When Eve planted the first seed

22 Jan

Had it not been for the advent of agriculture, we probably would be experiencing a different set of problems right now.

Have you ever thought about life before now? How our ancestors lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and how to actually live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle? One needs to constantly move and with this constant movement you are restricted to the bare essentials – there were simply no Samsonite trolleys during that time. As Spencer Wells (2010) mentions in his book (Pandora’s Seed), the hunter-gatherer lifestyle limited the number of children people could have probably not just because of a “complex feedback loop with the environment” but because they didn’t have the idle time and relaxing atmosphere that would have been conducive to coitus. Time was probably spent more on moving and thinking where next to move.

But the discovery that plants and animals can be domesticated changed this hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Our ancestors saw the wonders of settling in villages and having food available by their side. Little did they know (and we know) that this shift in lifestyle and discovery of domestication would literally change the world. Population expanded, accumulation of resources was introduced along with the idea of exchange or barter – which our era has taken into a whole different level.

During the weekend, after reading some papers on agricultural development discourse, I found myself wondering at my view of poverty especially in the rural area. It also reminded me of the time when I spent a couple of days with indigenous Aetas in Manabayucan (Philippines) in 2005, how their life changed after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, with one of them saying, “We got to know what money is… and that changed everything.”

Does our view or definition of poverty in the agricultural rural area really poverty? Is subsistence living really poverty? Is production of rice for one’s family a bad thing? Is it really better for farmers to shift to commercial farming, invest in agricultural inputs, and increase production? In the era of large-scale farming, even if farmers modernize, they will not win against the giants.

This also begs the question of context, of which economy we are advocating for. Arturo Escobar (1995) talks of two possibilities: a livelihood economy and market economy. The livelihood economy is a notch higher than what is commonly called hand-to-mouth existence, it is driven by the simplest want of being able to live and maintain living conditions, which are constituted by not just material needs but also by cultural traditions and beliefs. The market economy, as you would have guessed by now, is driven by acquisition and by putting exchange value on products. Which of the two are you living in?

I was reminded of this by a piece from someone I consider one of my mentors, where his envisioned living place (Nowhere Island) is one “where  compassion is the currency, where solidarity is the only debt people owe one another.” I would not be so bold as to suggest that this may be reminiscent of the hunter-gatherer era but I believe at one point in mankind’s existence, we have already been through this but did not recognize that this was the peak of living.

Spencer Wells says something about “transgenerational power” where our ancestors were not aware of the consequences of what they were doing before but corollary to transgenerational power is intergenerational power, where by presently thinking that discoveries and development will aid future generations, we are actually not thinking of the other side of the coin, the other consequences that may actually negate what development can bring.

When Eve planted the first seed is pretty much the same today or yesterday. Short-term thinking brought us chlorofluorocarbons and lead as well as methyl bromide. It’s also bringing us towards a high carbon future.


A beautiful mind and heart

30 Nov

When I hear the word “manager,” I immediately associate it with the corporate world. I’m not a big fan of the corporate or business world and it would be safe to say that I am not a big fan of “managers” as well. Throughout the years, I’ve developed an aversion towards them and being near one triggers an allergy.

And thankfully I did not get an allergy today from talking too much about managers, perhaps the word “environmental” softened the impact a bit. It’s a novel combination of words (at least to me): environmental + manager. Perhaps I’ve only read or heard this combination of words thrice in my life (okay, an accurate approximation would probably be less than 10 times).

It sounds nice, sounds like a very important person when put in the context of employment. If I hear someone say, “Hi, I’m an environmental manager,” surely I’d be impressed but I would also quickly revert to a state of confusion. What exactly does an environmental manager do and, in light of today’s class discussion, how is an environmental manager different from any of them corporate managers?

There is a lot of food for thought in today’s discussion of the soup of  “mindsets” that an ideal manager (vis-a-vis environmental manager) should have. I believe that, in the real world, finding a manager with a perfect mix of reflective, analytical, collaborative, action, and worldly mindsets would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but it probably would not hurt to aspire to reach this level. But the “mindsets” that an environmental manager is even more ambitious: it’s a mix of the conventional analytic, collaborative, action mindsets and the new careful and earthly mindsets.

The ideal would be that environmental managers should more than strive to assimilate these mindsets because they would be managing not just people but living things that have the potential to outlive them. In our group discussion, it has been brought up that environmental managers should also have an “ethical mindset,” taking into consideration that managing a swamp is not like managing a worker who could speak his mind out when he is being exploited. But since this topic of ethics (and value, as was mentioned in class) is not just a “mind” matter but a “heart” matter as well, I guess there should also be a “heart set” in addition to “mind set.”

Anyone can be a manager but to be an environmental manager, to me, requires more than just a beautiful mind. I know that Sir David Attenborough said that, in addressing environmental problems, campaigners must appeal to logic and not to pity or emotions. I agree with him but, being humans, I’m sure emotions will play a role one way or another on decision-making (emotions as a possible source of bias). So, perhaps, the best thing that an environmental manager should do (when making conflicting decisions) is to follow what Marilyn vos Savant (Guinness world record holder for highest IQ) has said, “If your head tells you one thing, and your heart tells you another, before you do anything, you should first decide whether you have a better head or a better heart.”