The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines

The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines

The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines

The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines

Synopsis

The Philippines was once famous for the beauty of its reef-ringed islands, white beaches, and lush forests. In less than a half-century, its forests were felled, its oceans over-fished, and its coral reefs destroyed. The rapid harvest of once-abundant resources has brought droughts, deadly flash floods, and the collapse of vital fisheries. As the rural economy weakened and millions migrated to cities, they overwhelmed the urban infrastructure. Today, the Philippines stands as an example of the profound and sweeping consequences of ecological decline. In The Green Tiger, Barbara Goldoftas documents this tragic trajectory. But hers is not a story of hopelessness and inevitable defeat. In lyrical, unflinching prose, she traces the struggle for conservation in the Philippines, from isolated villages to large cities, and in the process illustrates the surprising ways in which conservation and economic growth can effectively co-exist.

Excerpt

In January 1991, as the first Gulf War began, I flew across the world to the Philippines to work as a writer. With bombs trained on targets around the Middle East, it was an uncertain and fearful time to be traveling. In Manila, a bounty had been offered for each American head, and the day before I arrived, a powerful bomb exploded outside the U.S. Information Agency, blowing a crater into the street and bits of flesh into the trees. As I began my first assignment, traveling to remote villages to visit projects funded by a small development agency, I found that I had entered a realm of conflicts quite separate from my own country’s war. The hardships humbled me, and I soon stopped thinking about my own safety. Within a few days, I was in a remote indigenous village interviewing men who felled and dragged trees through the forest with their carabao, water buffalo. I listened as teachers taught children to count wood in board-feet so their parents would not be underpaid. I walked through the ragged landscape of a national park in the Bicol region, where towering hardwoods had been reduced to charcoal and burned stumps.

These communities, I learned, were not unusual. Much of the magnificent tropical forests that once covered the archipelago’s interior had been cleared in just a few decades, and the remaining forest was being cut. Over the course of a year, I traveled along the forest frontier, reaching far-flung villages by taking boats down rivers, waiting for daily jeepneys or the occasional motorcycle, or walking. The deforestation had happened so rapidly that people still spoke with anguish about the changes that it brought. From northern Luzon to south– ern Mindanao, I heard the same stories—from farmers whose rice fields had . . .

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