We thought the environment could wait. We were wrong.

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Amy Hall meets Lidy Nacpil a campaigner from the Philippines. They talk about floods, solidarity and climate-change. Lidy Nacpil grew up in Metro Manila in the Philippines. She is a passionate environmentalist and she started protesting in the early 1980s when she was a student. Then she protested against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Now, she leads the anti-debt campaign, Jubilee South Asia. Lidy is now 52, and she spoke to Amy Hall at the Friends of the Earth conference in London on 15 September. Lidy was speaking at the conference about economics and developing the global climate movement. She was also in the closing meeting with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and MP (Member of Parliament) Caroline Lucas.


Do you think people need to do more to link environmental justice and economic justice together?

Yes, especially in the South. Already a lot of people are working on some of the big problems of economic justice, because it affects our survival. But people have not yet realised how much climate problems affect our survival. It’s very important to talk about the atmosphere, greenhouse gases etc because that’s the science. But if you start talking about science to normal people, they might not understand. It’s difficult for them to think it’s important. We need to translate the problems of climate change into people’s economic and social problems.

You are a climate campaigner. Do you think it is more important to adapt to climate change or prevent climate change?

We have no choice – we have to do both. We must prevent climate change globally, because we have very little time. There are very big effects and we are already feeling these. It will get worse even if we cut carbon emissions to zero tomorrow. The effects will be bigger for poor people, not just in the South. There will be a very big need for people to learn how to adapt to the loss and the damage. Most people in the world have no choice.

How can campaigners make people and governments understand how important this is?

The answers are not new. Education is still a big need. Most people don’t know or don’t understand. The information in the media or from the government might be wrong. I was surprised when I went to an island (in the Philippines) to speak to the people. They knew about climate change because they said the local government told them the solution is to plant trees. This is too simple.

We need to educate to make people active. The governments will not do anything until we have millions of people shouting on the streets or on radio. If we only needed good studies and information to change the policy, we would have succeeded a long time ago. It’s not enough because of political interests.


Manila floods 2009

You were in Manila when there was flooding recently. Is that normal for that area?

No. The first big flood happened in September 2009. Metro Manila is one of the largest cities in the world. The population is about 16 million people. In the flooding, all the big roads turned into big rivers and large lakes. All the houses were under water. We have never seen this before – not even our parents and grandparents have seen it.

In 2010 it happened again in another part of the country, the island of Mindanao. It was the same big destruction. Then, a few weeks ago, it happened again. No-one can say that climate change has nothing to do with it. If the image of climate change for Africa is Africa burning, the image of climate change for the Philippines is the Philippines drowning.

How did you start in anti-poverty campaigning?

Ferdinand Marcos led a dictatorship in the Philippines, with violence, no rights and poverty. Marcos kept the political power to himself. He used the power to get more money to control the economy. So, for us, fighting against the dictatorship was not just about human rights and freedom; it was also for people to survive when Marcos was stealing their lives.

We thought at that time that the environmental problems could wait. But we were wrong. We did not fight for this too. That was a bad idea. Then we would be stronger today to fight against climate change.

How important is it for countries to work together, like Jubilee South, who are fighting to cancel debt?

We used to think that working together is important because we need other countries to help in our national difficulties. This is still true. But now we understand that the global system is responsible.

Before, we said we need to be free from political control; we need to build an independent, democratic government, not controlled by big business or countries from the North. But you can’t say this anymore, because you need to change the system here (in the North) too. We need to understand how to work together like that now. Not just the North working with the South. The fight is for all of us.

What is the biggest challenge to people being equal around the world?

The first problem is ourselves. The biggest challenge is the idea that “it’s too difficult, so we should just set smaller goals that we can achieve.” I hate it when people say we need to be realistic; being realistic means that we have good plans, but we must not simply do less. We need to aim big because there is so much to do.

Lidy Nacpil is now the coordinator of Jubilee South Asia and vice president of Freedom from Debt Coalition in the Philippines.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://www.newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2012/09/17/lidy-nacpil-interview/