Sunday, October 30, 2011

One in seven billion

*my column in the Oct. 30 issue of Cordillera Today

Last Wednesday, October 25, 2011, together with local media representatives, we were invited to cover the La Union leg of “Coffeetalks,” an initiative of a cement manufacturer that gathered together sustainable construction advocates from various groups to discuss possible collaboration efforts. I must admit that I was prepared for another junket courtesy of a corporate entity hoping to score “pogi points” with the media. It slipped my mind that this was being done by Holcim Philippines, Inc., and that they do walk the talk.

The speakers presented both ongoing projects as well as proposals for new ones and what really caught my attention was the presentation done by Mike Guerrero of Green Architecture Advocacy Philippines. I particularly liked his anecdote about “ice-tea buildings” – boiling water to make tea and then putting lots and lots of ice to cool it down is not unlike building structures like those with glass facades that naturally act like an oven, then spending millions and millions and much artificial energy to cool them down.

Then he talked about an ongoing project he designed for a fisherman’s village in Bani, Pangasinan.

First, instead of a whole row of houses joined together at the sides, this village had duplexes – the housing units were designed in twos to allow for windows on three sides to maximize natural ventilation. I was reminded of an aunt’s home in the lowlands that had really huge windows only on one side and how hot it got specially during the summer months. This is because despite the size of the windows infront , the air did not circulate inside. This happens too when you’re in a car and you only have the driver’s window opened – just open the passenger side window even just a bit and notice how much more air flows inside the car.

The main windows of Guerrero’s design faced north, and according to him, that’s because our country is positioned above the equator and thus the sun would “never” hit those windows directly except perhaps during the summer solstice, among the rare times that the sun is at its highest point in the sky – lessening the heat inside and the need for electric fans or air-conditioners to cool the house.
Next, he discussed the design of the roofs – instead of having the usual A-frame design, the houses had roofs sloping only towards one side. This makes it easier to collect rain water. And the roofs faced south so that if and when the homeowners can afford to install solar panels in the future, the roofs’ position would provide the most exposure to the sun.

And unlike most mass housing projects where every bit of land is appropriated for the structure, Guerrero made sure that each house would have a patch of earth each to allow for expansion, or plants. He particularly recommended the plating of bamboo since his design made use of this durable, inexpensive, but often taken for granted material particularly in the houses’ interiors so that should they need to replace a beam or two, they can easily source it out right from their own backyards.

But the lesson here isn’t exactly about the aforementioned innovations, but how Guerrero arrived at such concepts - environmental consciousness. We go about our daily lives with hardly any thought at all about the earth that we all share. All that Guerrero did was be aware of his environment and how he affects it.

And while our egos tell us how big and significant we are, we tend to think the exact opposite when it comes to how our lives impact the environment. We tend to make ourselves believe that the few plastic bags that get thrown in the pile of burning leaves in our gardens, or the emissions of our vehicle, or the harmful chemicals that we carelessly let loose on the earth hardly affects the earth.

Besides, we’re just one of several billions of polluters on this planet, right? The problem is that most of those several billions either deny their contribution to climate change and the earth’s destruction or are simply totally unaware of it. We think that we’re just one of seven billion, and that’s why we find ourselves amidst more intense monsoons, heat waves, snowstorms, etc., today.

What we need is to view that same thought from a different perspective – that the one cigarette butt, or that one car that we drive, or that one plastic bag that we either burn or carelessly throw away, is but one of seven billion.

And when you do something that can help this planet, or just your own backyard,  again, remember that you are one in seven billion who can do the same.

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