Joshua Villalobos: Walking the talk

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Joshua Villalobos is 17.

He, however, looks five years younger.

It is quite jarring, thus, to hear him speak about his passion, his advocacy, his CARE for things larger himself.  While most people his age are trying to become legends in mobile universes or are lost in impassioned discourses about cinematic universes of Thanus (yo, Nazis – that’s not a misspelling), killer clowns, and superheroes, Joshua is – along with kindred spirits – trying to save the REAL world from extinction. 

Sure, the guy shares a random funny meme every now and then, but even most of the memes he posts have something to do with the advocacy he is pushing. 

Josh is all of 17 but already, he is a member of activist organizations, and is a convenor for groups like Youth for Climate Hope, and Linghod.

Not bad for somebody who is – technically – not even allowed to buy liquor.

SOWING SEEDS OF CHANGE

All it takes is a tiny spark to fan any flame.

And that is precisely what happened to Joshua in 2018 last year when he attended the five-day Negros Young Environmentalists summit of the Youth Empowerment Initiative.

Joshua recounts how they were brought to different cities and municipalities “to see their best practices”.

“I saw right there and then that this place is worth protecting and worth fighting for… that Negros is worth fighting for,” he tells DNX.

It is not all about lip service though, not just firing off a tweet to reduce carbon emissions while comfortably cooped up in an air-conditioned bedroom.

Joshua walks his talk – and more.

His first action public action, he recalls, was for C.O. 562, an ordinance authored by Councilor Em Ang and passed by the Bacolod Council which sought for the regulation of the sale, and use of plastic bags by establishments in the city.

The turnout for the public demonstration is relatively small – only about 15 or 20 youth – but it caught the attention of social media.

And in these times when activism has been equated to insurgency and rebellion, those were indeed brave souls who took to the streets to let their cries be heard by the powers-that-be.

BEYOND KEYBOARDS AND INTO THE COMMUNITIES

These are dangerous times for activists, especially with the mounting campaign to equate activism with insurgency, and thus, treason. 

But, according to Joshua, the more powerful messages come with public demonstrations, with pounding the hot pavements collectively, educating, informing the audience about the urgency of the calls for change.

And this is what sets Joshua and his fellow activists apart from the so-called keyboard warriors. 

“Climate change is a real-word problem; it’s not a digital problem,” he says, as he exhorts allies behind the keyboards to join him and his comrades in fighting the fight beyond the digital platform.

The tweets, and the hashtags, he says, are hardly effective “unless we stand firmly behind our cause, or else, nothing will happen.”

Joshua had a rather sobering, even jarring experience on the phenomenon of keyboard warrior-ism, of how activism in the digital platform hardly translates to real-life advocacy.

He and his group, he says, have already been joining strikes “even before Greta (Thunberg) took the digital platform)”.

Their socmed posts, he says, have already been garnering 1,000 likes and a reach of 5,000.

So imagine his disappointment one day when only a handful turned up for the strikes, or even bothered to attend environmental fora.

To be a credible activist, he says, one must STUDY the issue, go out in the real world, mingle with people in the communities, and not just limit one’s self in the digital platform.

In other words, while there is no doubt that social media is a good way to reach out to more people, becoming PHYSICALLY involved is even more effective, and important.

Online petitions might work if one billion people will sign it, but a million people flooding the streets to make their voices heard would make one heck of an impact.

There is also a need to work together, even with the generation where most of the climate change deniers are from – the Boomers.

“…(W)e accept the fact that the boomers are the ones in power, but they are the ones who can bring real change if they want to.  They have the power to make policies to change the system, that’s why we are making our cries heard,” he says.

ON THE QUEST FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE

Before the interview started, this reporter saw the young activist clad in a black shirt that says “Climate justice”.

But what is it really?

It is, he says, an issue that needs to be resolved and quick.

The Philippines, he says, is always on top of countries that are the most vulnerable to the adverse – often devastating – effects of climate change.

The freak weather phenomenon had brought in more and more destructive typhoons – one of the worst being Typhoon Yolanda, which killed thousands.

The irony, he points out, is that the Philippines’ contribution to greenhouse gases and carbon emissions is less than one percent in the global scale.

But, he says, the countries with the largest carbon footprints are suffering the effects at a much smaller scale. 

Climate justice, in other words, is making those contributors to global warming accountable for the effects to the environment, quality of life (especially after a disaster), and equality.

One of the most celebrated cases that caught the international eye was the decision of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights to make 47 corporations – including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Total – be accountable for human rights violations for affecting the health and quality of life of citizens who experienced, and whose lives were affected by, climate-related disasters.

“It is a big thing for us Filipinos, because we are the most vulnerable countries when it comes to effects of climate change,” he says.  The landmark decision came on 9 December, a day before Human Rights Day.

A FINAL PLEA:  LOOK AT THE SCIENCE 

But, despite the calls for climate justice, despite the calls for accountability for the worst offenders of global warming, the call to save the earth becomes an uphill battle mainly because of the environmental activists’ worst enemies – the climate change deniers.

“We only have to look at the science,” Joshua appeals to the climate change deniers, then quips, “Maybe it is time we change channels.”

One only has to look at the science to know that the threats are real.

And that deadline too.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change has already warned that unless global temperatures are kept below 1.5C, the damage to the earth brought about by climate change becomes irreversible by 2030.

That’s a little more than 10 years from now.

That means, the earth is seriously running out of time.

And that is why Joshua and the likes of him are running at full speed in their advocacies, calling for climate emergencies, climate strikes, climate justice.

“We should walk the talk. Study, learn, read. Listen to scientists,” he advises.

Then, perhaps, the world might be saved for Joshua and the rest of the young people who are continuing the fight even for those who don’t care, or for those who have given up.

After all, they are about to inherit a very very damaged planet — unless everybody heeds the call.

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