Filipino climate change activist tells world: We can do something

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05:24 AM October 31st, 2011

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By: TJ Burgonio, October 31st, 2011 05:24 AM

MANILA, Philippines—Too bad many of us in the Philippines missed “24 Hours of Reality,” a day-long live-streamed event highlighting the reality of climate change in 24 locations around the world.

If you had tuned in to the live broadcast on the Internet on Sept. 14 and 15, you would have caught Filipino climate change activist Rodne Galicha’s presentation on the Solomon Islands from New York City, where he shared the limelight with former United States Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore.

Galicha sent a powerful message to the world’s top carbon emitters: Climate change is real but something can be done about it.

Galicha went through the catastrophes that struck the world in the past year or so. There were massive floods in Pakistan, Australia, even Mississippi and North Dakota; mudslides in Korea; droughts in Brazil, Mexico and Syria; intense rains in China, Fiji, Colombia and the Philippines; rising temperatures, increasing water vapor over the  oceans, and growing intensity of rainstorms and snow storms.

Later in the panel discussion with Climate Reality Project leader Maggie Fox, TreeHugger.com founder Graham Hill and American Meteorological Society associate director Paul Higgins, Galicha said Third World countries were bearing the brunt of climate change, and fired off a strong message to the United States.

Climate justice

“From the Pacific islands, from the global South, we don’t need your money. What we need is climate justice.  Decrease your emissions,” he said.

Galicha came online at around 4 a.m. on Sept. 15 in New York (4 p.m. in Manila), hours before Gore capped the 24-hour program with his own presentation on the same stage. His presentation as well as the rest can still be viewed at www.climaterealityproject.org.

“I had goose bumps just thinking about the number of viewers,” said Galicha, 32, who was informed he’d be addressing 2.6 million global online viewers.  Otherwise, it was an exhilarating experience for the activist from Sibuyan Island, which is often compared to Galapagos Island.

After the presentation, Gore complimented Galicha for “doing a great job.”

24 Hours of Reality was the launch pad of Climate Reality Project’s new global campaign to warn the world of the climate crisis. The Climate Reality Project was founded and chaired by Gore.

The online event was held in 24 different locations and different time zones, and 23 activists, including Galicha, were picked by the Project to make the multimedia presentations to “connect the dots between the changing climate and extreme weather.”

First time

It was the first time Galicha shared a stage with Gore. But they met back in 2009 when Galicha became a volunteer of Climate Reality Project. Since then he has been criss-crossing the archipelago to spread Gore’s gospel in “Inconvenient Truth” to audiences in the Philippines.

Galicha, along with three other Filipinos, were trained by scientists at the Project’s summit in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009 to “dissect” the highly acclaimed 2006 documentary. He became the Project’s country district manager in the Philippines.

It was natural then that the Project would pick him to do the segment on the Solomon Islands from New York City.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime. We had to maximize that opportunity, and tell the people what we wanted to tell them,” said Galicha, who opened with a tribute to indigenous peoples.

Suicide, homicide

He ended with the stern warning: “If we are unable to act, with this phenomenon, we are committing suicide for the next generation; we are committing homicide. Homo sapiens have now become the most critically endangered species of all time.”

Galicha began his advocacy in his hometown.

A Philosophy major from the University of Santo Tomas (2001), he experienced the adverse impact of mining, and of powerful storms right on Sibuyan, an island of Romblon province which, like Solomon Islands in the Pacific, is a biodiversity hotspot. On the map, it’s at the heart of the archipelago.

He grew up near Mt. Guiting-Guiting, a dense, lush forest that is home to many endangered species, and one of the country’s cleanest rivers.

One could imagine his outrage when the government allowed companies to bring in heavy equipment to mine ore and nickel, and to cut a path of destruction through the pristine island. Out of this the Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment Inc. was born, and Galicha became its executive director.

Before long, he linked up with Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) and led protests against mining operations on Sibuyan and elsewhere.

The killing of an antimining activist by a mining company guard on Sibuyan in 2007 fired his activism further. In 2008, Galicha flew to Australia, the headquarters of one of the largest mining companies in the Philippines, to argue his case.

The same year, in June 2008, Typhoon “Frank” sank the interisland M/V Princess of the Stars off Sibuyan, leaving 800 of its crew and passengers dead and missing and spilling oil and possibly toxic pesticides into the sea.  That was about the time he was invited to volunteer for the Climate Reality Project. He did not have any second thoughts.

After their training in Melbourne in 2009, Galicha and his Filipino colleagues have been active on the ground, educating students, farmers, fisherfolk, and just about anybody about the effects of a warming climate. Bro. Jaazeal Jakosalem joined them as a presenter in 2010, and at least five more Filipinos came aboard in January this year after being trained by Gore in Jakarta.

“Filipinos are a resilient people,” and can easily adapt to extreme weather events,” he said, but conceded that this “adaptation capacity” was hardly enough to deal with extreme weather conditions.

“Sure the Philippines has a very low carbon emission, but the thing is, we need to change attitudes. If you want to solve the climate crisis, you will not say ‘let’s open more coal-fired power plants’ or ‘let’s cut trees in order to mine.’  That’s hypocrisy.”

But the Philippines, which has passed laws such as the Climate Change Act and formed the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to deal with the effects of a warming climate, can only do so much. First World countries can have a bigger impact, Galicha said.

“In a way the solution for this global problem is global. We should make large countries accountable,” he said.

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