Simply destroying the countries mining industry in the name of a green crusade will not, ultimately, solve the many environmental problems facing the Philippines. There is no one magical solution that will tame the many-tentacled beast that is the country’s problems with pollution and land degradation.

If a giant Cracken is attacking your ship, the piecemeal approach of hacking off one tentacle may slow the beast down for a while but there are plenty more long slimy arms ready to smack you in the face.

One such arm is that of agricultural pollution, of which Ms Lopez has so far made no mention. What’s the point of saving a watershed if that water is then defiled downstream with pesticides and fertilisers when it reaches the fields and reservoirs?

The current industrial agricultural system promotes a reliance on synthetic fertilisers and pesticides while neglecting to consider their negative effects on the economy of local communities, human health and the environment.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, between 1961 and 2005 fertilizer use increased by 1000%. From 1977 to 1987 pesticide use increased by 325%. Excessive and inappropriate use of these chemicals causes land degradation, loss in soil fertility and causes water pollution that directly and indirectly affects human health.

Researchers at the Benguet State University have found pesticide residues of organophosphates, organochlorines and pyrethroids in soil and
vegetables grown in the Benguet municipality.

Water pollution from nitrates derived from fertilizer runoff is widespread in the Philippines. For example, an analysis by Greenpeace of groundwater in Benguet and Bulacan Provinces found that 30% of the tested artesian wells had nitrate levels above the World Health Organization drinking water safety limit.

The chronic effects of pesticides can negatively impact not only the health of people living in rural communities but also other populations further down the supply chain which consume the contaminated food and water.

This does not take into account the ‘collateral damage’ caused by broad-spectrum insecticides which kill many more insects than the targeted pest, resulting in a loss of insect biodiversity and beneficial species such as crop pollinators.

The constant use of insecticides also leads to the buildup of resistance in the targeted pests, meaning farmers must resort to heavier doses and more toxic compounds which, of course, leads to more pollution and health hazards.

Mines have to adhere to strict and enforceable environmental standards and codes of practice and are obligated to restore the land they mine. There is an ‘end point’ to their activities once the minerals have been extracted. Can one say the same of industrial agriculture where the pollution is open ended?

Shutting mines is no panacea for all environmental ills when pollution from other sources will just take it’s place. Instead of cherry-picking her targets, Ms Lopez should be formulating a strategy that tackles all environmental challenges with a multi-pronged approach, seeking a balance between industrial development and protection of the natural world in all sectors of the economy, not just the one she seems to have taken a personal dislike to.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash