Photos by Gian Nicdao
When then 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg skipped school to sit outside the Swedish parliament last year, all she wanted was to protest climate inaction. Little did she know that her lone effort would spark a worldwide movement, with millions of students walking out of their classrooms and onto the streets on separate days in the past year.
Greta’s brave protest proves that movements don’t always start big, and that with proper determination and initiative to act, the youth have the power to save our future. This rings true locally, as well, as shown by the efforts of groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines National Youth Council (NYC). Since 2016, the NYC has been actively spreading the message of wildlife conservation and environmental awareness through school tours and community visits. As the youth arm of WWF Philippines, the group creates projects that aim to engage more young Filipinos in environmental advocacy and let them serve as representatives.
We spoke to NYC members Kiana Porras, Gab Mejia, Allen Lemence and Sophia Cruz about their experiences being environmental warriors, and their thoughts on youth action for wildlife conservation and climate change.
YOUNG STAR: What are your duties as part of the WWF National Youth Council?
Kiana Porras: We are basically the youth arm of the mother organization, WWF Philippines. We create projects that will engage more young Filipinos in environmental advocacy. We also represent the concerns of the youth when it comes to environmental issues in different meetings and conferences.
Gab Mejia: To educate, engage, inspire and mobilize the youth to help in the conservation of nature and the environment. We were primarily tasked in organizing and coordinating activities for youth and students to raise their awareness on pressing environmental issues.
What are some of the most memorable things you’ve done for WWF? What have you learned — about yourself, your advocacy — in these past two years?
GAB: It was when I was brought to the land of the Tamaraws, the critically endangered species of the dwarf water buffalo, which is endemic to the Philippines. I worked there in Mt. IglitBaco to document and create a short film of this distant land, interviewing the tribal chieftain, the Tamaraw park rangers, and WWF, who are all working extremely hard to conserve and protect the Tamaraws from the brink of extinction. The documentary was shown in institutions like FEU, and this when I realized the power of storytelling to raise awareness on environmental issues and to drive change especially in conserving biodiversity and wildlife. More than this, I’ve learned that only through collaboration from different sectors can we truly make an impact in the communities we work in, may it be for the environment or society. Each and every one of us has the capacity and potential to use the best of our abilities from the arts and sciences to create change.
ALLEN LEMENCE: My most memorable experience with WWF PH was our trip to Donsol, Sorsogon. During our trip, we had an interactive discussion with kids about different endangered species and a coastal cleanup. We also had an amazing guided swimming interaction with whale sharks, which made me realize the beauty of marine life in our country.
KIANA: Whenever we do school visits, we always try to gauge their awareness of the issue before we start the discussion. And based on these interactions, we can say that the majority is really aware about the situation of the planet, about the crisis we are currently in. Every participant is also motivated to take action; it is just that they often feel that they do not know where to start since they see climate change mitigation as a very “technical” issue. They have also raised issues about how difficult it is to switch from the lifestyle that we are used to a more sustainable one because “ito na yung nakasanayan.” The motivation and the willingness to act on it are there. It is just a matter of diverting it to the right path and ensuring that we will be able to sustain the “fire” until we finally achieve our goal.
To some people, climate change can seem like a First World issue. In your experience at events here in the Philippines, what needs to be done to make awareness towards it reach more people?
ALLEN: We need to go to the grassroots level to really learn and experience the effects of the climate crisis we are facing. From here, I’m sure we can devise more effective ways in terms of communicating what to do at the community level. We also need to explore different means to reach all sectors. For example, social media may be effective in targeting the youth but, surely, different strategies will be more effective for those who don’t have access to the internet.
SOPHIA CRUZ: Raising awareness in itself is a very subjective and contextual thing, what with our different sectors and the different daily lives each Filipino faces. Contextualizing the advocacy to each sector (just like the youth and social media, for example!) is one way of doing so.
GAB: Climate change is definitely not a First World issue. All societal problems are interlinked and connected to climate change, typhoons like Haiyan due to warming oceans, declining crop yields due to irregular weather patterns. People need to realize that the climate crisis chooses no societal class; in fact, developing countries are the most at risk to climate change.
Climate change is worsening at an alarming rate, and the youth are taking action. On May 24, students around the world walked out of their classrooms to protest. How effective do you think these measures are? And what do you think can be done at a local level to bring about change?
KIANA: If you are following this movement initiated by Greta Thunberg, from standing outside the parliament, she was able to go to different stages, speaking in front of notable leaders of today in order to raise her concerns. This is really effective because she knows what she wants of happen specifically, she knows her target audience, and she is aware of how she can maximize the resources that she has in order to materialize her ideas. We are already doing these actions at the local (level) as there are young individuals who are already lobbying for policy change and cooperation between civil societies and government units in order to expedite our actions in addressing these issues.
What are some things you’d like the youth to know about our environmental situation?
KIANA: We are the last generation that can turn things around for our only planet so we better start acting now. Let us not stop looking for ways on how we can turn our ideals into actions. Let us always keep in mind that the choices we make every single day matter and this planet relies heavily on it.
GAB: From the climate crisis to the massive decline of biodiversity and wildlife, these issues are real and are happening now in our own backyard. The consequences will be drastic but there is still hope to reverse this. We must act now through our own ways and actions by conserving energy, eating less meat, and refusing single-use plastics. We are the only generation in the history of civilization that is aware of the current environmental situation we are in, and we must do everything in our capacity to save us and our planet. At least try.
ALLEN: Renewable energy. Energy, particularly electricity, is definitely fundamental in our daily lives. There is still a long way for our country to achieve a high level of renewable energy fraction in our energy mix. I hope the youth learn more about the role of RE in realizing a low-carbon future.
SOPHIA: That it involves all of us, and that collective effort is powerful against the issues that we face concerning the environment. There are so many facets to the climate change issue and its possible solutions — coral bleaching, renewable energy, mass deforestation, solar energy — the list goes on and on. Staying informed and being passionate together is integral to our planet’s future. It is possible, and the youth can do it!
Have any environmental concerns you’d like to bring up? Get in touch with the NYC at email@example.com. Contact the WWF at the 4/F JBD Plaza 65 Mindanao Avenue, Barangay Bagong Pag-Asa, Quezon City.