THE new “Talk” with our Kids – Climate crisis

We were talking about the impending typhoon Haiyan. We were talking in tones of awe, fear, rage. The largest storm to hit the planet, the satellite pictures of a storm that covered the whole country. Our family in harm’s way. The fact that climate change is happening, that global warming threatens to destroy our planet.

My son, “what is global warming?” And so I began to explain how our species’ burning of fossil fuels at unprecedented rates is putting too much carbon into the atmosphere and how this has caused a chain reaction of terrible consequences for our planet. Our planet is warming, our oceans our warming, the ice sheets in the arctic is melting, our oceans are becoming more acidic. And as I spoke, I realized the magnitude of our talk. I mean, we are talking about the end of our planet as we know it, the loss of countless species of animals, the loss of islands and coastlines, the squandering of their inheritance.

My son. He is so intent, so serious for a soon-to-be 9 year old. “So we need to switch to wind and solar.” “What are grown-ups doing about this?”

How do you tell your children than we grown-ups haven’t done nearly enough? That although I believe in science and climate change, I was overwhelmed by the challenge. That I didn’t do much about it all? That WE, as a generation, brought you I-phones, but not climate justice. That we are burning more carbon than ever before?

I didn’t say all of that. But, also we didn’t talk about taking quicker showers and changing light bulbs. I heard that when I was my kids’ in the 70’s! It is too little, too late. We have to transform our entire system. An economic system based on relentless consumption just doesn’t work, relying on the private markets to make the switch has failed.

What I said

I admitted that we didn’t do enough. I said we have to try harder. I explained that we needed to join rallies and protests to fight any new expansion into fossil fuels, like the Keystone pipeline. We talked about democratizing our energy systems and  community control.

For now, we start with acknowledging the problem. Next, I want our children to meet up with other youth so they can begin organizing together. I encourage them to grow up and find solutions, not become rich, or famous.  We talk about limiting our consumption, about the trickery of advertising that makes us think we need things. We talked about the short lived nature of the happy feeling we get when we buy something new thing. We are reading about climate change. We hope to go to some protests. They learned about the Filipino’s own environmental hero – Yeb Sano – chief climate talks negotiator and held up signs to support him during the UN climate talks.

Small conversations, small steps, that will hopefully lead to something bigger.

The “Talk” changed me as much as my children.

I couldn’t look them in them in the eye and tell them about climate change without recommitting myself to do everything I can to work for climate justice. I had always felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of global warming and underwhelmed by US environmental movement which always seemed overwhelmingly white and middle class. Class based struggles and racial justice was where I had decided to fight. But without a planet? And what about my children, what about their future and their children’s future? The science tells us that we are reaching tipping points, points of no return. We owe our children to turn around now. At least I want to be able to look them in the eye, and say that I did the best I could.

To quote this often quoted Chief Seattle, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”



Rough Seas

It makes so much sense that the basic unit of government in the Philippines is called a barangay – from the word “balangay” – a sea faring ship. Much of Filipino culture and livelihood is based on the ocean. As a country made of of more than 1,700 islands, it is heard to image a war with the ocean – undoubtedly the ocean will win.

And so as our family in the Philippines is left to rebuild again, after this last battle with nature, it is time to talk climate change reality. The irony is that that, like most people in the 3rd world, Filipinos are some of the “greenest” around. If energy is scarce and expensive, then it is not wasted like we do in the United States.

In 2005, I spent 5 months in the Philippines, staying with family and on weekends and spending my time with the labor org, KMU, Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1st movement). During those 5 months, I watched as every night-  all outlets were unplugged, every plastic bag saved and reused. I visited people in houses made from scavenged billboards. Families live with 15 people in a tiny house. Nothing is wasted by the poor of the Philippines. Government buildings were only half lit, in an attempt to save money. I myself, began to compulsively save plastic and cardboard, I was living with workers on strike lines and on the street – plastic bags were essential to protect myself from the elements and sometimes to stash my cell phone in in case the police used their hoses on us. Cardboard was often my only barrier between the sidewalk and myself.

The Philippines, one of the poorest countries in the world, is also energy poor. My family in the rural area only got access to electricity 20 years ago. Manila is used to “brown outs” – regular and intermittent loss of electricity.

All of this goes to say that the Philippines has contributed little to nothing of the greenhouse gases, and yet. And yet, it is being ravaged by some of the strongest storms on the planet. Studies put the Philippines at number 4 country in the world to be the most vulnerable to the impending disaster of climate change.

We, as Filipinos here and abroad, need to start screaming about climate change, raging about climate change and fighting for climate change justice. We will never win a war with the ocean.