(The Manila Times welcomes award-winning photographer, conservationist, mountaineer and National Geographic explorer Gab Mejia, who will be writing on environmental politics, nature conservation, environmental issues and sustainability. This column will appear in our opinion section every Friday.)
A THIN ray of light pierces through the lattice window screen of my room every morning, signaling me to wake up for the day and carry on the work that I have to do as an environmentalist. Yet every passing day, waking up gets heavier and heavier as the future of our planet has never seemed bleaker. Headlines and news articles remind us that there are only 30 years left to save our planet. The next month, 12 years. And just last week another report from the BBC stated that we only have a staggering 18 months left from the foreboding doom of the climate crisis. Broadcast channels and print media are racing through the calendar fretting about a date when nature and civilization on Earth will inadvertently perish — but the unsettling question is not a matter of when, but why and what can we do about it.
This recurring question to the inconvenient truth we all continue to face, but that majority of our leaders, business executives and even fellow citizens have unrightfully avoided despite the constant bombardment of urgent concrete actions that need to take place in both global and local levels. The climate crisis, plastic pollution, species extinction, biodiversity loss, severe typhoons and heatwaves — a plethora of environmental issues that now looms in one’s backyard and social media feed, swipe in and swipe out, causing massive distress to the mental well-being and physical health of a generation left to inherit the land they were not really given a choice to create. In fact, there have been new, recently published psychological studies from distinguished institutions that correlate the well-being, perceptions and behavior of people with an impending global ecological disaster, giving rise to new mental health terms: climate anxiety, eco-anxiety, climate grief. The “gloom-and-doom” attitude slowly builds when such important issues regarding the climate crisis and environmental issues are brought up from our mere personal conversations to large political conventions and debates. Such debilitating thoughts and reclusive feelings on these environmental issues are certainly valid, and one cannot be blamed for thinking and feeling that way. In truth, it is as much necessary for us to keep being grounded in order to solve these pressing environmental issues, that optimism alone cannot. An optimism that is grounded by science, history, research, smart governance, sustainable technology, and lessons from ancestors and tribes, who have coexisted with our Earth until this very day. Solutions and inclusive actions that are built with a critical sense of optimism — of hope that we as a human collective will be able to solve the pressing environmental issues that threaten our existence and future, and all life that comes with it by using the years of earned knowledge, technology, and indomitable spirit and power we have today for tomorrow. And despite the frustration, anxiety and distress caused by the lack of accountability from policymakers, governments, companies and fellow citizens — a system and history of colonialism that has failed us and which makes most of our days bleak in saving nature and our planet. Our role is to remain vigilant about these atrocities and issues on the environment, because as much as it is about saving the planet, it is also about saving us and saving your children that sit next to you as they dream and hope for their future — a past you were privileged enough to live without thinking. And a privilege that minorities, oppressed communities, and the urban poor may not be able to care or think about but are greatly affected by it.
The date in the calendar seems to be coming nearer with each new headline, and the window smaller. Though even if the ray of light gets thinner and thinner with every passing day, the mere fact that there is still hope, gives us all the reason to wake up and to continue fighting for a planet that we and the future generations all deserve. A hope that thinks, a hope that demands, a hope that acts and a hope that inspires — this is the new sense of hope we need for our planet.