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A planet of possibility

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 22, 2021 4:53 pm

If you feel like our planet’s getting closer to the breaking point than ever before, maybe it actually is.

National Geographic Asia wants to inform, inspire, and empower you to live more lightly on the planet through a live virtual event on Sunday, Oct. 24 called “Planet Possible Day.

It’s a gathering of videos, music and real talk from regional National Geographic Explorers and changemakers—including well-known personalities such as actress Antoinette Taus, documentary photographer Hannah Reyes Morales and young conservationist Gab Mejia—along with powerful and inspiring stories from local communities affected by climate change and those seeking to have their voices heard.

The goal is to drive awareness on four topics: “Frontlines of Climate Change,” “The Future of Food,” “Arts and Resilience” and “Choices in an Urban Setting.”

We spoke with these three about the upcoming event.

Antoinette Taus and Gab Mejia

Award-winning actress and singer Antoinette Taus is also a late-blooming environmental activist, having founded the volunteer project CORA and The Sustainable Planet. Award-winning photographer and mountaineer Gab Mejia is part of the National Youth Council of the WWF-Philippines and a TEDx speaker. We asked them about what it’s like at “The Frontlines of Climate Change.”

Why are the Philippines and other places in Southeast Asia so disproportionately threatened by climate change?

ANTOINETTE: Those who are least responsible and most vulnerable are the ones most impacted by climate change. One of the most heartbreaking stories is what happened to the Philippines during Typhoon Yolanda.

And when we look at the carbon footprint of the Philippines, as a nation, it is really nothing compared to the largest emitters of the world, but when we look at the effect on the coastal communities, it really shows that we are at the forefront of its effects — being one of the top countries affected by extreme weather and the number of deaths.

We really look to these communities — though not just as victims, we don't want to use that word any longer. We really want to see them as leaders in climate resilience solutions.

Actress-turned-activist Antoinette Taus: "It’s extremely important for everyone to know that it’s never too late to begin your journey in helping to save the planet."

GAB: It's really about sharing these inspiring stories — people like the Tamaraw Rangers, the Manobo tribe, the indigenous community of the Agusan Marsh, the Mangrove Warriors of CORA — who have all been working on natural climate solutions, protecting biodiversity, wetlands, mangroves.

Yes, poverty and climate change are intrinsically linked in a way, but it's not just about that; it's about these people really pushing and being passionate about the work that they do for conservation, despite the effects of poverty.

How can people—young or old—embrace activism?

ANTOINETTE: It’s extremely important for everyone to know that it's never too late to begin your journey in helping save the planet. Some people might feel discouraged, like, “What could I do at my age? I don't have the energy like the youth.” But you can start any time at all. Focus on your education, focus on what you're already doing in your community.

GAB: We are really experiencing the brunt of climate change. The older generations had the privilege of living a life where they didn't have to worry about climate change. (There are) all these environmental defenders being killed or their voices being suppressed, just to fight for the planet.

Personally, seeing the changes in the Philippines growing up, the deforestation, I realized we needed to make a stand. And it's like this burning passion inside that you really fight for the environment, because this is not just about my life but it's about the future generations.

Conservationist Gab Mejia: "It’s like this burning passion inside that you really fight for the environment, because this is not just about my life, it about the future generations."

ANTOINETTE: There are so many ways that the youth have been really mobilizing: through activism, through social media, through empowering other people to vote for the right leaders that will choose sustainable ways of development or choosing protection of the planet.

Hannah Reyes Morales

Photojournalist Hannah Reyes Morales has documented forced marriages in Cambodia and the drug war in the Philippines, looking at communities through the lens of resilience. Relocating to La Union, along with many other young creatives, she sought to regain a sense of collaboration lost during the COVID lockdown. There, she formed the art collaborative Emerging Islands.

Together with fellow National Geographic Explorer and writer Nicola Sebastian, director Judd Figuerres and musical act Ben and Ben, they shot the music video “Island Dispatches x Kayumanggi,” which launches live during the Planet Possible event.

What, for you, is the power of images?

HANNAH: For me, images are the way I communicate with the world. I’m most interested in how communities make themselves safe amidst adversity.

Often, I think, media look at a certain disaster or atrocity, and we see stories of how they're victimized, we don't often see the stories of how they themselves are the stewards. So in a lot of ways this video actually took a turn because initially it was really more about stewardship.

Documentary photographer Hannah Morales: "Often, the media look at a certain disaster or atrocity, and we see stories of how they’re victimized, we don’t often see the stories of how they themselves are the stewards."

What’s the video about?

The song by Ben and Ben is Kayumanggi, referring to brown skin. We wanted to show this through the lens of different kinds of stewardship: so brown skin tending to the land, brown stewardship.

There are three communities: for the surfer girls, they're very environmentally conscious, the ocean is their classroom, their playground; with the weavers, it's more about culture and how traditions are passed on through Inabel weaving, so we collaborated with them to make one blanket; and for the fisherfolk affected by the typhoon, we’re showing how they’re the ones taking care of the macro-mangrove reserve, planting and reforesting the mangroves.

How does Emerging Islands view collaboration?

With Emerging Islands, we’re trying to look at arts as the way to think about creative solutions and make sure the community voice is visualized in the process of conversing about sustainability and climate change.

We're trying to provide a counter-narrative to looking at climate solutions from the top down, at the government level. They're not necessarily happening in equal conversation with communities, even though those are the ones directly affected.

Planet Possible Day airs live on Oct. 24, 6 p.m. (SGT) / 5 p.m. (BKK/JKT) on National Geographic Asia’s Facebook page. #PlanetPossible