[OPINION] When Greta met Gina: Save our planet
(This piece is dedicated to Gina Lopez, a citizen with courage, a force of nature who fought to protect the environment. Though ill, she continues to inspire our young to take up a common cause: to do all that is possible to save Mother Earth.)
Citizen Gina Lopez, whose passion for the environment has inspired countless people, in her brief term as Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources took the boldest moves ever taken on the impact of mining in our country. In particular, she highlighted the extractive industry’s largely negative impact on our “watershed communities” – the inhabitants, the plants and the animals who depend on the water that flows downhill to provide for the needs of the people.
Gina did not mince words before the Commission on Appointments, which ultimately rejected her appointment, but it was her actions which offended the mighty companies responsible for polluting our seas and rivers, destroying our forests and mountains, and, in the process devastating the lives of communities. As the person charged with protecting the environment and after a rigorous auditing process, she ordered closed some 23 mining operations out of 41 mines in the country; she suspended the activities of five mining firms, and cancelled the Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) of 75 out of a total of 311 during her short-lived tenure as Cabinet Secretary.)
A young generation of leaders is emerging in the most improbable of places, presaging the possible shape of things to come. They inspire hope when so much in our world today is shrouded in despair in all its different guises.
Take the case of a girl named Greta Thunberg from Sweden whose passion for the planet ignited the “Extinction Rebellion” that has swept the streets of Europe and beyond. All of 16 years, Greta suffers from a “mild form of autism spectrum disorder,” which makes her “see the world differently.” Undaunted by her condition, she soldiered on for the sake of her friends and the young around the globe.
She began her crusade all by her lonesome self in Stockholm carrying a sign outside the Swedish Parliament: “School Strike for Climate.” She felt depressed thinking of a world besieged by the climate crisis, and decided to channel her feelings into action.
Because we now have an inter-connected world, she saw the brave response of the survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shootings and found their courage contagious. Greta decided to undertake a weekly strike which later catalyzed into a global phenomenon on March 15 this year with nearly a million and a half of protesters in 133 countries united by #FridaysForFuture and #YouthStrike4Climate. This was followed by similar global mass actions a month later.
The 'Greta Effect'
She continued her campaign beyond the northern Nordic states, and has now spoken about the impending climate meltdown to members of the UK Parliament, the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland last December, to global leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January early this year, and engaged the Holy Father Pope Francis in dialogue on the environment in the Vatican.
Aware of the urgency of the climate meltdown yet sensitive to the impact of the fall-out from carbon emissions, Greta prefers to travel by train rather than fly. Recently, she travelled 1,200 miles by rail with her father Svante as she met her commitments to “fellow climate-ers” engaged in creative protests to deal with the compelling cause of climate change in different cities of Europe. Such was this frail “force of nature” that the airline industry in Sweden experienced a fall in passengers because of what has become known as the “Greta effect.”
She wanted to make a difference by getting involved. She wanted to set an example by standing up to be heard. She wanted to send the message that no one was too young to help save the world!
Marching from Morayta to Mendiola
Greta is not alone. Young people have taken things into their own hands. She has inspired action recently taken by young Filipinos in different parts of the country, particularly, the Visayas (a focal point of climate disaster) in Tacloban, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cebu and Dumaguete; in Davao, General Santos and Koronodal in Mindanao; and in Luzon, in Pampanga, Bulacan, Antipolo, among others. The country now has its share of Gretas and Ginas.
Soon after the midterms, even before the dust of the party-list battles had settled, students from different universities began to converge in Morayta to march to Mendiola demanding that concrete steps be taken in our country to deal with climate change and its impact on our lives. In different cities, other young people took to the streets.
As a country located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is among the most vulnerable disaster-prone areas in the world. It is a “geo-hazard” hotspot living under constant threat from typhoons, floods, mudslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruption – not to mention the fact that we now seem to have become one of the favored destinations of tons of garbage and plastic waste shipped from countries as far apart as Canada, Australia, and China.
We have a history of community-driven protests against the construction of dams that tend to obliterate the lifeways of our indigenous peoples; people have stood up to the unbridled aggression unleashed by a significant section of the mining industry on “watershed communities” which have lost valuable marine resources. It has polluted their rivers and waters, destroyed their fields and orchards, and gravely affected their sources of livelihood.
It is our young today who rightly have stepped up, embracing the price that need to be paid to secure our common future. Greta has met Gina, so to speak, and other “Juanas” as well, and if courage is truly contagious, then our newly-installed representatives in Congress and in seats of power across the land must be forewarned: history will be made with or without you, or in spite of you! – Rappler.com
Prof. Ed Garcia served as a framer of the 1987 Constitution, and taught at the Ateneo and UP. He serves as consultant on the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU. 3 June 2019. He was a principal co-author of the provision in section 16 of the 1987 Constitution that reads: “The State shall protect and advance the right to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”