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"In the end, what we need is justice": Born into the climate crisis

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Photo: Angela de Castro

Mitzi Jonelle Tan from the Philippines writes about the frightening and devastating impacts of climate change and calls for an urgent end to the burning of fossil fuels.

This blog is the tenth in The Elders’ Intergenerational Climate Blog Series 2021 and features an introduction by Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General and Co-chair of the Global Center on Adaptation:

“It is both a geographical and intergenerational injustice that those who have least responsibility for the climate crisis are often the ones suffering most. To limit global warming to 1.5°C, we must urgently phase out the use of fossil fuels – the single greatest threat to our climate. Equally, Mitzi’s account of what she and other Filipinos are experiencing demonstrates why financing climate adaptation is as vital as reducing carbon emissions.

Adapting to climate change is needed to protect nature, people, and livelihoods from the impacts of climate change. I hope leaders will act on this crisis with urgency because Mitzi – and other young people like her – deserve a future they do not have to fear.

- Ban Ki-moon

It’s quiet and comes in waves. You don’t know how it’s going to look; how it’s going to feel. It’s banging on your door, it’s a guest in the back of your mind — casually scrolling through a magazine on a sofa. It suffocates you and drowns you in overwhelming thoughts.

My country, the Philippines, has had the highest number of extreme weather events in the past twenty years. I was born into the climate crisis. I would spend days in the dark with the electricity wiped out by the raging typhoon. I would huddle next to my mom, listening to the news on a battery powered radio, praying that we’d be safe. There would be days when I would wake up cold and afraid in the middle of the night having to scoop out flood water from my room. This is the reality of the climate crisis, and my story is already a privileged one.

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How am I supposed to put into words this feeling that I have, that so many of us have? This feeling that is portrayed as an irrational fear. How do I medicate my way out of my anxiety when my country has been hit by the three strongest storm landfalls in recorded history? How do I meditate my way out of my anxiety when activists fighting against coal-fired power plants are assassinated by fossil fuel companies or sometimes our own government?

Betrayal is the root of this feeling. It’s not just a fear of what has happened and of what is going to happen. There are actual people behind these typhoons, storms, suffering, and deaths, culprits who are actively choosing to wield mass weapons of destruction aimed at countries like the Philippines. There are so-called leaders that are allowing this because they benefit from it. My fear of drowning in my own bedroom, my fear of being swept away by the floods is caused by the new weapons of mass destruction — coal, oil and gas used by the system focused on capital accumulation. Fossil fuels have been the greatest instigators of the climate crisis, causing 86% of CO2 emissions in the past decade according to the latest IPCC report. The International Energy Agency has already said that we cannot have any new fossil fuel projects if we want to limit warming to 1.5 C.

This insidious industry has attempted to keep this secret. They knew about the impacts of the industry on climate change as far back as 1959, yet they hid this from the public. They influence politicians. They put the blame on individuals. They greenwashed. They actively try to control the conversations around climate change. They try to distract us. They are burning us alive and world leaders and their greed are fanning the flames.

At the end of the day, what we need is justice.

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The climate debt the Global North owes to us most affected is a debt that must be paid. We have been pushed into the floods by the years of historical carbon emissions of the Global North, and each day that the fossil fuel industry is allowed to exist and sink its claws into our society is another stone tied to us, weighing us down. Reparations for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damages are crucial in our fight for climate justice, and climate finance is only the beginning. In order to address this global and systemic injustice, we need to come together with a global and systemic approach to end the fossil fuel industry once and for all — a solution that comes from scientists, civil society, and the people, especially those most marginalised. We need a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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We've learnt to swim with the stones, and we stay resilient. Our struggles continue and our resistance persists. As the fossil fuel industry and those in power try to keep us quiet, we persist. Even when things aren’t loud and vibrant, activists will continue to come in waves. First in ripples of collective action, then in waves of people flooding the streets as we demand change. We are a rising tsunami that will engulf and uproot this profit-oriented system invested in the fossil fuel industry and our destruction.

To our so-called leaders, especially in the Global North: the fossil fuel industry and this profit-oriented system built off of the exploitation of the marginalised will drown in our calls for justice. So, I hope you know how to swim.

Mitzi Jonelle Tan is a full-time climate justice activist based in Metro Manila, Philippines. She is the convenor and international spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), the Fridays For Future (FFF) of the Philippines. She is also an organiser with FFF International and FFF MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) making sure that voices from the Global South especially are heard, amplified, and given space. She is committed to fight alongside the most marginalised towards a system that prioritises people and planet, instead of profit. 

Mitzi's message to all those who want to do something but feel lost and don't know how to start: "Unite, climate strike for our present and future, and take part in calling for the phase out of fossil fuels."

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation

Mary Robinson and Brianna Fruean at COP 25Intergenerational Climate Blog Series 2021

Featuring youth climate activists from around the world, discover stories of courage, hope and resilience in taking climate action.

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