System change, not climate change
Dealing with the climate crisis is more than just pushing for changes in individual choices like segregating more or saving water — it comes hand in hand with fighting for our democratic rights and holding the government accountable for their negligence with environmental concerns, as part of our demand for systemic changes.
While powerful imperialist countries like the United States and China emit almost half of the world’s carbon emissions, those in poor and developing countries are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the problem. People inhabiting these regions, being more susceptible to the effects of global warming, are the ones who have to deal with an increased risk of heat-related illnesses, deaths, and destruction from typhoons and severe flooding. The Philippines is the third most vulnerable nation in the world to climate change, with its long coastlines and geographic location making it exposed and susceptible to disasters.
Apart from the destruction dealt by natural typhoons, global warming has long-term effects on our economy. Increasing global temperatures and erratic climate patterns cause not only more frequent droughts, but also severe fluctuations in fishery yields, which gravely affect the livelihood of our farmers and fisherfolk. Its effects on agriculture would ripple throughout the economy, resulting in more expensive goods and commodities and more hungry Filipino families. High temperatures also warrant the surge of disease outbreaks leading to more public health emergencies. Thus, the urgent need for immediate climate action resounds now more than ever.
The Philippine government is notorious for downplaying eminent issues and misplacing priorities. We have seen how they have taken on a militarized, unscientific approach to addressing the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to us making virtually no progress in the last six (and counting) months. Environmental concerns are treated no differently — weak policies and governance over rampant logging and deforestation have caused our forests to shrink from 21 million to 6.7 million hectares as of 2007. Mining-related disasters are also prominent from the loose restrictions on mineral agreements with big corporations, which is also a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. These only make us more prone to natural disasters, as there is very little done to mitigate the degradation of the environment, contributing to flooding and air pollution.
Environmental impacts are not considered enough when it comes to policy-making and project implementation. A recent example is when an environmental impact study (EIS) was deemed unnecessary for the dumping of white sand (dolomite) in Manila Bay, which alarmed several environmental groups because of its potential negative effects on nearby marine life. It is this behavior that allows for the spending of huge sums of money and resources for programs that harm the environment.
Not choosing to address their disregard for the environment, the government instead diverts its energy towards mistreating and persecuting activists. Ever since Duterte assumed office, 113 environmental activists have been killed as of 2019, earning the Philippines the title of being the deadliest country in the world for environment and land defenders, most of which are still seeking justice to this day. The recently signed Anti-Terror Law (ATL), one of the many examples of the regime’s misplaced priorities amidst the public health crisis, allows the administration to label environmental defenders as ‘terrorists’, casting a chilling effect on those that call for climate reforms and express dissent.
It is crucial that the government recognizes the need to declare a climate emergency considering the dangers that lie ahead for our country, to tackle the crisis at the grassroots, and to pursue immediate action. Repeal the ATL that targets those seeking reforms, and instead let the environment play a bigger part in decision- and policy-making so that we can limit the effects of climate change, and eventually push for more long-term solutions such as the implementation of a more inclusive climate education.
For this year’s global day for climate action, September 25, 2020, we shall remember that fighting for climate justice has everything to do with changing our current system, where the people in charge continue to look past the dangers of a dilapidated environment and silence environment defenders that are vocal about it. Support the movement by educating other people and join strikes that clamor for authority to face and solve the realities of the climate crisis.
Assert our right to a liveable future, not only for ourselves, but for future generations as well — climate justice now!
The Youth Advocates for Climate Action in the Philippines (YACAP) has forefronted several climate strikes in the past. This year, however, is different. Instead of highlighting the typical thousand participant assembly and mobilization, the September 25 climate strike entitled Kamay para sa Klima: Hands-on Climate Action will exhibit a world map symbolizing the worldwide protest of advocates against the ATL. Beneath this is a call to repeal the law made up of 25,000 hand drawings signifying 25,000 signatures to the petition. These hands also represent the need for a hands on approach in mitigating and solving the continual rise of the global temperature.