What children know and say about climate change

published 20 November 2016
I RECENTLY had the opportunity to get into the minds of high school students—campus journalists all—from a region in Luzon and ask them what they thought the Filipino youth can do in the fight against climate change. 
The resulting essays, 60 of which were written in English and another 60 in Filipino, were instructive. Assuming that the children were representative of other adolescents in the country, then the work is cut out for those whose job it is to educate the young—and perhaps move them enough to act.
Climate change is more than fickle weather. Not a few kids described climate change as fickle weather. “One day it is warm; the next day it is cold.” Some pinpointed the source of the problem with absolute certainty:  “Usok” —smoke that comes from vehicles and the burning of garbage.
These are not necessarily wrong but they are not all right. A more accurate description of climate change would be the general warming of the globe because of gases that are trapped in the atmosphere.  Furthermore, young people need to grasp the link between the warmer global temperature and the occurrence of severe weather patterns—with the danger and disruption it brings to people’s lives.  
It is never as easy as “either or.” Industrialization and technology, per se, are not the enemies, and it is not more virtuous to reject them just to profess one’s love for the environment.  
In fact, as some of the children pointed out, technology can be used to study renewable energy sources, help transfer knowledge, and for their part, amplify the voice of the youth in demanding action from the people who are supposed to speak for and act on behalf of them.
Contribution can range from the big to the little things, from the general to the specific.  The old examples of using electricity wisely, throwing candy wrappers and pieces of paper in the trash bin—even avoiding refrigerators and hairspray!—were cited often. But some expressed preference for advocacy through the different media forms available, in an attempt to reach out to actual decision-makers and demand tangible action.  
It is also not enough to describe climate change in general terms as “the exploitation of Mother Nature.” The main dilemma among developing countries is balancing energy needs (greenhouse gas-spewing coal-fired power plants are arguably a lower-cost source) with the obligation to cut back on emissions. Renewable sources are available but still costly and it will take time for countries like the Philippines to adopt them at a level where they can replace the more traditional sources.  It is, after all, by knowing the specifics that people are able to find concrete solutions. 
Clichés and motherhood statements just do not cut it anymore. Yes the problem of climate change is all encompassing, but it does not mean it has to be communicated in nebulous language. 
Terms like “Mother Nature” or a recitation of Jose Rizal’s statement that “the youth is the hope of the nation” are stuff we’ve heard and used for years. We have to find other compelling ways to communicate the message. 
That message needs to be decisive and powerful without bordering on the dramatic. Depictions such as “the door of the living hell” trivializes the situation and reduces it to science fiction. But this is not science fiction—this is reality. 
The Paris Agreement will not defeat climate change. It is not likely climate change will ever be defeated at all. We just have to minimize its consequences and prevent it from getting worse. The agreement is a pact undertaken by the nations of the world. They set for themselves targets for cutting emissions ­—out of the recognition that everyone has a stake and a responsibility. 
Finally, climate change is a global issue.  The devastating effects of climate change know no borders or nationalities, and the solutions can be effected by no single nation or personality. This is not about the Philippine president, environment secretary, energy secretary, the president-elect of the United States or even the secretary general of the United Nations. This is about taking our place in the community of nations, influencing what we can in our own sphere.  
It is important that the youth understand what the world is facing. They will be here longer than we will, and will have to contend with more adverse conditions. It’s their elders’ job to ensure they know what they’re up against.