Showing one’s stripes

Climate stripe for the Philippines from 1901-2021 (link)

The only way I could think of my interest in the climate crisis is through the name of a culture podcast at the New York Times called ‘Still Processing‘. I have not listened to any of the 137 episodes it has as of today, nor do I listen to any podcasts (I find reading articles faster), so I’m basically taking the phrase at face value: that they named it as such as they talk about topics that develop and evolve as they speak. In an Internet era where everyone either knows or doesn’t know about anything, the word ‘still processing’, bereft of its podcast context, is somewhere in between: you know something, but you need some time to do your homework or desk research. The word doesn’t have the finality (“I’m 100% sure it’s true!”) nor ego (“I’m an expert on this topic!”) that comes with knowing something completely – whatever that means these days. “Still processing”: It’s humble, it’s tentative. Others might read this stance as dilly-dallying; I find it as intellectual humility: this is what I know, and this is what I don’t know, or am unsure about.

As any sane Internet user knows, you’re expected that whatever you say, or do, or write about on the internet is final – full stop. Rarely do we come across someone who writes something along the lines of “I’m writing this because – or even if – I don’t know much about…” Perhaps you know a friend who did just that, and the topic was about the 2022 presidential elections: chances are that your friend has been “canceled” at some point – relegated to Facebook’s “acquaintance” list, removed from Instagram’s “close friends”, “muted” on Twitter.

Everyone on the Internet is (purportedly) an expert; if you’re not one, you’re expected to shut up or do something else that you have expertise in. Personally, it shouldn’t be that way. The mere admission that you barely have an idea on a certain topic could lead to an accumulation of browser tabs, a flurry of probes, missives and honest correspondences, or at the very least, a re-examination of oneself: Why do I not know more about this? Did I choose not to know or do I actively ignore this topic? And isn’t that the goal, then: to naturally tease out that curiosity? To make people be interested about something they do not know much about? Isn’t learning all about processing our thoughts and opinions, and throughout the process, a constant shedding of opinions, of admitting – or repudiating – ideas?

This is precisely why I’ve decided to use this space to write about climate change – something I know very little about. I was not taught about it in school; bitterly, regretfully, I do not have a postgraduate degree about it. I could only rely on curiosity, genuine interest and resolve to learn more about it. Writing in this blog is my way of writing “I’m still processing this” and finding comfort in writing this.

  • “Being proved wrong lies at the heart of scientific progress.” A sobering article on science and facts, as leading scientists admit what they got wrong during the pandemic. Definitely the kind of intellectual humility we’re looking for these days.
  • A pixel-art, point-and-click adventure game about a town surrounded by oil refineries? Norco posits that there is something potent when you intersect games, personal and climate grief, and a dash of digital nostalgia (think Pokémon and its blocky graphics).
  • A video series by the New York Times, We’re Cooked, tackles on American industrial agriculture, particularly how the “incredible climate movement… ignores [Big Food] culpability”. In its first video, Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet, talks about how it is one of the largest sources of water, air and greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., with the five biggest meat and dairy producers in the world together “produce more emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell or British Petroleum (BP)”. If all the cattle in the world were a country, it would be the second biggest greenhouse gas polluter in the world after China. Arguably, eating meat isn’t the problem – its unsustainability is.
  • While exposés on the environment are uncommon in the Philippines, this four-part series on the Marilao river, a stone’s throw away from where I grew up, is a fantastic reportage by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. They recently launched a series, Losing Paradise, on the environmental issues plaguing Palawan, which I’ve yet to read and review here!
  • In a profile by the New Yorker of the photographer Edward Burtynsky, known for wide aerial shots of landscapes such as the oil fields and polluted rivers of the Niger delta, there was a scene where Burtynsky and his team (including the interviewer Raffi Khatchadourian) were flocked by people living in the communities they’re about to take photos of. One of them said: “You can’t just come into this community and do anything. A lot of people come to take pictures, and they show that things are not good. Then the government wants to tear this place down.” While the issue was primarily “one of respect”, it was all settled with “further discussion (and some cash)”.The paragraph ended there, but there’s irony in this bit (and in its omission): a photographer, whose work is connected with environmentalism, perhaps unable to do research to know the context behind paying respects to tribal leaders, dispense cash to be able to take photos of the slums and environmental degradation, photos which he would make money out of. I find it ingenuine: the photographer glosses over local customs and traditions, no interviews were made, etc.

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