Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Time for some changes

Business Mirror

Amid the major news stories of the Japanese disaster and the war in Libya, another story broke a little more than a week ago. Knut, the polar bear, died at the Berlin Zoo.

Knut and his brother were born on December 5, 2006. The mother rejected the cubs for some unknown reason, abandoning them on a rock in the polar-bear enclosure. The brother died four days later of an infection. Zookeepers pulled Knut out and he was fed every two hours by his keeper who slept next to the infant polar bear.

Knut created a worldwide sensation, even appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair with actor Leonardo DeCaprio as a poster bear for the Green Movement.

The worldwide attention increased the Berlin Zoo’s attendance to a historic high, as well as historic zoo profits from the image of Knut that they copyrighted. The Neumünster Zoo in northern Germany, which owns Knut’s father, initiated legal action against the Berlin Zoo for the profits from Knut’s success.

On March 19 Knut died at four years old, unusual since polar bears often live 20 to 30 years.

An autopsy has discovered that Knut shared a genetic defect with his father, epilepsy, which caused him to convulse several times and fall into the water, drowning before zookeepers could rescue him.

Perhaps, the mother polar bear had good reason to abandon the two cubs at birth.

Maybe the sensible human reaction to the mother polar bear’s action should have been to “Let nature take its course.”

As humans, we have this inherent need to alter the world and events to suit our desires. The fervently religious might call this a desire to play God. But all of the accomplishments of mankind throughout history have been rooted in a desire to alter the world more to our liking.

While in one sense we want to be very proactive about the environment that we live in, constantly desiring change “for the better,” another part of us actively resists change. Maybe it is part of our collective human consciousness that believes that we are always moving forward, and anything new is most likely an improvement on the old.

Muntinlupa City is spotlighted once again after the “Ban the Condoms” ordinance in Ayala Alabang. Now the city has banned plastic bags. From street venders to rice dealers to the supermalls, plastic is out and paper is in. And we are not adjusting well at all. Rice in a paper bag is not very rugged. And when your favorite fast- food soft drink spills a drop or two walking to the office, the paper bag deteriorates rapidly.

However, it is great ecological idea, should become national law, and should have been done decades ago.

Had plastic been banned previously, the private sector would have planted millions of trees to provide the raw material for paper bags, and the country would be a better place for it. Right now, though, the Muntinlupa ban is a pain in the neck with consumers and business trying to figure out how to cope with the change. Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro really did not sell the idea to his city’s residents. He merely said this is the way it should be, and this is the way it is going to be. I wonder if he is going to be as successful selling his Senate or congressional candidacy the same way. In the meantime, we go with the flow.

And things do seem to flow in a proper progression when we avoid interfering too much. The problem is that our “intelligence” often gets in the way of intelligent thinking. Earth Hour may be the best and most ridiculous example of that. Shutting off your lights in protest of or to further the use of nonfossil-fuel energy sources is just plain dumb. Tens of million of people turn off their electric lights to sit in the warm glow of candles for an hour, candles made from a fossil-fuel crude oil byproduct, paraffin. Burning candles is at least as polluting as the power plants that produce electricity and a much more dangerous pollutant in the confines of a house.

For some reason, “environmental” causes seem to show some of the most absurd examples of not letting nature take its proper course. The foolish in the West are infamous for combining a “Save the Whales” bumper sticker with “Stop Oil Drilling” or “No Coal.”

What really saved the whales from extinction was both coal and crude oil. Whale oil had been used for a variety of purposes, including food, since 3000 B.C. In the 1800s, whale oil was the primary source of light, used in lamps as well for making candles. Whales may well have become extinct, if not for the switch to burning kerosene made from coal in 1846 and then to crude-oil petroleum products in the late 1800s.

I think a political leader’s most important job is to know when to resist change and when to advance change, and to effectively determine when an issue requires one of those actions. Mayor San Pedro is making the right choice on plastic bags. The administration is making the wrong choice with its policy on Laguna de Bay. It is time Laguna is turned into something more productive than fish pens. The same applies to other industries from logging to mining to tourism.

Each and every day reveals new opportunities to make the world a better place, an opportunity to reevaluate what needs to be changed and what does not. Unfortunately, what does not change is policymaking decision-making. Although misattributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and as a Chinese proverb, the phrase from American mystery author Rita Mae Brown in 1983 says it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

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