environment 9: sustainable devt

22 October 2009

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AS
SPIRITUAL AND REVOLUTIONARY PRAXIS

Junie Kalaw

Toward the end of this century as of the last one, dramatic changes have taken place under the impact of, among others, the industrial revolution, two world wars, struggles for political independence, the internationalization of economics, and the globalization of mass media.  These forces have had shearing effects on the fabric of political and economic society, some appearing first as part of the solution, even a boon (like pesticides), and only later as a problem.   Through all these changes and upheavals, the structures of oppressive domination have persisted on different levels occasionally changing external form but otherwise entrenched firmly enough in society to continue denying Filipinos and other Third World populations their freedom and autonomy.

Today’s Revolutionary Conditions

Poverty remains the Philippines’ major problem, aggravated by the depletion of our natural resources, the impending breakdown of our life-support systems, and the high rate of our population growth.  With our remaining forests down to less than 800,000 hectares, only 20% of our coral reefs in good condition, 18 major river systems biologically dead, 13 provinces severely eroded, fresh-water reservoirs drying up, and the population requiring 40% more food by the year 2000, we face a critical situation and time is not on our side.

The deterioration of the Philippine environment is traceable to economic activities designed to support the consumption needs of other countries.  Ecological footprints of the development of industrialized countries are to be seen not only in our degraded ecology but also in the waste that is exported back to us.   This historical trail of international trade based on the exploitation of our natural resources by former colonial masters has piled up ecological debts that remain uncompensated.   Sadly, this system of “ecological colonialism” has been institutionalized in the present international economic order.

Highlighting the crisis are new perspectives from ecological economists like Herman Daly and Robert Goodland.  They see our economic system as an open system functioning with the closed system that is our planet’s biosphere.  With the current global economy amounting to about US$32 trillion, we are consuming 40% of the primary production of terrestrial photosynthetic energy from the sun.  This means that in one doubling time, we will be using 80%, a condition that with its attendant waste may exceed the “carrying capacity” of the planet.  Thus it is posited that there is no room for aggregate economic growth and that sustainable economic growth for everyone is not possible.  This raises such issues as the rights of poor countries to their equitable share of remaining clean space, access to their own natural resources, access to information and technology, and bargaining power in markets.  Further, inasmuch as the relationship between rich and poor is a function of power, there is nothing to stop the rich from using this self-same power to maintain their wasteful consumption patterns and perpetuate an inequitable system.

Revolution Based on Reconciliation

Pope John Paul II in Rome calls it a “moral crisis,” the lack of a “morally coherent world view.”  A lumad datu in Mount Apo ascribes it to a foreign belief system that has exiled God to the heavens so that we no longer see God in the trees, streams, mountains, and animals, nor in our fellow humans.  The reference is to the same fundamental gap between our personal ethics and the system’s ethics, and the need for a systems ethics which translates personal decisions in to decisions for the common good.  More concretely, it is the gap between what is an honest living for loggers and what is good for the environment and the common welfare.   The gap is widened not just by plain greed but also by a moral and ethical blindness to, and lack ofcomprehension of, the norms for a just and sustainable functioning of bigger systems.

At its worst, the gap renders futile church teachings on honesty and love for the poor on account of its inability to translate doctrine in terms of land reform or equitable wages or conservation of forest and marine resources.  In the end we realize that we have not yet found our wholeness.  We have yet to manage successfully the integration of personal and social transformation.  The exception was the EDSA Revolution, when a critical mass of Filipinos got their inner and outer values together and created the spiritual and political space that made the sharing of pan de sal across military defenses an operative Communion of the People, and that produced transformative political change, but which, unfortunately, we were unable to sustain.

Nowhere is the fundamental gap between personal ethics and systems ethics more dramatic and disastrous than in the policy of equal access to the benefits of creation.  Whereas in an ecological system life flows, sustaining and fulfilling the lives of all in a process we can call “ecological justice,” in the current system control over and access to life-giving natural resources are awarded to a privileged few — a situation which has produced the poverty and resource depletion that imperils our life-support systems.  Moreover, we have cast the responsibility and accountability for these effects to the impersonal free enterprise and market systems.

The conflict between our economic system and nature’s ecological processes has been a fundamental cause of the destruction of our ecosystems.  While natural systems consist of organic unities such as families, communities, cultures, and ecosystems, we manage to evaluate and reward our economic activities according to functional sectors and enterprise organizations.  We gauge national development by adding the production of these sectors and industries into a gross national product (GNP); not measured are local community welfare and ecosystem enhancement.  This has resulted in a big normative gap between the welfare of corporations, both transnational and national, and the welfare of local ecologies and communities.  The bridging of this gap requires more than just environmental protection measures or community projects by business enterprises.   It requires a whole re-orientation of the way we do business and a re-discovering of the true essence of hanapbuhay, a truly Filipino concept that searches for the life-flow, like the Kalinga concept of wealth that is based on the enrichment of life rather on a life of personal enrichment.  We cannot relegate this revisioning to our economists and government planners alone.  We need to take responsibility for our country’s economic development models, policies, and practices, and to participate in the political processes that will enable us to create a just and sustainable future not only for ourselves but for the generations of Filipinos to come.

Politics, whose primordial function is to serve the welfare of the whole, is the human activity that should be most spiritually informed.  Most efforts at political reconciliation have as their objective the consolidation of power under the ruling regime.  Thus, one presently sees accommodations being made with the forces of he past dictatorship under the pretext of hastening the healing of the nation.  What needs reconciliation and healing is not the gap between contending politicians with vested interests but the gap between their interests and the welfare of the people, between the welfare of the state bureaucracy and the welfare of the environment and local communities.   This requires the relocation of authority from the ideologies of political parties to the reality of the interdependence of life in an ecology; the re-vesting of power from the centralized bureaucracy of state, party committee, and church to persons in communities; the affirmation of the subsidiarity of parts and the ecological and spiritual solidarity of wholes; and the establishment of a local citizenship and a global polity.

It is a reconciliation that needs to find a new concept of security and management of changes in the shift from national security based on militarization and armaments to a “natural” security based on securing clean water, fertile soil, fresh air, and food.  It requires a fundamental re-orientation of power from one based on the accumulation of goods and information to one based on the capacity to make goods and information flow, where power becomes something one does not hold on to but something ope opens up to for the life process to flow in service to others.

Such a reconciliation gives witness to the great lesson of ecology that all life is interconnected and echoes the teachings of all great spiritual traditions that the governance of communities is a sacred task, whether we call it the Christian Mystical Body, the Moslem Uhma, or the Kalinga ili.

Conversion and Renewal

Christian churches are now seeking an alternative to the ruling anthropocentric model of man subduing the earth.  The new theological understanding of creation spans a spectrum of interpretations: the sacramentalist model, where everything is a manifestation of God; the stewardship model, which argues for the sustainable use of power, knowledge, and natural resources; the creative model expounded by Matthew Fox, where God is ever “birthing and nurturing creation”; the Franciscan model of kinship of “brother sun and sister moon”; and the evolutionary model of Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry.  They all have broadened the praxis of faith to include “justice, peace, and Integrity of Creation” and redefined “a spirituality that integrates our faith and our daily lives and all of Creation.”

Here at home, in defense of what we Filipinos call lupang hinirang (beloved country), the Philippine Independent Church recently announced its advocacy of a total ban on commercial logging for 25 years.  Following the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter “What Is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” and the involvement of bishops and parish priests in blockading logging trucks on Bukidnon, picketing DENR offices in Nueva Ecija, and apprehending illegal loggers in Cagayan, there is clearly an escalation of activism among Christian churches and a growing concern for the integrity of life on earth.

A more concise expression of the revolutionary message of the Gospel has yet to be made by any church group in the Philippines, but it is important to remember that the times call for a new conversion.   In the past, conversion was brought about by mediation between people and the Divine, or between people and other people.  Today’s need is a mediation between people and nature, a mediation we call “sustainable development.”  It is a conversion that comes from revelations through nature, revelations that link polarities into higher levels of integration and renewal, revelations that affirm the integrity of God’s creation whose truth lies beyond contending ideological positions and is encompassed in an ecology.  It will come from re-remembering what our indigenous Filipinos knew about the sacredness of the land, our lupang hinirang.  It will come from re-experiencing the tradition of nurturing the Earth, our tipan sa Mahal na Ina.  It will come from responding to the biblical revelations to be stewards of the earth.  A conversion where “carrying capacity” becomes the operative term for compassion, and the patterns of community life a metaphor for wholeness.  It will require the devolution of power away from its institutional sites in the bureaucracies of state, party, and even church, and into people in the communities as the locus of the Mystical Body.   It will empower people to participate in the creative act of sustainable development by witnessing the Spirit that runs through all life.

This kind of conversion will gain its meaning from the operationalization of sustainable development strategies, programs, and projects.   It will need to find expression on the level of communities, affirming their cultural identity while cherishing diversity by upholding (1) indigenous rights to ancestral land, (2) equal rights for women, (3) social equity through agrarian, aquatic, and urban land reform, and social forestry, and (4) an ecologically sound economic system that is community-based and exports only ecological surplus or excess carrying capacities.  It will practice the sustainable utilization of natural resources, clean production technologies, and the proper recycling and disposal of waste.  It will come from governance that is based on moral values translated into public good, a democratic participatory process, a system called Pamathalaan — Pamamahalang nakatindig sa sariling taal at nakahandog kay Bathala.

In the final analysis, sustainable development depends on the personal conversion, commitments, and communion of everyone.   It needs a conversion that translates into personal choices regarding what to consume and what lifestyle to live.   In a post-modern age, it will mean making a conscious choice from among the diversity of options brought about by modernization.  Many of these options will be offered by expert systems where people have little control over processes, whether these be biogenetic systems that program the sex of our offspring or communications systems that tell us we are what we consume.  They will involve matters disembedded from space-time locality so that we no longer directly experience the consequences of our actions.  Such will be the landscape of a “post-modern revolution.”  The future will therefore need the wisdom of our historical traditions, the moral anchors of our faith, and our living communion with all people and God’s creation.

Enviroscope, Haribon Foundation Bulletin, December 1993

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