MANILA - Cedric Tuazon is just 12 years old, but while his classmates are spending their weekends sleeping in or watching K-Pop, he’s thinking of ways to help address environmental problems.
“I also have a lot of interests. I’m interested in different art forms like drawing… I am also interested in K-Pop,” Tuazon said. “But I also want to fight for the environment.”
Tuazon said that while his classmates worry only about their subjects and their “love life,” he wants to be more educated and to help secure the future of young Filipinos like him.
“There are many plastics and waste that are thrown to the ocean. All of the sea creatures think those plastics are food and eat them, which is definitely not good for their health which would lead to them dying,” he said.
“I think most of the youth who are fighting for our planet know the dangers and consequences of not doing something now so they are taking action while we still can.”
LIVING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
The precocious 8th grader used to tag along with his mother and his aunt who work with environmental groups. Eventually, he became 350.org Philippines’ youngest volunteer, joining their events and writing essays to convince more children to learn more about climate change.
“I learned from school that climate change is affecting all of us and is destroying the home of polar bears in the Arctic because of the warming that’s causing the ice caps to melt,” said Tuazon in an essay he posted online when he was 10 years old.
“I want people to realize that it is a bad thing that’s happening, that we need to find a way to deal with it, and that even just a tiny bit of action is still helpful.”
Today, he has become more passionate about the cause and is planning to join the next climate strike, a global movement that started in 2015 when students skipped school on the first day of the climate change conference in Paris to put focus on their demands to shift to clean energy and help climate refugees.
Tuazon said he is hoping to convince his classmates to join the climate strike and other related events to be held in the week of September 20 to 27.
Asked how he feels about adults looking down on children partaking in the climate change discourse, Tuazon said: “The youth are very honest about their feelings…They very much so have the right to speak up about our problems right now. Everybody could learn from each other. The adults could learn from us and we could learn from them.”
He pointed out that it is them who will have to live with the effects of climate change.
“We have solutions to all the problems that we have but our politicians and world leaders are not taking action to try and solve them. So the youth is doing it for them,” Tuazon added.
In the past, the Philippines was seen as a leader among climate-vulnerable countries. But like the rest of the world, not much has been done to drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions or to further promote renewable energy.
The feeling of frustration towards world leaders is shared by Jose Enrico Salinas, a 21-year-old physics student at the University of the Philippines.
Salinas and his family were survivors of Typhoon Milenyo in 2006, which left around 200 people dead.
“Hearing the wind howling and the water coming in through the walls, as an 8 year old [I was] just afraid,” he said, adding that they were living in a poorly constructed house at that time. “As a kid I could tell [my parents] were panicking. They were scared.”
“You could tell that this was not just any storm you’ve experienced before. It was bigger. It was stronger,” Salinas said.
The strong winds of Milenyo destroyed their roof and they were forced to stay inside their storm-battered house for the rest of the night until the rains stopped.
Salinas said that while the situation of their family has improved in the past several years, allowing him to go back to school and live in a better home, it made him realize how difficult it was for many Filipinos to live with the effects of climate change, which has been linked to worsening extreme weather events.
“Having gone through that. I think we have to recognize that when it comes to the climate crisis, it’s really the poor who will be the first victims of those kinds of things and that’s one of my primary drivers why I study science,” he said.
Like Tuazon, Salinas plans to join the climate strike to hold those in power accountable for their actions.
“If we don’t tackle this problem now we won’t have a world to look forward to. There are so many papers coming out now, giving us a deadline. And there’s so little change that’s happening to change the conditions of the world so we’re prepared to tackle or even prevent it from happening at all,” Salinas said.
Some experts have already suggested the declaration of a climate emergency in the Philippines to deal with the possible effects of climate change, which could range from sea level to temperature rise. Such effects will have repercussions on the way people live and work, especially the field of agriculture.
Salinas pointed out that climate change will affect not just them but even the adults of today.
“But I think there’s something special about the youth now,” he said.
“They have a really brilliant desire to do better for the world. And as one of our number one problems in the world today, the climate crisis is something that the youth has the power to change.”
“We have this openness. We have this willingness to changing ideas, to changing [the] system. We have this broad world view, while small things can help we really need to address the systematic roots of the climate crisis,” the physics student added.
MOST TO LOSE
Chuck Baclagon, associate director for digital campaigns of 350.org Asia, said the climate strike this September seeks “urgent, fair and ambitious climate action.”
In addition to demanding accountability or “climate justice” from countries that have emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases and have benefited from fossil fuels, the movement also wants the world to move towards “low carbon development” or the development of economies with the help of clean energy and other measures that won’t produce as much carbon emissions like fuel.
“Richer emitters must reduce their emissions substantially and must contribute to more emissions reduction and adaptation efforts by poorer countries by providing additional finance and technology access,” Baclagon said.
He said they want the public to realize that “we have the most to lose and very little to gain if we pursue the myopic track of seeing emissions reduction as an obstruction to development.”
Among the other issues that the Philippine environmental organizations will be raising are the impact of climate change on vulnerable countries like the Philippines, violence against environmental defenders, the need for energy transformation or the shift to clean energy and “system change.”
“We believe that the climate crisis is more than an environmental concern: it is the result of the unsustainable, wasteful and profit-oriented global economy that treats the planet and people as disposable commodity. Therefore it is imperative for our collective survival that we transform this system to and build one that is socially just, ecologically sustainable and spiritually fulfilling,” Baclagon said.
On Monday, 350.org, which is spearheading efforts for the climate strike in the Philippines, gathered different organizations that will be participating in the series of events in September.
Baclagon said they were only expecting around 20 youth leaders to attend but the room could barely contain the 50 or so people who came.
Among them was 20-year-old Rio Constantino, who learned about the meeting on Facebook.
Constantino’s father leads a non-profit environmental organization, but the biology student said he has never found a group that he wanted to be involved in.
He said it’s a big help that the youth are able to learn more about causes online.
“People are mostly on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Social media is how we get our information,” Constantino said.
However, he said social media tends to be a “big echo chamber.” Since he has already been visiting Facebook pages on climate change, it was easy for him to come across the post on climate strike.
“It’s also important to meet people face-to-face to break through that echo chamber,” he said.
During the meeting, the organizers also discussed how those not aware of the urgency of climate change can learn about the event.
Constantino hopes that more students like them would be involved in the climate strike.
“I find it very unfair, I find it angering that their actions, they (those who went before us) can so selflessly act to destroy the climate and impact my future without my say in it,” he said. “I think the strike is important in organizing the people who are most affected by climate change.”
CONNECTED TO CLIMATE
Taks Barbin, 29, has been involved in various cause-oriented groups as an artist and he believes joining the strike would help show his friends that the issue of climate change is also important.
“The situation is urgent. You can’t undo it if we go past the deadline,” Barbin said, adding that it also affects other issues such as labor rights.
“As they say, ‘no work on a dead planet.’ A lot of things rely on the climate. It’s all connected. I’m not saying that we should only focus on climate change but it’s a big issue because of its repercussions,” he said.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago, who also attended the meeting, said the youth can make a lot of difference because they have the time and the ability to encourage other people to be involved in addressing climate change.
“We can see it around the world, how the youth has stepped up to talk about climate change,” she said, adding that they have the best reason to show the urgency of the issue.
Elago committed to raising the issue of climate change as Congress decides on the funding of coal-fired power plants and renewable sources of energy.
And with the power of social media, she said the youth can easily make the issue of climate change trend, to the point that those in power will have to pay attention to it.
“We hope to sound the alarm as we see who among those in traditional politics are focusing on their own interests or businesses,” she said.
With just a month left before the climate strike, Baclagon said they are planning different events for the week that will coincide with the UN Youth Climate Summit and the UN Climate Action Summit.
While the climate strike in the Philippines won’t call for students to skip their classes, some events will happen during school hours.
They are also anticipating the participation of minors like Tuazon, which is why environmental and child rights groups are planning to hold a dialogue with the Department of Education.
Baclagon said they are following the “principle of prior and informed consent” in inviting students to join the climate strikes, which will include a big rally and several smaller events.
For those who question the involvement of children in such events, he pointed out that the Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees "the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly."
“This is why we are also in coordination with organizations working on the areas of child rights to develop protocols that our organizing guarantees the protection of youths as well as provide them with an enabling environment to exercise their rights to participate demanding climate action,” he said.
Despite the general sentiment of anger among the Filipino youth who continue to follow the climate change issue, many of them are hopeful.
“We’re not helpless. I have a voice. If we work together, we can tell our world leaders that they need to do something to save Earth,” 12-year-old Tuazon said.
“We can still do something.”