Philippines, Mexico, Mother Nature and Connections in This Week in Sustainability


This Week and Sustainability is featuring reflections and reporting from the field, as your host Marc de Sousa-Shields is on assignment in the Philippines. Marc will be talking about range of sustainability issues, some in the news, and some from his observations of happenings in the Philippines.

If you have been traveling recently, the coronavirus has made it impossible not to reflect on the incredible connectivity we share in this world.

We are, indeed, vitally connected to one another, quite an irony in an age of  increasing atomization of tribes by opinion. Yet, we are co-joined in many millions of ways through social events, commerce, and of course, an insatiable curiosity that leads us to travel to the four corners of the world.

Sir Willie’s chocolate factory

After a few days in capital city of the Philippines, Manila, I had the great fortune to visit a small chocolate processing plant in a rural area on the island of Leyte. Actually, it was a tiny facility. It was owned by Sir Willie who bought small amounts of cocoa from mostly poor farmers in the local areas. Cocoa had been reintroduced to the area near Tacloban City only recently in the aftermath 2013 Typhoon Yolanda which had, incidentally, knocked down many millions of coconut trees, then and now an economic mainstay for many small landholding farmers. Cacoa is thought to be a measure against the increasing number and strength of typhons coming ashore in Leyte.

Sir Willie started making artisan table in his late 60s as a means to help farmers. Tabla is a small round bar or disk of pure cocoa which Filipinos used to make a rich chocolate drink. It attacks your tongue with straight up 100% cacao. It really does, and it is wonderful.

After seeing his modest processing facilities, Sir Willie invited us for refreshments and a drink of chocolate. Alongside the chocolate served up in rather dainty teacups, were small tubular snacks rolled in green, steamed banana leaves that looked like long, thin cigars. Tamales, I thought! Except of course they were not. No corn, the leaves were filled with sticky rice. Instead laden with hot chili salsa and chicken, you got these sticks of rice for dunking into the chocolate.

Not tamales, but excellent

Now, many people know that Mexico and the Philippines have a long-shared connection through the Spanish conquest of both of these countries. You still hear it in the common names, Juan, Maria, Garcia, Lopez Or in names of places, San Francisco, El Salvador or Puerto Princesa, and of course, in shared foods, like the roasted pig dish Lechone and adobo pork. You also see it in architecture, particularly the age-old Catholic churches. And you see it in the chaotically, happily large, close families.

There is much to celebrate in the history which began when Magellan ran ashore in the Philippines in 1521, all these century old connections. It is my hope that these types of connections, the good types between peoples that draw us together will only get thicker, richer, and grow to allow Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, Australians, people from every country in the world, every spiritual background, to overcome the terrible forces of division among us these days.

Social connections and reconnecting with nature will save us

Because when you think about it, ultimately, it will be social connections that save us from the worst outcomes of climate change, biodiversity loss, and inequality.

The natural connections, or those that bind us through a shared ecology, are agnostic as to whether we get along and work together to solve common problems. Coronavirus, our current common global challenge, simply does not care who we are, how we pray, or where we live, or how we work together, or not. Yet, the potential damage it could do, the deaths it will cause, will be the result of exactly how well we come together to save ourselves.

I have no doubt this is just a dress rehearsal for the coming impacts of climate change. Some tell us that coronavirus is actually a result of the climate crisis. Rising temperatures in temperate zones allows for new viruses to develop, exposing immune systems not yet evolved to take it on.

We can no longer deny Mother Nature

I’m not sure. But I do know this. Mother nature punishes any species for overreach, for self-centered greed… something we humans have raised to the level of an evil art. Humans have been trying to conquer mother nature for centuries. Now? We are simply in denial about her far greater strength.

I’ve have concluded connectivity, be it social or natural is most certainly a net zero sum dynamic. If you pull too hard one way, say overgrazing a prairie or over
damming a river, it simply denies others somewhere else in our shared ecology – human or other species – their necessary share.  Animals adapt, move on, or rise and fight. Take too much, and suffer the consequences. Ultimately, Mother Nature redeems the damage done through restoration, or, yes, by punishing the offending species.

Live with Mother Nature or suffer her agnostic wrath

It all sounds so biblical, doesn’t it? Mother Nature punishing offenders.  

But why not? The laws of nature are immutable and indelibly written on all life: we can see this in the lonely yellow and green daisy pushing up through unused concrete.  Many millions of spiritual leaders, moral leaders, community leaders, writers, authors, poets, and just plain, ordinary people the world round have known the facts of how we are all connected in nature since the beginning of time.

The global coronavirus out-break where experiencing, will teach us much about the strengths and lessons of global connectivity, lessons we have for free if we choose to learn.  I fear we may not, or at least not in time to reintegrate the human species back into nature.

All this can make you sad, or afraid.

But know this, if each and every one of us could sit with Sir Willie and share his 70-year-young enterprising dream to make people happy with his chocolate, we would most certainly welcome the lessons of connectivity and all the good things we can do with that understanding. I am also certain you know or have met more than a few Sir Willies of your own!


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