Climate justice, activism, and revolutionary love
Today I’m excited to share a wonderful podcast episode with a youth climate activist from the Philippines, Mitzi Jonelle Tan.
“I grew up afraid of drowning in my own bedroom.” – Mitzi Jonelle Tan
Quick context: climate change and activism in the Philippines
The Philippines is made up of 7,640 islands that over 100 million people call home. And when it comes to climate change, it’s one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.
In 2013, TIME called it “the most storm-exposed country on earth”.
Warmer temperatures are making those storms and flooding more intense. They’re also raising sea levels in the Philippines faster than the global average. And hurting the marine ecosystems and fisheries that millions of Filipinos rely on.
At the same time, the Philippines is one of the deadliest places for environmental defenders. Activists and community leaders can be targeted, labeled as terrorists, arrested, or killed.
At least 29 people were killed in 2020 for standing up against mining, logging, dam projects, and more (often to protect their homes or ancestral lands from being destroyed). This includes 9 Indigenous people (Tumandok) who were killed in the middle of the night by police and military.
In fact, it was after speaking to an Indigenous leader in 2017 and learning about this ongoing violence against Indigenous people protecting their homes that led Mitzi Jonelle Tan to activism – to the collective struggle for systemic change.
Mitzi Jonelle Tan is a climate justice activist and organizer helping to lead the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines which is the Fridays for Future chapter in the Philippines, as well as FFF MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas), and FFF International.
She lives in Manila, which is one of the most at-risk cities in the world for flooding from storms and sea level rise.
I was grateful for the chance to hear Mitzi’s story and listen to her insights in the latest CS podcast episode. We covered climate justice, climate change in the Philippines, climate activism, and much more!
0:40 Mitzi’s climate journey.
4:00 The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places for environmental defenders.
9:40 What it’s like being an activist in the Philippines.
14:10 How the climate crisis is impacting the Philippines today.
17:50 What needs to be done to protect people most at risk.
24:30 How people in the global north can be good partners.
28:00 Takeaways from COP26.
33:30 Defining climate justice.
36:45 What it means to be an activist.
39:50 The importance of love.
44:00 The best way for older folks to support youth activists.
45:30 Favorite climate chants and signs.
47:15 Ideas for better climate communication.
50:05 Message for people considering activism.
52:30 What’s next for Mitzi.
55:00 Book recommendations.
56:20 Final message & call to action.
Key takeaways and quotes
How people in the global north can be better partners with the global south
“It’s less about helping and more about fighting alongside and being in the same fight with us.” – Mitzi Jonelle Tan
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.” – Lila Watson
- UK activists teaming up with Filipino activists against coal-fired power plants that are based in the Philippines, but funded by a UK bank (Standard Chartered).
- French activists teaming up with East African activists to try and stop the construction of a crude oil pipeline.
“I know that’s difficult – not everyone can take on campaigns as easily but it’s really just connecting with other people and learning from each other and establishing that connection in whatever means necessary so that we can learn from each other and build that alliance so that we can work towards a better future together.” – Mitzi Jonelle Tan
The global north is largely responsible for causing the climate crisis (e.g. the US alone is responsible for 25% of historical greenhouse gas emissions).
But it’s the global south that is disproportionately paying the price – they’re getting hit first and worst.
The ones responsible for causing a problem should be proportionately responsible for the damage they caused.
“We need reparations from the global north to the global south. This isn’t finance, this isn’t aid or support. It’s really reparations because the global north caused the climate crisis they have this responsibility and this accountability to pay us back for the damage that has happened.” – Mitzi Jonelle Tan
For climate, this could come in the form of paying for climate adaptation measures or climate solutions.
Related: I also believe in the idea that the countries most responsible for causing climate change should welcome in a proportionate amount of climate refugees as more and more people are forced to leave their homes through no fault of their own.
The renewable resource of revolutionary love
“It is so easy to get burnt out in activism because it is very slow…
…For me, I think it’s so important that your source is something that won’t tire you. Something that won’t burn you out. Something that will fill you up.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be angry or you shouldn’t be sad or you shouldn’t be afraid or that those feelings aren’t valid or if you’re coming from those places you’re not a good activist. I think that most of the time you’re afraid and you’re angry and you’re sad because of the love that you feel for the planet and for life and for the majority of people…
…I think it’s so important that we come from a place of revolutionary love.
That source of love helps you…you don’t just give up on people. You don’t just give up on the movement. You don’t just give up on anything because it’s coming from a place that doesn’t tire you out but rather keeps you going.” – Mitzi Jonelle Tan
“To me, climate justice is recognizing that while we all have a shared responsibility, it’s also differentiated. So there are people, there are countries, there are communities that are more responsible for the climate crisis. And these same countries, communities, people are usually less vulnerable to the climate crisis. And that is because of the systems in place. The climate crisis really is just a symptom of the broken system that we have that prioritizes the privileged, that prioritizes the richest. And so you see how climate justice is really talking about removing all these systems of oppression and injustice such as class inequality and sexism and ableism and racism and all these isms because all of these crises, all of these inequalities, amplify the climate crisis and are amplified by the climate crisis.” – Mitzi Jonelle Tan
Mitzi’s final message
“Don’t be afraid to start. But if you are afraid do it afraid anyway…it’s normal to be afraid because the climate crisis is very scary and activism is very scary also…it’s just that we’re at a time where we need everyone to join and we need everyone to participate and we need everyone to become leaders.”