Maybe the question has been raised before: do the young still care about anything? It’s an accusation that the youth of almost every generation has had to grapple with—that because they are young and carefree then maybe part of the process of becoming mature is going through a phase of apathy. For the current generation, at least, it seems that they do care—probably a bit too much, but most of it but goes so far as posts on social media.
But is this real action? This is one of their current debates as well, along with other issues like “authenticity.” Not that we’re saying “virtual” action has less value than “physical” action, but changing anything often involves getting your hands dirty. So let’s learn a few essential lessons from these people who do real work for change...
Gallegos owns Experience Philippines, a group that organizes road trips throughout the Philippines. he was a working student abroad when he noticed that many Europeans looking to spend winter in warm Asia would go to Thailand or Indonesia, but not the Philippines. “So when I came home to Manila, I wanted to do something crazy enough to make people fall in love with the Philippines,” Gallegos says.
He organized a provincial road trip for his foreign and local friends. He didn’t tell them where they were going or what they were going to do when they got there, only when they would leave and when they would be back, and how much cash to bring.
The travel model was so successful that soon after, Gallegos officially formed Experience Philippines. “We take them to destinations off the tourist track.”
Gallegos has taken his guests to, among many others, Palawan and Isabela on a Cesna five-seater plane; Irosin, Sorsogon on a dump truck; Babuyan islands on a lampitaw (motor boat); the Calayan island in the Babuyan channel in two yachts; and a carabao to get between points. He also surprised his guests with an open two-seater plane—which he made them fly on their own, after some instruction, of course.
“Fun and some fear— because of our surprises—are guaranteed in our trips,” says Gallegos. “and definitely, you come out of our trips with an amazing appreciation of the beauty of the Philippines. (Visit experience Philippines at www. experience.ph)
Saño began his crusade for the environment in 2000 as a volunteer for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). He worked as a photographer for a team doing research on humpback whales.
“And then I saw The Cove, and everything changed for me,” says Saño. The cove is a documentary film about dolphin slaughter in Japan. Challenged by the film, Saño, a painter before he volunteered as a WWF photographer, went around the Philippines to paint 23,000 dolphins—matching the number of the captured mammals in Japan—on public and private-property walls.
The public’s response was tremendous, and Saño was able to surpass his goal by 12,000 painted dolphins. Three years later, typhoon Yolanda happened, trapping Saño in Tacloban, where he lost a close friend. “That was when I decided to put a lot more focus on climate change in my campaign,” says Saño.
His art journey for the environment has, so far, brought him to 10 countries including the Philippines, painting murals with more than 100,000 volunteers from 62 countries. In france alone, Saño has painted four murals, all to increase climate change awareness.
“The gravest problem in the world today is apathy,” says Saño, who, last march, gave a presentation on the effects of climate change to Germany’s State Parliament. “People have forgotten to be their brother’s or sister’s keeper. we also tend to forget that as humans, we’re part of nature, not above it.”
Saño also has a plan to help Metro Manila decongest: The best thing I can do for mother nature is to have one less person in Metro Manila. I’ll move to the seaside and put up my own art space. City-weary people can come and commune with nature there, as long as they wash their own dishes.”
“Parang hindi dumadami ang bagyo in the past few years. Dumadami lang yung nakakakita ng bagyo at nagshe-share sa social media,” says BA Racoma. “In fact, in the last 10 years, there’s been a very slight dip in the number of typhoons in the Philippines, on average.” With that, Racoma and his colleagues, Vito Hernandez and Gerry Bagtasa, attempt to douse the hysteria about the Philippines getting flooded out by more typhoons.
“Sure, it’s very hot today, and the typhoons are very aggressive,” says Hernandez, who, as an archaeologist, knows a thing or two about human history. “But 3,000 years ago, the heat and typhoons were probably worse, if I remember the data correctly.”
That’s not to say we should kick back and relax today. Bagtasa, a teacher in UP whose papers deal with climate and the weather, is currently studying air quality in Manila. “Metro Manila's air quality is very bad. Even water is in bad shape. Manila Bay is practically environmentally dead. Mostly, it’s because of human activity.”
“It’s evolutionary biology,” says Hernandez. “Partly because of carelessness and partly because of nature, modern humans will be extinct very soon. Homo erectus lived on Earth longer than modern humans have. And they went extinct.” Bagtasa adds to the cheer: “Stephen Hawking has said that as soon as 100 years from now, human degradation will begin.”
But because the predicted day of doom isn’t for a century yet, these scientists still work on studying how to make present-day human situations better. Racoma is a lab rat who is also a researcher for uP nationwide operational assessment of hazards (UP NOAH). He inputs a model (a computerized representation of a portion of the Earth) in the computer, and based on his parameters, comes up with conclusive results.
Hernandez creates these models, too, but also ventures out of the lab and engages people to teach them about what he learns in the lab—and ultimately to find funding for research projects. “I look at how communities have adapted and reacted to floods,” he says. “We look at it long term, not just particular instances. Because people think all archaeologists do is to dig in the ground.”
Media’s unrealistic portrayal of scientists doesn’t help his cause. “When you think of a geologist, for example, media gives you an image of an old bearded guy in a vest and shorts, holding a hammer. They never show scientists as normal young people who are more relatable,” says Racoma. Bagtasa adds: Even my friends laugh when I describe what I do as a scientist. Hindi sila naniniwala.”
Real scientists—like Hernandez, Racoma, and Bagtasa—wear shorts or jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers to work. “If you look at the lives of a lot of scientists [in real life], you’ll realize na bugoy ang marami sa amin, ” Hernandez says. “That’s why we want to keep how we really work a secret so people won’t lose respect for us.”
It all goes down to what they learn about the Earth and humans in their work. “The results that we come up with in our models,” says Hernandez, “are meant to slap people awake and say, ‘yang flood na yan, hindi yan natural climate change. Tao gumawa niyan.”
Photography Jonathan Baldonado