One of the most eye-opening experiences of my life was during February 2015when I landed in Manila.
My trip to the Philippines was the first time I had been to a country that was not part of what you would term the ‘developed’ world.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and when I left the airport and hopped into a taxi to make my way to my accommodation, I was blown away by what I saw.
In my previous 25 years, I had never come face to face with abject poverty. I had seen homeless people, and rundown areas in Australia, England and New Zealand, but nothing on the scale of what I saw in Manila.
Here, I was in a completely different world, where the trappings of wealth were reserved for the lucky few.
As the taxi snaked its way through the city to my hotel, there was barely an area that had not been devoured by concrete.
All I could see was a concrete jungle, with towers pervading into the sky, and roads stretching into the distance.
As I looked upwards, the sky was heavy with smog. Fumes from the millions of cars that slowly edged their way around the city polluting the atmosphere.
It was a new and unsettling experience.
As the days passed I couldn’t get over how much smog and pollution there was in the city. Yet, no one seemed to bat an eyelid.
For me, this was an unusual sight, but everyone else carried on with their lives with little or no regard for the smog that encapsulated the city.
It was at this point I realised they had become accustomed to their surroundings. Much like I was used to the rain in England, they had become used to a city full of smog.
No matter how detrimental it was to their health, they seemed oblivious or unwilling to acknowledge the smog.
While our adaptability is what has led us to prosper as a species, it could also be our downfall if we fail to realise that there are some situations we should not adapt to.
Am I being too harsh or are we stupid for not taking action?
For a species that has achieved as much as we have, we still a remarkable propensity for stupidity.
Nowhere is this more evident than in our response to one of the biggest challenges humanity has faced during its existence, climate change.
If estimates are to be believed, temperatures could increase by 2 degrees once we reach 2050. This would be enough to cause widespread issues for a large number of people across.
Yet, despite all the protestations and talk, nothing seems to be done. There is a disturbing lack of action on the issue.
When you look at the bigger picture, this is just plain stupid.
We are slowly damaging the only place in the universe that we have to live, but no one in power seemingly bats an eyelid.
It’s not like we have the option to jump ship and move to another planet, we are stuck on Earth for the foreseeable future. The damage we inflict on the planet is going to affect us, but we are too short-sighted, or unwilling to face up to the issue.
This is the fundamental crux at the centre of humanity.
We are capable of incredible feats, such as putting a man on the moon, yet when it comes to ensuring we can prosper on the only place we call home, we are unwilling to take action!
The mind boggles!
We live our lives based on the short-term. Everything in our culture is geared towards the here and now, instead of looking into the future and coming up with a viable plan, we prefer to focus on profit and greed right now.
Climate change is going to affect us all, but we are too preoccupied with unimportant matters to tackle this problem head-on.
We are like ostriches, sticking our heads in the sand waiting for this whole thing to blow over, or for someone else to come along and fix it.
That may happen, but we could have our heads in the sand for a while before it does.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
One of the scenes that I saw in Manila will forever stick with me, and perhaps sums up just how stupid we can be as a species.
I was walking along one of the main streets in Manila. The smog was heavy on this particular day and there were a lot of people walking around with masks over their mouths.
As I continued along this street, I noticed a man standing on the side of the pavement by himself.
He had a mask covering his mouth like the majority of the people that day, but what he did next blew me away.
As I come closer, I see his hand reach up towards his mouth, he pulls his mask and inserts a cigarette into his mouth. He takes a long puff and breathes out a hefty amount of smoke.
He quickly removes the cigarette from his mouth and pulls his mask over his mouth in a flash. Clearly, he was keen to avoid breathing in as little polluted air as possible!
I will never forget this scene, and it is one of the most bewildering things I have ever seen unfold.
If there was a moment which summed up the stupidity of the human race, I think this was it!
Here is a man who is clearly concerned about the smog in his city, yet he is more than content to inhale smoke from a cigarette! The contradiction is unbelievable.
If we think hard enough we all have moments such as this in our daily lives. For whatever reason, we are prone to doing things which are detrimental to our health and our environment.
Whether it’s an overweight person indulging in a takeaway, drinking too many drinks on a night out, or walking into a job you despise every day, we all do things that don’t make sense.
Is this way we are wired? Are we inherently stupid, or is it just ignorance to the situations we find ourselves in?
I’m inclined to think it is a combination of the two.
Are We Stupid?
Coming back to my first day in the Philippines, I was blown away by what I saw, but I was also blown away by how accepting everyone seemed of the situation.
There was no one asking why this was the cause. There was no one asking why the sky was filled with smog, why there was litter on the streets.
There was a sense of acceptance about the situation. A feeling that it could only be improved by external factors, and not by the people themselves.
While it is a stretch to ask people in poor countries to improve their standard of living solely by themselves, there must be an acceptance that heavily polluted skies and rampant poverty are not the way things should be.
This begs the question of whether we are ignorant instead. Do we know we have problems but choose to ignore them, because it is the easier option?
It’s difficult to acknowledge there are problems and look to rectify them. Sticking to the status quo and burying your head in the sand is an easier and less painful process.
We have this now with issues around climate change. The IPCC has released figures stating we are headed for a global catastrophe unless we change our ways.
Our planet, the one place we have in the universe to live could potentially be ruined by the end of the century if we do not act.
But will we act? Do we want to act?
These are the questions we need to ask of ourselves. It has been well-known climate change is a major issue for some time, yet attempts to tackle it have been few and far between.
Is this stupidity, or just plain ignorance?
It’s hard to say. There is certainly stupidity involved. For those politicians who want to exploit the Earth’s resources for monetary gain, there will be little point if there is no habitable planet left on which you can spend your money.
Like the man puffing on his cigarette while trying to protect himself from Manila’s smog, we are a species full of contradictions. Often, we are unable to recognise the consequences of our actions until they smack us in the face.
Maybe we are stupid after all.