produce these cool gadgets, err, vehicles.

I also want to raise a few questions:

  1. Who are the project’s beneficiaries? How would the Sarao Road Kings, for example, be convinced to be born-again drivers? Has Greenpeace attempted to consult with jeepney-operators associations, which should be its perfect partners for the campaign?
  2. Will the e-jeepneys be passenger-friendly in terms of fares?
  3. Can the colors be changed so that they don’t get unnecessary attention (read: traffic accidents)? (I’m a bit serious here)
  4. Can e-jeepneys morph in given situations like wet and scorching days? This means giving protection to passengers against extreme heat and downpours.

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Accounting for and managing e-waste in the Philippines

Technologies make gadgets obsolete in a rapid rate. In California, about 10,000 computers and televisions become unusable each day. In the Philippines, a computer unit becomes ‘unusable’ up to five years from the date of its purchase. The hundreds of thousands of computer units imported by the Philippines in 2002 must have been obsolete by now.

A new mobile phone gets depleted (if not unfashionable) in more than a year of its use. Sales in mobile phones is estimated to reach 1.1 billion units in 2007. In the homefront, sales in mobile phones was estimated to have reached 25 million units in 2005.

I’m not sure with television, although one may infer that more than 50,000 sets are sold in the Philippines each month. The introduction of high-tech TV (flat, plasma, digital) must have spurred the disposal of the old TVs for the high-tech ones.

We’re not even talking here of other electronic appliances like videocams, washing machines, and refrigerators.

So what am I trying to drive at here? You guess it right: Electronic waste or e-waste in short. An electronic gadget becomes a waste once its owner disposes of it in an unusable state, which exposes people and environment to danger because of its toxic elements, namely, cadmium, lead, lithium, and the like. The gadget’s non-biodegradable nature largely aggravates the problem.

There is global recognition of the problem, which inspired the Basel Convention of 1989 and its amendment in 1995.

The European Union has complied with it in terms of having a clear policy on electronic waste recycling and regulation of waste shipment. A signatory to the Convention, the Philippines legislated at least two laws: Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act (RA 6969) and Philippine Clean Air Act (RA 8749). Both laws protect the Philippine environment against toxic wastes, including those coming from other countries.

But despite the existence of these laws, government has inked a deal with Japan via the Japanese-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), which covers among others legalization of trade in hazardous and toxic waste, touted to be a violation of not only the Philipine laws but also of the Basel agreement, to which both countries are signatories. Electronic waste may not be explicitly covered by the agreement thus far but it just sets the precedent for future trade in e-waste.

But hasn’t there been any e-waste trade involving the Philipines? The Basel Action Network (BAN) claimed in 2002 that the California-based IMS Recycling company has exported e-waste to countries including the Philippines. My Internet search to validate this claim was not successful, though.

Apparently, Philippine government has no clear policy and program on dealing with e-waste. The University of the Philippines already noted this in 2004. Greenpeace Philippines also warned about this in 2005. (Advanced countries, including the US, already have. According to AP News, American large computer manufacturers have gradually developed tech greening programs of their own. Although BAN complains that there are no equivalent programs for other devices like TVs and cellphones.)

The National Statistics Office keeps data on e-waste (year 2000), but these unfortunately cover just four items: refrigerators, washing machines, radio and cassette and televisions. But I wonder if the agency has already developed mechanisms to broaden the scope to include computers and mobile phones.

In the meantime, individuals may do share in helping control e-waste in the country. A blogger gives this advice:

The solution to this problem lies in the hands of the manufacturers. But as individuals, we can try to help by: (1) upgrading or repairing electronic products, instead of replacing them with new ones; (2) donating our old equipment to a family member or friend; and (3) by checking around for disposal options rather than just throwing the old, useless gadget in the trash.

Oh, I also got an advice of my own 🙂 .

Philippine elections and the environment


The efforts of the Eco-Waste Coalition to make the political parties and candidates responsible for the environment must be lauded and emulated. No group has beat their brains to address the problem of post-elections trash but this coalition. (I understand that Cardinal Rosales is behind this undertaking.)

The Coalition has come up with a document entitled “Halalang Walang Basura: 10-Point Guidelines for the Political Parties and Candidates to Prevent and Reduce Campaign Waste”. The guidelines read as follows:

  1. Designate a lead team for the no-waste campaign;
  2. Target zero tolerance in all campaign meetings, sorties, and related activities by shunning confetti-throwing, firecrackers, balloons-releasing; by not using styrofoam or plastic bags for volunteers’ meals; by setting up segregated waste bins; by designating eco-volunteers; by cleaning up after every campaign event; by hiring a local garbage collector.
  3. Refrain from using excessive campaign materials such as leaflets, posters, stickers, etc.
  4. Include in campaign materials eco-friendly reminders about keeping trash in trash cans.
  5. Avoid use tarpaulin and other plastics in campaign materials.
  6. Use recycled paper for campaign materials; avoid plastic-coated paper.
  7. Don’t use hardly reused or recycled materials such as confetti, buntings, and balloons.
  8. Reject graffiti and vandalism.
  9. Harm not the trees. Spare them from election campaign materials and post only in designated common poster areas.
  10. Win or lose, candidates must remove all their campaign materials from all sites immediately after the elections.

Even the Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento was impressed by the endeavor. He promised to convince his co-members to adopt the guidelines. He must. Government is accountable to the environmental harm that will be caused by  the mountains of paper and non-biodegradable waste resulting from the political parties’ and candidates’ campaigns.

It’s high time that the Eco-Waste Coalition’s guidelines were pushed to be made part of the COMELEC Rules and Procedures, if not the Elections Code.

“Malicia”: What’s wrong about that lettuce bikini?

I felt that my blood pressure went up to 130 as soon as I saw that 25-by-15 cm photograph of Alicia Mayer on Manila Standard’s issue today, on front page. Gee, it was too gargantuan to escape the public fancy, especially those of my gender.

Before we genderize the issue here, that Alicia Mayer’s pose was done in behalf of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international group that fights for animal rights. Manila Standard has no text story for the banner photo except a caption, so I assume that PETA’s slogan “Let vegetarianism grow on you” calls on people to eat animal meat less in favor of vegetables like lettuce on which PETA based Alicia’s bikini.

So there. I’m sure women organizations will not take that sitting down. It will even stir debate between moralists and liberals. Does the cause that Alicia carried with that lovely pose excuse the idea’s sexist undertone, equaling vegetables and women as yummy stuff? Does her pose beget evil as it gratifies men’s fleshy desires? Perhaps the message was also to convince people that eating vegetables will make them sexy?

People of my gender in general will not mind. But gender-sensitive men like me 😉 of course will think twice. The first thought, of course, is understandable. What matters more is the second thought: that there’s something not good about that propaganda gimmick, that leaves me asking:

  1. What convinced the Manila Standard front page editor to make the photograph a banner one? Was it to sell the copy like a hotcake?
  2. Can environmentalists not be gender-sensitive at the same time?
  3. Did Alicia Mayer know what she did?

That’s why I entitled this entry “Malicia”. I think that that captures the issue here. Is the gimmick inherently wrong? Doesn’t it beget malice among the public? Does Alicia Mayer want to be a sex goddess?

Let me take another look.

What have you done to your old computer?

I got three old machines at home, old in a sense that they cannot be used to meet today’s computing demands. One is an HP laptop whose keyboard has run out of function, has no USB port and can only run on Windows 95/98. We stopped using it because of the dead keyboard.

Another is a refurbished (read: second-hand) Twinhead laptop–Pentium II with 256MB physical memory. The motherboard conked out after two years of using the notebook.

The last one is Intel Celeron desktop which I bought in 1999. It degenerated since then: Its mother board no longer recognizes pluggable devices such as Ethernet and USB cards. It is still alive, though. My family is using it for simple tasks as word processing and playing various games.

What do I have to do to these gadgets, particularly the dead ones? Offhand, I got two options: Discard them or have them repaired/almost replaced. The first sounds easy to do but the feeling of ‘loss’ dissuades me from doing it. The other option is, of course, costly.

I understand that PC users in the advanced countries don’t take it as a big problem as strong lobby and advocacy have pressured their governments to enforce PC recycling programs. But what about in the Philippines? Searching the Internet gave me the knowledge on how to proceed with disposing of my dead notebooks.

In general, an owner of old PCs should bear in mind the effect on the environment of old computers not-well-discarded of. While letting your digital stockpile linger on for years is hazardous, improper disposal is much more dangerous. Toxic e-wastes, with the lead, mercury, cadmium, and other hazardous materials, decrease the land’s productivity and pollute the waters. Think of this every step of the following ways:

  1. Look for a friend who’s privy about computer technology stuff. Seek opinion on what to do with the old machine. S/he must be knowledgeable on how to disassemble the computer into reusable parts: Monitor, hard disk, floppy drive, cdrom, physical memory, motherboard, etc. Plan with him/her on how to dispose of them through selling or donation. (Hey, jeepney drivers/operators may buy your CDROMs.)
  2. If you don’t know that person, locate a nearest customer sales office of the company that manufactured your computer. (Asking around and searching the Internet are your friends.) Call its attention and negotiate on the recycling terms. Most major PC vendors have PC recycling programs. Visit their web sites to find out.
  3. Or, locate a computer repair shop. Talk to the owner or manager. You must be convinced that the shop has a clear, environment-friendly ways of disposing of the non-usable stuff. If you are, then transact the sale of your old machine.

Anyway, before you dispose of your hard disks, make sure to reformat them if you don’t want your personal data to be revealed to others. The better if you give your buyers/recipients a brief education on the effects of toxic e-waste on the environment so that they, too, may be guided on how to dispose of the stuff when the time comes.

Mother earth advocates say no to Vista

A European section of environmentalists was the first social movement to come out with a strongly-worded opposition to Windows Vista.

True, Vista makes heavy use of hardware energy a day-to-day chore for businesses and PC users. It’s both adding up to the electricity bills and sending low-end/old machines to the landfill sites, thus causing further imbalance in the ecology.

I wonder if Filipino greens would follow suit. Vista is supposed to be launched today in Manila and I don’t know whether they’d show up in key cities where it is going to be launched.

Arroyo’s pro-mining stance undermines church’s campaign against Mining Act

When I heard about the ‘successful’ dialogue between Arroyo and members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), I said to myself, “ah, OK. Kudos to Arroyo for this PR event. And good luck to the bishops; may Arroyo listen to their prayer.”

Two months have passed, now I heard that Arroyo will not repeal, much less amend, the Republic Act 7942 (Mining Act of 1995). This after the strong recommendation by the independent commission that studied the violation by the Australian firm Lafayette of the Clean Water Act when it discharged waste water with high cyanide content into Rapu-Rapu’s creeks in October 2005.

There. Congratulations are still in order for Arroyo for having pleased the Australian firm as well as other mining corporations wanting to take out more ounces of gold from our forests. Good luck is still in order for the bishops for the continued fight against the evils of the Mining Act of 1995. (Honestly, I am one with them in this fight.)

The Inquirer seemed to propose that government is in a dilemma whether to give in to the interests of the mining firms boasting of jobs and income for the country or to listen to the qualms of the affected communities, which have not really benefitted from the mining operations at all.

Arroyo is not concerned at all about the issue. She will not shift in her seat unless she sees a national unrest, as what the CBCP forewarns of.