National

Filipino typhoon survivor tells of brush with climate crisis, urges Japanese to act now

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

Not everyone has the luxury of reading about climate change.

Marinel Ubaldo had just turned 16 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, taking the lives of more than 6,000 people and injuring at least 28,000. Ubaldo’s family survived but their village was swept away, forcing them to go days without food, water or shelter.

Now 22, Ubaldo is a climate activist who lobbies with politicians and leaders on issues that include banning single-use plastics, reducing carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy sources. In October she traveled to Japan to attend a two-day climate leadership training event in Yokohama, organized by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and to host speaking events at universities around the country.

Her goal in traveling to this country, she told The Japan Times, was to share her firsthand account of climate change in the hope that it would inspire Japanese people to take action. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you get people to understand the reality and urgency of climate change?

For me, it’s important that people can hear a firsthand story, because climate change is not just science. The connection between science and reality is so important — because people will just think it’s just science, it’s just theory.

But if they will hear from someone who has experienced a tragic event that has been enhanced, if not caused, by climate change, then they will be able to comprehend that what the science is saying about climate change is happening. … In the Philippines, it’s not just science; this is a reality.

My story is just one of many stories in the Philippines. Some stories are worse than mine. The thing is, the people who are dead can no longer speak for themselves, and the people who are alive don’t dare to share their experiences because it’s too painful for them. Reminiscing everything that happened, reminiscing how they’ve seen dead people in the street, is something that they want to forget.

I am just one of those people who is speaking up. There are a lot of climate activists in the Philippines sharing their stories. That’s really important because people will realize that this is happening. If they understand that it’s happening to me, or her or him or anyone, they will eventually realize that it might happen to them, too.

It would have a great impact if people understood that what science has predicted happened to these people.

What is the responsibility of a country like Japan in addressing climate change?

With the advancements and the resources that countries like Japan have, you can do so much to mitigate and lessen the effect of climate change.

It is already here, and we can’t do anything to reverse the existing status of the Earth. What First World countries like Japan could do is stop fueling climate change, and change business practices so your carbon emission could be lessened.

These countries should be responsible and be held accountable. It’s so unfair for people, for nations like the Philippines, to suffer from a phenomenon that we haven’t caused.

We were affected by that big, monstrous typhoon and a lot of people died. It is not us who caused that, but we have to think more proactively — more in preparation, not in response. Rich people and nations are thinking, “we will just provide them aid, provide them charity and donations if something happens,” but there is no action before the disaster. There is no thinking proactively.

So I think it is the responsibility of First World countries to shift their mindset to focus more on how to prevent climatic disasters and change their business practices.

If you were a climate activist in Tokyo, how would you engage people?

At first thought, I can’t think of a strategy for Japan, because for me to have that is to know the culture and tradition and the way of life in Japan. But we have that in the Philippines, too. The media is doing their best in the Philippines to inform people so they are more aware and be more curious about these things.

Japan is advanced in terms of technology. The way of life in Japan is different to what we have in the Philippines. People here are busy. Even when they’re not doing anything, they’re doing something on their gadgets.

They have their interests, they have their hobbies, and they have their world. Because of that, there is a gap between the reality of the issue that is happening and the world they live in.

Technology creates a gap between a person and reality. You’re just focused on what you’re doing on your cell phone or computer. You don’t care what’s happening outside of your house or your comfort zone.

Climate justice is still a growing movement. It hasn’t reached its peak yet. It’s still rising. There are still a lot of people who think climate change is just a normal phenomenon, and that we’re just wasting our time addressing it. Maybe if people in Japan would talk more about climate change — if people would be more concerned and know what’s happening. I think the media has a great role in disseminating the issue of climate change. The media should highlight stories and news relating to climate change.

Are you optimistic?

Yes, I’m optimistic because every one of us can change. You can be someone the next generation can be proud of. Soon, if I have my own family, if I have my children, I can proudly tell them that I have fought for their future. I did not sit back and relax. I did not just wait for another disaster. I did my best to fight for their future.

For people who are still denying this climate change issue, I challenge them to go to where the most affected places are, like the Philippines. Imagine yourself being a fisherman, being a farmer. Imagine relying entirely on the sea or the farm. Imagine having that intimate relationship with nature, that you rely on — and your family’s survival — on what nature could give.

Imagine having no more fish to catch, or land to plant crops. Imagine relying entirely on nature and climate change is changing everything about it. How can you support yourself? How can you support your family?

Maybe they’re denying it because they haven’t felt the direct effects yet. They haven’t felt the brunt of climate change. They haven’t experienced what it’s like to feel helpless — not having a house, not having anything, going back to zero, not being able to study and being deprived of your basic rights that you ought to enjoy every day.

If you were to feel this vulnerability, if you were to feel the effects of climate change, I am positive that you would change your mind.

That you, just like what happened to me, will be enlightened that this world that we live is just temporary. This is not ours; we owe this to the younger and future generations. We have to take care of it while we still can because if not, this will be our greatest nightmare.

It’s not yet too late. However, we don’t have plenty of time to decide if we will act or not. If we postpone this and wait for another disaster for us to decide, then maybe we might never see what tomorrow brings. We might lose our future.

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