For future generations: Underlining 50th Earth Day, Filipino youth environmentalists

Youth and student activism have been heavily criticized by the public and media. Further, some elders tend to look down on adolescents who choose to speak out, often touted as being too young to know the real weight of the world.

Yet with 2020 marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the push continues for environmentalists of all ages to fight for climate justice. When Earth Day was first founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, smog was then considered a sign of progress, while lakes and ponds overflowed with sewage and oil that they caught fire.

As more people have become conscious of how human activities leave the environment in shambles, individuals and groups—most notably including the youth—began taking action, pressing for change and fighting for the planet’s tomorrow.

Young voices

Among the youth who made headlines in the past months was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental advocate.

Delivering a speech last September 23 at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York—a meeting among world leaders to discuss climate action—Thunberg stated, “We are [at] the beginning of a mass extinction, and all [world leaders] talk about are fairytales of money and eternal economic growth.”

Similar to Thunberg, organizations in the Philippines, such as Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines, have answered the call to action in an effort to mitigate further environmental degradation.

‘Not enough’

The Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, ranking third in a survey conducted by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. As such, the present state of the country can be considered “very alarming’’, according to Jefferson Estela, co-founder of Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines.

Another representative from said organization, Andre Fallaria cites potential ecological consequences, such as rising sea levels and diminished biodiversity due to deforestation and pollution.

On a global scale, several nations including the United States and China emit high levels of greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are responsible for trapping heat from the sun within the Earth’s atmosphere, causing warming of the planet as a whole. Demanding accountability, Fallaria expounds that the elevated carbon emissions mainly emerged due to the burning of fossil fuel resources—coal, oil, and natural gas—to produce electricity.

With the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, climate activists and advocates around the world are striving to garner more support and action to combat climate change and achieve a “zero carbon future.”

This year also marks the cutoff point for Deadline 2020—a commitment by a network of the world’s megacities, called C40 cities, to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent in their respective locations, and to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. However, as of publishing, only 11 out of 114 cities have emission levels in line with the Paris Agreement.

“Calling for ‘enhanced climate action’ is not enough anymore,” Estela expresses. Instead, he declares the global issue a “climate emergency”, arguing that all government agencies need to develop clear policies signaling the urgency of the aforementioned crisis.

Starting a movement

Practicing his organization’s advocacy toward climate change, Estela affirms the importance of understanding the perspectives of diverse people from all walks of life. He emphasizes the vulnerable and marginalized sectors as well, noting that individuals who have access to information and education should be the ones to disseminate crucial information to those that need it.

He pushes, “We must remember that this advocacy is not just about us—it’s about everyone.”

Fallaria also shares a similar drive. From sharing videos online and posting blogs and essays, he strives to spread awareness on what human activities can and cannot be tolerated by the environment at this point. He also recollects times when his organization even tried promoting climate change education to schools using posters made from recycled materials.

Similar to Fallaria, University Student Government (USG) President Lance Dela Cruz plans to push for a reduction of single-use plastic consumption and improvement of DLSU’s waste segregation system. Albeit the project is “still in the works”, he explains that the USG will partner with the Council of Student Organizations in ensuring events and activities involve “more environmentally-friendly” practices.

Marching on

Despite the Philippines being dubbed as “the world’s deadliest country for environmental defenders” by Global Witness—an international non-governmental organization that condemns the exploitation of natural resources—local youth advocates like Estela and Fallaria fearlessly continue with their movement.

“It is a dangerous place and [a] tough job,” Estela acknowledges, with Fallaria confirming that Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines’ members have been red-tagged as well. Along a similar line, Dela Cruz admits that, “In every push for change, there are challenges.”

“We are being red-tagged, killed, labeled as members of the [New People’s Army] and as communists; [we are] neglected by our own parents and friends—[being seen] as [burdens] to society,” Estela further reveals.

Although Estela considers it “disheartening” to see the youth being treated as such, he maintains that these deprecating experiences cannot halt him or his organization from voicing out the real struggles of the people and of the planet.

Just like Thunberg, the Filipino youth are concerned for their future and are no longer banking on the promises of world leaders. Instead, they have chosen to act in spite of whatever criticism they may receive. As Fallaria declares, “Our fight never stops.”

Ryan Lim

By Ryan Lim

Enrico Sebastian Salazar

By Enrico Sebastian Salazar

Contributor of University and Vanguard since TLS 58. Internal Development Manager in TLS 59. Currently designing the new website.

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