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At Large

Our restless planet

We live on a restless planet. Below us, tectonic plates are shifting, as they have since time immemorial, with the clashing edges producing towering mountains or fiery volcanoes. Magma, boiling to steam-hot temperatures, seeks a way to escape earthly confines, rising as plumes of smoke and ash or as fiery columns illuminating the night sky. And when the heated activity simmers down, we are left beholding a new crater or a new island, earth and rock that has risen from the unknown depths to awe us puny humans.

We hardly feel it, but below our feet is a roiling mass of unstable earth floating above a sea of heated tides. We are caught unawares, until it happens near to or where we are living. But at any time around the world volcanoes are erupting in various degrees of strength and power, temblors are shaking the ground, tides are swirling toward shore, and above us, clashing heated and cooling air produce rain and winds, snow and tornadoes that buffet the earth below.

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Often, we take for granted the planet we live on, forgetting frequently how we are at nature’s mercy and defying the limits of our environment to seemingly bend and use it for our own needs and greed.

Someone posted on social media how the natural shocks and catastrophes we have lately lived through are but nature’s way of expressing its anger at the way we — humanity — have abused its generosity and destroyed its integrity. “Global warming” is a disaster entirely of humankind’s doing, producing heated air and breaching the natural ozone cover through our own carelessness and greed. It is no accident that heated oceans, the result of rising greenhouse gases, have produced weather disturbances of unprecedented fury and unpredictable frequency, while heedless habits of trash disposal and waste production have befouled our creeks, rivers, oceans and the earth.

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Taal Volcano, the iconic “volcano within a volcano” and “lake within a lake,” provided both residents and visitors a serene view from above on the hills of Tagaytay, while providing adventure-seekers a relatively “easy” climb or horse ride through its slopes to its crater that smelled of “rotten eggs.” Today, it is a frightening sight, beautiful in some aspects but alarming for the show of fire and clouds of ash that have turned its surroundings to gray desolation. How quickly nature can turn on us humans! But it is only right, because we have become, through generations, careless caretakers and heedless guardians of our restless planet.

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Still, despite the chaos and threats to health produced by the falling silica and other volcanic material, humanity prevails. At the height of the ashfall and the desperate diaspora of weekend warriors seeking escape from the brewing volcano below, thoughtful residents lined the roadsides providing water for thirsty commuters and spraying unbidden ash-covered windshields to make driving safer for those fleeing Taal’s wrath.

First the Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay, then churches around Cavite and Batangas, opened their doors to desperate refugees. Proprietors of small eateries who had lost their usual weekend customers provided free food for whoever needed a meal. And then local governments, with the Office of the Vice President taking the lead, followed by the Red Cross and other private entities, rushed to the aid of those in need of succor. The only sour note was the call issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government for “donations” of essential goods from the public, even if the national government has billions in relief funds. That, and the crass words of our President who seemingly challenged nature’s fury if only to show off his macho bravado.

As pointed out before, the natural calamities we confront are our own doing, the result of our heedless greed and refusal to prepare adequately and compassionately for the shocks that nature deals us. But the plight of victims and refugees is made worse by government incompetence and indifference — inexcusable unpreparedness given how often the Philippines has to deal with disasters from underground, on the ground and in our swirling, angry skies.

We are caught on our restless planet, and the task at hand is to understand it, prepare for its shocks, mitigate the damage, and lead the recovery to hopefully create a kinder, more compassionate society.

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TAGS: At Large, disaster preparedness, Rina Jimenez-David, Taal Volcano eruption
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