Alminaza: No to a 'back to normal'

BES Chat with Bp G

OUR dear readers, I greet you happy Pentecost and hope that you are filled with love and peace during this time. As we celebrate the birth of the Church, may we also renew our commitment to be true to its teachings -- in serving God, loving one another, and caring for this Common Home for which He has appointed us as stewards.

The latter I draw attention to once more.

Last Thursday, Withdraw from Coal, a campaign led by civil society groups, faith groups, and members of the Church -- among whom I am glad to be included, launched a new initiative in its bid to urge Philippine banks to stop fueling the climate emergency with their financial services to the coal industry. The Coal Divestment Criteria and Scorecard is a coal exposure and policy assessment tool which would "grade" coal financing activities, divestment policies, and climate action efforts of each of the fifteen banks found to have financially supported coal developers and projects in the last decade. With it, we hope to remind banks of their role as climate actors, help them assess where they stand in terms of aligning with Paris Agreement ambitions, and urge them to fully maximize their capacity to steer the transition to clean energy and sustainable practices.

At this point in time, such initiatives that call for a phase out of destructive industries and practices are crucial. The beginnings and the massive spread of the coronavirus pandemic, especially among vulnerable groups, are both rooted in practices that have failed to give priority to the welfare of people and the environment above all else. Many have said that the pandemic is the way the Earth chose to heal itself, like a silver lining amid the crisis. However, recovery pathways being chosen today prove that thinking this way is simply inaccurate.

In countries hard hit by the virus which have now been able to defeat it more or less, pollution levels are rapidly returning to what they were before as governments and businesses strive to boost economic recovery. In China, for example, citizens have returned to breathing the same dirty air as they were before the pandemic.

This, of course, echoes a pattern in global crises in the past, wherein emissions spike to or even beyond usual levels as soon as the problem is over. But in this case, decision makers are already choosing profit and economy over people even as much of the world is still struggling to solve the pandemic problem.

Here in our country, quarantine rules in many areas are being eased since June 1, even as Covid-19 cases still rise. Not only does this mean a greater chance of spread, it also translates to a return to unhealthy systems of the past. Already, crowded cities (like those in the National Capital Region, the hotspot of coronavirus cases in the country) are experiencing traffic jams. The clear blue skies we saw for the first time during the quarantine have once again been blackened by smoke. Polluting substances from vehicles and industries are rejoining those spewed by coal and fossil fuel power plants which did not stop running during the quarantine.

Our dear readers, it seems that we are on our way not to a "new normal" as we have been asking for, but to a "back to normal." We cannot allow this to happen. Let us remember the suffering that our poor and vulnerable sectors had to go through when our normal way of life met a crisis like this. Let us remember the clear skies and clean air that we found out for the first time were actually possible. Let us remember, too, that the climate crisis is still getting worse day by day, and the time we have left to act on it is ticking away as quickly as ever.

Most importantly, let us not forget to listen intently to the cry of the Earth and of the poor, and let us then give voice to what we hear by demanding new policies, programs, and systems that would bring about a society that is more sustainable and better for all.

May you all be safe and well!


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