Building the future we need

JP Alipio
The future that was talked about 20 years ago is here and is in more need of saving than it was in 1992

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Commit to the Future We Want – the battlecry for this year’s Rio+20 summit. 20 years ago Rio was all about saving the future, today that future is here and is more in need of saving than it was in 1992.

So what has changed since 1992? A lot! 300 million hectares of forests lost, 1.45 billion more humans, 36% increase in CO2 emissions, 12% decline in global biodiversity, all in the negative – it seems Rio failed to get the message out to the rest of the world.

But there are signs of hope. Global GDP has increased 75% across the globe, 13% more humans have access to clean drinking water and 13% of Global energy supply now comes from renewables.

While a change in mindset has been one of the biggest changes since the first Rio Summit, the disparity between information and action in the urban centers and the communities which are host to some of the most pristine environments are not.

This disparity extends to economic progress, healthcare, and a plethora of other issues despite the fact that only a small percentage of the population actually lives in these areas, where a majority of the resources used by the world are sourced.

Even with the advent of social media it is in the remote reaches of our world’s ecosystems where messages of sustainable development and environmental consciousness do not permeate, yet these are the very areas that are vital to our survival.

This disparity between what we know in the cities and what they know in the countryside is one of the reasons the Cordillera Conservation Trust has chosen to focus most of our efforts in the roughest and remotest parts of our region – where vital ecosystems survive beside communities that live within them.

For many of these communities the environment is not about aesthetics but more a necessity. The environment for them is a basic building block of survival – wood for your home and for fuel, animals for food, soil for the farm, and water for life.

So while the rest of the world gears up for the Rio summit – many in these areas do not even know or have never even heard of the first summit 20 years ago! For them what is important is surviving at home, and although the Rio summit is of the utmost importance, for these communities finding connections between how to survive from the environment while keeping it in a condition suitable to support continued living is their number one priority.


Last Saturday, June 16th we built the first Roots&Shoots nursery of the year in Mt Kabuyao Elementary School in Tuba, Benguet. Since we started the program last year we have focused on building forest nurseries in communities surrounded by critical habitats such as watersheds and important forest lands – in partnership with public elementary schools that exist in these areas.

Children and their teachers building from soil and seed the foundations for their future, their home is the watershed not only for their own community but for the larger community of Baguio, Tuba, and Itogon in Benguet. In effect they are not only building a future for themselves but also the foundations for survival of hundreds of thousands of people.

The main difference is that for them creating a forest is all about keeping your home safe. They are closest to the reality of deforestation that we, who live in the city, are somehow insulated by environmental middle men – selling us water, wood, and soil and creating a placebo of safety through our utilities. They have no such luxury here.

The loss of their forest means the loss of land to landslides, drying out of their springs, and the loss of wood to build the homes of their children. Yes, here the forests are about living.

I watch as each of the little hands packs the earth into a little black bag, then each poking a hole and dropping a seed into the red soil and covering it up. It is a simple act of faith that you put the seed and pour a little bit of earth around it, a belief that it will in a month or two come back out in another form and in a decade become an instrument for your survival.

When the day was done and as the talks for our future continue in Rio this week. Up on this mountain a group of children negotiated with nature itself and chose to build a future not built on simply what they wanted, but the foundations for a future that they will need to survive. –

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