Earth Day 2020: Climate action in the time of the coronavirus
MANILA, Philippines – Over half of the world's population is currently on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the Philippine island of Luzon – home to over 57 million people – which has been on lockdown since mid-March.
Worldwide, people and governments are mounting responses as fast as they could given the urgency of the issue at hand – a fast-spreading infectious disease that could be deadly to a huge part of the population if not averted.
There is a constant clamor for data-driven and evidence-based decision-making, especially at the policy level. These unprecedented times also shine a light on another impending crisis that demands urgency and action: climate change.
The world is celebrating the 50th year of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22. First celebrated in 1970, the annual event brings people together to promote environmental awareness and demonstrate support for the protection of the environment.
This year, however, the movement goes digital.
Climate action goes online
In the Philippines, climate action group Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines has started its Earth Day online campaign early by hosting a series of webinars for digital activism.
"It intended to maximize digital space while people, especially for the youth, who are prompt to stay at home during these crucial times. The goal of the webinar series is to debunk the mindset about traditional and physical activism, to maximize digital and social media presence in times of lockdown, create and strengthen mobilization through online platforms," said Jefferson Estela, lead convenor and co-founder of Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines.
Estela said that many of their webinar participants gained a better understanding of digital activism.
"They understood that posting about a climate issue on Facebook will not result in a movement right away, instead it is way bigger and deeper than that. Behind every screen is a person who may have a different set of beliefs or perspective than you as a climate warrior," he said.
"The ability to connect with others, and put yourself in their shoes, creates a whole new way to bring someone in the movement," Estela added.
On Earth Day itself, the group is staging a social media campaign called #RaiseYourVoice.
Other organizations like 350.org are also focusing on bringing in more people into the movement, raising awareness, and educating people on key climate issues.
"We've been hosting the Asia Climate Web Workshops. The current module is about connecting and inspiring youth activists. They're basically skill-ups on campaigning and how a just recovery fits into all of future plans," said Beatrice Tulagan, East Asia regional field organizer of 350.org.
"We are trying to lead conversations on what comes next after this having always had an intersectional approach to the climate crisis, and while those conversations are necessary, we have to ensure we center community care and solidarity in our response," said Tulagan.
The need to take action
Tulagan, whose organization is known for on-the-ground mobilization, said that it is important to reiterate the connection between the pandemic and the warming climate.
"A warming planet, environmental destruction and illegal wildlife trade go hand in hand with the spread of more diseases in the future," said Tulagan.
"Crises don't happen in a vacuum and that the issues we're confronting now, from climate to wildlife to public health, are related. For Earth Day and beyond, we should always have this intersectional and inclusive lens when evaluating and taking environmental actions, as this is the only way we can truly build resilience," she added.
What people can do
For Estela, people can still find ways to participate in taking action against climate change despite the lockdown.
First is by joining a community or groups where concrete actions are taking place, educating ourselves and the people around us by attending webinars and reading articles, and signing petitions and joining campaigns against climate change.
"These small acts, if combined all together, have a strong effect to further champion the advocacy. But for us, the most effective solution that needs to be done collectively is the call for a systematic change across all sectors of the society, especially in the Philippines, as we are one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change," said Estela.
"We need a collective movement towards sustainability that will protect people, secure livelihoods, promote rights, and ensure a liveable future for the generations to come," he added.
Call for walkable cities
Meanwhile, for the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), post-normal conditions brought about by COVID-19 has magnified inequality in the Philippine society.
"Crisis can magnify inequality in stark ways. Inequality is not just about income but also about access to public infrastructure," said Denise Fontanilla, Associate for Policy Advocacy of ICSC.
"We call for more walkable and bikeable cities as an effective response not only to climate change but also to inequality, cost-effective and practical mobility, and the need for a healthy citizenry. And we hope more people will join in that call," said Fontanilla.
According to ICSC, in Metro Manila alone, only less than a fifth of households have private vehicles, leaving many frontliners who have no cars or motorcycles to walk or bicycle several kilometers to go to and from the hospitals.
"We need walkable cities and transport systems that are biased for the needs of the majority, pedestrians and commuters. We need a better and well-connected bicycle infrastructure across the metropolis integrated with rail and public bus systems," said Fontanilla.
As of Tuesday, April 21, the Philippines has 6,599 coronavirus cases, with 437 deaths and 654 recoveries. The number of infections worldwide has surpassed 2.5 million, while at least 174,000 people have died across 193 countries and territories. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com