Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Effects of the Mayon Volcano

In the Philippines the Mayon volcano has been dangerously active during the last two days, with lava flows and continuous ash explosions threatening the surrounding population. As should be expected, the government has been evacuating the local villages, but many are refusing to leave, afraid that their cattle and crops will be ruined or stolen. There are two inspiring aspects of this story on if you read carefully. First would be the evacuations, and even though they are forced and have elicited a strict curfew to prevent those from returning, it seems to be rooted with honest best intentions. Second is the support being given by the Philippine government. The provincial government only has the resources for 4 weeks, when it looks like it will be 4 months before people can return to their homes. But:

“Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza Cabral said some P98-million worth of relief goods would be made available to the evacuees in the province.

Cabral said the relief goods would be on top of the P22-million calamity fund that the DSWD would be using for relief and rehabilitation of affected residents.”

The Philippines lay on a part of the ‘Ring of Fire’, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have a long history of volcanic activity. The most recent disaster was on Mount Pinatubo, which Ed covered. In order to save the nearby city of Dapdap from mudslides, large dikes were built to reroute the threat. Unfortunately, these new routes forced the mud to wipe out the indigenous people. The Aetas, who inhabited the villages surrounding the volcano, had no choice but to move to the city and take up begging as their their livelihood.

It remains to be seen if this will repeat itself, but for the time being it looks like a lesson in humanity has been learned. Perhaps this is written with a heavy dose of naiveté, but it doesn’t seem so. The people’s lives being guarded (even though the delicacy of their tactics is questionable) and aid and shelter are readily available.

Mount Pinatubo opens up another discussion. On June 15th, 1991, the volcano shot sulfur dioxide 25 miles into the stratosphere, which caused the world’s temperature to drop slightly. That was merely one volcano, and even though the eruption was epic in scale, the delicacy of the Earth was painfully illustrated. We are indebted to volcanic activity for our continents, arable land and lives, but the change in temperature is easily paralleled. If one volcano can do so much, why is it so impossible to understand that we are causing the same effect? And yes, the damage of the volcano was not lasting, but ours doesn’t have to be either. As the volcano hanging above Legazpi City readies to blow, keep in mind how fragile our world is, and how important it is for us to take responsibility for our actions, here and abroad, humanitarian and environmental.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Bedrock of our Liberties

The Climate Summit has 2 days left, which has put more pressure on the negotiators, forcing them to find real results in a shorter amount of time. As developments inside the Summit large enough, marked events outside are undoubtedly much more dramatic. Protests, arrests, physical altercations and everything else you’d expect from demonstrations of this scale are the result of voices trying desperately to be heard. There’s one complaint being raised; one I don’t think can be overlooked. It is a statement in defense of all those in third world countries, those not fortunate enough to live in the modern city of Copenhagen or the affluent continent of Europe, those unable to efficiently use tools like the internet, and they’re those who the changing climate will most drastically effect.

The declaration is that this summit is not a democratic event.

I’d venture to say that we don’t appreciate the time and world we live in. As far as written record goes, the first true human experiment with Democracy came to fruition with the Ancient Greeks at around 500 BCE. As that democracy fell to the Romans and their Republic, which fell to the Caesars, we saw a consistent representative government lasting only around 450 years (in the West).

That’s a long time, but there were moments in Ancient Greece where a democratic government was either put on hold during a war or usurped, and there were certainly other city states that didn’t follow the same trend, so to say that the Golden Age was as humane and progressive as most of popular culture would like to remember is actually very hard to back up. Regardless, the spirit was there and 450 years is impressive. However, take that out of the 4,000 years civilizations had been around up to that point and in the grand scheme of things that 450 was a (valorous) short experiment.

It isn’t until the end of the 18th century that we really see the spirit of democracy rise again with the French and American revolutions. And here we are in the U.S., a little over 200 years afterwards, having a the blood of a terrible Civil War, years of atrocious slavery, one devastating financial crash, and the swings to and fro conservative laws that stifle our civil liberties more than we’d like to admit. Can we really say that Democracy, when held up to the time line of humanity, is really as strong a force to be reckoned with? I don’t believe so.

But we’re bold: Nations from around the world have met this week in what you could consider it’s own representative world government trying to reach an end. What the world is trying right now, what the world has been trying since the end of the First World War is admirable. Yet, there are problems, and so when the protesters outside of the Climate Summit voice their well-founded concern that this meeting is not democratic, they are right in doing so and should be applauded. This meeting is not truly democratic when you think of the number of people, the number of nations in this world that are voiceless, and it is our job, the people’s job, the indigenous populations of this world’s job is to make sure that we all consistently have a say. When you look at human history, it is too easy for our governments to fall back into dictatorships, or oligarchies. As the world shrinks it becomes easier for meetings such as this Summit to be held, and it’s easier for those with influence… to influence. Those without access to the sort of communication that many of us have need to be represented. And this is why Journalism is essential to this world, especially in this world of mass communication.

My degree was in Philosophy, not Photography or graphic arts, so Ed’s world is almost completely foreign to me. I had a basic knowledge of cameras and darkrooms, been to a few exhibits, know enough about art to get by in a conversation, but that’s it. The first couple months were a little overwhelming, since before I wrote anything I would have to sit down, and research what each exhibit, event, photographer, organizer and organization was about, what each gallery focused on, what that focus precisely meant. I figured that if I looked like an idiot, Ed would too, and that wasn’t acceptable in my mind. As the months go by, and I learn more and more about his field (since, admittedly I’m still very ignorant), learn the ins and outs of photojournalism I’m also learning how important this whole effort is.

There is a huge community out here that, unlike most other fields, is not insular. Photography seems to be able to break down many walls, perhaps because it has the ability to be used in print media standing alone or with a written article. Maybe because the ‘thousand words’ saying is true? I’m not entirely sure, but I am certain that expression is the bedrock of our liberties, and a journalist’s job is to express the facts about whatever corner of the world they’ve decided to report on.


Climate Change Is Not About Politics

As the nations of the world meet at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, we should all realize the importance of stemming human activity's contribution to not only climate change, but almost more profoundly the pollution and despoiling of our mother earth. Whatever is causing climate change is irrelevant on some level, in my mind, it's the fact that human activitiy is a sore on this earth. Anyone who lives or has spent time in an overcrowded city in Asia, Africa, Latin America or even on bad days in the US, cannot avoid noticing how we have ruined our air, water and increasingly our general habitation. Climate change should not be politicized or made a business issue. It's about how we live on this planet and how we treat ourselves, our environment and what kind of world we want to live in and leave for our future generations.

Please take the time to use these links, as each is more educational than the next.