A Collective Odyssey

A Collective Odyssey

Yeb Saño shares a beautiful reflection on the warm welcome received in Vanuatu for the People's Pilgrimage.

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Tuesday 16 June 2015 at 13:39
A Collective Odyssey

Our journey had reached the shores of Vanuatu, and it was the perfect place to launch the People’s Pilgrimage for climate action. Vanuatu has consistently found itself at the top of climate risk rankings in recent years, with its communities being exposed to the changes of climate disruption so profoundly. As a low-lying chain of islands in the South Pacific, it is a struggling nation beset with the challenges of an isolated economy, and bearing the brunt of intense cyclones and accelerated sea level rise.

Despite this fact, there was no sign of surrender or defeat. What greeted us was a surge of positive energy and gallant spirit.

As the Pilgrimage arrived in Vanuatu, we were treated to the warmth and vibrant culture of the Pacific, with our friends from Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Solomon Islands welcoming us to Port Vila. With soulful chants, songs, and dances, the islanders received us, and their effervescence was deeply heartwarming and uplifting. After all, as we learned from our friends from the Pacific islands, fundamental to their resilience is their faith.

Setting foot in Vanuatu and getting to meet and hear from President Baldwin Lonsdale speak about the impacts of Cyclone Pam and the resilience of the people of Vanuatu brought back memories of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Cyclone Pam wreaked havoc in Vanuatu and neighboring countries of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands in March and was described as the strongest storm that had ever hit the region. Haiyan, which was incredibly off the charts in terms of intensity and has since been declared as the strongest storm to ever make landfall in modern recorded history, slammed the Philippines in late 2013.

The images of devastation would almost be indelible in our minds and as more and more of these extreme events happen all over the world, we are presented with an ever-expanding tapestry of tragedies. Yet, these are not ordinary tragedies, nor are they accidents. Much of the harm many vulnerable communities face are consequences of a chain of acts that have collectively altered the face of the planet and led to climate disruption.

Today, every super storm will have the fingerprints of climate change.

And climate change will have the unequivocal (to borrow the word the IPCC has used to refer to the human influence on the warming of the climate system) fingerprints of human activity, and more so the unmistakable fingerprints, or perhaps more aptly footprints, of an incredibly small number of entities that have benefited from the use and exploitation of the global commons.

What has also become increasingly clear as we examine the tapestry of climate tragedies is that the most severe impacts are hitting those who have contributed the least to the causes of climate disruption, and have obviously benefited the least from the burning of fossil fuels. Many would argue that we would need to continue depending on fossil fuels to emancipate all people from poverty, but this convoluted theory has already been proven to be at the very least imaginary. The failure of this paradigm to address inclusive and sustainable development also sits at the heart of climate injustice.

But what is climate justice?

Justice itself is a complex concept, and different people will have different views on what it means and what it should serve. Yet if we just step back and reflect on the kind of complex challenges we face as a human family, it boils down to a matter of fairness, the rudiments of which we must have learned early in life, like taking turns, sharing food equitably, not getting more than you need, or literally not stepping on people’s toes, or literarily not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

In the case of the small island nations, and of course my own country The Philippines, and many other vulnerable communities around the world, it is with steely resolve that we demand fairness. Because the major carbon polluters know the harm their very source of profit does. Because they have absolutely ignored the universal ethic of taking turns. Because they have gobbled up an enormously disproportionate slice of the cake (and ate it too). Because greed is their creed. Because they step on people’s toes and violate basic human rights. And because they are destroying life on this planet.

In Vanuatu, we gathered inside the hallowed hulls of the Rainbow Warrior (which was docked in Port Vila at that time) with the remarkable people from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, The Philippines, and Vanuatu, and we exchanged stories about calamities and catastrophes, but also hope and heroism. As we walked around the Port, praying with our feet, we marched to the cadence of the chants and feet-stomping led by the Pacific climate warriors. The energy was astounding, and we were walking as one, united in spirit, and mindful with every single step.

We realized we are on a common journey, a collective odyssey towards the new dawn of a more just and caring world.

But before we get there, we must stand together and hold those responsible for the climate crisis accountable. We stand together as island communities because we have no other choice but to stand together, and we do this for a vast volume of reasons, including having to face the most severe consequences of climate disruption. But most importantly, we stand together for it is a matter of survival for our peoples and our cultures. Justice must be served. But we must claim it.

To see the photos from the People's Pilgrimage, click here.

Header image via flickr user Washed Over

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