Tag Archives: environmental management

Household Adaptation to Climate Change in the Philippines

How do marginalized people living in vulnerable coastal communities adapt to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise? What is an example of this adaptation at the household level? The following article describes one of these interesting adaptations and its implications.

One of the interesting aspects of research is discovering something new. Although a phenomenon has been there for a long time, it becomes a relevant point of interest once its occurrence is viewed more keenly and becomes a subject of discussion.

Take for instance the cross-country research our group conducted last year in the coastal areas of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam to document the effects of climate change. One of those inquired in the investigation looked into the adaptation of marginalized fisherfolks to the hazards brought about by typhoon/flooding, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

What I found interesting in this climate change study are the unique ways by which marginalized people try to cope up with changes in their environment. In this particular case that we studied, the fisherfolks’ adaptation to the erosive effects of waves in the gradually advancing seawater was investigated.

We visited three communities (locally called barangays) to find out if there are any signs of initiatives to mitigate the effects of sea level rise. There, indeed, are several interesting adaptations made by fishermen in the tropical regions such as the Philippines. I relate one below.

Household Adaptation to Sea Level Rise

Below is a picture of a household adaptation in response to rising sea levels that erodes the thin strip of land a few hundred meters wide. A series of temporary and permanent houses dot this habitable portion that lies between the sea and the concrete highway running along the irregular coastline.

adaptation to sea level rise
A makeshift structure built of logs, bamboo slats, stones and sand in Binduyan, Puerto Princesa as household adaptation to mitigate the erosive impact of advancing seawater.

I noticed this ingenious way to keep soil from eroding in the beach of Binduyan, a coastal community lying east of Puerto Princesa in the island of Palawan in the Philippines. It may be a common sight to the uninitiated, but to someone who does research this means a lot.

What were the costs involved?

If you will imagine the time, money (although these materials may have been sourced around) and effort devoted by the person to construct this structure, you will be able to appreciate the significance of this adaptation to the life of the builder. Since we are after economic analysis of household adaptations like this, questions like the following arise in my mind:

  • How many people were involved in constructing the makeshift seawall?
  • How much time did it take them to build such structure?
  • What opportunities did they lose as a consequence of working on the structure (see opportunity cost to understand how important this concept is)?
  • What benefits were gained?
  • Did the benefits justify the cost of construction or was it just a waste of time?

Why would this family go to lengths in constructing this makeshift structure made of local materials? It’s unfortunate nobody was there to ask when we passed through as we walked the beach and note down observations. The owners were out somewhere, probably fishing. But these questions helped us design our questionnaire as this visit was part of our scoping activity.

We measured the height of the whole structure. It is 1.2 meters in height! Did seawater rise that high? How many years did it take to reach that level? What is the distance of the water’s edge at high tide from this house since people living in the area took notice of the rising waters?

Questions Lead to Discovery and Informed Actions

Many questions arise as a result of this simple observation. And these questions will propel you to undertake research focused on your specific concern to contribute to the body of knowledge. That, of course, requires publishing your work for others to learn from. Research findings mean nothing if left unpublished.

You may download and read the results of the study I mentioned above from the WorldFish website. It is titled “Economic Analysis of Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in Selected Coastal Areas in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.” It is hoped that the findings of this research will aid policy makers in coming up with actions to mitigate the effects of climate change thus reduce costly damage to vulnerable coastal communities.

© 2013 June 30 P. A. Regoniel

What is Environmental Economics?

What is environmental economics? What is the purpose of environmental economics? This article defines the concept in view of sustaining environmental resources.

Students of environmental science will find themselves dealing with environmental economics concepts in their senior years while taking the environmental science course. Thus, it pays to learn the basics of the subject for greater understanding and application of the tools of economics. As the word connotes, environmental economics is about the economics of the environment. But what, specifically, is economics and what is the concern of environmental economics?

First things first; it will be easier to understand the subject by defining some terms for common understanding. Let us define what is economics then before proceeding to the definition of environmental economics.

Definition of Economics

Harper [1] defines economics to literally mean “household management.”  This word was derived from Latin oeconomia and from Greek oikonomia meaning “household management.” Further, Quizlet.com[2] defines economics as the study of how and why individuals and groups make decisions about the use and distribution of valuable human and non-human resources. That’s the longer definition. For simplicity and for our purposes and based on the latter definition, economics can be defined simply as the study of how humans decide on how to dispose of resources.

Economics considers resources, whether human or non-human, as scarce or finite and these are not in abundance. When resources are scarce and tend to get depleted, then people must maximize its use. And when people need these resources badly, then these are valuable resources. Economics then deals with management of scarce resources.

Now, we’ll focus our attention on environmental resources and define environmental economics.

Definition of Environmental Economics

Drawing out from the definition of economics, environmental economics can be defined as the study of how humans decide on how to dispose of environmental resources. At this juncture, the focus of management is mainly on environmental resources.

But what consists environmental resources? To make clear this concept, I enumerate some of the environmental resources below that man derives benefit from and need to be managed:

General: air, water, and land

Specific:

  • trees or plants that supply the life-giving oxygen humans need;environmental economics
  • crops that provide food to humans;
  • clean drinking water to keep human metabolism working and flush out bodily wastes;
  • metals that serve as raw materials for human ingenuity such as creation of tools, rigid structures for abode and cars for transport; and
  • oil to fuel industries that manufacture products that people need.

Of course, the list could go on. There are so many other environmental resources that you can think of that are used to satisfy human needs and wants.

Ideally, all human needs and wants should be fulfilled, but this is far from reality. Why? That’s because human needs and wants vary. Needs may be fulfilled but wants are virtually without limit. But environmental resources have limits; thus, both resources and human needs and wants must be managed.

So what has environmental economics got to do with human needs and wants? The main purpose of environmental economics is to attain environmental resource sustainability. It is only an instrument by which human needs and desires or wants may be addressed, as much as possible, without depleting finite environmental resources.

Related Readings:

What is WTP in environmental economics?

What is the value of natural resources?

References

[1]  Harper, Douglas (November 2001). “Online Etymology Dictionary – Economy“. Retrieved October 27, 2007.

[2] Quizlet.com. Definition of economics.

© 2013 January 11 P. A. Regoniel

Ecosystem Management: Back to the Basics Approach

While browsing the literature you may have encountered the phrase “ecosystem management”. While this set of words may be commonly used, many find it vague and confusing at times. Here is a back to basics explanation to provide you a solid foundation for further study of this concept.

Ecosystem management, while discussed in literature or articles both online and offline, is a vaguely defined phrase that many students find confusing. Perhaps the main reason for its being is the continuing degradation that nature experiences with previous modes of natural resource management.

To simplify matters and to have a clearer view of ecosystem management, one approach is to break this concept down into manageable bits of information. If things become complicated, it is sensible to go back to the basics.

My approach then is to define ecosystem and management separately and draw out the principles and meanings from each of these basic definitions to eventually combine the two words “ecosystem” and “management” into the phrase “ecosystem management”.

What is an Ecosystem?

The definition of the ecosystem has been in the literature for long. Although there are many versions of what ecosystems are, the best definition I could surmise from the various literature, readings, and insightful thinking on the environment which I thought most appropriate is this:

An ecosystem is a set of interacting components working harmoniously together to acquire, produce and transfer energy to attain sustainability. 

The interacting components are the plants, non-living things and animals (humans included) within that ecosystem. These components work together in a harmonious manner such that the whole set composing the ecosystem is able to acquire, produce and transfer energy that makes the whole system run on the long term or simply make it sustainable.

The main source of that energy that drives the ecosystem is the sun. There is loss of energy in the process of transferring it from one source to another, i. e., from the sun as a major source of energy throughout the components of the ecosystem. The simplified ecosystem in Figure 1 below shows the interrelations.

the simplified ecosystem
Fig. 1. The simplified ecosystem showing the interacting components.

Notice that not all of the energy coming from the sun is efficiently transferred from one living component of the ecosystem to the other. This is illustrated by the red arrow oriented upwards. Heat as a form of energy is lost into the atmosphere.

Scientists estimate energy loss from each component at 10%. Why is this energy not wholly transferred to the next living component in the ecosystem? That’s mainly because some of it is used by the organism for its own purpose. What are these uses? Well, the organisms have to respire, reproduce, move from one place to another, feed, among other functions that will enable it to survive in its habitat.

Another important thing of the whole ecosystem thing is that without the sun the whole ecosystem would collapse. Plants as the basic components of the ecosystem will not be able to synthesize food and oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This is why we need to maintain plants by whatever means as these components of the ecosystem lie at the very foundation of human existence. Simply put, plants produce life-giving oxygen without which man could not hope to survive in five minutes or so.

What is Management?

Management is defined differently according to the context by which it is being used. Management in the context of environmental management can be defined in the following manner:

Management is the process or act of getting the different components of a system working together to achieve a desired purpose.

This means, therefore, that management is a deliberate attempt to do something in such a way that a desired purpose is achieved. Whatever the outcome of the action depends on how well management was made.

At this point, it would be now easy to define what ecosystem management is.

What is Ecosystem Management?

Based on the previous discussion, the following definition of ecosystem management can thus be drawn:

Ecosystem management is the deliberate attempt to manipulate the set of interacting components in nature for man’s ultimate benefit.

Yes, the main purpose of ecosystem management is to make the whole management process beneficial to man as the end user and manager of that ecosystem. Thus, whatever man deliberately does to the ecosystem which is stable in itself will define the kind of ecosystem management that will prevail. The key actors of ecosystem management are scientists, policymakers, managers, and citizens tasked with ecosystem management (see extensive discussion by Grumbine, 2002).

The ultimate outcome of ecosystem management will entirely depend on how humans perceive the environment and how he perceives this will have to be handled to serve his needs. If the aim is to sustain the natural processes, then ecosystem management must ensure the least disturbance and maintenance of ecological integrity as much as possible.