A conversation on life with Marinel Sumook Ubaldo

A conversation on life with Marinel Sumook Ubaldo

A young climate activist who isn’t afraid to speak up for the planet, Marinel Sumook Ubaldo is one of the leading climate activists in Asia who also helped to organize the first-ever youth climate strike in her country, the Philippines. 

Marinel’s life was just like a movie in a tropical paradise until her life suddenly changed forever when she had to witness the terrors of climate change firsthand in 2013, as Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped out her country, taking away lives of thousands and homes of millions of people. Disappointed at the crisis response from their government at the time, she decided to speak up and has since become one of the leading climate activists in the world. 

Today, she’s an advocate for climate justice and environmental issues and also a registered social worker. While her story has touched thousands of lives and inspired so many young people to speak up for our planet, today, we will be taking a different look at her lifestyle, and learning how she keeps doing all the incredible things that she does, so that readers can resonate with her story, and know that anyone can be a voice for the planet, no matter who they are and where they are from.

Marinel, What’s a typical day in your life like?

Well, a typical day, for me, is getting up at 8 in the morning, and then I make my bed, read a book, clean my apartment, and then I would start work. That’s when I answer my emails, attend meetings, answer interview questions, facilitate events and conceptualize them, write proposals and concept notes, etc. I usually work until the evening, at around 8 or 9 pm, depending on how many meetings I have on that day. And after the break, I resume working from 11 pm until 3 am in the morning, to entertain the other time zones — which is not nice, you should not follow that at all, sorry! You should sleep, and get your 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night. But, as for me, those are my working hours. *chuckles*

When I’m working, I would eat in between, sing in between, watch Netflix or listen to some music, and just try to have a normal day because I always like to think I am in control of my time even if I am not. That’s also a way for me to cope during trying times, whenever things are just too heavy, especially if you are working or living alone, it’s always nice to have other little things to do while you are working. I think it kind of balances out your time. 

I also want to say that you should not take the pressure to have your life all figured out. Because no one has a perfect life. We are all just thriving, we are all just surviving. You should do whatever makes you happy, what you love, because, you never know how many years you have on Earth before the climate crisis becomes unstoppable. So you should really enjoy the life you deserve. And, please sleep 6 to 8 hours daily!

How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?

Well, as a climate activist, I am more on climate change, lobbying with the government, having a dialogue with the leaders, etc. Because, I believe that, we should try to engage with leaders because it needs a standard change. For several billions of people living on the planet, there are only 100 corporations fuelling climate change, and that is just so unfair. Even if we all transition to a zero-waste lifestyle, still, these corporations will profit from the sufferings of other people. They will still be emitting so much carbon dioxide that it would imbalance the gases in the atmosphere. So, I believe that it is our responsibility to make these corporations accountable and reliable, and I’m always working on that. And that is my contribution to sustainability.

I believe that we should not blame ourselves all the time. I am a very open person in my life. I eat seafood, chicken, fish – I love chicken. But I don’t eat red meat, pork, or beef – animals that are contributing too much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, I don’t eat them. But, I also acknowledge that as a person, it is a privilege for me, a luxury to have that kind of choice on what to eat, and everybody has that choice. So, I would say that we should always engage with our leaders, alongside, of course, changing bits of our lifestyle, and, choosing a more sustainable way of life.

What’s your favorite local food? Does climate change have any impact on it?

My favorite food? I love everything that’s chicken. Well, all of the sources of the food that we are eating, are being threatened by the climate crisis. So, even if you’re not from a developing country or those communities or countries that are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and even if you are in Europe, the U.S., or other parts of the world, you will be affected by the climate crisis. Just look at the source of the food that you are eating, because all of the raw materials are affected by the climate crisis – our poultry, the plants that we eat, and even the source of the clothing that we wear. 

All of the aspects of our lives, including the little special things, are being threatened by the climate crisis. All of our favorite foods, our favorite places, our loved ones, and even the book that I am reading, all of these things that I enjoy are now threatened by the climate crisis. Because the climate crisis does not just show up through floods or typhoons or other climate disasters, it also shows up through pandemics, and health crises, among various other forms. 

Tell me about a practice(s) in your culture that’s actually very sustainable and good for the planet.

Oh, in my hometown, since it’s a very remote community — it’s facing the Pacific Ocean, actually, it’s a whole side of the fishing village, we don’t use too much plastic, and I’m very proud of that. And our environment is very rich in all sorts of natural things, like various kinds of herbs, and all kinds of things we could use, even just for the food, the inclusion of our food… thinking about that, I just feel we were really lucky to grow up in our community. It also has a really nice beach, so we don’t have to go to other places to just swim or have the beach experience. And, we don’t use too many preservatives, because the food here is so fresh and nice.

How do you keep yourself motivated, and keep doing what you do?

Tell us how you practice self-care, or how you deal with negative emotions, like eco-anxiety and so on. 

Well, it’s so hard to even answer that question. But I think, as humans, we always have to know what our limits are. I love singing, so it is actually one of my stress-relievers, even when things are not okay, like being in this space is already so energy-draining, even Instagram is so energy-draining. With all of the pressure around, sometimes, I just want to go back to my apartment, turn the lights off, and get the music on, and that’s one of my ways to practice self-care… and also acknowledge that you need those times for yourself, so you can recentre your priorities. 

My alone time is very, very important to me. Because that is the time that I kind of think about what I should improve on. That’s also a way for me to evaluate myself, and process my thoughts and emotions. As a Cancer, I am an emotional person, and acknowledging that you’re emotional is not a weakness; rather, a strength, really. We should turn these emotions into strengths so that we can use them in a better way. Instead of dwelling on being sad, angry, or disappointed, you can use those emotions to actually ignite the fire in you to do more, act more, and influence others to do the same to influence more people. Because being in this space is not about me as an individual person, it is about the community that we represent and the causes that we advocate for. 

Whenever people ask me what a typical day in my life is like, I don’t even know how to answer because, just like every other people, my typical day… it’s not that special. I think just accepting the fact that we are just human beings, that we are limited and we can not do everything, all at once – is kind of liberating, to accept and acknowledge, that you are capable of just doing so much. You actually have the right to step back, and process everything on your own, and not just feel pressured about what other people will say. People will keep on talking and expecting too much from you. And even if you give in, it doesn’t end, it will just continue on until it drains you completely. So, if you don’t have the energy to actually do what you love, because you are just too drained pleasing people trying to live up to their expectations, please acknowledge that you are also a person, you also have needs, and sometimes, you also have to pause and just be with yourself. And I think that is what I did, this week – to be out in nature — because Manila is sometimes too crowded which gets too much for me, and I just want to be in a new environment. Although I was still working, taking calls, and still answering emails, the time you spend with yourself… those are crucial for keeping up, and, keeping sane, basically. 

So, you see, I am not different from any other youth activist, even any other 24-year-old girl or woman out there. I am still just a 24-year-old girl with emotions, I get angry at times, I get too emotional at times, I get hurt at times – because I am just a person. And, my aim, at this stage of my life, is to not be bothered by the expectations of other people towards me. Because I just have to be bothered with what I want for myself, not the expectation of others. And I think that is how I handle my eco-anxiety, by accepting that it’s not always about being perfect, it’s about doing as much as you can to make an impact, no matter how small. Because we need everybody to be in this movement and we don’t have time to think twice about if we are doing enough. We just have to do what we can.

What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?

Sometimes we feel hopeless because we think that we can’t do anything about certain things like the climate crisis. And, as I said earlier, it’s okay to feel hopeless at times, it’s okay to have these negative feelings. As humans, we all feel negative things and that is okay. But we should not drown ourselves in these negative feelings, rather use them as our motivation to do more. 

How do you envision your future? 

I just want a future that is peaceful, I just want a future that is safe for me to live in and for my future children. I just want a future where I can hold my potential and be the best version of myself. I want a future where I will not be afraid to live, I will not be afraid to dream, and I will not be afraid of wanting to have my own family. That is my greatest dream – to be a mother, but also that is my greatest fear too. I don’t know if I will be a good mother, or if I will even be a mother, I don’t know that. So I just want a future where it is safe to dream, it is safe to reach your dreams.

Do you have an idol?

I do have an idol. I look up to people who are doing amazing things for our planet. One of my idols is Naderev Yeb Saño. He’s just a really monumental person in the climate movement, not just in the Philippines but also internationally. He is like an idol to me and a really nice person. And I’m very very lucky to call him ‘Tatay’ which is a word we use in the Philippines for father as he’s like a father to me. He always inspires me to do more for the planet, because he is just an amazing person. Yeb Saño is the Philippines’ former chief negotiator in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And he has done so many amazing things. Even when he was working with the government, he made sure to keep working for the people, and with the people, not for his own interest. And that’s what I love about him. He’s always thinking about things that make people happy and safe.

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?

What do I do for fun? *chuckles* Well, like I mentioned earlier, I sing. That’s one. I talk a lot, I hang out with my friends, and I drink at times. But most of all, I sing, I love to sing karaoke. 

What’s your mantra for life?

Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with your time and what you take from it. – You’re the lead in your life. You can do whatever you want with an experience you’re having and that is your responsibility to make sure that it’s used for the greater good. Every person I meet, I always try to learn from them and make sure that there’s an exchange of knowledge. Even if it’s a relationship that’s not working, it’s okay. People come and go, some become our constants but many don’t stay forever. But we need to make sure that we always learn from the experience and use that to grow better next time.

We have so much to learn from each other, no matter what our standing is in society. We all have unique stories, and we can all learn from each other, no matter who we are, and wherever we come from.

How can others join you in the climate movement?

You can connect with me on Instagram or Twitter. You can also like our pages Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and Oecono Media for updates on events and opportunities coming up. And if you want to be a part of the movement, you are always, always welcome whatever you do for the environment. You don’t need labels to join us, you just need to do something for the environment. We are a community and we call ourselves siblings in the movement because we are in this together. And we should be allies with each other as we need that kind of solidarity in this movement.

Find Marinel Sumook Ubaldo and learn more about her work.

This is a part of a series where we explore the stories and take a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

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