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Essay

Val Amiel Vestil

Year-Prize: The 10th Eco-generation Environmental Essay Competition     Item: Connecting People to Nature by rediscovering the value of nature

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A Sense of Disconnect in an Interconnected Era


Val Amiel Vestil (Philippines)

Samsung Engineering CEO's Prize


As a writer and a free-spirited, outgoing millennial, I spend the bulk of my time in the great outdoors either finding a good shade under the acacia trees lording over me, taking time to dip in the pristine beaches that this archipelago is blessed with, or trekking up the slopes of a mountain not too hard to find. And for every moment that I indulge myself in the gifts of nature, I am in utter bliss.
This is my own way of connecting with the soils where I come from in spite of how socio-politically disconnected and digitally interconnected the world has come to be. And needless to say, these are all under threat by institutions that are supposed to be engineers of a more livable natural world.
These threats are abound: we have a leader of one of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters who has decided to withdraw from the historic Paris pact which binds almost 200 nations of the world working together to reduce global temperatures. On the other hand, Coron, Palawan, the last ecological frontier of the Philippines, is currently eyed by a multibillion dollar company as the location of an underwater resort and theme park which will ultimately disrupt the marine ecosystem thriving there.
These alarming pressures that prove the deliberate disconnect with nature have turned our natural capital into profitable goods when in fact, the inherent services of these ecological systems far outweigh its economic worth.
In 1997, a groundbreaking study by Robert Constanza and his fellow researchers aimed to put monetary value on a massive 17 ecosystem services hoping to prove that numbers that define global gross national product pale in comparison to the real value of the entire biosphere. In turn, this research would guide policy makers in assessing the broader non-monetary impact of public projects. It rightly puts into the calculus of decision making a higher premium in ecological valuation than mere monetary impact.
True enough, the global value of ecosystem services was estimated at an average US$33 trillion/year in contrast to global GNP at US$18 trillion. And that was 20 years ago. Constanza published an updated estimate three years back showing that the value of global ecosystem services has skyrocketed in 2011 to US$125 trillion. Researchers admit that these are all "crude underestimates" of the benefit of our natural capital to human welfare. And yet, we still have the likes of politicians and businessmen who are more concerned of capitalist gains.
Despite this, the 20th century has catered us an opportunity to turn the tides. We have transcended into an age of digital power and as much as this can possibly isolate us from reconnecting with nature, I believe we can take advantage of this and use it as a tool to champion the rediscovery of the value of our shared natural resources.
If we can increase the conversation of the value of nature on social media, we could easily start reconnecting people to nature. We can do this by developing online campaigns that aim to proactively educate the youth about the monetary value of nature, using the hashtag "#HowMuchIsTheEarth?" Emphasis on proactive as we aim not only to inform them, but include them in the process of information dissemination.
Content strategies can attempt to answer fun and interesting questions such as "How much is the sun?" "How much are the butterflies?" "How much is the river?" This can attract a huge following among the youth. Action strategies will involve them going out to the beach, or visiting a butterfly garden, or swimming in the river—a "Natural Bucketlist" of sorts—reconnecting them to nature through an online brigade.
The more educated young people there are involved on talks of mother nature, the stronger the movement and engagement for the preservation of our shared natural resources against these outside forces. We are a population of 1.8 billion young people in this world, according to United Nation's Commission on Population and Development, and we must take advantage of that opportunity to stimulate 1.8 billion young people to fight off the numerous anthropogenic threats that disconnect us from nature. This statement is incredibly visionary, but we need to start to make it happen.
At the end of the day, I want my future children, and their children, and generations thereafter to breathe the same clean air as I, swim in the same pristine seas as I, trek in the same lush mountains as I, hear the same beautiful hymns of the birds as I, and bask under the comforting heat of the same glorious sun as I. And this can only be done if the intrinsic value of the blues and greens that surround us at this very moment is acknowledged, protected, and preserved.

3 Comments

  • says :
    Excellent essay. I am glad to read it from the perspective of someone who understands these problems
    Posted 28-05-2018 04:28

Aaditya Singh

  • Aaditya Singh says :
    Val, I really enjoyed reading the words of a free-spirited, outgoing millennial, as you called yourself and the priceless price tags that you propose to attach to every aspect of nature. A well deserved win for your essay. Congrats.
    Posted 21-07-2017 05:57

Viraaj Kulshreshtha

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