by John Martin Soriano

Watching cartoons and anime in TV had been my hobby since I was young – it never changed ever since. One cartoon I fondly watched was Avatar: The Legend of Aang. I always thought of myself as an avatar when I watch the show, being able to bend the primary elements: air, water, earth, and fire – driving with the wind, flowing with water, defending with earth, and burning with fire.

I was very imaginative, but little did I know that I must be imaginative again today. Imagine this: if I were an avatar, could I bend the elements against today’s dying and suffering environment?

Would I be able to even breathe the air full of pollutants and toxicity? Smoke, aerosols, and smog – products of industrialization, transportation, and coal fumigation – brought about the following statistics, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • nine out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants every day
  • seven million people die every year from air pollution
  • 91% of the world has air quality indexes exceeding dangerous levels

If I were to breathe and bend air, I might not even survive because of the dangers of ingesting toxic substances that could damage my internal organs.

How would I bend water filled with trash, dead bodies, chemicals, and petroleum? Every year, according to Seastewards Organization, there are about 14 billion pounds of trash thrown into the deep oceans – more than six billion kilos. If all the trash is dumped in La Mesa Dam, it would assumingly fill the dam to an eighth of its maximum water capacity of 80.15 meters. Due to the amount of trash in our oceans, one million marine animals die by plastic ingestion and poisoning.

Moreover, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) stated that there is enough wastewater coming from homes in the United States to fill two and a half La Mesa Dams and a million tons of oil that made way to the oceans.

Simply put, our oceanwaters die because of excessive waste pollution and affect other bodies of water, from the seas to the water coming from our faucets. Not only is the condition of our water is affected, but also the lives of the marine animals underneath: most marine life is endangered and in the brink of extinction. Even the silent coral reefs are affected. How would I bend today’s filthy, lifeless water?

How would I even move the earth to my whim if it is dry, lifeless, brittle, and dying? Mongabay records an increase in tree loss from 2018, to a total of 1,128, 788 with 135, 352 primary forests deforested – a 12.0% primary loss in the Philippines.

Urbanization in the Philippines from 2015 increased from 45.3% to 51.2%, according to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Asian Development Blog noted in an article that the Philippines generate 35,000 tons of municipal land waste every year. These lessened our trees, making soil weathering and erosion inevitable and cause lands to absorb less nutrients. The soil’s absorption of poisonous chemicals coming from toxic groundwater caused by garbage also affects different aspects of cities. The lands are already unstable – how would I control it to my bidding if it is dry and covered in concrete?

That leaves me with fire, the only element I can control that does not appear naturally – but what benefit do I get from it? Fire caused enough problems in the environment, from geothermal pollution that killed lands nearby volcanoes, to man-made global warming caused by burning coal and immense fumigation from industrialization, to destroying properties in very dense cities.

The Australian wildfire burned 18.6 million hectares of land, killing 33 people and one million animals – including the endangered koalas. The Amazon Rainforest fires – which lasted from January to October 2019, burnt 906,000 land areas, and destroyed all fauna and flora of the region—was reportedly manmade as well. These two events immensely added to the already accelerating global warming, negatively affecting the world itself from the atmosphere to the biosphere.

To be an avatar in this generation, I presume, is difficult and ultimately a useless effort. The avatar’s role is to bring balance to all four elements to bring order and peace upon the lands. How would an imaginary avatar like me bring peace and order if man himself brings the environment in shambles? The air is already poisoned, the water in the verge of lifelessness, the lands brittle to use, and the fire already hazing without my intervention – without man noticing.

To assume that I can take on this challenge by myself is being over-ambitious.

But come to think of it: it does not have to take an avatar to do all these things. Everyone can be an avatar of their own, and not by supernatural, primal, or elemental powers but of human capacity, intelligence, and stewardship. In the first place, we made the air unbreathable, the water toxic, the land destroyed, and the fires uncontrollable. We are very much fortunate to step on land and live to experience life – we get chances to make a difference and change for the environment, without being an avatar.

We can bend reality by doing what is right.

If we want to breath clean air, we can do many small things: lessening aerosol use, choosing to commute or carpool to work or school, avoid burning household waste, planting trees to absorb toxins in the air, decreasing smoke, and using electrical equipment that does not emit toxic fumes. If we want to swim through clean water, then let us eliminate garbage disposed in our oceans, clean nearby canal waters, avoid disposing chemicals, plastics, and oils to our waters; avoid pesticides; and cut back on excess water usage. If we want to run as we want all over these lands, then we should replant barren areas, recycle waste materials, use composts, take initiatives in avoiding littering, and give chance to inform people about improper urbanization and deforestation. If we do not want our homes burned down, then let us use fire conveniently by using it for good (for instance, cooking); generating heat and light in home, and practicing utmost care in using fire.

We have always wanted to enjoy the environment and wanted to benefit all provisions the nature can give to us, but it is our duty as well to be stewards of it. We do not need to wait for an avatar to balance the world and the elements it is made of—it takes us to give the earth its salvation. Imagining should not be left to the young. We may not see it, but our hands hold the power to bend and change reality and save the world.

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