ELEVENTH HOUR: Letting the youth lead the fight for humanity

Noong bata pa ako…” might be among the most common phrases we hear from our elders. They’d paint a wistful picture of a simpler world with fertile land, fresh air, clean water, and neighbors looking after each other.

This is not the Earth of today's children. This International Youth Day, we must acknowledge how gravely our society has failed the youth.

I write this in the warm, dry air of August, supposedly a month of rain, truly feeling how every year is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. Yet last month, heavy rains caused waist-level flash floods—and these were only from habagat, without typhoons.

In November of last year, as Rolly and Ulysses wreaked havoc in the country, an audio clip circulated on social media of Cagayeños screaming for help in the dark, children’s voices clearly among them. It is a harrowing sound that still haunts me. As government units worked non-stop in rescue operations, a youth movement quickly developed a database that mobilized us to help by coordinating via phone call with those in need of rescue or by donating to organizations on the ground.

Despite being the least responsible for the current climate catastrophe and despite bearing the brunt of its impacts, the youth, with a resolve that’s unshakeable even in times when hope is dim, refuse to sit idly by and give up on the only Earth we’ve ever known.

Young Climate Reality Leaders conducting agroforestry tree-planting efforts in line with World Environment Day and Philippine Arbor Day, in partnership with Fostering Education and Environment for Education (FEED), Inc.

Therein, I believe, lies the power of the youth: its hope. We find ourselves at the crossroads not only of our personal histories but of humankind’s history. We are a global generation growing up in the face of uncertainty.

Still, we insist on seeing the world not only as it is, but as it should be—just, sustainable, and healthy for all. The youth of every generation has always been the world’s moral arbiter and driver of change, visualizing a better reality, and intent on manifesting it. We have the energy, capability, and creativity to lead. Plus, without filters, we also have a sometimes shocking but necessary honesty that tells the truth like it is, without overcomplicating or sugarcoating.

#SingleOutSingleUse Saturday Digital Strike of the Youth Cluster’s Anti-Single Use Plastic (SUP) Campaign, What’s SUP?

This is the truth: we are out of time. According to a 2021 study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 78 percent of Filipinos consider climate change as “extremely” or “very” important personally. This is a surprisingly high number given the utter lack of urgency.

This column is called Eleventh Hour, the final hour. In movies, this is the climax of the plot, when the protagonists face overwhelming odds but we know, more often than not, that they’ll triumph. However, it always takes collective, tremendous sacrifice and effort that can sometimes feel superhuman. It is the age of superheroes in film and television, but there are no superheroes in real life to save the world. So, it will have to be us, saving each other.

Instead of relying on superhero or savior figures, we can make super what makes each of us human—and that’s community. We, Filipinos, know this in our core, with bayanihan saving us time and again, from typhoon relief efforts to community pantries.

In the climate and environmental movement, we always espouse that everything is connected—and so are we. We have a responsibility to each other, and as one human family, we can fulfill it lovingly.

2019 Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco from Ronan Furuta.

The youth will do our part and we implore you to do yours. Today, the Youth Cluster of The Climate Reality Project Philippines is launching "Race to a Better Reality," a project in partnership with Light of Hope PH, to raise funds to provide solar panels for Pangan-an Elementary and High School, which is in an island community vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise.

We’ll be doing this through the streaming of Joe Gantz’ documentary, The Race to Save the World, which is about the fight for an accelerated energy transition to renewables as well as intergenerational responsibility. Watching the film, we quickly learn that the advocates featured had fearlessly and radically fought against fossil fuels because they were trying to protect their children.

At the end of the day, that’s what it all boils down to—protecting family. It’s not only this beautiful, generous Earth we call home that’s at stake. This International Youth Day, let’s remember that it’s our human family that we’re fighting for and it will always be worth fighting for.

About the author: Danielle Madriaga is a Youth Cluster coordinator of The Climate Reality Project Philippines, head of its Writers Pool, and project co-lead for Race to a Better Reality and What’s SUP. She also belongs to the Sustainable Industries Cluster of Climate Reality Philippines, being a civil engineer and green building professional. She considers herself a frustrated writer with journalism as her first love.

Danielle Madriaga