Eco-Friendly Biking Event Defeats the Purpose

Biking event

Biking is a wonderful hobby that is hailed by many as a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and keep your body fit at the same time. I love biking, even though here in the Philippines, I never bike along national roads because of the unfortunate hazards and struggles that accompany the activity.

However, many biking events that aim to promote this delightful hobby make the huge mistake of holding it within highly urbanized and heavy traffic-prone areas. Take for example the recently-concluded CalamBikeFest 2016, a segment of which was witnessed by my mom and I last Saturday on our way to the Makiling Botanic Gardens in UPLB. We were going to attend a tree walk with the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, and we decided to take public transportation instead of driving there.

Calambikefest facebook cover
Image from the Calambikefest facebook page

We live in General Trias City, Cavite, and during one leg of the trip, the jeepney ride from Calamba to UP College, we were stuck for several minutes in one spot, longer than what we hoped (we anticipated traffic, but not that heavy!). We later discovered that it was due to all the bicycles passing through the intersection, which the traffic police blocked for the safety of the bikers.

One of the passengers in the jeep audibly complained, “Pahamak itong mga bikers na ‘to” (These bikers are such a nuisance). Which made me feel sad, because biking is such an awesome hobby that everyone should take up if they have even a little time and resource for it.

The event caused a massive buildup of vehicles in the area around SM City Calamba, which has always been prone to heavy traffic in the first place. If you calculate the amount of man-hours wasted and carbon emissions produced due to the traffic jam, whatever benefit the event gave had been outweighed by the damages it caused.

I advocate biking 100%, but large bike events, or any other big occasions for that matter, need to be planned carefully and organized in such a way that other people not involved will not suffer from its consequences. Maybe they should study the traffic flow, and identify the day of the week and time of day when their event would have the least impact. Or hold it in a less busy part of the city.

Otherwise, not only are its objectives of being eco-friendly or promoting heroism (in the case of CalamBikeFest) defeated, they also provoke the ire of the people in the community.

Cotton Buds With Paper Stems? They exist!

By now most everybody has probably seen photos if not watched the video of the poor Olive Ridley Turtle who had a straw stuck up its nose. That’s just one of countless examples of how plastic harms marine life.

Plastic is almost unavoidable nowadays, but I try to minimize my use of it as much as possible. When faced with a choice between products packaged in plastic or glass/paper, I typically choose the latter.

Take for example something as innocuous as cotton buds (or Q-tips, like they say in the US). I always choose the ones that have a paper stem, rather than those with plastic stems.

cotton buds with paper stems
Please choose to use cotton buds with paper stems.

Little decisions like this can make a big impact when everyone cooperates. For the love of turtles (and the planet), please minimize our use of plastic!

What Howie Severino Wants Bloggers to Know

Howie Severino

Before I met him, I knew absolutely nothing about Howie Severino except that he was a broadcast journalist at one of either of the two largest TV networks in the Philippines. I use the term “met” loosely here, as our meeting consisted of a handshake and me mumbling something about how far I came to attend the event where he gave his talk, before we had our photograph taken by my friend.

Now I know that his real name is Horacio Severino and he is (gasp!) a Vice President at GMA 7, with a long and illustrious career in journalism, and several prestigious awards under his belt. (Forgive my lack of knowledge about Philippine television, as I didn’t like watching it and up until a few months ago, didn’t even own a TV). This man, who spoke in front of us in such a friendly, non-gesticulating (he had one hand in his pocket for most of his talk), almost subdued manner, is one of the most trusted and respected names in the industry. This bespectacled man, who was 54 years old but didn’t look a day over 45, who blinked his eyes a bit too much as people asked him questions, is probably the best environmental documentary filmmaker and journalist in the country, and seems like a genuinely humble and awesome human being. I was lucky enough to have been invited to an event where he was the guest speaker.

My first event as a blogger

The event was called Blog Talk: Green Bloggers’ Meet-Up, held yesterday afternoon at the Cocoon Boutique Hotel, a lovely little “eco-friendly” hotel in Quezon City. It was in celebration of World Environment Day (June 5) and Philippine Environment Month (June). Organized by the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it aimed to increase awareness among bloggers about the environmental issues facing the country today. At least I think that was the objective, as sadly I was a bit late (curse you, Aguinaldo Highway!), and missed the introductions, welcoming remarks, and most of the first talk (about illegal trade of wildlife, by Director Mudita Lim of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of DENR).

Updates from the Environment Chiefs

The affair was not so much a meet-up (there wasn’t much chance for us bloggers to exchange anything other than smiles and excuse me’s as we passed each other’s tables) as a seminar where head honchos from the EMB told us how dire the environmental situation was in the Philippines, and that we were all headed for doom (slightly kidding about the last part). There were some good news though, like the improving trend in the air quality in Metro Manila and the adoption of the Euro IV standard in petroleum products, according to the Air Quality Management Section Chief of EMB.

I don’t know why they make the Chiefs present these things, as I believe they are not that well-versed about the technical things. They are probably good managers, but I just get the feeling that if there were no Power Point presentations flashing on the screen, none of them would be able to say anything, at least nothing substantial. I mean, for example, I asked one of them what the government was doing to make clean sources of energy like solar panels more accessible to people, and the guy said something like renewable energy is on the list in one of the slides. I suggest that next time, they truly get to know their presentations or ask someone who knows it better to give the talk.

Songs to sooth the environmentalist soul

Fortunately, the one and only Mr. Noel Cabangon was there to perform songs about the environment. I’ve seen him perform a few times already, but this was the closest I got to him (I was only maybe 3 meters away). Man, he had a beautiful voice! His songs can really send powerful messages that will echo for generations to come. One of the songs he performed was “After the Deluge,” which he dedicated to typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims in 2013. He wrote it in English, one of his few songs in a foreign language, thinking that James Taylor might be interested to record it, but the American singer wasn’t. He finished his number with a rendition of his most famous song “Kanlungan,” made even more popular by the McDonald’s ad in the early 2000s. Oh my God, I do love that song. *sigh*

Be Kind and Friendly

The definitive highlight of the entire afternoon was Mr. Severino’s talk, in which he gave tips on writing blogs. One of the most striking tips he gave was “Be kind and friendly to strangers.” It was striking for its simplicity and sensibility. And I truly believe he lived by that, as he patiently and happily answered questions from the audience, and gave anyone who was eager a chance to take a photo with him. And look, he even liked my tweet!

I’d like to thank my friend and former co-teacher Mr. Dennis Dolojan for extending the invite to me (do visit his really award-winning blog Love Mindanao), and the EMB, especially the secretariat, for putting this event together.

Trees: They’re weird, but they will save humanity

Trees are weird. They harvest sunlight, and eat and poop air.

If you were a tree, parts of you dying would directly make your neighbor grow fatter. I’ve been studying (and teaching) biology for most of my life, but I still find mind-blowing the following sentence from an article from the Journal of Ecology I was reading:

As photosynthesis of C3 plants is not CO2-saturated at [current concentrations], enhanced ‘source activity’ of leaves could stimulate ‘sink activity’ (i.e. growth) of plants.

Let’s take a moment to understand some of the terms in this statement:

C3 plants – These are “normal” plants, meaning they are adapted to moderate amounts of water in the environment. C3 is one of the different types or pathways of photosynthesis, named as such because the first intermediate product is a chemical compound with 3 carbon atoms.

CO2-saturated – Air that has maximum concentration of carbon dioxide. Unlike animals, plants love carbon dioxide because it is the raw material for their food-making.

Source activity – Any activity in a plant when it acts as a source of carbon dioxide, i.e. the gas is released back into the atmosphere, such as when it respires, or sheds body parts, or dies.

Sink activity – Like the article says, it’s an activity in a plant when it takes up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, like when it uses the food it produces to grow more leaves and stems.

Ok so what does this all mean? It means that trees can stimulate each other’s growth by dying.

Take a minute to let that sink in. Mind-blowing, right?

The article explores the possibility that this ability of plants to grow more with increased CO2 levels can be a way of “buying time” for our society to develop ways to mitigate climate change while more carbon is still being pumped into the atmosphere. Trees are anyway the 5th largest storage of carbon on the planet, after rocks, oceans, soils, and the atmosphere. They’ll save the human race from extinction.

Sadly though, it seems that the results of that scientific study indicates that we can count little on such a carbon dioxide-induced growth stimulation to buy us the time we need. This is because growth of mature trees in all the climatic zones they studied, from the Alps to the tropics, seem to be affected insignificantly by increased carbon supply.

We should stop looking for some deus ex machina to come save our planet. Among all the major carbon storage compartments on earth, trees are the ones we can do something about, at least in the sense that we can actively increase their storage of carbon. Our society has the responsibility to exert all efforts to reduce our carbon emission by not wasting energy, reducing fossil fuel burning, adopting a green lifestyle (eat less meat!), and of course, planting more trees and stopping deforestation.

Go and look out your window right now, and say a silent thank you to that humble tree outside, saving your a** from climate change by being weird. Better yet, go and plant a tree!