THIS column’s release coincides with the celebration of Earth Hour, the symbolic lights-off event in which millions in the world participate annually to highlight the urgency of ending practices that harm the environment, such as our dependence on dirty energy sources to power our homes. This time, Earth Hour is being held in exceptional circumstances with the dire state we are in due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I can imagine how this feels for the environmental advocates, especially our beloved youth, who during Earth Hour have expressed the importance of caring for our planet not only by turning the lights in their houses off, but also through creative actions held out on the streets. Now that many of us are locked home, we are unable to enjoy the company of others as one community seeking to protect our Earth.
The sad news we hear everyday makes it easy for anyone to be consumed by darkness, as if every second of the day is part of Earth Hour. Last week, I told you about a former student-seminarian who was anguished that “we are turning our back to Christ when we should all the more come closer to God and to each other.” Let us take time to ponder on his question. For those of us who are entreated to stay at home to keep the virus from spreading further, this is one way to use our time wisely.
For one, let us consider our brothers and sisters who have fallen due to Covid-19 - the ones for whom the lights of their lives have truly gone out. As of writing, nine Filipino doctors have died as they battled the disease. Many deaths are still believed to be unaccounted for. Across the country, frontline workers are forced to fight with their strength and supplies nearly depleted. We are unable to stand alongside them, and at a time like this, both helplessness and the seeming inability to help are agonizing. But there is one thing we can do that gives as much comfort to ourselves as it could to our heroes at the front lines, and that is offering our prayers to our only Creator and preserver.
We must also keep our eyes and ears open to the cries of the poor and vulnerable. In the past, it was them who had been most defenseless against the elements and injustice; today it is also them who are unarmed to fight an invisible enemy.
Relevant to the celebration of Earth Hour, let us take time to reflect on the kind of development that has brought us to a situation that multiplies the suffering of the most marginalized. In particular, I call attention to our heavy dependence on fossil fuels such as coal which exposed many of our people, especially those living in cities and in communities near coal and fossil fuel power plants, to pollution that compromised their health significantly. Because of this, diseases such as the coronavirus become harder to fight. Many of the same communities are also the ones most hit by climate change impacts induced by fossil fuels, making it extremely difficult for them to afford treatment or advanced facilities in the face of disease, and causing rehabilitation to be a painful process afterwards.
The state we are in is thus a prompt not to fall into isolation, but to come together to fight for sustainable practices because these would be better for both the environment and our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. We are challenged to come up with creative ways to express our demands, and I have confidence that Filipinos, especially our youth, would be more than able to do this.
While we are told to maintain distance from others, the physical gaps we create must be instead filled in by solidarity. Taking part in Earth Hour at 8:30 PM on March 28 while we stay at home is an example of how we can do this. But even during Earth Hour, there’s a kind of light we should never turn off: the light of hope that is shining in our hearts. With the strength we get from our fellow Filipinos and from our great God, this is not impossible.