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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Vision for the Anthropocene: The Pacific Region

This article was published as part of a collaboration with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and is based on UNSW’s Grand Challenges project, which is an innovative undertaking to connect academia and real world solutions on the challenges of our time.

This article was published as part of a collaboration with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and is based on UNSW’s Grand Challenges project, which is an innovative undertaking to connect academia and real world solutions on the challenges of our time.

The Anthropocene in the Asia Pacific

The Anthropocene, which is the most recent period of Earth’s history, where human activity is significantly impacting the climate and ecosystems, has highly impacted our planet. The Asia Pacific region is especially vulnerable to climate change. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, five of the ten countries most affected by extreme weather events were from the Asia Pacific region. These included Japan, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Fiji. In the case of the Philippines, in merely one month, November 2020, super typhoon Goni and category-4 typhoon Vamco resulted in 98 casualties. An average of 20 tropical cyclones or typhoons occur annually in the Philippines but the intensity has increased due to warming oceans. The current challenges are severe. According to researcher Dahlia Simangan, these should be tackled from a local, national and global level to achieve socially just solutions.

Vulnerable, Yet Culpable

Besides its vulnerability to extreme weather conditions that have become increasingly intense, the Asia Pacific region is also to be blamed for contributing to climate change and emissions. In fact, the Asia Pacific as a whole is the highest annual contributor to climate change as two of the three largest emitters in the world are located there. Within the region, vast disparities exist. China, India and Indonesia are expected to contribute 89% of the region’s emissions by 2030 whereas the others are only the remaining 11%. Unsurprisingly, these large emissions can be attributed to our consumption-driven world economy that has detached itself from nature.

The Capitalocene

Dahlia Simangan argues that the current growth model of the world economy, which is motivated by consumption and unlimited growth, has led to the commodification of nature. Besides the positive impact this growth has on our quality of life, the consequences on the environment result in an opposite trend and actually, decrease our well-being. Some scholars call it the Capitalocene. Instead of living in the Anthropocene, “the age of Man”, the current period has become the age of capital. But, what are the possibilities to move beyond this? This is where the local, regional and global levels of intervention come into play.

Myong in the Cordillera Mountains

On the local level, we could learn from indigenous peoples who, contrary to the modernist thinking that human beings are separate from nature, disagree, and view humans as part of it. This has encouraged their sustainable livelihood practices such as ‘muyong’. Muyong is an indigenous knowledge system for resource management. It covers indigenous forest management in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines. On the one hand, their system manages the tribes’ needs, and on the other, it is continuously regenerating forests. There exists a web of resources between the human and non-human resources of the system. It can be viewed as a forest conservation strategy, a farming system or a watershed rehabilitation technique. An investigation conducted in 2001 found that the muyong contained 264 species, mainly indigenous, belonging to 71 plant families. 

Ruwai and the Chewong people

Another piece of wisdom from the indigenous people is ‘ruwai’. The concept of ruwai is used by the Chewong people living in the Malaysian rainforest and entails the consciousness of all beings. These indigenous people live without social or political hierarchy, in an environment where humans and many animals, plants and spirits form a single moral universe. Ruwai means the possession of consciousness. The notion of consciousness is central in the Chewong because, in theory, everything in the forest may reveal itself to be a sentient being with personal qualities. The interaction between all sentient species rests on a profoundly egalitarian basis. The species are distinguished from each other merely by their bodies or ‘cloaks’ as called by the Chewong. Each species has its own special body which can be put on or off but the relations are egalitarian.

Circular Economy

However, merely a local approach is not sufficient because the strong demand side of the economy overrides local practices. On a national or also sub-national level an approach focused on circular economy is useful. A circular economy entails reusing, recycling, and repairing products to stop producing waste in the first place. A circular approach to reusing plastic has been implemented in several Asian cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, Surabaya, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Da Nang. The “Closing the Loop” project will first monitor plastic waste leakage and subsequently help policymakers to develop strategies that apply a “circular economy” approach.

Indigenous Wisdom at a Global Level

Climate change is a problem without borders that does not confine itself within the boundaries of one community or a country. It requires cooperation on a global scale. These previously mentioned practices could also find their way on the global level. International organisations should draw on indigenous knowledge and practices without disrupting their independent way of life. Several organisations, such as the UNHCR, FAO, and ILO have brought indigenous knowledge into the spotlight showing its importance and value. Through this, the international organisations will also amplify the voices of the marginalised and protect their practices and knowledge.

Socially Just Sustainability?

The Capitalocene has improved our living standards but has damaged our environment. Several countries in Asia-Pacific, a region that is also the largest carbon-dioxide emitter, are especially vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. The practices of indigenous people that do not separate humans and nature could serve as valuable examples, also on a global level. On a regional level, a model of circular economy is useful and has been adopted by several Asian cities as well. Perhaps through cooperation and learning from indigenous practices, there is a way to achieve socially just sustainability.

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