Bernardo M. Villegas
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Millennials` Role in Protecting Environment (Part 1)

          The millennials, those born in 1980 or later, will most probably be still alive  in 2050.  By that time, the average life expectancy in the Philippines (hopefully a First World country by then) could easily be beyond 80 years.  Also known as Generation Y, these men and women today—together with Generation Z (those born after 2000)—will be primarily responsible for attaining what is called inclusive and sustainable development.  The business people among them will have to do everything possible to promote the triple bottom line in their respective operations:  people, planet and profit   They have to make sure that they are contributing to the human development of everyone in the society in which they live, especially the poorest among the poor.  This is what is called “inclusive” development.   They have to not only avoid destroying the physical environment through both their consumption and production activities.  They must actually actively protect the ecology.  This is what is called sustainable development at the macro level.  To continue doing good to people and to the environment, they must have the creativity and ability to make their businesses profitable. This is sustainable development at the micro level.

         To use the language of famous author Thomas Friedman in his book “Thank You for Being Late,” those who will lead this country to attain First World status by the year 2050 have to contend with the three giant forces that all began to accelerate with unbelievable speed in 2007, when the first millennials turned 25 years old.  These are the three M’s:  Moore’s Law, Market, and Mother Nature.  Moore’s Law refers to the exponential growth in computing power, a theory first postulated by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore in 1965 that the power of microchips—that is, computational power—would double roughly every year, which he later updated to every two years, for only slightly more money with each new generation.  The second M refers to “The Market” which stands for the acceleration of globalization, i.e. the global flows of commerce, finance, credit, social networks and connectivity which are generally weaving markets, media, central banks, companies, schools, communities, and individuals more tightly together than ever.   Not even US President Donald Trump’s “America First” will be able to disrupt this globalization, especially in the Asia Pacific region.  The third M is “Mother Nature” which refers to climate change, the impact of human activity on the physical environment or the planet.  The baby boomers and Generation X only saw glimpses of these three accelerations.  Generation Y and Z will be the ones to feel the brunt of the “age of accelerations which are impacting on one another—more Moore’s law is driving more globalization and more globalization is driving more climate change, and more Moore’s law is also driving more potential solutions to climate change and a host of other challenges—and at the same time transforming almost every aspect of modern life.”

         We will discuss the third acceleration, climate change, in this series of articles.  We have written much about the market and Moore’s law in the past.  It is time we discuss in great detail the responsibility of the young generation to protect and preserve the physical environment for the sake of future generations.  The millennials and their successor generations are fortunate to have as their main spiritual adviser Pope Francis himself who wrote a trailblazing encyclical on “Care for our Common Home” entitled Laudato Si or “Praise be to You, My Lord” words taken from a beautiful canticle of his patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi.  We should start by reminding all existing generations today about what is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987, the very concept of the “common good.”  Why should every individual feel the responsibility of taking care of our common home?   In paragraphs 156 to 158 of the encyclical, Pope Francis reminds us of what is the common good.  He writes that the human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics.  In its briefest definition, the common good is the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment.  The definition I gave to my follow commissioners in the Constitutional Commission of 1986 that drafted the Philippine Constitution of 1987 is “a social or juridical order which enables every single member of society to attain his or her fullest development economically, politically, culturally, socially, morally and spiritually.”   It is more long-winded but it makes it unmistakably clear that the common good must take into account every human being and every aspect of his or her human existence, or what is called integral human development.

         Through the principle of solidarity, every person must promote the common good.  This means that in his individual actuations, he must always take into account how he is positively contributing to the welfare of everyone else in society, which includes protecting the physical environment.  In matters related to ecology, it is clear that the notion of the common good must extend to future generations.  As Pope Francis wrote in par. 159 of Laudato Si, “The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us.  We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity.  Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.  Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit.  Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us…”

         No one can deny that climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. Pope Francis acknowledges the fact that at the global level, climate is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.  He refers to a very solid scientific consensus that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.  In the summer of 2018, we witnessed the extreme heat in countries like Sweden and Japan and the flooding in South and Southeast Asia, resulting in numerous deaths.  Although there are admittedly other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), a good number of scientific studies have demonstrated that most global warming in recent decades can be explained by the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.  Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space.  The problem is made worse by a way of life based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.  Another contributory factor has been significant changes in the uses of soil, mainly deforestation for agricultural purposes, such as the cutting down of forests in Indonesia for the planting of palm oil and other plantation crops.

         The worst victims of the harm done by climate change are the poor.  Most of them live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.  It is well known that over 70 percent of the Philippine population below the poverty line are in the rural areas and are the ones most dependent on these resources.  As we have experienced during such devastating calamities as the Typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Visayas, the poor have no other financial activities or resources which enable them to adapt to a climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.   (To be continued).