Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

Protecting Philippine Corals

Posted by butalidnl on 7 June 2011

Save Philippine Seas

(This blog post is my contribution to the Blog Action Day to Save our Coral Reefs and Seas.)

The Philippines is blessed with having a lot of coral reefs, which are not only nice to look at; they’re also sanctuaries for fish and other marine animals. The problem is that there are people who are actively destroying these reefs – people who harvest the reefs, for sale abroad;  and fishermen using methods that destroy reefs.

Coral Harvesting
The harvesting of corals is a direct way of destroying the reefs. If we note that corals are actually tiny animals which grow about 1 cm/year, it takes a long time before they are able to form reefs of any size. And the harvester just takes these away, undoing decades of growth. It will take a very long time to rebuild corals in these same locations.

With the corals gone, the many fish and other animals who take refuge at reefs are exposed and will disappear. Reefs are very important especially for recently hatched fish and the like, since they are able to avoid being eaten while still very young and vulnerable. Thus, the presence of reefs means that these fish are able to grow to maturity. Fishermen have everything to gain from reefs – less reefs mean less fish to catch.

Dynamite Fishing. There are fishing methods that are destructive for coral reefs. The most obvious of these is dynamite fishing.  In this, the fisherman throws dynamite in the water, and this explodes stunning the fish, which then floats. Often, the shock of the explosion also destroys coral reefs.

Cyanide and Electricity. Another destructive way of fishing is by the use of cyanide. Cyanide stuns fish, making them easier to catch. The fisherman squirts cyanide inside coral reefs to stun the fish hiding there. Then he opens up the reef with a crowbar to get at the fish that is stunned. The cyanide itself also poisons the coral polyps, killing them.

Electricity is also used to stun fish, in a manner similar to that of cyanide. It also has detrimental effects on the reef.

Muro-Ami (kayakas).   Muro-ami is a method of fishing where the nets reach the sea floor, and where divers are sent down to smash the reef, forcing the fish to get trapped in the net.  A variation of this is when heavy sinkers are attached to the net, and these sinkers smash the coral. This kind of fishing is a very short-sighted method; after one run of catching coral fish,  the reef is destroyed, and could not produce fish anymore.
While Muro-Ami is no longer as widespread as before, it is still done in some remote seas off Mindanao.

“Traditional Fishing”. Even some forms of traditional fishing at coral reefs could prove destructive to the reef.
Wrasses and Triggerfish eat “Crown of Thorns” Starfishes (as well as other ocean dwelling invertebrates). Traditional fishing at reefs may harvest too many of these fish that the “Crown of Thorns” Starfish will start multiplying, and then they will eat up all the corals.

Other Destructive Activities
Human Contact. Even casual human contact can damage reefs. Divers who look at reefs should refrain from touching them. They should also not “stand” on the reef. The coral polyps are so sensitive, that they will die with this kind of contact.

Boats that go out to reef areas should refrain from dropping anchor. Anchors can also destroy coral reefs.

Pollution. Pollution is also another way by which people damage coral reefs. Mine tailings very often get dumped at sea, and often in coral reefs. If there is too much organic waste dumped into the sea, these would result in plankton multiplying so much that they use up all the oxygen in that part of the sea, resulting in fish dying en masse and also corals dying.

Fishpond owners sometimes use poison to clean their fishponds. If the fishpond is near a reef, the corals may die because of the poison.

Responding to Coral Reef Damage
There needs to be a comprehensive approach to preventing damage to our coral reefs. This mostly involve have stricter laws against damaging corals, and stricter enforcement of these laws. At the same time, steps should be taken towards regional cooperation, as well as coral recovery.

Stricter Laws. There are laws against the harvesting of corals e.g. (particularly in RA 8550: Fisheries Code of 1998). However, the penalties are extremely low (e.g. 6 months to 2 years imprisonment, up to P 20,ooo fine, and confiscation for harvesting corals). In the face of the enormous profits that are made in this business, the penalty for violating these laws are puny. Congress should stiffen the fines and imprisonment for direct coral harvesting.

While it is prohibited to pollute the sea with mine tailings and other pollutants, there are no real penalties for these offenses. Thus, companies can go about polluting with impunity. Stricter laws and penalties need to be made against marine pollution.

Better Enforcement. Fisherfolk communities should be encouraged to form Bantay Dagat, one of whose tasks is to protect corals. They should be backed by their municipal governments, especially the police force. The Coast Guard should also be beefed up to help to enforce the law.

Coral Rehabilitation. Local government units should initiate coral rehabilitation activities and even help designate protected zones.  Where possible, those who are found guilty of harvesting or destroying corals should be mobilized to help rehabilitate corals, as part of their punishment.

Posted in corals, environment, LGU, Philippine politics, Philippines, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Increasing LRT/MRT Fares

Posted by butalidnl on 2 August 2010

The government is studying the possibility of raising the fares for the LRT and MRT; they will probably raise the fares by September. And while many people will be adversely affected, I think it would generally be a good idea that they do get raised.

Well, the first reason why I think so is that I think that LRT/MRT rates are a bit too cheap. Take the MRT – you could go from one end (almost) of EDSA to the other for 15 pesos. With this amount, you get to ride a fast, airconditioned vehicle all the way (of course, they tend to be quite overcrowded, but that’s beside the point). If you were to ride an aircon bus or FX for the same route, you will pay way more than 30 pesos. Obviously, the government has been subsidizing the MRT like crazy, and that’s why it is so cheap.

The government now wants to cut the subsidy it gives to the LRT/MRT.  They are not saying that they plan to cut the subsidy to zero, just that they don’t want to subsidize it that much anymore. In a sense, it is a good idea. If you think of it, a government subsidy would mean that everybody in the country (including the poor guys in Mindanao) is paying money for the LRT/MRT, and only the people in Metro Manila (and not even all the people there) get to enjoy it. There is something not very fair about this subsidy set-up.

Transportation Infrastructure
Thus, there is a case for cutting the amount of subsidy to the operations of the LRT/MRT. But what do we exactly mean by “operations”? Part of the government “subsidy” goes to the maintenance of the physical infrastructure of the LRT/MRT system. But wouldn’t this be equivalent to the government “subsidy” towards the maintenance of the country’s  road system? After all, cars, jeepneys and buses don’t pay directly for the maintenance of the road system. Funds for this are rightly taken from the general government budget. Thus, it would probably be right for the government to simply shoulder LRT/MRT infrastructure maintenance as part of its expense in maintaining the transportation infrastructure . In other words, a “subsidy” for this would be justified.

Now, let us look at the security in the LRT/MRT system. This is mostly handled by company security guards. In other countries, the security for their metro systems is done by a special unit of the police force (the “Railroad Police”), which is paid for by the taxpayers. A “Railroad Police” force would be similar in function with Highway Police, except of course, that their area of operations would be the railroads. So, if the rail transit companies instead hire security guards, I think it would also be justifiable for this expense to be shouldered by the national budget. The Philippines could also consider forming a “Railroad Police” unit for the LRT/MRT system, which would take over the functions of the private security guards.

Rough Equivalence with Other PUVs
Once we deduct the amounts for infrastructure maintenance and security, we would come up with the real subsidy the government pays for the mass transit systems. And, if we were to take this amount, the resulting fare would be still higher than the equivalent bus ride. And this would be natural, since after all the LRT/MRT is faster and potentially more comfortable than the equivalent bus ride.

I think that the government then will need to also consider other things that have to do with rail transport. One of this would be regarding the amount of pollution that the LRT/MRT system DOES NOT produce. This would mean a lot, since everyone suffers from pollution, not only of carbon dioxide, but especially from soot and other gases that come out of vehicles. The LRT/MRT system is relatively clean, and this should be worth some kind of subsidy.

The main thing that is left, with regards to fares, would be its “affordability”. Passengers would need to afford the LRT/MRT, or else they won’t use it, and that will be an even bigger waste of money.  I think that the key would be to base it, more or less, on the equivalent bus fare. And, in this, I think the LRT/MRT should concentrate more on serving passengers who have longer rides, that those with shorter trips.

For the MRT, I would suggest that the fare be raised from the present 12 pesos for the first five stations, and 15 pesos for longer trips, to a simple flat rate of 20 pesos for all trips. This would mean that passengers on longer trips will have a 33% increase, while those with shorter trips will have an increase of 67%. This should discourage people with shorter trips from riding the MRT, while not be too expensive for those with longer trips (since it would be roughly equivalent to their bus fare).

And the resulting “subsidy”, if  we extract infrastructure maintenance and security, would not be too big anymore. And, whatever the amount that is left, should then be ascribed to the cost of controlling pollution and decongesting our streets.

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Posted in Philippine economics, Philippines | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Electric Cars – coming soon to the Philippines

Posted by butalidnl on 28 April 2009

Electric cars, mostly of the hybrid type (i.e. they have both gasoline and electric engines) is on the verge of entering the mass market. Many car producers have unveiled plans to produce a hybrid electric car by as early as 2010.  Recently, electricity distributors in the Netherlands have set up a project to install 10,000 recharging stations (for electric cars) throughout the country. This trend is driven by the many factors: the drive to lower carbon emissions, high oil prices (or the threat that oil prices will rise again), technological breakthroughs in electric engine and battery design…

This trend will most certainly affect the Philippines too – in as soon as a year or two from now. Perhaps it then not too early to look into how electric cars could impact the country.

Relatively Fast Adoption
People who have cars in the Philippines mainly use them for short distances, usually within the city or metropolitan area. The first wave of hybrid electric cars will have a range of 200 kilometers on a full charge. Already, this would be more than enough for most cars. In addition, the electric car is quite suited to the stop-go traffic in the city, being a lot more economical than oil-based cars.

Already, Filipinos are starting to get used to having electric vehicles. The solar jeepney in Makati and the E3 tricycles in Taguig show that public transportation operators are open to having electric vehicles.

An important factor that would affect the rate of adoption of hybrid electric cars would be its cost.  The cost of the electricity needed to charge the cars would be much less than that of the gasoline or diesel needed by ordinary cars.  But the price of the car itself should not be too high as to negate the advantage of the cheaper fuel. Hopefully, if Chinese companies are able to produce hybrid electric cars that are cheap – or at least not much more expensive than ordinary cars -Philippine auto buyers will buy a lot of them.

Effect on Electricity Supply
The adoption of electric cars, if massive enough, would have an effect on the overall supply of electricity.  There would be a need to rapidly build more capacity in the electric grid, to be able to cope with the increased demand. If the cars are recharged mainly overnight, the effect would be somewhat lesser, since it would not burden the electricity grid during the daytime peak hours. However, if cars are recharged mainly during the day – while being parked near workplaces – then it would really increase the burden on the grid.

The price of electricity will increase in response to the increased demand. This in turn will help to bring alternative sources of energy nearer the break-even point, where it would be competitive with fossil-fuel sources of electricity. And the increased price will also force consumers to conserve electricity.

There is a danger that the rapid adoption of electric cars will result in electricity outages. And that new fossil-fuel electricity generating plants may have to be built to cope with the increased demand. But since electric cars are more efficient than traditional cars, the net effect will be to reduce overall fossil-fuel consumption.

Less Pollution
Electric cars do not pollute during operation. The pollution is made in the electricity generating plant instead. And the pollution will depend on how the electricity is generated – naturally, a fuel-oil  generator will still emit pollution, while wind or hydro generators will not.
But since electric cars operate cleanly, it means that the pollution in the streets and the cities will be less. There would be less fumes from traffic, our clothes will get less dirty, noise levels will be less, etc.  And since the pollution is generated in the electricity generating plants, anti-pollution measures could be more easily put into place.

See also:   Electric Cars

Posted in environment | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Ban the use of plastic bags?

Posted by butalidnl on 22 March 2008

Manila councilor Numero Lim has proposed a ban on the use of plastic bags in all of Manila’s business establishments. According to the proposed ordinance, all supermarkets, grocery stores and other retail business establishments should use paper bags, bayong (woven grass or buri bags) and other biodegradable containers for packaging dry goods and grocery items. According to the EcoWaste Coalition, plastic bags and other synthetic packaging materials made up more than three fourths of the garbage found in Manila Bay. According to them, plastics take a thousand years to disintegrate and gradually release toxins into the water and soil.

We do not know whether the anti-plastic bag ordinance will be adopted. However, it does raise a serious environmental issue. It is also not unique to Manila. Many cities and countries around the world have regulations intended to cut the use of plastic bags. Starting 1 June 2008, stores in China are prohibited from giving out free plastic bags. San Francisco has banned the use of plastic bags since March 2007. Even Bangladesh has a ban – the reason for this is that plastic bags clog their drainage systems, aggravating their floods.

If the proposed ban does not pass, it will probably be due to objections to the added cost to the consumers, and difficulty in implementation. Some may even point out that the pollution in Manila bay is due to more cities, and not only Manila.

What I believe would be cheaper and perhaps easier to implement, will be to follow the Chinese measure – ban the giving out of free plastic bags. In other words, if customers want to use plastic bags, they should pay extra for it. At the same time, we should make an exception for meat, fish, poultry or fresh produce, which would then still be allowed to be put in free plastic bags (for reasons of sanitation -this is the rule followed in Israel) .
In addition, there should be a tax levied per plastic bag; and the proceeds of the tax should be used for clearing the Pasig and other waterways in Metro Manila, as well as Manila bay. [this tax should not be the only funds used for the clean-up though; the local governments should also allot significant amounts to this effort]

And most important: the ordinance should be adopted all over Metro Manila. Cities or municipalities which do not adopt this should be assessed extra for the clean-up of the waterways and Manila Bay (significantly more than the other cities and municipalities).

Prohibiting the giving out of free plastic bags will mean that people will be forced to either use reusable plastic bags, or other kinds of bags. However, we should also avoid that retailers shift to giving out single-use paper bags. While paper bags are biodegradable (unlike plastics), using too much paper is also bad for the environment, both in terms of trees cut down for raw material, as well as the chemicals needed to process the wood to paper. Thus, there may also be a need to impose a tax on single-use paper bags.

A note on the biodegradeability of plastics. The EcoWaste Coalition says that plastic takes thousands of years to disintegrate. This claim needs to be nuanced a bit. It depends on the kind of plastic, and where the plastics spend all this time. Polystyrene plastic, which is used where heat-resistance is important, is used for plastic plates, styrofoam cups, and even things like toys, packaging materials, etc is quite durable, and is not biodegradeable. Polystyrene plastic items, if thrown away, will take literally thousands of years to decompose. And since polystyrene is composed of very long strands of benzene rings, burning it or slow decomposition will release benzene, which is toxic.

Polyethelene, however, which is the kind of plastic most widely used for plastic bags, is said to decompose (when exposed to air and water) in about 20 years. And it decomposes into relatively harmless substances like water and methane.

Which brings us to the related idea: why not also take a measure to ban, or at least minimize, the use of items made of polystyrene plastics?

Posted in environment | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »