People and planet in peril | Inquirer Opinion
No Free Lunch

People and planet in peril

Five C’s—Carbon, Celsius, Congestion, Contagion, and Consumption—underpin the events transpiring today, as argued in a new white paper ( released by Brain Trust Inc., a multidisciplinary think tank that I lead.

The paper maintains that the shakeup the entire world is now undergoing could have been mitigated, if not prevented, had we all paid closer attention to these five interlinked challenges manifesting in climate change over time, and right now, in the raging pandemic.


On both threats, the Philippines is among the most vulnerable on earth. On the Global Climate Risk Index 2020 presented last December at the United Nations Climate Conference in Madrid, the Philippines ranked second only to Japan as most at risk.

Recently, the Deep Knowledge Group tagged the Philippines to be among the top 10 countries facing serious risks during the ongoing pandemic, and ranked it the least safe country in the Asia-Pacific region to be in during the pandemic.


How have these five C’s brought us to where we are? Addiction to Carbon, more specifically to hydrocarbon fuels to propel industry, commerce, transport, and most other aspects of our family and community life, has led us to a lifestyle routinely dependent on coal (for power), petroleum (to run our vehicles and engines), and petrochemical products (like chemical fertilizers, plastics, and other products).

Because we import nearly all our requirements of these, it’s a lifestyle that makes us Filipinos vulnerable, and unless we make a decisive shift, we would in due time risk our national security.

At the same time, this carbon addiction has contributed to rising global temperatures (hence Celsius), and all its attendant perils. Its prominent effects on us have been more and stronger typhoons and prolonged droughts, especially in our food baskets in Eastern and Central Luzon, Western Visayas, and Eastern and Central Mindanao, expected to worsen further in the next decade.

Congestion has been the consequence of rural-urban migration that has accelerated with the diminishing reliability of agriculture as a livelihood, climate change being a major force behind this. Our rapid population growth threatens to outpace the carrying capacity of our rich yet fragile resource base.

Our densely populated metropolitan areas already challenge our ability to protect the welfare of urban dwellers. Physical congestion translates into escalated costs due to traffic delays, respiratory and other illnesses, criminality, and provision of basic needs and facilities.

Lately, Metro Cebu has become our country’s COVID-19 hotspot, and together with Metro Manila and Metro Davao, accounts for the highest incidence of the Contagion. Elevated temperatures are also fueling the rise in density of pests, parasites, and pathogens, with viruses now being most prominent.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic heralds a new era of persistent and recurrent public health risks, especially in congested highly urbanized areas, and areas underserved by the limited health care assets of our country.


Finally, unsustainable Consumption marked by highly carbon-using and waste-generating lifestyles has been a major driver of ecological stress.

The rapid rise of our consuming population exacts heavier tolls on product supply chains, linked in turn to the breadth of our carbon footprint, extent of heat generation, congestion in production areas, and to expanded avenues for contagions. Part of the last is the widening interface between humans and animals, to which the recent potent viruses have been traced, as the rapid rise in meat consumption has spurred hiked mass production of animals as well as consumption of wildlife.

Climate change is real, and is fast plummeting into “climate chaos” for the Philippines and for the rest of the world. Yet despite all the scientific evidence gathered by the international science community, there remain people who refuse to see the peril that people and the planet we live in have been subjected to as humanity, Filipinos included, made light of the five C’s.

I’ll discuss what our white paper has to say about the way forward in another article.

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TAGS: Brain Trust Inc., Deep Knowledge Group, global climate risk, pandemic, United Nations Climate Conference
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