Poverty, population and pollution

I have addressed the interconnection of poverty, pollution, deforestation and population piecemeal in different entries but wanted to respond to the news of immigrants from the poorest and fastest growing populations on the planet drowning in the Mediterranean while trying to reach the shores of countries that have achieved both population stability and (relative) prosperity for their citizens. My own observations are from the Philippines where I have worked in missions that put me close to the poor for almost three years. Here the poorest segment of the society have the largest families. This is thought to be a way to guarantee security for the parents. This is what has made the Philippines the fastest growing population in Asia. The most common way for a family here to gain security and a better income is by sending the offspring abroad to work in foreign countries that have achieved population stability and prosperity. Taxes on the remittances from these workers constitute the government's largest income while the remittances support the extended family. Thus both government and family is dependent on foreign societies. Most of the workers are legal immigrants working with visas and the government helps them in finding jobs and obtaining visas. Several large and well funded agencies are devoted to this. The government, politicians, media and families all praise them as saviours of both society and their family. Many popular telenovelas promote sacrifice for family. All of these forces have led to the Philippines being the fastest growing population in Asia, with nearly one hundred million people living on a land mass smaller than the US state of New Mexico, which has a population just over two million. The poor see short term security in large families while the long term security of both the society and the planet are threatened by this out of control population growth.

Another way in which poor families try to exchange many offspring for security is by placing older daughters (or sometimes younger sons) into the sex trade. One eldest daughter of a family of eight at the age of eighteen was first urged by her mother and aunt to become an "entertainment girl" in Japan. When she refused the mother and aunt asked her to become a bar girl in Subic Bay, a notorious sex trade center. She again refused and left the family. This is not unusual but happens frequently.

When I first began my missions here almost three years ago I thought consumption by the rich to be the main cause of pollution and climate change. I reasoned that the poor did not have air conditioners, refrigerators or cars. After witnessing forest areas clear cut for production of charcoal or fenceposts and many fires started by poor farmers, many of which became out of control (the largest fire event in human history was started by Indonesian farmers ), I realized that poverty is also a major cause of climate chaos and pollution. Addressing this requires a strong and creative effort by the government and ngos. Consider the carrot and the stick approach. First the stick. The legislature, with leadership of several environmentalist individuals like Senator Legarda, has created good laws, but enforcement is lax or missing. It is illegal to start a fire without a permit from the local fire department but fires are everywhere and many get out of control. It is illegal to cut the forests for production of charcoal but, again, enforcement is lax....largely because alternatives to cooking with charcoal are expensive or missing. Enforcing the law on fires would require improvement in waste disposal, education in composting and cook stoves like the rocket stove that can both dispose of small burnable refuse and cook at the same time, reducing the need for charcoal. To additionally reduce the need for charcoal education in the use of simple solar cookers can be useful most of the year.

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