by Purple Romero

It delivered one of those water-spurting-from nostrils kind of funny and hilarity. I’m referring to the book “And So It Goes: Adventures in Television” by acclaimed journalist Linda Ellerbee; published in 1986, her book was a witty, humorous and insightful chronicling of the hypocrisies and triumphs of the journalism industry.

I will come across her name again in January 2017, as I was following the controversial proposed undersea-themed facility to be built by entertainment company Nickelodeon in the pristine island of Coron, Palawan. The project came under fire as Filipinos raised the potential environmental harm it may bring to Coron, which has been touted as the Philippine’s last ecological frontier.

Coron, Palawan. Coron is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines rich in biodiversity. Palawan is said to be the country's last ecological frontier. Photo from 8 wonders travel

Coron, Palawan. Coron is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines rich in biodiversity. Palawan is said to be the country’s last ecological frontier. Photo from 8 wonders travel

Ellerbee, I came to learn, hosted Nick News which put a spotlight on climate change in its episodes “Plan it for the Planet” in 1993 and “A Global Warming from the Kids of the World” in 2007. The episodes explained to children what climate change is and how it will affect them and their communities.

What does this tell us? Nickelodeon, one of the top entertainment companies for kids, knows why protecting the ecosystems and natural resources has become more urgent and essential in the face of climate change.

It will be sensible to assume that Coral World Park Undersea Resorts and Viacom International Media Networks, Nickelodeon’s parent company, can say that building their resort, which ostensibly also aims to teach conservation, is in line with this goal. But this only raises more doubts than quells them.

One, Nickeledeon – through programs such as Ellerbee’s – has evidently already explored other ways of teaching environmental protection without having to build a resort-cum-conservation facility. Aside from “Nick News: A Global Warming from the Kids of the World,” the company has also launched “The Big Green Help,” a multi-platform global campaign which uses tools such as games to engage kids to learn more about climate change.

If they can do that to inform children about the dangerous effects of climate change and what can be done to reduce greenhouse gases, then they can also do the same to raise awareness on marine conservation.

The fact that they want to build a resort to achieve the latter raises the fact that they want to profit from doing it. They call it conservation tourism and it’s not wrong per se. What raises the alarm bells is when they start using reasons such as it “will bring more jobs” to defend the project. It’s the same language that coal companies use when they want to gain the approval of the public or of a potential host community while sidestepping concerns on environmental and health risks.

Right to say no

What we need is a complete disclosure of the facility’s design and its social and environmental risks. Even if Viacom and Coral World Park Undersea say that it will not be built underwater, there have already been concerns raised that transport from the main coast to the venue or the site of the resort can still harm the coral reefs. How will they take these observations into consideration?

Nickelodeon theme park plan by Coral World Park as given to Mashable

Nickelodeon theme park plan by Coral World Park as given to Mashable

 

Nickelodeon theme park plan by Coral World Park as given to Mashable

Nickelodeon theme park plan by Coral World Park as given to Mashable

How will they consider the views of other stakeholders, for that matter? Coral World Park Undersea Resorts has been quoted as saying that the project will push through, a statement made even if they have yet to gain the permit necessary to build their resort. An assertion like this disregards and disrespects the right of the community to decide if it will approve or reject the project proposal.

Getting the permit from the local government and national government agencies is a tricky thing. Firms will dangle economic benefits (such as jobs) and extend other rewards to the community (scholarships, medical missions etc.) to secure their permission. This is par for the course. What has to be assessed though is if these benefits are commensurate or are enough to compensate for the possible social and environmental harm that their projects may cause.

A holistic assessment of these risks must be conducted. No project and company are exempted. Even climate adaptation and mitigation actions are subjected to this kind of rigorous evaluation to check if their implementation will not produce negative social and environmental effects. This is why we have safeguards for reducing emissions for deforestation and forest degradation or REDD+, and this is also why there is fervent debate over the use of carbon capture and storage technology.

The Paris Agreement also deviates from being carbon-centric and mandates that human rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent must be upheld when pursuing mitigation and adaptation initiatives.

Local laws also have the same principles. These principles must be upheld by all businesses, may they be espousing environmental protection or even hold operations that often raise red flags such as mining and coal companies.

Nickelodeon, with its comprehensive and continuous efforts to increase awareness and educate children about climate change, must surely know about this. Hence, they should have realized that branding their resort and undersea-themed facility as a project for “ocean conservation” does not exempt it from scrutiny and it certainly does not automatically give them the approval of the Filipino people.

A little consistency

It should also be pointed out that the increase in ocean temperature and acidification due to climate change have resulted in the bleaching of coral reef systems. What drives climate change are mainly anthropogenic or manmade activities that emit greenhouse gases.

What could be the saddest irony then is having a company which promoted climate change education to establish a business that can contribute to the rise of greenhouse gases. If you have a resort, that resort will need to use energy. Even if that company vows to source its energy needs from renewable energy, its mere presence sends the message that similar establishments can operate in pristine, ecologically important areas such as Coron.

SpongeBob_Coron

Nickelodeon’s plans has led to controversy and opposition from Filipinos. Photo from Bataris.org

Can Nickelodeon help make sure that these other companies will not depend on other cheaper, dirty sources of energy? In a related concern, can Nickelodeon guarantee that these companies will not harm coral reef systems the way they claimed their resort and facility wouldn’t?

These are questions that need to be asked when there’s inconsistency in the kind of messages that one sends. Even with colorful words and a positive spin, children can tell when they are not being shown the big picture. The doublespeak echoes.