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How Typhoon Yolanda Inspired This Millennial to Fight for Climate Justice

Joanna Sustento lost her family from a super typhoon. It was an experience that opened her eyes to the realities of climate change.

On Friday, September 25, the Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines held a webinar and online rally against climate change. The webinar focused on how the youth can help in the fight against climate change and save the earth from destruction for future generations.

Speakers from different youth-led environmental organizations were present at the event, and one of them was Joanna Sustento, a climate change activist from Tacloban, Leyte. She personally experienced the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 which practically washed out the entire city and flooded even its nearby areas.

Because of the typhoon—which is the strongest typhoon ever recorded—Joanna lost both her parents, eldest brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. “I woke up that day not knowing that it would be the last time my family and I would have breakfast together,” she said. Joanna shared that she kept blaming herself for not being able to save her family, and for the next months she would tell herself, “sana hindi na lang ako nagising.” (Read: How does one cope with loss and grief while in isolation?)

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Joanna Sustento (far left) (Photo from Medium)

“My story of loss is not unique, these are the kinds of stories you’ll hear in my hometown and other climate-impacted communities all over the Philippines,” Joanna continues. She says that knowing that other people share the same experience and pain as her somehow made her feel understood.

But a greater realization hit her during these times—the impact of the climate crisis on our environment and the people living in it.

Big Polluters

“The experience gave me a deeper understanding of the true cost of the climate crisis—it costs us our present, our hard-earned living, the people we love and strive to protect, and our fundamental right to a safe and dignified life,” Joanna explained. (Read: This 18-year-old Yolanda Survivor Wants to Make Science More Understandable to Save Lives)

And with these realizations, Joanna found herself having a more profound understanding of why this is happening to the earth. She learned that individuals are not to blame for the climate crisis—instead, it is huge fossil fuel corporations that are accountable for 71% of the carbon emissions around the world.

“To continue shifting the blame to individuals and downplaying corporate responsibility is tantamount to invalidating the lives of those who are affected by the climate crisis,” Joanna states.

Disclaimer: This is National Youth Demands 2019.These 6 demands are the set of demands that the Youth Strike 4 Climate…

Posted by Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines on Thursday, September 24, 2020

Because of this, Joanna became even more committed to demanding action against the climate crisis. (Read: Local Church in Quezon Reiterates Opposition to Kaliwa Dam Project)

She  supported the petition filed five years ago at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to “investigate 46 fossil fuel companies for human rights impacts resulting from climate change.” The result of the petition is yet to be determined, but if the decision is favorable to the petitioners, it can serve as a legal basis for when one wants to take action against companies contributing even more to the climate crisis and demand policymakers to enforce more laws to combat climate change.

Youth and the Society

According to Joanna, the Philippines is now seeing the rise in the number of groups calling for climate action and justice—of which many are youth-led.

“(It) is definitely something that’s remarkable. The different protests, strikes, and other relevant activities happening in the recent years is [sic] very telling of the youth’s recognition and ownership of their active role in society,” she said.

climate-activist-joanna-sustento
On September 20, 2019, Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines (YS4C PH) organized its biggest climate strike with 20 strikes simultaneously happening in different parts of the Philippines. (Photo from Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines Facebook)

Before she ended her speech, Joanna reminded everyone at the webinar that we can create a big impact for the society if we work collectively. (Read: 3 Messages From Pope Francis to Inspire the Youth)

“Even though we say we are tired and frustrated, we will rest but we will keep the momentum going…We are here because our government and the powerful corporations—the big polluters—need to wake up to the reality that the current system does not work anymore and that just and sustainable solutions already exist,” Joanna says.

You may watch the whole forum and digital strike by Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines here.

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