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The EnviCore Engagement: Save the World, Take the Crash Course

Leon Dulce

“[S]aving humanity and saving the earth. You can't expect to achieve one without the other, and neither is possible under the existing system.” – John Bellamy Foster

Hold up a flashcard with the word “environmentalism” to a high school class and ask them what it means. You will hear the usual motherhood statements of saving Mother Nature and caring for the environment. Ask them to give concrete examples of environmentalism, and you'll get just about the same broad strokes: proper waste segregation and disposal, tree-planting, coastal clean ups, and living a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Having never accepted the approach of promoting individual lifestyle changes made popular by mass media, every encounter I had with the environmental movement was always with a doubtful look and taken with a grain of salt. It was only in the later parts of my stint as an activist in the University of the Philippines did I encounter a different brand of environmental activism, one that I would discover later to be of the principles, concepts and strategies embodied in the Environmental Cadres Course (EnviCore) training course I would be taking years later.

First Encounter

We were organizers then in the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP, and we were helping to consolidate our member regional organizations hailing from Bicol, Marinduque, and other regions. We decided to conduct a big forum on the biggest concerns of their hometowns, which through consultation were identified mainly as the practices of rampant deforestation and mining.

In search of resource speakers who have a genuine understanding of the situation in the grassroots communities, we came upon the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC Phils) and the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment. The presentations were a refreshing break from the beauty pageant proclamations we usually hear: presented was a comprehensive overview of both quantitative and qualitative data on our natural resources and its exploitation by big transnational corporations.

It was the first time we were exposed to the economic and political ramifications of these environmentally destructive practices, and the first time we were presented with a concrete array of solutions both in the long-term and short-term. The discourse looked at the issues from the perspective of poor and vulnerable people and communities: the impacts, after all, primarily affected the economically marginalized.

Fast Forward

Onwards to 2010, I am now working in the Computer Professinals' Union (CPU), a non-government organization of information and communications technology (ICT) professionals, students and advocates. We serve as a bridge between the ICT community and the broad mass movements in the Philippines, mobilizing its members and volunteers to provide technical services to its network of non-government and people's organizations, as well as to have a direct involvement in their campaigns and other activities.

CPU has long worked with other progressive science & technology organizations, including those involved in environmental advocacy. It started to have a deeper engagement in the environmental movement beyond providing technical services in its participation in the national grassroots conference on climate change organized by the CEC–Phils and the Philippine Climate Watch Alliance (PCWA), which we officially joined shortly thereafter.

Leading the operations of multimedia documentation and serving as technical partner in PCWA's different involvements, CPU finally ventured into its own environmental project with the Global Green Grants Fund-supported Greenbot Philippines, a project that aims to produce an online web portal that documents case studies of environmental issues around the nation, starting with the particular cases of coastal ecosystems in Bohol, Sorsogon and Negros, and a manual for environmental activists on useful online tools for their campaigns, education and organizing.

For the Environment

Then the opportunity came for CPU to finally get its formal training in the area of environmental advocacy and education: CEC Phils invited us to participate in their second Environmental Cadres' Course (or EnviCore for short) for Luzon-based organizations. It is a comprehensive six-day course that aims to integrate environmental perspectives in the work of advocates from different sectors of society. It also aims to develop their capacities in organizing effective and sustainable campaigns and developing projects on environmental issues and concerns.

Excited for a closer encounter with the concrete methodologies of progressive environmental advocacy, and hoping to finally be its implementor in the sector of ICT, I embarked with other delegates from around Luzon to an eco-farm in Cavite for a focused, if not bordering on hermetic, study. Envicore here we come! We were a mixed bunch of youths and students, indigenous people's leaders, scientists and development workers, but all were involved to an extent in environmental activism. Coming as an ICT activist, I was easily one of the participants who weren't your usual fold of environmental advocates.

We were trained in basic ecological concepts to have a sufficient scientific framework as basis for the setting of our guiding principles in our campaigns, projects, training and education. The national and international environmental situation was also imparted to give participants the social contexts that have shaped modern trends in the environmental movement. We were also given specific inputs on climate change science and policy trends.

It was in here that I fully appreciated the people-oriented perspective that environmental activism should subscribe to: nature is no mere wonder, but a resource that the majority of Filipinos rely on for their survival and livelihood. As ecologist John Bellamy Foster puts it, the more effective advocates of environmental sustainability in the world are the ones with a pro-people principle under their belts, such as Bolivian socialist President Evo Morales.

For the People

With the framework down pat, delegates were then equipped with skills and tools in the day-to-day operations of an environmental advocacy organization: there were sessions on legal work, policy advocacy, networking, issue profiling and research, and planning campaigns. Despite delegates having different campaigns, activities and projects appropriate to their own lines of work, everyone still benefited from understanding how the entire operation works. It enabled us to see the context where our ICT projects fit in the big picture of the Philippine environmental movement, for instance.

One would realize after going through EnviCore that everything is connected when it comes to environmental advocacy. Every human activity, after all, has an impact on and is affected by changing trends in the environment. For us ICT activists, the dream of having a competitive domestic software and hardware manufacturing industry has a stable and modernized agriculture as its prerequisite. Where else will we get the raw materials for production and the operational requirements such as food, health care and shelter if our agricultural production remains stunted and import-dependent?

On the flipside, every sector can also contribute to the struggle for the people and the environment. We can help cause-oriented organizations and campaigns related to the environment be more efficient by providing them with appropriate computer tools and technologies, and training them in its optimal usage. Scientists can help concretize studies and investigations on different environmental impacts. Cultural workers can help popularize campaigns through engaging visual communication. Business graduates can help generate resources to help sustain projects and campaigns.

The possibilities that we must make possible are endless.

Leon Dulce is the new media coordinator of the Computer Professionals' Union. He pursues his interests in design, writing, technology and activism online and offline, all in service to the people's struggles.

See related article at EnviCore: Piloting a New Course for Grassroots Environmental Cadres