Tag Archives: theory building

Indigenous People’s Adaptation to Climate Change

Climate change spared not indigenous people’s lives as these stories reveal. Read on to find out how they tried to adapt to the brunt of climate change.

Shift in Weather Condition Affects Upland Agriculture

The indigenous people of Palawan Island like the Palaw’ans observed that there was a sudden shift in weather condition that influenced their planting season in the rain dependent uplands. Normally, they would start planting their slash-and-burn farms when the ground is moist enough to support growing seeds.

The Palaw’ans and other indigenous ethnic groups like the Tagbanua test the soil’s moisture by plunging the sharpened, hollow-end of a bamboo (Schizostachyum lumampao) pole into the ground. When the ground is dry, the soil will fall off from the hollow opening but when it is moist, the soil would stick inside the hollow end. Sudden, earlier than usual downpour would show the latter soil condition and the tribe would start planting their crops. But then they saw their efforts gone to waste when several months later, heavy rains pound the almost ripe grains of rice. They could not predict the whims of the weather.

The sudden changes in weather also led to the pest outbreaks like rat infestations in farmlands. Aside from this, changes in weather can trigger the spread of plant diseases, severely parched crops thus less crop production, and displacement of farmers from their land.

How do the indigenous people adapt to these changes? The two adaptation strategies discussed below was described by Reden, a colleague who was once working with indigenous people in the remote hinterlands of southern Palawan as part of the university’s extension activities.

Adaptation 1. The Old Man and His Handicraft

The old man, an elder of Palaw’an tribe, lives alone in his hut in an isolated part of Culasian in the southern part of Palawan in western Philippines. He subsists on what little yield he can get from a small parcel of land planted with cassava and kaingin (slash-and-burn farm) rice. While awaiting the fruits of his labor, he weaves handicrafts for a living.

This way of life went on for many years until, out of nowhere, a multitude of rats attacked his crops including those of his fellow Palaw’ans. This is the first time that this phenomenon occurred. Everyone suffered because they are living at subsistence level. Subsistence level means they only plant what they need and had nothing in store to feed themselves until next harvest.

One morning, a young tribesman happened to pass by the old man’s house. The young man uttered the usual greetings, but the old man did not respond. Probably he’s asleep, the tribesman thought. He went on his usual way to the mountains to gather whatever edible fruits he can find.

Late in the afternoon when the young man passed the same path again, he saw the old man in the same position he was in the morning. He sensed something was wrong. Curious, the young man came close to the old man sitting on the chair. And he discovered the old man was dead, still holding his handmade craft.

A few days ago, a neighbor said the old man complained of a lack of food just like everyone else who had nothing to harvest that season. To keep his hunger away, he resorted to working on his handicrafts to sell in the nearby village. But his effort proved futile because he died while trying to ebb the tide of hunger. He is no longer fit and strong as the younger members of his tribe to survive days without food.

Adaptation 2. Gleaning the Gleaned Farm

The old man’s adaptation strategy did not work but some of his fellow Palaw’ans survived through other means. One of these strategies is farm gleaning.

I discovered this adaptation strategy accidentally while walking a dirt road on the way back to the city located more than 200 km away. Looking for subjects to photograph in the rural setting, I noticed a family huddled close together next to a pile of rice straw. I took a shot to document the scene (see picture below).

gleaning

Initially, I thought the family owns the farm and were winnowing grains from their harvest. But when I asked Reden about it, he said those are indigenous people scavenging what was left of the lowlander’s harvest.

This is a pitiful sight because this scavenging activity reflects how poor these people are. Gleaning from what has already been gleaned is difficult.*

Discussion

The problem of global climate change lingers and affects all marginalized people especially those who rely on what nature provides.  Those engaged in subsistence farming or hand-to-mouth existence such as the Palaw’ans described in this article are most vulnerable. The severe effects on the food source of the Palaw’ans show how a shift in weather condition can have significant impacts to resource-dependent communities.

A subsistence way of life can have positive benefits to the environment because subsistence living means the least possible extraction of natural resources. This enables the forests and coastal regions to regenerate from minor disturbances inflicted by resource users.

The subsistence way of life, however, seems to be an inefficient response to the effects of climate change. There is a need for the indigenous people to modify their way of life to successfully cope up with the growing threats of global climate change. They need to produce more than what they actually need. This means a greater are of land for planting or more resource extraction activities.

Meanwhile, the scavenging activities show that the Palaw’ans are a resilient people able to survive the challenges of the times. For a minority group with low population, this adaptation would be sufficient to soften the impact of climate change.

These stories show that climate change can change the way of life of resource dependent people. It threatens the very survival of people who for generations lived compatibly with nature.

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*I missed the rare opportunity to ask a few questions about what the Palaw’ans are doing while on the field. Their self-narrated story would have made this account more interesting. But this is a good lead for research on how indigenous people adapt to the effects of climate change.

I resolved to probe more during my next visit to the place as part of my job as the university extension director at that time but then my work assignment changed and I forgot all about it. This is a lesson that should always be borne in mind by a researcher and an old one at that: “Strike when the iron is hot.” The same opportunity may not come again so exert extra effort each time something interesting like this comes up.

© 2013 September 9 P. A. Regoniel

How is Human Psychology Related to Environmental Sustainability?

Is there a relationship between human thought processes and environmental sustainability? This article illustrates how people’s beliefs can help preserve the environment.

Taking off from the definition of psychology, there is a connection between psychology and environmental sustainability. The Free Dictionary defines psychology as the study of the thought processes and behavior of humans in their interaction with the environment. The way humans think or regard the environment, influences his behavior towards it and vice-versa.

How can human thought processes lead to environmental sustainability? Let me explain the connection by narrating a short story. This is about a supernatural occurrence that shaped a community’s behavior towards an island. This prevailing belief among the fisher folks helped preserve a coral reef for many years.

The Enchanted Island of Marangas

Several years ago, a fisherman docked on the rugged terrain of Marangas Island to take a brief rest from a busy morning doing his usual fishing routine. After pitching the small anchor into the shallow waters, he waded towards the shore while pulling his small boat along with him. He tied one end of the rope at the bow to a sturdy rock offshore to keep the boat from swaying wildly in the wavy, afternoon waters.

He looked for a place to rest in the narrow island. Despite the island’s rocky nature, he found a sandy spot under a tree. He took his late lunch and prepared to take a nap.

The fisherman was on the verge of sleep when, out of the corner of his eye, he figured something moving among the rocks. Something long and alive wriggles towards his direction. This was followed by another one, then another. Then he realized, it was a den of snakes! And the snakes are making their way towards him. All his life, he never saw such a multitude of snakes. island

The poor fisherman frantically snatched his belongings and ran towards the boat. He rowed with all his might without looking back. He was so frightened that he forgot to lift up his anchor until it dragged and get snagged in a massive growth of coral reef. After cutting the rope quickly, he rowed so hard that his boat seemed like a speedboat racing towards the mainland.

The story spread like wildfire in the small fishing village taking twists and turns that made the story even more dramatic. A farmer further fanned the flames of intrigue and awe when he recounted that once, he left a herd of goats in the island and lost them all without a trace.

The people thought the island is occupied by evil spirits. From that time on, the fishers avoid the island and regard it with fear in the belief that the island is enchanted.

A Healthy Coral Reef Environment

What has this enchanted island story have to do with environmental sustainability? Here’s the explanation.

Since fishers dare not approach the island to do their usual fishing activities, the coral reef surrounding that island remained untouched for many years. As result, a healthy coral reef environment thrived. The area was preserved from the rampant illegal fishing activities that plagued many islands dotting the bay.

I witnessed such amazing underwater environment when I prodded a reluctant fisher guide to bring my team of SCUBA divers to the island so we can have a glimpse of the corals underneath. At right is a picture of one section of the reef showing a large tabulate coral with sergeant majors swimming above fragile branching corals. The whole reef was virtually intact despite its closeness to the mainland. coralreef

The Environmental Perspective

The environment is defined as the tangible and intangible things around us. Tangible things are those that we normally perceive with our five senses. Intangible things include people’s norms, values, and beliefs that exist and influence people’s behavior.

Based on this definition, the belief that supernatural beings exist in the enchanted island dictated how the fisher folks regard the island. They avoided the island thinking that they might displease the evil spirits. This kept the island’s surrounding coral reef intact. Hence, environmental sustainability is assured as the healthy coral reefs provide a viable, productive habitat for marine life dependent on it for sustenance.

This story is similar to the Balete tree story. Respecting people’s beliefs by keeping it that way despite its ridiculous, irrational or illogical nature can have some positive benefits. Superstitious beliefs help preserve the environment.

© 2013 August 30 P. A. Regoniel

10 Tips on How to Discern Fact From Fiction

When presented with information, how do you assess its validity or reliability? Can you distinguish fact from fiction? Here are 10 tips to ponder.

I saw a film titled Primeval last week and I can’t help but get amused of the way the behavior of the large crocodile named Gustave is being portrayed. During the climax, Steven (played by Orlando Jones), cameraman of the news team that tried to capture Gustave, runs with all his might in his bid to outrun the literally galloping crocodile. Gustave, at the end of the film, was also trying to get inside the vehicle, ferociously snapping away at the passengers. So dramatic.

I had such a good laugh because I know crocodiles cannot sustain long runs on land. They are not designed to do so. Crocodiles suddenly lunge when opportunity comes to catch their prey. Thus, they are called opportunistic predators. The attack usually happens at the edge of the water.

Crocodiles cannot sustain long runs because lactic acid builds up easily in its muscles. I had readings and personal encounters on this fact as I once worked in a crocodile conservation facility as an ecologist. If the crocodile does not rest (just like the way you see lizards do it), it will most probably die due to too much strenuous activity[1]. This is characteristic of cold-blooded animals. According to a recent study from the University of Adelaide, if dinosaurs were cold-blooded, they would not have dominated the world for millions of years [2].

For this reason, I thought of writing up the following tips, to help discern fact from fiction, although I would say this is a tall order. In reality, it is difficult to see the truth when bombarded with a lot of conflicting information. These tips, however, can prove handy when reading material from the web and sort out reliable information from trash in view of enhancing your literature review.

10 Tips to Discern Fact from Fiction

1. Educate yourself.

If you have a good background of the subject, nobody can fool you into believing something that is grossly absurd. Imagine the amount of time you spend to educate yourself in schools. It is a long process, but it will help relieve your ignorance about many things.

2.  If things are too exaggerated or too good to be true, dismiss it.

Have you ever seen a film where the human characters fly and jump high places whenever they fight ? If these people exist, then this world will be different. With training, some people will no longer need a ladder or a car for that matter. With just a few hops, they will be able to reach their destinations.

3. Always question what is being presented to you.

discernfactfromfiction

Don’t take things as they are. If there is doubt in your mind regarding things, ask. Through asking, you will verify the existence of an object, fact, or event.

Can you distinguish dreams from reality? Ask yourself while dreaming. Chances are, you will not be able to do so.

4. Verify the sources of information.

Find out where your information comes from. Is it coming from a verified source or is it just someone’s opinion? This is the very reason researchers have always to write their sources or references to enable the reader or critic of his paper to verify sources for reliability.

Science builds up its foundation on facts. If the foundation is weak, everything built upon it collapses once it gives way. A theory is built out of many tests of hypotheses.

Verifying sources of information becomes very important especially on those occasions where something really important crops up. Say, a total cure for cancer has been developed or discovered.

Nobody in his right mind will believe a tricky quack doctor’s recipe who has had a track record of 49/50 (49 died out of 50). Also, a scientist’s word is more believable than a politician’s when it comes to new discoveries.

5. Get rid of your biases.

If you have your prejudices, then your objective judgement is clouded. Take things with a grain of salt. Don’t incorporate your emotions and your personal biases. You can avoid this by applying the principle of triangulation.

6. Assess how well information is presented.

When reading information online, which one would you believe – one that is poorly written full of grammatical errors or one that is professionally written? Of course, you will go for the latter.

Presentation matters. If something is carefully done, chances are, there is more truth to it.

7. Vary your perspective.

Observe things using different perspectives. Delay your judgment when the facts are not adequate.

Remember the story of the six blind men and the elephant (see the video below if you are not familiar with this story)? Each one of them has a different view of what an elephant is because they relied on only one observation. The point is: don’t confine yourself to just one observation.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBqgr5xZLz0&rel=0]

8. Think beyond the box.

Explore what other information you can find about things around you. Thinking beyond the box means that you are unconventional. Don’t take things as they are. Ponder them and take action to verify the truth based on your observation.

The newly discovered mammal named olinguito would have been overlooked had one scientist dismissed his observation. Read about this discovery here.

9. Don’t make decisions right away.

Many commit blunders as a result of wrong decisions. Blunder is a common term used in playing chess. Once you make the decision, you cannot retract it. The die is cast.

While too much procrastination may be bad for you, being impulsive is also destructive. University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy says the key to success is waiting for the last possible moment to make a decision[3].

10. Watch out for opinionated statements. 

Don’t believe something without a basis. If you have 100 people, you are bound to have 100 opinions. Arguments should be substantiated by facts or evidences.

The whole point of the matter discussed here is that it pays if you follow certain guidelines in evaluating information presented to you. Remember Alexander Pope’s famous quotation “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

References

1. Queensland Government. (2013, April 24). Crocodiles. Retrieved from August 17, 2013, from http://www.qld.gov.au/environment/plants-animals/animals/crocodiles/

2. Outred, J. (2013, July 24). Cold-blooded dinos would have been ‘too weak’. Retrieved from August 17, 2013, from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/cold-blooded-dinosaurs-would-have-been-too-weak.htm

3. Gambino, M. (2012, July 13).  Why Procrastination is good for you. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Why-Procrastination-is-Good-for-You-162358476.html

© 2013 August 18 P. A. Regoniel