The Climate Change Commission’s ambassadors Anna Oposa, Bianca Gonzalez and Pie Alvarez talk about why we should be standing up and taking notice of the planet’s pleas for help, and what exactly we need to know and do to save the world.
The heat is particularly excruciating on the day of the cover shoot, with the ocean breeze being an especially welcome respite from the noon sun. It’s not at all surprising that most of the team went on to discussing the past summer, recounting temperatures that have reached record highs and the inescapable humidity. “It’s climate change,” someone says, which earns a knowing laugh from our trio of cover stars.
Anna Oposa, Bianca Gonzalez and Pie Alvarez grace Zee Lifestyle’s cover at what seems to be an opportune time, considering the past months make it practically impossible to ignore the current changes in weather and the environment. As ambassadors of the Climate Change Commission’s Greeneration campaign, these three ladies have begun traveling around the country for the Greeneration Summits—most recently in Cebu, where the three of them were brought together for the first time. More summits are currently in the works, but already kids have been taking notice—after all, it’s hard to not pay attention when three beautiful, intelligent and captivatingly charismatic women are talking in front of you.
“Their contribution has been substantial in getting the youth involved,” says Secretary Lucille Sering about the trio she likens to Charlie’s Angels, pointing out how each girl exudes substance and perfectly embodies the cause by practicing what they preach. “We get them involved in promoting consciousness programs of the CCC and showcase the things they actually do as individuals: Anna with her dolphin protection projects, Pie and her government programs in San Vicente, and Bianca with her effort to pursue a green lifestyle.” Besides the work they do as a group, the girls also have their own individual contributions to the CCC, such as conducting workshops, seminars and activity-based research.
For their differences, the three girls come together not just as coambassadors but also as close friends, chatting and laughing comfortably as they get ready for the various shots throughout the day. Theirs is an easy camaraderie that is quite contagious, each girl gracious and funny but with a quiet determination that flows steadily beneath the surface. In any case, the trio remains approachable and amiable, gamely stepping in and out of the water for their respective shots. The beachside setting might be one that’s all to familiar to Anna Oposa,a marine conservationist, writer and self-proclaimed Chief Mermaid, a title that she’s happy to report is catching on. “Even letters from government groups and agencies are addressed to Anna Oposa, Chief Mermaid of Save the Philippine Seas,” she shares with a laugh.
“I met Anna through her father, the noted environmental lawyer Atty. Tony Oposa, in Cancun, Mexico,” the secretary recalls. “She was part of the youth delegation that joined the climate change talks there. Although our first encounter was our joint interest in music, I knew right then and there she was one of the best candidates. She is passionate, intelligent and crazy—and we need to have a little craziness to be able to sustain advocacies that only a few so far can pursue full-time.”
True enough, Anna lights up and talks animatedly about her causes, especially her own personal endeavor Save the Philippine Seas (SPS). “I grew up around the sea. I started diving at 15 because my brothers and dad were diving too. The sea is a different world, and it’s unfortunate that not a lot of people get to see it. I’m convinced if they did, they would be more inspired to protect it,” she says. Organized with friends from various fields and backgrounds, SPS was the chance for Anna to speak at a Senate hearing in June 1, 2011 in aid of the legislation on the issue called ‘the rape of the Philippine seas.’ “The Philippines is the center of marine biodiversity in the world, but it is also the center of adversity. Our waters are incredibly rich with natural resources and consequently, potential to power our economy by providing jobs in tourism and agriculture, and providing seafood. If we used ecologically sound fishing methods, no one in the Philippines should go hungry.
It’s easy to understand why anyone would choose Anna as a spokesperson. In her talks, she is witty but firm, with an authoritative way of speaking that comes from years of experience and efforts. Her environmental career started off in 2007, when she was a diver-volunteer for an underwater cleanup. “I saw diapers and all sorts of garbage 40-60 feet underwater. After that dive, I slowly shifted from my first love of musical theater, and started doing more environmental projects.”
Currently, Anna spends a lot of time in Malapascua, where she spearheads efforts for thresher shark conservation—the funding for which she received when she was the first Filipino and youngest person to win the Future for Nature Award in the Netherlands. “Since the project began last year, I have been working with dive guides, teachers, students, the Bantay Dagat and dive operators for different activities,” she explains. “In April, we trained the teachers to incorporate marine science into their educational curriculum and even taught them how to snorkel. We also held an Arts-Science Festival for over 100 students, so they would have an opportunity to learn about the environment in a fun way. For the dive guides and operators, we work together to promote sustainable diving practices.”
Anna’s efforts are mirrored in another seaside community by Pie Alvarez, the newly re-elected mayor of San Vicente, Palawan, a community that boasts of being one of the most ecologically sustainable in the Philippines. “I’ve known Mayor Pie since she was in high school; she was an innocent kid then, but I already noticed that her heart was in the right place,” the secretary shares. “When Pie went to college in Boston, she took up a course related to the environment. She eventually joined politics and won as mayor, and I knew right away that she was the perfect model not only for the youth, but also for young local government officials in promoting environmental conservation.”
Pie’s decision to run for office actually stems from very simple but remarkable reasons. “My parents taught me a very simple life lesson: if you are blessed in life, you should always share your blessings and give back,” she explains, remembering how she had campaigned as a college senior and was declared mayor just days from her graduation. Besides that, she did it as a proactive reaction to the state of the country’s political system. “Instead of complaining or turning my back and working abroad, I chose to do something about it. Being a public servant is no easy task and it requires commitment, hard work and passion. The Philippines is often criticized for having a corrupt government system, and I wanted to do my part in trying to change that. I strongly believed that there is a chance for our country but we have to start today, so I decided to begin my personal quest to do good at the age of 21.”
Since being elected, Pie has been working to properly maintain her beautiful seaside community by striving for the protection of the ecosystem while educating and leading the people to understand the importance of why they should be living sustainably. It’s an effort that led her to working with the Climate Change Commission early on, with San Vicente as the model for the commission’s Eco-Town Framework. “We both wanted to work together to identify vulnerabilities, assess the existing landscape and implement climate change-resilient plans.” It only seemed natural, then, to transition into becoming an ambassador for the cause. “I immediately wanted to be a part of it! Empowering the youth on climate change is a fundamental building block for our country.”
Of course, empowering the youth isn’t about throwing them examples and lifestyles that could seem daunting for the average teenager. “I think that’s what they appreciated most about me,” says Bianca Gonzalez, who completes the trio. “I was very open from the start that I had much to learn and would love to study the issue more. I didn’t want to be just a talking head. I think they saw that I could represent environmental awareness and conservation from a sort of layman’s perspective.”
“I met Bianca through Anna and Pie,” the secretary says. “During our first meeting, I felt really light about her and how positive she was as a person. I instantly became a fan, and if she can make a fan out of me who’s not really following showbiz, how much more for others? Also, her chemistry with Pie and Anna makes the perfect combination, and they make ‘selling’ the idea easy.”
Bianca’s is a name that most Filipino households are familiar with, seeing her face on TV, magazines and billboards across the country. More than that, though, Bianca is also a powerful force on social media—she has 2.3 million followers on Twitter alone—which she uses in promoting her own advocacy. “It’s always been education and youth empowerment, which are the basic keys everyone needs to succeed,” she shares, recounting how her former youth program Y Speak had been about giving the youth a voice on current social issues. “Social media made it cheaper and easier to reach a lot of people. But at the same time, it makes people’s attention spans a lot shorter, and you’re competing with so many other things and posts for attention.” In this regard, she helps in disseminating information on Greeneration and the Climate Change Commission by sharing articles on her feed.
It’s proven effective, with her 10 Eco-Friendly Things to Do shared at the Greeneration Summit in Cebu quickly went viral—blogs have been posting and re-posting the list, which included items like using paper instead of plastic, switching off unused electrical items and using public transportation. But she admits that some of it is easier said than done. “Living in Manila, it can be hard to bike or commute, so I would carpool,” she shares about her college days, when she was living in Parañaque but studying in Quezon City. “I also use LED and inverter appliances, which saves more energy in the long run. It’s nothing so hardcore; maybe I can do more in the coming years.” It may seem simple enough, but Bianca’s slow but determined change in her lifestyle is one that is relatable, and makes the task of saving the planet seem less daunting.
The girls all acknowledge that everyone can start making a change through the little things, but they all agree that the actions should be rooted in education—after all, an infinite amount of information is now readily available online. “Begin with yourself. That’s the simplest and most effective way to start living sustainability,” says Pie, going back to Bianca’s list. “There are countless ways to change our bad habits and shift to an eco-conscious way of living.”
Anna, who Bianca playfully calls the hardcore environmentalist of the group, has other advice for kids who want to play their part in the campaign. “Write letters to leaders, discuss issues with your family and friends, engage in meaningful conversations with strangers and other like-minded people online, participate in projects and, most importantly, walk your talk. No one’s going to believe in your cause or be inspired if you diss the government for waste management when you don’t even segregate your waste at home.”
In the end, they agree that the worst enemy we have in becoming more sustainable is ourselves. “Anna has this thing that she says: global whining,” Bianca shares. “It’s easy to complain but if you do nothing about it, then that’s the problem.”
“The biggest challenge I face is apathy,” Anna adds. “The hardest part of my work is getting people to care about their own resources.” It’s an interesting fact, considering how people don’t seem to realize that this is something that will affect everyone’s future. “Nothing in life is free, and as consumers we use up a lot of the earth’s natural resources,” Pie says. “This comes at a price that negatively hurts our existing ecosystems.” In the mayor’s case, she leads with a passion that’s admirable. “I hope to show the youth that you don’t need to be a scientist or hold a PhD to do something for the environment and for the country. I don’t need audience members starting their own movements; revolutions begin inside, with the choices they make every day.”
Anna agrees, adding that it’s as simple as “reduce, reuse, recycle.” In Bianca’s case, she has a simple goal for the movement, a statement that makes the seemingly impossible task something that everyone can contribute to. “If every person hears of what we’re doing—whether it’s reading a tweet or an article, or hearing about one of our projects—and it helps them change a bad habit, then we would have done our job. Maybe someone who didn’t used to segregate their garbage decides to change, or if someone unplugs their appliances when they’re not using it, then I think that would make us successful.”
- by Shari Quimbo
- creative director David Jones Cua
- photography Hamelton Gilig
- assistant EJ Negre
- fashion stylist Pia Echevarria
- assistant Lor Yutico
- hair and make up Romero Vergara, Gino Fonghe, Jesse Egos, and Jay Failanga
- locale Crimson Resort and Spa Mactan