The pilgrim’s progress

Yeb says that the campaign is around faith and ecology.  

Yeb Sano’s transformation into an unexpected hero of climate change at the U.N. Climate Conference in Warsaw, Poland, happened two years ago. “After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, I was struggling to find information on what was happening back home; my loved ones were affected by it. As the highest-ranking official from Philippines, the duty of speaking for my country was mine. I was really emotional, not just for my country, but at the fact that governments were not taking charge,” he says. He then broke down and pleaded with the world to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases that create climate change. A video of the same went viral on YouTube. A former Commissioner of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission, Yeb soon stepped down from his post to fight climate change full-time.

En-route his People’s Pilgrimage from Philippines to Paris, Yeb is in India as part of The Clean Kumbh Initiative by The Bhumi Project. The People’s Pilgrimage, Yeb says, is a walk from Philippines to the United Nations Climate Change Conference that will take place in Paris in November. He is accompanied by 26 of his fellow pilgrims. “It’s a campaign involving a journey. The aim is to visit places of communities that have faced climate change and are showing the way forward. In a way, it’s also paying homage to these communities — the campaign is around faith and ecology.”

In India, Yeb stopped at New Delhi, Nasik, Hyderabad and Mumbai among other places. “The halt in India was premised on the fact that India is a land of pilgrimages. At New Delhi, we first went to Raj Ghat of course, taking inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and then walked to Jantar Mantar, which is about 8 km from there. Next stop was at Varanasi, which is undoubtedly one of the holiest sites in the world. I also visited Govardhan Eco Village, a sustainable farming community in Maharashtra, whose solutions are inspiring to everyone around them, a green ashram in Vadodara where they use solar power... visiting Visakhapatnam, which was affected by Cyclone Hudhud, was emotional for me, as it reminded me of what my country faced. I spent four days in the Kumbh Mela in Nasik, which was spiritually enriching and I’m taking all the inspiration and the intense experience from there for the rest of the journey,” Yeb says. According to a new global report by the British Petroleum’s Statistical Review of World Energy, India’s carbon dioxide emissions accounted for the largest share in global emissions. Simply put, India is the world’s fastest-growing polluter.

Speaking over the phone in his American-accented English, Yeb’s thoughts on climate change share a voice of similar urgency with that of author Amitav Ghosh, who talks about preparedness and it being a profound challenge. Yeb says that it's not too late to avert the crisis. “We caused it, it’s only fair that we find the solution for it. Realistically, my faith in world leaders is very scarce, but my faith in humanity is alive. It’s what should keep us going.” Although, scientifically there’s a narrow window of opportunity, he believes that a change will happen only through the massive transformation of global economy.

Does that mean that every country has a different responsibility when it comes to tackling the issue? “The quick answer is, yes. It should be distinctive. If we’re very honest with ourselves, a huge chunk of responsibility lies with the big, industrial nations. But we can move forward only if we work together. I’ve learned a lot about the human spirit on my pilgrimages and I believe that humanity has the ability to heal our society.”

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 1:52:45 AM |

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