Be Like Bike
by rick olivares
The question might have been somewhat ridiculous but it still packed plenty of wallop.
“What will happen if you stick your nose to your car’s exhaust?”
Kind of a no-brainer, right?
Now think of it this way – the carbon monoxide that cars spew into the atmosphere? Well, they come back right to us. It circulates around us and we inhale it. Even in the supposed safe confines of air-conditioned rooms with filters, where do you think the air comes from? And we wonder how and why pollution is killing people.
Ours is a car culture. Yes, a car is a status symbol here in the Philippines. It says, “I can afford.” Or if it’s a snazzy vehicle you like to show off, it’s “I got it made.” Phasing out cars? Not a chance in a third world country where even 1960’s model cars are for keeps.
However, when Filipinos go abroad they don’t mind commuting: “Oh, I know how to commute – I take the bus when I’m in Chicago.” But once they’re back in Manila… go figure.
Of course one cannot fault car owners because one, it’s their right to chose personal mobility, and two, the urban planning and public transportation system of Metro Manila has degenerated into crap and that is a most damning understatement. For proof, check out that tuna canning plant that runs the length of EDSA and is called the “MRT.”
In a most recent survey of citizens done by the National Center for Transportation Studies, people who do a lot of walking and commuting, if they had a choice and had deeper pockets, they’d rather – another no-brainer here -- buy a car.
However, in this day and age of climate change where it has accelerated at an alarming rate than the most pragmatic of scientific predictions, some folks are taking us back to the pre-industrial revolution. I’m talking about good ole manpower where one walked or biked to get around.
The Firefly Brigade is not for the faint of heart since they are oft on the road to promote for a harmonious road relationship between cars and bicycles (considering that Filipino drivers think they’re on the Talladega Speedway or on some slalom course) while getting more than a noseful of toxic fumes. It’s important don’t you think when at one time or another we want to release or inner Mad Max on stupid drivers. And there’s the usual government ineptitude but let’s not get into that because whenever talk about them comes up I want to do more than a Mad Max on them.
Thankfully I have not decided to descend into bouts of barbarism and an interesting analogy made by the Law of Nature Foundation’s Counselor for Environmental Law Atty. Antonio Oposa Jr. has knocked even more sense into me. He gives lectures on a transportation revolution where he begins by asking whether ants -- yes, these lowly creatures -- are more intelligent than man in a certain way.
As Oposa, a University of the Philippines law professor, humorously relates, ants travel in a single file and never cause miniscule traffic jams. They do not take up needless space and do not pollute the air while going about their daily routine. Perhaps, the most telling difference is when they bump into each other, they do not argue, fight, or kill. Hey, Jason Ivler -- take a lesson from ants, why don’t you?
You have to hand it to the Firefly Brigade who are named after that winged beetle for their use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey and are seeing less of because of pollution. This volunteer action group promotes the use of bicycles as a means of transportation and works for the full implementation of the Philippine Clean Air Act and its Non-Motorized Transport component (RA No. 8749) that calls for the unequivocal reduction of smog and air pollution to make cities more inhabitable.
In Asia, half-a-million people a year die prematurely because of pollution while in Metro Manila, 70% of the urban air pollution is caused by motorized transport. The increase in transport, industry, and biomass burning produces greenhouse gases and the blight air. And incredibly, people choose to watch Hollywood films by the purveyors of extinction events such as Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (see The Day After Tomorrow and 2012) rather than pay more attention to An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. Bollocks to those Friday the 13th horror-type films when the real frightening stories on climate change are reported in newspapers and magazines yet do not merit the kind of interest that purported dalliances between a boxing champ and a young and beautiful woman fresh out of college receive.
Cycling is an alternative means of transportation that is cheap, efficient, environmentally sensible, and good for one’s health. And note that 16 bicycles can be parked in the space of one car.
Of course, it a tropical country like ours, the heat can be oppressive and leave one perspiring. That is why there must be facilities in work places for cyclists to wash up.
This is not a call for the eradication of motorized transport but rather an urgent demand for more responsible urban planning and more efficient, affordable, and clean public transport. For a country like ours that loves to emulate foreign models (and we do so poorly at that), we fail to look to world-class cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Zurich, or Curitaba, where both rich and the poor regularly use buses and trains. Instead more and more roads are being built that hardly begin to address traffic concerns. When those flyovers were first built it was said that it would reduce traffic. I should ask the idiot who said that if he has been inhaling carbon monoxide or taking illegal substances. Are we turning the metro into a gigantic freeway? There are way more people who commute as opposed to those who ride cars yet they have the lion’s share of the road. Think of the money that should be spent otherwise on improving public transport and for the proper greening of Metro Manila!
While the films such as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 may be Hollywood creations, the end results of those movies that depict the large scale death due to nature’s revenge – that is the one thing they’ve gotten right.
Post-script: I have once more decided to take up biking (after having hanging it up some 15 years ago. Thanks to Rosar Crisostomo and his family (Karen, Aneka, Mihali, and Juancho) for the inspiration. I also recommend that you check out fireflybrigade.org, observatory.ph, klima.ph, and cai-asia.org.
I am also looking for people to help me disseminate copies of Panahon Na! – the Philippine version of An Inconvenient Truth produced by the defunct Presidential Task Force on Climate Change. It’s not bad; just go beyond the telenovela production with Dingdong Dantes and the beautiful Nikki Gil serving as hosts. Typical Pinoy – adding a showbiz element to every endeavor. You’ll understand what I mean after seeing it.
Kudos to Senator Pia Cayetano who filed her candidacy while on a bike and to the LRT-Lines 1 & 2 management for allowing foldable bikes in its coaches.
In case you don't know:
- Metro Manila is sinking
- the Philippines will be one of the worst hit countries because of Climate Change
- small fishermen are increasingly finding it hard to fish because the water is hotter and it kills the natural habitat of fish. it won't be long before even food resources dwindle.