Margaret interviews an Indian Ocean tsunami survivor, September 2015The impacts of climate change are becoming far greater than peoples’ and governments’ capacities to control. This is evident in the high death toll of Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas Region, the Philippines, in November 2013, as well as in other parts of the globe: New Jersey, USA, during Superstorm Sandy in February 2013; Uttarakhand State, India, in June 2013; Sichuan, China, in July 2013; Chañaral, Chile, in March 2015; Adra, Spain, in September 2015; and Chenna, India, in November 2015 [2].

Climate change has become almost synonymous with disasters. Disasters are not usually natural; some are caused by humans. And disaster preparedness includes being informed of the causes of disasters, especially those resulting from human activities. Climate change is formed through industrial pollution brought by carbon-based fossil fuel burning, such as oil and coal, and changes in land usage [2].

For most of us, disasters - such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones - are events that affect us greatly, but we often times recover from. However, if climate change affects our global food systems and impacts the supply of our food and water, aren’t we faced with even bigger, irreversible disasters?

Rising temperature could mean two things – one is the drying up of lands, which affects agriculture and dries up dams. The other, rising temperature that makes the oceans warmer and thus creates stronger typhoons, which, in downpours, affect agriculture and water sources. In both ways, people and communities are affected because it disrupts the production systems of food and water which are the basics of human life. This does not solely affect the consuming population; but, also the producing population – our farmers – since dried lands and damaged crops generate zero income.

In the era of modern industrial revolution, we tend to think only about what we can consume, how much we can earn, and how much we can get from the resources at hand. To save humanity, more so than the earth, it is time to strategically turn away from our sense of entitlement, and choose the selfless act of returning something to the earth for the future generations. Even a small gesture of thanks, back to the earth. Consume a little less, help a little more, since our behaviours are reflective of our values.

 

Life and relationships

One of the interesting concepts that arose from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps held in Manila in March 2016 was environment and spirituality. An unpopular partnership of ideas, yet an honest example of a relationship that transcends the usual human-to-human interaction. This was highlighted in the visits to Chiang Dao’s hill tribes, where it was proven that a higher form of relationship exists – the relationship between people and their environment. This is a relationship between two entities that have life.

The community visits, although quick, not only enabled us to see the physical structure of the village; it also exposed us to various aspects of their local way of living. One is the protection of the forests through the belief that the environment has a spirit. Everything has a spirit, including the soil, water, wind, and fire. In this case, it questions the traditional concept of living things as people and animals as opposed to non-living thing as trees or nature. It was evident how personalized or how delicate the communities handle their environment.

As a tradition, Chiang Dao’s Baan Pa Tueng Ngam hill tribe’s newborn baby’s umbilical cords are tied to a tree. This symbolizes the tree as a source of the person’s life. Any harm done to the tree is harm done to the spirit of the person whose umbilical cords were tied to the tree. This is synonymous with Al Gore’s presentation during the Climate Reality Leadership Corps on environment and spirituality, which states that: anything we do to the environment; we do to ourselves. When we harm the environment; we harm ourselves. When we love our environment; we love ourselves. In the very same way, the actions that we do in our own countries have a trickling effect to the region we live in.

 

HANDs and regionalism

The observations from the community visits were only a portion of the diversity of cultures and understanding we have on the issue of disaster. We may be working on special projects per country; but, these projects contribute to something bigger – our local or national projects can contribute to the stability of our region.

HANDs, or Hope and Dreams Project, is participated in by 24 representatives from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, and Japan, concretizing regionalism and cooperation. Evident in our national projects is that our priorities are unique, but also that our groups are working towards one goal: to promote disaster education. We demand a safer and more prepared region to live in. Yet the solution to this demand starts within ourselves...by changing our own ways.

Margaret with HANDs Project representatives at Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, Banda Aceh

In the broadest sense, HANDs fellows work together through intellectual exchanges and knowledge sharing. Skills or ideas may not easily fit within a cultural context, but there is room for re-formation and adaptation. The creativity brought by the research fellows was rooted in the openness that communities have different needs and varying responses to the plans implemented.

The exchange of ideas became the first step in solving the complexity of disaster as a subject and as a problem. And Bringing people together from different countries produces different points-of-view due to the diversity of experiences and varied backgrounds of the HANDs fellows.

In the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Fr. Edwin A. Gariguez explored the idea of Thomas Berry’s cultural pathology defined as alienation from our relationship with nature, which is rampant in the youth today. In the “selfie and me, me, me generation,” it might be difficult to engage our youth to care, to act, and to be responsive to the social issues we face in this era. However, the initiative of Japan Foundation’s Hope and Dreams Project treats the youth as professionals and experts. This method enhances the youth’s participation in the civil society sphere as change agents, and serves as building blocks of the future generation’s knowledge on disaster. HANDs, by involving youth like us to educate fellow youth on disaster, is itself a remedy to cultural pathology. Climate change requires solutions, and, the HANDs project is one.

References:

 

[1] Gariguez, E. (2016, March). Faith voices on climate: the call for ecological conversion.

Presented at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Manila, Philippines.


[2] Gore, A. (2016, March). The climate reality project. Presented at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Manila, Philippines.

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Margaret is a Greenpeace Activist and Climate Reality Leader based in the Philippines.