Young environmental activist seeks unity on climate agenda

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By Rizal Raoul Reyes

ATLAS did not shrug. Neither did Rama Olivares Co, 16, the second-youngest member of the National Youth Council (NYC) of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines.

There was no earth-shaking event for me to respond to the call of environmentalism, according to Co. Nevertheless, he always felt that climate change is a major and global issue that is beyond race, class and nationality and, more important, everybody is vulnerable.

“On the other hand, it [climate change] exists as an opportunity like no other,” Co said in an e-mail interview with the BusinessMirror. “The universality of the climate-change threat is such that we, as a species, are forced to put aside our differences for the sake of a common good. I believe that, to be a part of the movement, that is the chief facilitator of such a peace; [it] is the greatest honor of all.”

Co, son of designer Maja Olivares-Co, was tapped by the WWF recently for the Philippines’s own version of its youth group. The WWF Philippines said it organized the NYC to give young people a bigger role in promoting environmentalism and sustainability. The council has seven members ages 16 to 24 coming from Philippine-based schools.

Just like any true-blue environmentalist, Co cites Al Gore and Christiana Figueres as role models. The former is the 45th vice president of the United States, who predicted the world to have ended last month.

Figueres is the current executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. An anthropologist by profession, Figueres offers a perspective that is quite different from typical environmentalist, according to Co.

“While an understanding of the science behind climate change is undoubtedly necessary, it is her ability to understand how this phenomenon affects humans on an interpersonal level that makes her a successful champion of the cause.”

Co said he looks forward to exchange ideas and learn from the experience and maturity of his older contemporaries in the WWF council. Although he knows his youth can be sometimes a handicap, he believes that each member of the council brings a unique perspective.

“It is the synthesis of our differing backgrounds that will result in a successful [youth council].”

Co said he plans to pursue his environmentalism in college. Definitely inspired by Gore and Figueres, Co plans to take up Political Science, International Relations, or Anthropology.

He said he believes that a solid background in either a social science or humanities subject will enable him to become a more effective advocate and communicator.

“I think this is especially relevant, as climate change continues to remain a very intangible nonissue in the minds of many individuals, despite its looming threat,” he said.

Co believes the Filipino youth is the country’s greatest assets, “because [we have] both the passion and the vision to drive the Philippines forward.”

However, the youth needs a venue to harness their talent and enthusiasm, he said.

“I believe this applies not just to environmentalism, but to any advocacy,” Co added. “This youth council represents a great leap forward in bestowing upon the youth the platform for expression that we so crave.”

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