Ecological Emergency: Urging for Global Solidarity
It is obvious by now the destructive effects of climate change, which is more appropriate to call an emergency at this point. In North America, there are wildfires in the West that made many homeless, while in the East was a chain of hurricanes. In Africa, drought has been a perennial problem that remains to be addressed, which has taken many lives in the process. Today, Africa together with Asia and some European countries experience cyclones that are fiercer than before with an unprecedented amount of rainfall leaving many families displaced and crops destroyed. This climate emergency increases the number of people homeless and hungry each passing year. Time and again the Catholic Church has made us reflect on the urgency to address and take immediate action on our current climate condition. Climate scientists for decades have warned us that climate will be irreversible when it reaches 2 degrees Celsius. Hence, global solidarity is a must to address the situation and to come up with immediate action to mitigate its worsening destructive effects.
In 1988, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a Pastoral Letter on Ecology, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” It was a reminder that the Philippines, a predominantly agricultural and aquatic-based industry was becoming less productive due to soil degradation, while fisherfolk increasingly struggle to have an abundant catch. This is besides other environmental issues such as pollution and deforestation. It has been more than two decades since the CBCP letter was issued and the environmental situation has worsened. In my numerous visits to Sagada, Benguet (located in the Northern part of the Philippines), nearly a year ago, I had a conversation with a farmer turned tourist guide, who shared his current struggles in farming. He told me that farming in their place has become challenging each year, not because of the typhoons, but due to unfamiliar pests that destroy their crops. Their soil condition has changed a lot; he and his fellow farmers attribute this to climate change. This is the reason that many of them opt to be local guides because the income they get from it provides food on their tables than when they do farming.
As a local response to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’, in July 2019, the Letter by the CBCP, “An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion, Hope in the Face of Climate Emergency,” reiterates that the destruction of biodiversity in the name of progress and development directly affects the marginal especially those living the rural areas, where the environment is their source to sustain everyday life, hence environmental crisis and poverty reinforce each other. In addition, for indigenous communities and rural residents, their surrounding areas, trees/plants, land, and water is where they get their food, medicine, have their shelter and source of livelihood. As observed and experienced by the farmer-tourist guide I mentioned earlier, they saw that the imbalance in the ecosystem has resulted in more challenges in farming that translate to an economic struggle to sustain their families. Further, because of the increasing demand for technology, it is no secret that mining also creates an imbalance in the ecosystems, which results in irreversible damage to biodiversity.
Industries as well as human demand and consumption have pushed the environment to its brink. Our unsustainable activities and lifestyle, be it small and indirect have contributed to the ecological emergency we are experiencing today. In addition, we must remember that mining, logging, and dam construction activities are commonly within the areas where indigenous communities settle, and the repository of ecosystem and biodiversity are located.
On the corporate industry level, there is a need to re-imagine responsible capitalism by instilling corporate moral suasion. Indeed, we have heard about the “Green New Deal,” yet there are some who oppose it. Likewise, there are opposing poles on energy sources such as nuclear and renewable energy. The group that advocates nuclear energy sees this as the immediate response to mitigate or control the rise of the global temperature. Their basic argument is that nuclear energy needs less land space and only a small amount of uranium is needed to power a large area. Also, it could sustain energy for a long time, unlike renewable energy that is unstable and harmful for the environment because it must level vast land areas to construct solar plants and wind turbines. Such leveling of the land reduces the land for crops, could displace wildlife, and could have unforeseen effects on biodiversity later. Similarly, the production of renewable energy entails mining, which depletes natural resources and destroys nature is also part of nuclear energy advocates in their argument. Contrary to this claim, renewable energy advocates see this source as sustainable because it relies on nature. It is just a matter of using and enhancing what nature is giving us. For them, nuclear energy is harmful because of the harmful effects of nuclear waste. Further, there is a high probability of the proliferation of nuclear arms production. This can pose danger because nuclear plants can be a target in times of war, not to mention the destructible natural calamities, such as the incident in Fukushima, Japan. Any nuclear power plant leaks will surely be devastating not only for the current generation, but to its succeeding ones, such as the incident in Chernobyl.
As stated earlier, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has aligned its recent letter on ecology with the Laudato si’, urging the people to act on the climate emergency starting with an ecological conversion. This crisis does not only displaced people, but has also has destroyed crops and waters resulting in food insecurity, especially in developing countries. This ecological emergency is not only an environmental concern, but it is also an economic and moral issue, yet its slow response is clouded by (geo)politics. Further, this ecological emergency does not only damage the environment, but it also creates a greater degree of imbalance, both in human lives and to nature. Accept it or not, all of us have a share in the deteriorating condition of our planet, be this direct or indirect, large or small. The planet now is disfigured and there are areas where its original state can no longer be regained. To use the graphic description of Pope Francis, our planet is more like “an immense pile of filth.” Efforts are being done to protect the environment, like that in Cambodia, this is through indigenous activists. It is unknown that the rainforest in Cambodia is the last of its kind in Asia. The activists work tirelessly to protect the forest by reporting illegal logging of Resin Trees to government authorities and proper international organizations. This is with the hope that they will be assisted in tracking and stopping the illegal logging that presents a danger to the community. Unfortunately, there have been incidents that greatly concern the activist in their fight against deforestation, because they become the victims of violence, intimidation, and threat to be silenced. As asserted by Catholic social principles that one cannot claim being just to nature “if our hearts lack . . . concern for our fellow human beings.” Indeed, such lack of concern towards nature translates to indifference to one’s fellow, which is evident in the struggles of fisherfolk in a particular coastal community in the Philippines.
Territorial Waters Aggression and Food Security
In the Philippines, the building of artificial islands within the country’s exclusive economic zone by China and the presence of hundreds of Chinese militia are not only a form of militarization or tactical geopolitics in the area, a territorial force grabbing by the same state and the blatant destruction of the coral reefs, but there is a subtext here — food security.
It is obvious that intimidation is the tactic of Chinese militias pushing out local fisherfolk who have the legal rights to freely fish within our exclusive economic zone to begin with. Yet China is claiming 80% of the area in the disputed waters and who have aggressively sequestered it results in a significant decrease of catch for the fishermen and thus providing less for local consumption, both for their families and the local community. In recent reports, there is a 75% decrease in fish stocks in the last two decades in the said territorial waters. Such action of China does not only threaten (and has damaged) the environment, but its ill effect is felt in the survival of Filipinos dependent on the daily catch of the fishermen that will secure food for Filipino families in the local and other parts of the country. Before the unlawful and aggressive claim of China on the disputed waters, their catch was abundant according to residents in the coastal communities. Before 2016, fishermen claim that they previously catch fish in cranes, but now, being barred from entering their territorial waters by Chinese militia, their catch is significantly diminished into pails. What is most frustrating is that Mr. Duterte, the highest leader in the land apathetically admitted his being unless (inutil) in asserting the rights of his people against China. Though he is indeed incompetent and good for nothing leader on the issue of protecting his people, it is still good to know that there are sensible and concerned citizens devoid of fear, who recently filed a case against Xi Jinping. In September 2020, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has joined a legal team in suing Chinese officials, including Xi for crimes against humanity for China’s illegal incursions in the disputed waters before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Philippines has won the territorial claims of the exclusive economic zone in the Hague, but is arrogantly disclaimed by China who insists that the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS) yield to their (Beijing) historical rights and maritime entitlements over the disputed area, which are contrary to the UNCLOS and is without lawful effect. The case states that China’s illegal moves in the West Philippine Sea have not only resulted in ‘environmentally destructive and illegal reclamations and artificial island buildings” but it likewise deprived Filipino fishermen of their only means of livelihood as the Chinese blocked, harassed, intimidated, and threatened them from casting their nets in contested waters under Xi’s rule. Other illegal moves by China is the swarming of Chinese militia vessels within the territorial sea, which is permanently occupied by Filipino communities. In this case, the ICC has the basis to review the case filed against Chinese officials.
Despite this move by concerned citizens, China remains hostile to Filipino fishermen (and even to neighbouring Viet Nam) who prevents them from pursuing their livelihood and to secure food for their communities, which is essential to the peoples’ survival. We must remember that the Chinese militia does not only prevent Filipino fishermen to cast their nets, but they were hostile, attested by an incident last June 2019. The incident reported that a Chinese militia vessel rammed a Filipino fishing vessel that sank the boat and put the lives of 22 Filipinos in danger, leaving them floating on the waters. It was only when a Vietnamese vessel came and rescued the Filipinos.
These concerned citizens had enough of China’s aggression against Filipinos. They believe that the case filed against Xi and his officials has a strong basis to hold them criminally liable and imprisoned under the ICC statute. China is callously committing crimes against Filipinos and its neighbouring coastal inhabitants, which merits a legal case in their crimes against humanity.
In the end, we can no longer be indifferent; because indifference is committing an injustice both to humans and the environment. An extremely consumeristic society, an economic system that is global capitalism is (de)void of social responsibility that sequestered leave much impoverished and nature is exploited. We have lost touch of the sense of common good, the lives of (indigenous) communities, and the rights of nature. As St. Francis of Assisi once said, that “inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace,” yet this seems forgotten by many especially those involved in the global market economy. Pope Francis has reiterated what was said before by his predecessors, that the market must recognize its limits and that “profit cannot be the sole criterion of decision.” In these unprecedented times, we must consciously place the lives of humans and nature in the decisions we make each day.
If there is global solidarity in finding a vaccine for COVID 19, why cannot the same be applied on the issue of an environmental emergency, because of us living on the planet are affected: humans, wildlife, and the entire ecosystem. Immediate action on this climate crisis has been long delayed. There is a need to afford rights to nature that for thousands of years have given much to us for free, yet in exchange we destroy it. The call is clear from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’, which is echoed by CBCP’s 2019 letter, that an ecological conversion is imperative, now. The CBCP made suggestions that could be a step for an ecological conversion. Here are some suggestions they presented that can be applied in our respective locales:
(1) calls for the creation of “ecology desk” in every social action centres where ecology is their main concern to address
(2) have ecological programs from the diocese level down to its parishes and its ministries.
(3) on an individual level, it has to be “sapat dapat” or live simply (less is more).
(4) to integrate this ecological awareness in Catholic educational institutions both private and religious formations.
(5) collaborate with networks within the international bodies to pressure industries that engage in environment destruction, directly or indirectly.
(6) most fundamental is to respect and recognize indigenous knowledge.
One of the things we can do for this season where the spirit of giving is most alive and thereafter to dom is to make today sustainable and livable for the future of all the living on this planet. An act of gratitude to the One who gave this gift of life to all of us.
Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year to all.
 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). 2019. An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion, Hope in the Face of Climate Emergency. July 16. Available online: https://cbcponline.net/an-urgent-call-for- ecological-conversion-hope-in-the-face-of-climate-emergency/ (accessed on 4 October 2020).
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si: Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home, (Vatican: Vatican Press, 2015), 21. http://www.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf
 Melissa Luz Lopez, “Carpio joins team suing Xi Jinping for crimes against humanity in the South China Sea,” CNN Philippines, September 16, 2020, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/9/16/Antonio-Carpio-ICC-crimes-against-humanity-Xi-Jinping.html?fbclid=IwAR1Hi_8OfeQvHkcLJP4HSarg4jAfgmh7wTmk_lNL3-i3InK04TCk0Eegk1E (accessed October 12, 2020) and Sofia Tomacruz, “Justice Carpio joins powerhouse ICC complaint vs. China,” Rappler.com, September 16, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/carpio-joins-international-criminal-court-complaint-vs-china (accessed October 12, 2020).
 Francis, Laudato Si, no.10
 Ibid., no. 187