Climate change pilgrimage: Winning hearts and minds

Climate change pilgrimage: Winning hearts and minds
'Our destination is not Katowice or Paris; it’s the hearts and minds of the people,' says street artist and environment activist AG Saño


MANILA, Philippines – Our perception of reality can change at any time. It could come during a family gathering, a school graduation, or a near-death experience. Sometimes, it happens on a walk.

This is what AG Saño, a street artist and environment activist, observed during his second climate pilgrimage throughout Europe last year. At a time when the world is running out of time to avoid irreversible climate change, he believes a spiritual awakening is necessary to solve this crisis. (READ: [OPINION] Facts are facts: World is warming, climate is changing)

“The solutions are there, but people are not responding maybe because we don’t look at the world as something that has a really high level of importance, something that’s higher than ourselves,” he said.

For more than two months, Saño and his international group of climate warriors walked 1,500 kilometers from Rome to Katowice, Poland, which hosted the 2018 United Nations climate summit. Along the way, they delivered the message of urgent actions and climate justice to communities across Europe.

Changes in perspective

Saño was also a part of the climate pilgrimage in late 2015 that ended in Paris. Between the two walks, he noted some major differences in his experiences, the biggest of which was the presence of the Paris Agreement.

“The fight seemed bigger then in 2015 because we were pushing for a first-ever agreement. We were so uncertain back then because we didn’t know if an agreement will ever be forged. It was really urgent and crucial,” he said.

But now that the accord is made, he notes that expectations have changed. In last year’s journey, his group met with leaders from the religious, academic, political, and community groups to encourage them to pressure their governments and negotiators for climate action. (READ: Looking climate change straight in the eye)

“When we described the horrors, when farmers went hungry and fishermen could not fish anymore, that’s a big impact to them, knowing that people are suffering,” Saño remarked.

In most instances, the group was successful in raising awareness among their audiences who only heard about these events on news reports. However, not everyone was receptive to their calls for climate action. Many towns they visited remain dependent on coal for their livelihoods and warmth during winter. While families were sympathetic to their suffering during extreme events, they remain skeptical of the need to shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

It could be convenient to point out that the potential loss of livelihood by the European families will never match the suffering that victims of calamities endured due to climate change. Saño, a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan (Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines), took a different approach. (READ: Communicating climate change solutions to different sectors)

“If I value life, I should value the livelihoods of other people,” he said. “That’s where the concept of just transition comes in; that we’re not advocates for change if we will not consider what happens to people who would lose their jobs.”

The group pointed out to make these families feel included in their message, that “we are one with you and we understand you, and that the reason we fight for climate justice is you are also victims, in our point of view.”

And contrary to what they have heard from influential climate deniers in their areas, “there is an economy in renewables. If you stop burning coal, you won’t die. You will not go hungry.”

Next steps

With some governments and big businesses remaining ignorant of the need for urgent action, Saño believes that the needed change must come from individuals and communities on the ground. He was especially inspired by No Planet B, a youth-led initiative in Northern Italy that promotes sustainable practices to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

This group campaigns for their communities to consume “zero-kilometer” food or those grown right in their own backyards. As there are plenty of local farms in that region, such a move not only lowers emissions, but also provides economic savings and encourages self-sustenance and a healthier lifestyle for the residents. This campaign is now supported by environmental organizations and nearby parishes.

“For me, that’s how it should be; that people, especially young kids, around the world would initiate their own actions in their local communities and educate people, starting with their families about doing the right practices,” Saño added.

The climate pilgrimage was a life-changing experience for Saño and his fellow advocates. But more importantly, it was the wake-up call that their audiences needed, “whether it’s 1% or 50%t awakening.” What matters is that they recognize the reality of climate change, that “there’s a spark in them that we need to think and talk more about this to learn more,” he said.

Yet no matter how many steps we take, whether on an actual road or a metaphorical one towards a social transformation, Saño knows that the journey is far from over.

“Our destination is not Katowice or Paris; it’s the hearts and minds of the people,” he said. —

JL Algo is the Science Policy Officer of the Climate Reality Project Philippines, and a citizen journalist. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in December 2018.


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