Questions of Science and Progress

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published for SunStar on December 28, 2017. It was written by Dave Albao, Executive Director of Philippine Reef & Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI), which is responsible for the management and preservation of Danjugan Island, and is one of our collaborators for the upcoming MUNI Travels on March 9-14, 2018. Dave touched on a lot of salient questions on what “growth”, “success” and “progress” truly mean in a materialistic, money-driven society. But perhaps this is a culture we can rethink and transform into a more meaningful, mindful, and empathetic one?

BETTER. Bigger. More. As we nurse holiday hangovers, waking up to what’s left behind of parties past, we may have a moment’s chance to contemplate on the meaning of progress. Did I get a bigger Christmas bonus? Did I get a new gadget? Did I give or receive more gifts than last year’s?

Progress may be linked to the feeling that something has improved in our lives. We compare the previous and the present to know if we have moved forward toward our goals.

As to what these goals are, will vary from person to person, culture to culture. We do not have to question and judge which goals are loftier or more altruistic than others. But to discuss what goals we have, based on our current experiences and beliefs, may define what progress really is to us, and to the beings coexisting with us.

With a clear vision of what progress we desire, then we can discuss the questions: Are our lives improving? Do we, with honest accounting, have better, bigger, more? And in the context of sharing one planet with other humans, animals, plants and minerals: Do we have collective progress?


“I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling your puzzles apart… Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart.”

These are words from “The Scientist,” one of my favorite Coldplay songs, and I play it while I write this. I just stopped to pet a cat who wanted to cuddle as soon as I started to hum with the song. I feel the breeze, relaxed with a view of vegetation, nestled in a personal retreat that I choose to do annually in the last week of the year.

This time I decided to do the retreat in Siquijor, away from fireworks, rush hour traffic, pressure to answer questions of my progress, in parties with family, friends or colleagues. I deactivated my Facebook. My meditation this week allows me to reflect and truly seek in myself, alone, the answers to my own questions of progress.

One significant event this year was Vox Populi’s recent international expedition to Negros. This trip co-organized by VoPo and the team behind Danjugan Island was themed “Rogue Plastic” to immerse people with backgrounds in science, engineering, sustainability, industry, and even human psychology, in the global issue of plastic pollution.

The VoPo Expedition would not have been complete without the interactions between the local youth and government, and to me these moments were expressions of our species’ awakening to what is the true cost of our materialism, and at the same time, to find opportunities to connect with fellow humans and nature, and to encourage thinking and working together.

The Expedition brought the impact adventurers to the Sipalay City Eco-Center, a beacon of hope. What we see in the sanitary landfill are remnants of a culture that is dependent on convenience and ease, and the Sipalay Eco-Center is faced with challenges in solid waste management, starting from the disposal of trash in their communities, segregation at source, materials recovery, and the need for manpower and equipment to manage the facility properly.

I say the Eco-Center is a beacon of hope because despite all these challenges, you can also see that the local government and its people are in touch with the issue and works hard toward solutions.

Flowers and organic vegetables grow inside the Sipalay City Eco-Center which also houses a sanitary landfill. The city’s commendable solid waste management is not without challenges, but the local government’s political will is ripe to seek solutions. (Photo by Charley Sta. Maria)

I am particularly inspired by Manong Dodoy, the Solid Waste Management Division Head of Sipalay City’s Environment and Natural Resources Office, who has never run out of creative ideas to repurpose or reuse plastic waste.

I can think of three cities in Negros that are leading the way in solid waste management and environmental protection: Sipalay, Bayawan and San Carlos. These communities are in a watershed moment to be sustainable cities. I look at Bacolod and Dumaguete and the crisis we face there in terms of plastic pollution, but there is still hope.

During the Expedition, VoPo co-founders Charlotte Mellis and Erik Sumarkho Spiniello led us in discussions they called “Brainmelt,” encompassing topics like our beach cleanup interactions with locals, life cycle assessment of plastic, the economics of capitalism, cognitive dissonance in psychology, and our fundamental connection to the wilderness.

The remarkably profound conversations will keep going, among them are potential solutions, individual and collective action plans we can take to significantly reduce our impact to the planet and our fellow human beings – in the present and future.

The Expedition: Rogue Plastic is a continuing series, especially for the benefit of local efforts in Negros, like the soon-to-be launched Sweep: Sea Waste Education to Eradicate Plastic. In March 2018, the Filipino sustainable living community of Muni will also participate in an immersion of similar objectives. (See: MUNI Travels to Negros: A Mindful Travel Experience on March 9-14, 2018)

Groups like VoPo and Muni have nurtured a larger community of mindful travelers, citizens, and Earthlings, and the seeds we have sown for sustainable development are now growing into conscious societies.


In my retreat I finished the book “The Man Who Quit Money” about Daniel Suelo who has lived moneyless since 2000. It has quite an unsettling exploration of our definitions of progress in terms of money.

Money – something we have agreed upon to create our conveniences, debts and obligations. If you are reading this article, you may be one of us who has the privilege and luxury of paying for coffee while looking at the paper. You may be business owners, political leaders, or anyone who plays a role in this money-dependent society.

I wish to reach out to you and share what I keep delving deeper into, from Suelo’s and the general mindset of minimalists and conservationists, something about what it really means to survive, something I heard from one of Prince EA’s spoken-word videos: “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish caught, the last river dry, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

#davealbao #danjuganisland #ecocenter #muni #negros #plastic #progress #mindfulliving #waste #sipalay

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