Do we care about climate change?


“We need a shift from feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed by climate change to feeling confident our choices, like in what we buy and who we vote, will matter.”

Filipinos are no strangers to disasters. Here comes storm after storm after storm; and when they do, we call ourselves resilient but also grieve amidst massive loss of lives and livelihoods.

Warmer seas and an atmosphere with too much trapped heat, because of too much greenhouse gases (emissions from vehicles, factories, and even cattle farms!) drive extreme weather events and anomalous shifts in seasons across the world. While places are flooding, others are drying up or even burning. What we’re currently experiencing is climate change; not the first in the history of the Earth but definitely one that is caused by human civilization and one that is happening really fast.

With our abundant exposure to the hazards caused by climate change, why is it then that in a study published by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in October 2020, most Filipino respondents (60%) had not heard of and did not feel well-informed about climate change?

Perhaps the term ‘climate change’ is too overwhelming, with a lot of dizzying and demotivating statistics? It may be in our consciousness; but there are more obviously urgent issues. Especially in Bacolod, citizens will complain about power outages, but will not have the same enthusiasm when talking about accessing solar and renewable energy. And when a person is worried about health care or not having insurance, she may not care about her carbon footprint.

Or perhaps Filipinos call climate change something else. We may refer to decreasing fish catch, or to a time when Signal No. 5 was not imaginable. We may link climate change to those heartbreaking photos of farmers struggling to keep crops alive, or videos of flashfloods dragging houses and trees.

I have witnessed how the Department of Education, especially their Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Service, have communicated climate change and its impacts to our country. I saw teachers from all over the Philippines speak about how they teach this environmental emergency in the National Climate Change Conference last year. Surely, climate change is incorporated in our schools’ curricula which relate this global crisis to our local experiences?

Or perhaps there is this sense of paralysis after learning about how the world is changing. Who can stop a supertyphoon? What can I do? I have grades to target or I have to ensure my income provides for my family, how else can I do something to solve climate change?

To keep global warming at a level that does not turn more disastrous for highly vulnerable countries like the Philippines, all sectors in the world now have enough information on what actions they can and should take to reduce their emissions, and to capture carbon with natural climate solutions.

But for the average Filipino, especially whose carbon footprint is small compared to that of someone living in the USA or China, maybe a climate action is only relevant if it talks about protecting our lives and livelihoods.

If you read this article up to this point, I am sure there are at least two actions you can think of to address this climate crisis. Here are two actions I think we can focus on communicating, because they aren’t just “small things that add up”, but they are actions that can strongly shape how we face future storms.

Choose what we buy.

When we support the farmers, fishers, producers and homegrown businesses in our own communities (that is, within 100 kms. from where we live, or what they refer to as “zero-kilometer” products), we don’t only build a strong local economy, we also reduce our collective carbon footprint. Our purchasing behavior is in fact a powerful influence on bigger and transnational businesses elsewhere, as well.

Choose who we vote.

We will have to encourage more fellow citizens to elect officials who recognize the climate crisis as an urgent concern that affects all other social issues. The recent US elections are not ours, but how they voted will impact policy trends worldwide, especially on climate change. Our own Philippine elections will be a turning point, too.

National Climate Change Consciousness Week is scheduled every November. With the typhoons that just passed by, it brings the familiar narrative of disasters Filipinos, of course, care about. But we may need a shift from feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed by climate change, to feeling confident our choices (for example, in what we buy and who we vote) will matter. – NWI