How can I be a better climate advocate?
If you’re wondering where to start, read Abby Ng’s recommendations on what to do and what to avoid as you take your first steps in your advocacy for a green future.
I personally think that one of the bravest things someone could do is advocate for the environment. Knowing that there is so much more to life than our personal wealth and gain takes a great deal of empathy and understanding.
COVID-19 has brought more attention to the environment the past year. This is proven by how many more people have spoken about social and environmental injustices as they became more aware of these issues.
But many of us are still looking for ways to start our climate journey, and with all the intertwined issues, it can get confusing.
Understanding the Problem
Advocating for the environment doesn’t mean knowing everything about it right away. We start by understanding the importance and the gravity of what we stand for. There is a monumental amount of research that we have yet to explore, and being an advocate means making conscious efforts to know more and to communicate that problem in ways people can easily understand.
Stay up to date with current news, both environmental and not. It can surprise you how many of these issues relate to how we live our day to day lives. Read books, watch films, and gather resources. Talk to people who are credible and experienced. Make learning constant and intentional, and it will fuel creativity and innovation.
Having Difficult Conversations
Being an environmental advocate is easier when you’re speaking to fellow advocates. But having those same conversations with people who are skeptical about environmental issues is a test of both patience and knowledge.
It’s important to know that not everyone has the same knowledge nor priorities. A person working a full time job with a family to take care of at home cannot always prioritize sustainability, so use every opportunity you have to approach the conversation well. Be understanding and learn how to communicate based on the person you’re speaking to.
A true environmental advocate walks the talk! Use your platform to speak not just for issues that personally inconvenience you, but also for the indigenous people who lost their lands, our farmers and fishermen who struggle to make ends meet, and our environment that is constantly exploited for profit.
You can donate to various environmental causes if you have the financial resources. You can volunteer for organizations to actively participate in environmental efforts. You can write to your local government and urge them to give more importance environmental efforts. Write articles and blog posts, make art that encapsulates your advocacy, make changes in your lifestyle. Every single one of us has the power to influence others, so coupling your sentiments with action can be effective in getting other people to do the same.
A common association with environmental advocates is that they lead with zero-waste lifestyles. While that would be ideal, there is no such thing as zero-waste and living a 100% sustainable lifestyle is impossible. There will always be waste from the things we consume, even if they come in small amounts.
Living with minimal waste is possible but zero-waste is not and that is perfectly okay. Even zero-waste shops produce waste in their processes. The demand for more sustainable items is also not at par with personal and household items we get from groceries, making them more expensive and less accessible. And not every environmental advocate can afford to buy these on a regular basis, so it is important to make the changes that are sustainable for you as well.
It’s a multi-faceted problem
Being an environmental advocate is not one dimensional, and environmental issues are not black and white. These issues are deeply rooted in social issues, and fighting for the world means fighting for our people. Millions of Filipinos cannot afford the sustainable options some of us have access to, so they have no choice but to use disposable items. They cannot prioritize the environment when they have debts to pay and are burdened with the struggle to put food on the table. It is important to understand the importance of improving the overall quality of life to address environmental problems better.
At the end of the day, environmental issues are still tied to many societal, cultural, and political factors that we have to continuously look into in order to truly understand the depth of what we are advocating for.
Environmental advocacy, like many other advocacies, has its fair share of frustrations. A lot of this comes from seeing inaction from people in power, having encounters with people who refuse to acknowledge environmental issues, or even feeling so strongly for your advocacy that you just wished everyone else felt the same.
There has been debate on whether or not individual actions have an impact on the environment. Some would say that it is in the hands of the government and the big corporations. But imagine just 1% of the world’s population refusing a plastic bottle and using a reusable jug instead. That would save 78,000,000 plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and oceans.
So if you are just starting out, your refusal to single-use items is already a big contribution. Start from there and work your way up. Do not keep your knowledge and your practices to yourself because people can learn from you.
Every action intended to help the environment matters, and those individual actions could help both people and the planet thrive not just in our generation, but for future generations to come. And while you fight for our earth, remember that passion can still burn you out. But that comes with loving something and loving is not always easy. Take the rest you need, then go back to working for the earth that loves you right back.
About the Author: Abigail Ng (Abby) is a Program Associate at Villgro Philippines. She assists in end-to-end program management, supports impact enterprises, and organizes thought leadership events and activities to bring the impact ecosystem together. Abby is also the Vice President of Externals under Project Pulo, a component under TAYO, a local change agency which aims to develop sustainable practices in the Philippines through design, education, and community development. She is the former Bye Bye Plastic Bags Global Coordinator and previous Externals Head for Bye Bye Plastic Bags Philippines. Abby graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 2020.