To cap off our month-long celebration of the Month of the Planet, we spoke with Climate Reality Leader Chuck Baclagon about the opportunity to stage a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery in the pandemic and the crucial work he does to dismantle the influence and infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry to ensure a sustainable future for the planet.

 

Chuck has been actively involved in the campaign for climate justice and environmental restoration for many years now. Before joining 350, he spent a decade establishing the online campaigning activity of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

In this #Realitalk feature, Chuck talks about the impacts of the pandemic on the work of climate advocates and the need to end the country’s dangerous and needless dependence on coal by harnessing indigenous and clean energy sources.

Our conversation with Chuck reminds us that restoring the planet amid the global health emergency will only be possible if we urgently deploy climate solutions that will help us achieve our  long-term resilience and sustainability objectives.

Climate change and other environmental degradation have led to new and fatal diseases. But just as climate change and the pandemic painfully remind us of the harm we’ve caused to the environment, this year’s Earth Day celebration presents an opportunity to stage a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery. How do we take advantage of this opportunity to reshape the Earth?

 

Chuck: Celebrating Earth Day in these uncertain times, we realize the fragility of many of the systems we currently depend on. And much like the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic challenges us to exercise radical empathy and greater social solidarity.

Choices being made right now will shape our society for years, if not decades to come.

As decision-makers take steps to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery, it is imperative that they consider the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism, and ecological decline—notably the climate crisis, which was in place long before COVID-19, and now risk being intensified.

This is a time to be decisive in saving lives and bold in charting a path to a genuinely healthier and more equitable future through a Just Recovery.

Responses at every level must uphold these five principles: (1) Put people’s health first, no exceptions. (2) Provide economic relief directly to the people. (3) Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives. (4) Create resilience for future crises. (5) Build solidarity and community across borders—do not empower authoritarians. You can learn more about it by visiting http://350.org/just-recovery

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is also re-shaping climate activism all over the world. Given your vast experience as a digital mobilization strategist, how is the shift to digital organizing affecting the climate change movement? How does digital activism feed into organizing beyond virtual spaces?

 
 

Chuck: The current crisis forces us to rely heavily on digital platforms for campaigns/advocacy. However, we need to recognize the limitations of digital activism (i.e. clicktivism).

We still need to go beyond webinars, online petitions, and social media meme gimmickry by subsuming it under a clear set of strategic goals that would make the digital tools play its role in affecting real-world change.

When using digital platforms, we should never forget to define these three things: (1) a clear demand directed towards, (2) an identified target, and (3) a clear appeal or call to action to our intended audience.

Digital activism and social media campaigning are also about raising the level and quality of public debate on important issues, which is why I am not very privy to a lot of advocacy content coming from many organizations because most seem to just latch on to hype which might generate virality and traction to some degree but fail to actually inform and provide clear pathways for their audiences to take action.

I tend to subscribe more to using digital platforms as a tool for organizing communities based on shared interest/value where an organization plays the role of facilitator of conversations within their communities to channel collective sentiments into concrete steps that can be undertaken for their specific advocacies.

Lastly, I believe that we still need to  bridge online to offline actions with due compliance to health and sanitation protocols. Especially since reliance on digital platforms also contributes to carbon emissions because the data centers that store data and enable these digital tools to operate require a lot of energy and that’s also something we need to look into.

 
"This is a time to be decisive in saving lives and bold in charting a path to a genuinely healthier and more equitable future through a Just Recovery."
CHUCK BACLAGON

Your crucial work at 350.org is focused on dismantling the influence and infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry to ensure a sustainable future for the planet. Where are we at the moment in terms of our goal to phase out fossil fuels globally?

 

Chuck: The basic facts of the climate crisis are grim. The vast majority of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground for us to stay below 1.5°C of warming and fossil fuel companies aren’t going to do that without a fight. 

We are at a critical juncture because the current context in which the climate movement operates forces many of us to the tension of depression and helplessness.

However, I’d like to believe that there’s reason for hope.

For starters, we know exactly what we have to do—keep fossil fuels in the ground and quickly transition to 100% renewable energy. 

Another thing that we need to highlight is that renewable energy is getting cheaper and more popular every day. As renewables grow, it could provide cleaner energy to replace fossil fuels.

Lastly, we’re not alone. The worldwide movement to stop the climate crisis and resist the fossil fuel industry is growing stronger every day, which we can see with the growth of many intersectional climate movements ranging from the climate strikes to Extinction Rebellion, among others.

 

The Department of Energy (DOE) issued a moratorium on greenfield coal power plants last year. What is the indication and significance of this new policy to the energy transformation for a more sustainable and low-carbon Philippines?

 
 

 Chuck: Generally, we welcome the DOE’s recent moratorium on greenfield coal power plants. It sends a clear message that by breaking off its “technology-neutral” position, the DOE is finally catching up to the reality that the future is fossil fuel-free and that countries like the Philippines are willing to join the ranks of those who are leading the charge for low-carbon development in Asia.

However, the moratorium only covers those that are yet to be approved and built. It does not include committed coal power projects that have already secured permits and are at different stages of development. These committed projects are being resisted by grassroots communities who are experiencing environmental and social impacts even before they start operating.

 
"The worldwide movement to stop the climate crisis and resist the fossil fuel industry is growing stronger every day, which we can see with the growth of many intersectional climate movements ranging from the climate strikes to Extinction Rebellion, among others."
CHUCK BACLAGON

What else should be done to end the country’s dangerous and needless dependence on coal? How can the government provide more reliable and cost-effective power while harnessing indigenous and clean energy sources?

 
 

Chuck: I think beyond talking about the social, ecological, and climate impacts of coal power plants, we need to highlight the fact that investors have already caught on to the fact that coal can no longer be the least-cost option for baseload demand, even before externalities such as public health impacts and environmental damage are priced in. 

We believe that the imperative for energy transformation should benefit people and ecosystems. Ending the Philippines’ dangerous and needless dependence on coal entails bolder steps from the DOE to ultimately ensure sustainability and greater peoples’ access and control and to build climate solutions for a just and equitable future for all.

These steps include: (1) expanding the DOE’s moratorium beyond greenfield projects to include coal projects that are not yet in operation; (2) leveling the playing field in the energy market by removing subsidies for coal, and; (3) pursuing a more diverse energy mix which harnesses the country’s vast potential for solar, wind, and other indigenous sources of renewable energy.