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IP youth response to the challenges of Climate Change
by Rocky Ngalob

Through the years, indigenous peoples in the Cordillera lived harmoniously with nature. Even through simple living they thrived with the riches of the environment taking care not to disrupt the balance of nature. Moreover, their culture and traditional knowledge molded by centuries of experience and practice have always been their pillars of guidance for the utilization of their natural resources. Nature has been inseparable in their way of life and vital for their survival.

When industrialization came in, the indigenous peoples’ lands were transformed for commercialization purposes. Large machineries and equipment brought high levels of carbon emission and other bio-chemical hazards which polluted and continue to harm the atmosphere. The product of these so-called development projects were later felt when the climate drastically changed around the world.

Who would have thought that Climate Change can affect a student’s daily school allowance? The tale of a student from Ifugao province is a classic example of how this global concern is taking its toll not only on our environment, but also upon us, human beings. This buddy of mine, who was then a graduating student at the Benguet State University in La Trinidad, almost failed to complete his education when his family’s rice production dwindled. The family relied on farming as their main source of income. But with the drastic changes in climate the agricultural cycle, which prolonged the rainy season and submerged rice paddies and brought forth a too long dry season, have brought rice production to a minimal level. This negatively affected the family’s financial status, and eventually him as a student.

Not only does Climate Change adversely affect the students. Indigenous communities, as a whole, also suffer from the adverse impacts of this abnormal weather phenomenon. I have realized that this concern should be brought out to the public awareness and it must be emphasized that this problem, which is no longer new to us, is also an issue of social justice. It is unfortunate that the indigenous peoples are among those seen to be suffering the brunt of Climate Change, when in fact, they contribute very minimally to the problem. Indigenous peoples are the ones who practice sustainable means of living – farming and mining very conscientiously and carefully so as not to pollute or to destroy the environment. Yet ironically, they are faced by the biggest problem of losing their sustainable means of livelihood due to the problems generated by the coming of industrialization and modernization. Excessive exploitation of resources has done more harm than good, particularly to the indigenous peoples. In addition, the owners of these companies that exploit resources and contribute much pollution that hastened the abrupt change of climate are the ones that are least affected by Climate Change compared to the indigenous peoples.

Ang kalikasan ay ang botica at palengke ng mga katutubo (nature serves as the pharmacy and market of the indigenous peoples),” said Piya Argee from the Katutubong Alyansang Mamamayan ng Pilipinas during the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights national conference last April 4 at UP Diliman. Indeed, nature serves as the indigenous peoples’ provider. An environment that is least exploited provides more food for the people who have lived their lives depending only on what is abundant in nature.

On a more holistic and global scale, Climate Change poses an international accountability with regard to countries not wanting to lessen their carbon emissions especially the first world nations. One could not forget the Kyoto Protocol where the United States of America, one of the world’s largest polluters, refused to lessen its carbon emissions. But through equipping ourselves with knowledge and spreading the awareness about Climate Change we can slowly (but hopefully, surely) make these large industries that are contributing much to the problem to get their acts together and make the ultimate sacrifice of becoming more sustainable.

To the indigenous youth like me, considered to be the next leaders in our society, now is the time to take action by equipping ourselves with knowledge for us to have a deeper understanding on Climate Change which will serve as our weapon to enlighten and to mobilize our fellow youth into initiating efforts for the good of the environment. On a positive note, this worldwide problem will serve as venue for us to empower the youth through capacity building giving them the initiative to facilitate projects that government or authorities fail to provide or implement. Simple acts like segregating our wastes, joining in reforestation activities, and reporting environmental criminals, would go a long way in the effort to slow down the further degradation of our nature.

Basagin ang kultura ng pananahimik” as aptly said by Gabriel Longog, secretary general of the BIBAK-University of Baguio Chapter. Some indigenous students/youth tend to be silent and always play the passive role in the society in terms of decision making, yet we have to take note that our passivity will not help in solving the problems brought about by Climate Change. Let us always put in mind that our planet is ours to enjoy, and not to destroy. But what is there to enjoy if everything that is left for us, the youth, is already destroyed?
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