Climate (in)justice (1) | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Climate (in)justice (1)

General Santos City—For the past two weeks, this very dry and arid chartered city in South Cotabato once again experienced almost feverish temperatures of 37-38 degrees Celsius. Last Sunday, April 23, was particularly very hot, and the air seemed to be dry as well, with nary a sight of a moving leaf in the few trees surrounding our neighborhood. The heat seemingly pierced through our concrete walls and made us feel like being toasted in a blazing wood-fired oven.

Experiencing this type of weather here is not new; my family and I started our lives here more than two decades ago, at the onset of a very long dry season in 1998. This does not mean though we have become comfortably adjusted to it: Now, as senior citizens, my husband and I have become weaker and more vulnerable to any extreme rise in environmental temperature.

But thinking about that past and this present urged me once again to write about climate change, but on another aspect—on how the adverse effects of climate change have created more injustice to historically marginalized and excluded populations, both here and abroad.


On its homepage, the Environmental Center of the University of Colorado at Boulder posted this blurb about climate justice: “[It] is fundamentally an issue of human rights and environmental justice that connects the local to the global. With rising temperatures, human lives—particularly in people of color, low-income, and indigenous communities—are affected by compromised health, financial burdens, and social and cultural disruptions. Those who are most affected and have the fewest resources to adapt to climate change are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions …”


The tragic experiences of Native Americans and other people of color (African Americans), who had been socially and politically excluded through the years, have triggered the grassroots climate or environmental justice movement. In addition to being socially and politically marginalized, they have also been disproportionately affected by the consequences of several natural calamities compared to their white, more affluent American counterparts.

On Oct. 24-27, 1991, the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit was held in Washington. Its delegates drafted a historic document, the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice. These principles have since then become the “defining document for the growing grassroots movement for environmental justice” (Environmental Center, University of Colorado, Boulder).

The preamble of the Declaration of the 17 Principles sums up the group’s assertion of their inherent rights as indigenous peoples of color to renew their spiritual moorings around Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of their diverse cultures, languages, and beliefs about their natural world and their capacities for healing themselves, and of ensuring environmental justice. Through this landmark document, the delegates also expressed a strong plea to be freed from more than “500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples …”

Space does not allow me to enumerate the 17 Principles, but one of them struck me as something that the indigenous and impoverished communities in our country, in Mindanao and in the Bangsamoro, must also assert. Principle No. 8 says: “Environmental justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.”

Environmental hazards include daily exposure to toxic fumes from the burning of nonbiodegradable garbage and emissions from factories processing fish meal or fish feed products. The latter is true in General Santos, where many businesses in the fishing industry produce fish meal from the extracted entrails of tuna and other fish species caught locally and from as far as Indonesian or Papua New Guinea waters.

Unskilled workers engaged in extractive projects like mining, drilling for natural gas, and harmful agricultural practices like monocrop cultivation of cash crops are the ones who are first victimized by “accidents” arising from these exploitative practices. They are also among the least capable of protecting themselves from the harmful effects of such “accidents.”


(To be continued)


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TAGS: Climate, dry spell, South Cotabato

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