In the worldwide effort to combat climate change, entertainment, and culture have always been influential forces in shaping perceptions and steering collective action. As COP28 kickstarted this week in Dubai, let us turn our attention to the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion, a game-changing initiative fostering collaboration, education, and inspiration for climate action. This groundbreaking initiative marks the first-ever dedicated space within the COP28 Blue Zone, exploring the dynamic intersection of Entertainment, Culture, and Climate.
Activists globally recognize the impact these aspects can have in reshaping perspectives and driving meaningful change. To dive deeper into this, let’s hear from seven activists, youth advocates, artists, and conservationists to explore the significance and interlinkage between grassroots climate activism and the realms of entertainment and culture.
Creating Resilience Through Entertainment + Culture
In terms of traditional entertainment, Farzana Faruk Jhumu, Youth Advocate for UNICEF from Bangladesh, highlighted its role in creating resilience against rapid urbanization and environmental challenges. From farmers crafting songs as a source of rural entertainment to facing the climate crisis, these cultural expressions help communities cope with changes, resist urbanization, and inspire grassroots movements.
“This connection to nature, expressed through cultural activities, becomes a source of resilience, inspiring grassroots movements that emphasize the importance of culture and entertainment in shaping and sustaining our communities”
Farzana Faruk Jhumu
These underscore the profound connection between cultural activities and the resilience needed to face environmental adversities. To further emphasize the expansive influence of artists and performers, extending far beyond the stage and screen, Marinel Sumook Ubaldo, climate justice activist from the Philippines, considers integrating cultural and entertainment elements into grassroots climate activism as a dynamic and influential dimension.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, and the role of cultural icons places them in a unique position to inspire meaningful action.”
Marinel Sumook Ubaldo
Increasing Accessibility in the Climate Movement
To highlight the significance of cultural and entertainment collaborations, Ayshka Najib, Dubai-based climate Activist, reflected on the decolonization struggle of her home country, India. In her words, art, music, and culture are powerful tools in various decolonial movements, integrating music, songs, and visuals to convey emotions and narratives when words fall short. These tools serve a similar purpose in terms of climate activism, enhancing accessibility for all. She believes that climate change issues often involve jargon and a narrative that limits involvement to a specific group of people.
“This narrative needs to shift, we need to make our movements as accessible as possible and we also need to change the way we are communicating about climate change, that is more understandable, that resonates more, and draws upon people’s lived realities. Art has had and can have a huge role in helping to do this.”
Tania Roa, a passionate advocate for wildlife, environmental preservation, and social justice, had a similar perspective regarding the collaboration between grassroots climate activism and cultural/entertainment figures. In her opinion, this collaboration enhances storytelling, utilizing culturally meaningful stories that connect with more people, making it easier for the local community to understand the climate crisis.
“Simply by talking with people in non-environmentalist spaces, you can show others how the climate crisis affects them, their passions, goals, careers, and livelihoods. That’s when more people take action, and we need as many people as possible to create the greener, more just future we’re working towards.”
Inspiring Actions and Bringing Changes Through Entertainment + Culture
The collaboration of activism and entertainment can be a powerful tool for inspiring action. Apart from visibility and awareness in climate activism, Lamech Opiyo, an environmentalist from Kenya, believes it can also create a shared sense of community and collaboration. They provide platforms for youth engagement, attracting large audiences through the influential figures of the cultural and entertainment spheres.
“Through high-profile collaborations and partnerships, this can attract the attention of policymakers and leaders, therefore influencing them to take more decisive action on climate issues.”
He also added that collaboration with cultural and entertainment figures can enhance fundraising efforts for grassroots movements through celebrity endorsements and participation in events to attract sponsors, donors, and philanthropists who may be more inclined to support a cause that has the backing of well-known personalities.
On the other hand, Winnie Cheche, the Founder of The Eco Advocate, envisions collaborations as a tag-team match, where culture and activism amplify each other’s voices.
“The goal is also to connect with people’s hearts and minds, and to portray climate action as both relatable and cool”.
Winnie believes that artists and performers’ voices can carry weight beyond the stage, acting as a tool for fostering a collective commitment to a more sustainable and harmonious world.
In terms of cultural norms, Katharina Maier, the National Coordinator of Fridays for Future-USA considers collaborations to be shaping public discourse, influencing decision-makers, and contributing to a world where eco-friendly choices are the norm.
“Artists and performers wield significant influence in shaping public perceptions, emotions, and attitudes – giving them a unique power to transform climate action from a scientific or political discourse into a cultural movement that resonates with people on a deep, emotional level. This cultural shift is essential for building a sustainable and eco-conscious global society.”
In the global movement to fight climate change, a powerful synergy emerges when grassroots climate activism, entertainment, and culture unite. From the songs of local communities to global performances, artists and cultural figures do more than entertain – they inspire. As we navigate towards a sustainable future, these collaborations light the way, encouraging us all to commit to a more harmonious and eco-friendly world that we all dream of.
In the labyrinth of global efforts combating the climate crisis, a distinctive initiative takes center stage at the blue zone of COP28 – the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion (E+C Pavilion). This pioneering endeavor stands as the first dedicated space within the COP Blue Zone, delving into the dynamic intersection of Entertainment, Culture, and Climate.
The Pavilion aims to serve not only as a physical space within the COP Blue Zone but as a metaphorical bridge connecting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the creative industries. Their mission is to provide a platform for collaboration, education, and inspiration, and to establish a vital connection between the creative industries and the global climate discourse. This connection goes beyond symbolism, manifesting in interdisciplinary activations and programming events that inspire concrete climate action.
“As members of the creative sector, we hold immense power to shape mainstream perspectives, raise awareness on important issues facing our planet, build shared understanding and consciousness, and encourage behavioral change.”
The Partnership and Impact Director of E+C Pavilion, Samuel Rubin shared with Green & Beyond Mag
At the heart of the Pavilion’s significance is its unique ability to amplify climate dialogues globally. The Pavilion, according to the organizers, aims to be a space where “entertainment, culture, and intricate global climate dialogues intersect.” Its goal is clear: to use the influential realms of entertainment and culture to articulate, disseminate, and amplify pivotal climate discussions emerging from COP28 to a global audience.
Significance of the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion at COP28
Amidst the urgency of climate action, the E+C Pavilion emerges as a dynamic hub pulsating with creativity, activism, ambition, and hope. In an era where social media platforms dominate communication, the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion recognizes the power of narrative impact and climate storytelling. “Uplifting the power of narratives and stories in promoting planetary justice and fostering an understanding of interconnectedness, kinship, and care for people, flora, fauna, and the planet” is a focal point.
This approach aligns with the Pavilion’s mission to inspire collective action through the emotive strength of storytelling. Positioned within the Blue Zone, this pavilion seeks to amplify the emotional resonance and transformative power of Entertainment and Culture, fostering heightened awareness, inspiring collective action, and catalyzing systemic change.
“Climate change not only threatens natural resources, but also the cultural heritage of communities intricately tied to ancestral lands and waters. Culture therefore provides the imperative to educate and empower generations of community members to band together to generate locally-suited solutions to preserve natural and cultural heritage.”
– Samuel further shared with Green & Beyond Mag
Hence, the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion at COP28 marks a groundbreaking venture as its genesis lies in recognizing the transformative potential of culture and entertainment in steering climate conversations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscores the power of narrative shifts and cultural efforts, estimating that the committed engagement of 10-30% of social influencers and thought leaders is pivotal for shaping new social norms.
“The creative sector urgently needs more hubs like the E+C Pavilion. These spaces are crucial for building essential infrastructure, advancing decarbonization initiatives, crafting policies, creating economic incentives, securing funding, and ensuring diversity and representation across the entertainment industry.”
– The Communication & Content Director of E+C Pavilion, Kirsten Wessel shared with Green & Beyond Mag
The significance of such a platform extends beyond the COP event. The organizers envision a world where the creative industries and cultural expressions play a pivotal role in shaping the global climate agenda. The pilot edition of the Pavilion at COP28 is designed to be a stepping stone for a permanent presence at COP and potentially other high-level conferences within the UN ecosystem. This ambition is rooted in the understanding that the creative sector, employing over 50 million people globally, is a powerful force that can drive meaningful change.
Cultural Catalyst for Policy and Action
Emerging from this understanding, the Pavilion aims to be a nexus where entertainment and culture converge to exert influence. In crafting this unique space, the organizers draw inspiration from UNESCO‘s view of culture as the “ultimate renewable resource” to combat climate change. The Pavilion is more than a platform; it’s a testament to the urgent need to leverage the interdisciplinary skills and global reach of the creative industries for climate advocacy.
“Tackling the climate crisis will take decisive action at all levels of society, so why not harness the interdisciplinary skills and global reach of the creative industries to actively address and combat climate change?We have no alternative but to make an earnest effort, crucially because it involves adapting to the evolving climate and mastering the art of navigating our current reality. Whether conveyed through music, film, art, or otherwise, it’s essential to feel acknowledged and share narratives of resilience and joy within our global communities.”
The Entertainment + Culture Pavilion positions itself as a bridge between the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the creative industries. The mission resonates with a commitment to inspire concrete climate action, fostering collaboration and leveraging culture’s power to engage a global audience. The organizers envision a world where the creative industries and cultural expressions serve as dynamic drivers of climate action and environmental stewardship.
The E+C Pavilion stands as a testament to the potent fusion of creativity and climate action. Through its objectives, the Pavilion aims to showcase the profound impact that culture, arts, music, and storytelling can have in interpreting the reality of the climate crisis. According to the organizers, “The emotive strength of these mediums taps into universal human experiences, transcending borders and languages.”
E+C Pavilion’s offerings throughout COP28 – Programming & Events
The Pavilion’s programming themes craft a vivid portrayal of its objectives. From exploring audiovisual sovereignty to examining the influence of persuasive industries in raising climate awareness, each theme is a thread in the larger narrative of leveraging culture for climate action. Notably, the Pavilion’s emphasis on health, mindfulness, and storytelling underscores a holistic approach to climate engagement.
As the organizers succinctly put it, “The Pavilion and its programming are designed to unite these subsectors and bolster the presence of the entire industry in the climate agenda.”
The Pavilion’s commitment to fostering collaboration is evident in its event formats. Whether through sectoral roundtables, discussion panels, or interactive installations, the Pavilion aims to provide a diverse set of avenues for engaging with climate issues. This inclusivity extends to community mixers, where people from diverse backgrounds converge to network and build bridges within the creative sector.
Panel discussions to be hosted by organizations like NAACP, Harvard, and MENA Youth Network will delve into crucial topics such as storytelling in the Black community for environmental justice, communicating climate change and health solutions through video media, and exploring climate action through the cultural lens of the Middle East and North Africa.
Additionally, the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion will feature a fashion show spotlighting eco-conscious clothing and accessories. This exhibition goes beyond the traditional runway, championing innovative design and creativity while emphasizing sustainability in the fashion industry. It serves as a testament to the Pavilion’s commitment to intertwining culture and climate across various sectors.
The lineup of performances is equally impressive. From Nile Rodgers, renowned for his contributions to the music industry, to spoken word performances by environmental justice advocate Isavela Lopez, the Pavilion offers a diverse range of artistic expressions. These performances aim not only to entertain but also to inspire a sense of responsibility and climate awareness.
The Pavilion’s vision goes beyond COP28. It aspires to be a stepping stone for a permanent presence at COP and other high-level conferences within the UN ecosystem. By encouraging dialogue, igniting innovation, and mobilizing people globally, the Pavilion seeks to contribute to a more sustainable and habitable planet.
As we delve into the details of the Pavilion’s offerings throughout COP28, it becomes apparent that it’s a hub of climate optimism, as the Pavilion’s dynamic programming aims to instill a sense of hope and empowerment. By incorporating diverse voices, the Pavilion seeks to catalyze tangible actions and solutions across borders and sectors.
Recognizing the Importance of Diversity & Inclusivity
The Pavilion’s extensive programming, comprising over 190 proposals from around the globe, reflects its commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Events will be conducted in English, Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese, making the Pavilion a truly global platform. Private roundtables, interactive exhibitions, and community mixers highlight the diverse array of activities that participants can engage with.
Another crucial aspect of the Pavilion is its emphasis on talent diversity. From Indian actress Dia Mirza to climate lawyer and activist Farhana Yamin, the Pavilion brings together a diverse array of voices. This diversity is not just symbolic; it mirrors the Pavilion’s broader mission of uniting artists, innovators, and thought leaders from varied backgrounds to foster collaboration and synergy.
“A prime example being featured in the pavilion is Monica Jahan Bose, a member of our Delegation who founded “Storytelling with Saris”. Through this initiative, she uplifts traditional practices in rural Bangladesh, utilizing her own traditional clothing as a tool for movement building, climate action, and empowerment. During COP, Monica will lead a performance and host a workshop at the E+C Pavilion.”
– Organizers at the E+C Pavilion
“The Pavilion also features filmmaker collectives like Mullu, Midia Ninja, and Sauntr representing Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, and the US, establishing community- or Indigenous-led media platforms to create fresh content that focuses on community cinema and collective creation while supporting audiovisual sovereignty over their narratives. With over 100 community events and 150 partners, the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion represents a diverse array of approaches to intertwining environmental concerns with arts and culture.”
– the organizers further said.
Highlighting Individuals and Talents of the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion
The Pavilion boasts an impressive lineup of individuals who have made significant contributions to the intersection of climate action and culture. Dia Mirza, an Indian actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UNEP, brings her influence to amplify environmental causes. Climate lawyer, author, and activist Farhana Yamin, along with world-renowned economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, adds depth to the Pavilion’s discussions.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Indigenous Women & People’s Association of Chad, and Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of the National Wildlife Federation, represent voices from regions deeply affected by climate change. Their perspectives offer valuable insights into the intersection of culture, indigenous rights, and environmental stewardship.
The Entertainment + Culture Pavilion also features youth leaders and renowned climate activists like Vanessa Nakate, founder of the Rise Up Movement, and Max Han, co-founder of Youths United for Earth. Their presence underscores the importance of empowering the younger generation in the climate discourse.
Xiye Bastida, co-founder of the Re-Earth Initiative, contributes to the Pavilion’s narrative with her focus on engaging communities and fostering a sense of global responsibility. Laurel Kivuyo, founder of Climate Hub Tanzania, brings a unique perspective from the African continent, emphasizing the importance of diverse voices in the climate dialogue.
Musical contributions come from Nile Rodgers, known for his guitar prowess and influential contributions to the music industry. The Pavilion also hosts a spoken word performance by Isavela Lopez, offering a poignant narrative of environmental injustices in Mexico and the United States.
These talents, along with others, represent a mosaic of experiences, expertise, and creativity. Their collective presence reinforces the Pavilion’s commitment to fostering a truly global and inclusive dialogue on the crucial intersection of culture and climate.
A Vision Unveiled: E+C Pavilion’s Long-Term Impact
In the heart of COP28, the Entertainment + Culture Pavilion materializes as more than a spectacle; it’s a visionary force intertwining creativity and climate advocacy. Beyond the dazzling events, the Pavilion paints a vision of collaboration, birthing a promise for a sustained presence in global conversations. This isn’t just an artistic spectacle; it’s a mission to align with the Paris Agreement’s ambitions.
The Pavilion calls for the creative industries to decarbonize, transforming into a stage where the entertainment industry becomes a protagonist in the fight against climate change. It’s a canvas where disciplines intertwine, giving birth to artistic expressions narrating tales of resilience in the face of climate challenges. Here, existing initiatives find a home, converging knowledge to avoid duplication.
The Pavilion acts as a haven for collective wisdom, echoing the argument for the expansion of cultural spaces championing climate causes. Amidst this vision, the Pavilion’s programming themes beat like a heart, each echoing a different facet of the climate story. From the struggle for audiovisual sovereignty to the harmonious blend of music and ritual in service of science-based targets, the themes become threads that create a landscape of climate narratives. As the Pavilion unfolds its programming, it ceases to be just a platform; it transforms into a living, breathing entity — a storyteller in the grand theater of climate action.
Adding to a cart is one of the most fulfilling clicks in most of our lives. Especially when there is a 70% off sale on Shein, and with Black Friday coming up in a few short weeks, fashion brands like H&M and Zara will be sure to give the people what they want – clearance sales, and major discounts. The holiday season means new outfits to buy, and matching family sweaters to seek out – clothes have always been such a primal part of the celebration, but also everyday life.
But how often do we really stop to think before clicking “Add to Cart?” Serious questions like – how is this brand offering such a huge percentage off for the holiday season and still making profits? If they are not making profits, then why are they running their business? If they are making profits even after those significant discounts, how cheap are these clothes? What is the secret behind such low prices of these clothes – are the materials used in these clothes cheap or low-quality? If these materials are below quality, how long will we be able to use them – is it a good investment? What will happen to these clothes made from low-quality materials after we won’t be able to use them anymore? If the materials are not low-quality, then how come the prices are so cheap? If you are someone who thinks these are serious or at least interesting questions to be asked, then you are in the right place. It’s time to learn about fast fashion before clicking “Add to Cart” this holiday season. So, buckle up and brace yourself.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is a phenomenon that has been noticed over the past 30 years, one that spread globally and quickly. According to the UN, fast fashion is a business model “of quick turnover, high volume, and cheap prices.” It is basically where fashion brands – to keep up with current trends and styles – mass produce their items at a low manufacturing cost to supply high demand. Fast fashion has been a booming industry since the late 1900s and the early 2000s, and these retailers include Zara, H&M, and Shein.
What customers usually notice is that clothing items in fast fashion brands are relatively cheap, with a magnitude of vast options.
Why does fast fashion exist?
Shopping for clothes was once considered an event. This means that people would save up throughout the year and purchase new clothes at specific times. Style-conscious people would be well aware of the latest trends and designs through the fashion shows that showcased clothing pieces months before they were available in stores. People were used to shopping for clothes once or twice per year, in the regard that it was an occasion.
However, in the late 1900s, that began to change. Shopping quickly changed into a form of entertainment and leisure, which consequently meant that people bought clothes more often, at a higher pace. This was what set off the concept of fast fashion – retailers could mass-produce clothing pieces at low prices, which made consumers feel they were up to date with the latest trends in real time. Fast fashion items were never made with the intention of lasting multiple years or wears – its goal was to manufacture cost-effective clothing directly satisfying the shifting demands of the consumer.
The fashion industry is one of the largest working industries globally, with a value of 2.5 trillion dollars, providing employment for over 75 million people worldwide, as stated by UNECE. In theory, and from pure definition, fast fashion sounds harmless – a company is mass-producing clothes, for a cheaper price, which people can afford. If anything, this can be seen as a strategy that grants people easier access to clothes due to their affordable price. However, the consequences of fast fashion are ones that aren’t easy to notice, but hard to ignore. Fast fashion directly contributes to waste colonialism and exploitive labor practices – which consumers are unaware of during their purchases.
How does fast fashion negatively affect the environment?
Alright, so what about clothes during the holiday season? According to USA Facts, clothing, and accessory retailers have the highest jumps in sales during the holiday season. Statista found that in 2022 47% of Gen Z purchased new fashion items for themselves to wear on Christmas, while Millennials were at an astounding 50%. This shows that there is a high intent for purchase and paired with the high discounts available in fast-fashion brands, it explains why people tend to buy more new clothes during the holiday season. Since fast fashion utilizes low-quality fabrics, that means the clothes purchased during the holiday season would have a life span of only a few months – and when that life span is over, people do what they always do when something has served its purpose – they throw it away.
Fast fashion relies on a business model that depends on “recurring consumption and impulse buying, instilling a sense of urgency when purchasing.” This business model has clearly succeeded, with global consumption rising to 62 million tons of apparel per year, and by 2030, it is expected to reach 102 million tons.
Fast Fashion’s Global Impact
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation – a UNEP partner – estimates that a truckload of abandoned textiles is discharged into landfills or incinerated every second. This is why it is estimated that people are buying 60% more clothes and wearing them for half as long. According to The Business Insider, 85% of all textiles go to dumps every year. The textiles in landfills have the capacity to contaminate soil. Countries such as Uganda, with high rates of agriculture and farmers, export contaminated food and resources to other countries. This can lead to major health risks and dangers, alongside negative side effects to animals and plants in their ecosystems.
This means that fast fashion contributes directly to waste colonialism. Most fast fashion exports are from developing countries across Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Cambodia etc. This means that the Global South is not only the one with the highest production of fast fashion but is also the one that suffers its consequences the most after it gets thrown out. The BBC reported in 2022 that more than half of the clothes imported to Chile end up in the Atacama Desert. On Jamestown Beach, located in Accra – Ghana’s capital – you must walk between mountains of shoes, pants, and tattered t-shirts. These used textiles come from Western countries and Asia to be dumped and dealt with in Ghana.
These discharged textiles contribute to microplastics found in the water, which can then affect marine food chains – which means that the Ghanaian people eat contaminated fish. Discharged textiles are often brought into the Global South without warning, leaving them to deal with methods to get rid of these clothes. Because the quality is so low, merchandisers can’t even sell discharged textiles – therefore, it is another burden of waste that they are responsible for getting rid of, or facing the consequences it brings – most of the time, it is both.
Fast Fashion and Climate Change
Besides the littering and waste of fast fashion, it directly affects global warming. Producing clothes requires natural resources, which emit greenhouse gases. According to the UN, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global emissions, surpassing aviation and shipping industries combined. The World Bank suggests that global clothing sales are to increase to 65% by 2030. A higher percentage in global sales indicates more discharged textiles to deal with – putting even more pressure on the Global South to manage the waste provided by the Global North.
Some may argue that the average consumer isn’t aware of the negative connotations that come with fast fashion. According to Nayab Sohail, a Pakistani Slow Fashion ambassador, consumers must be educated about the issues fast fashion causes. Once consumers are educated on the link between fast fashion and climate change, that would allow for a change in their approach towards fast fashion. Merlina Carolina, the Global Creative Lead of the Slow Fashion Movement and founder of Slow Fashion El Salvador, believes that the average consumer is “so caught up in routine and system that they probably don’t have the energy to question or consciously think about how the environment works.”
Others argue that consumers are aware – to a small degree – of the link between fast fashion and the environment. Grace Kemp, another ambassador of the Slow Fashion Movement, believes that a “majority of people” are aware of the impact fast fashion has on the environment. Kemp claims that because of the sudden uprise of “green” campaigns in recent years, this must correlate to the level of awareness existing amongst consumers.
How can you reduce your fashion footprint?
Kemp mentioned how people might be aware of the negative link between fast fashion and the environment; however, they feel as though “it is too big for them to be able to do anything, so they carry on.” The typical solution to fast fashion has always been slow fashion. But slow fashion brands are usually expensive – the biggest disadvantage that fast fashion solves.
Even then, there are solutions to fast fashion that don’t necessarily have to break the bank. Karen James Welton, a slow fashion stylist, advises to wear what you own. Purchasing clothing pieces for the sake of a current, temporary trend usually means it won’t be worn again. Welton also advises shopping vintage and second-hand. Swapping clothes with your family members and friends, or borrowing clothes isn’t shameful in any way – it is a direct solution to make sure you aren’t buying too many clothes. Kristīne Čeirāne, an ambassador’s coordinator of the Slow Fashion Movement, says, “The most sustainable wardrobe is the one people already have. Look after your clothes and wear them for as long as you can. The greenest purchase is the one you didn’t make.” Welton also recommends that for new purchases, you save up for investment pieces that you will be able to wear for years. Timeless, classic pieces that will always look good regardless of the current trend going around.
A Joint Effort for a Sustainable Future
The solution to fast fashion isn’t reserved for individual consumers only. The UN initiated the #ActNow Fashion Challenge, which aims to show individuals and industries how to improve the environmental impact that fashion leaves. Limiting and decreasing the carbon footprint that the fashion industry leaves is a key factor in reducing global warming, which is why NGOs have pointed out fast fashion’s harmful business model. Greenpeace and other groups have urged the sector to slow down the trend of mass-producing clothes that are thrown away so quickly. In COP-27 in Egypt, the fashion sector did promise a net-zero carbon footprint, but giant clothing retailers still struggle to manage their own emissions, considering the high demand for fast fashion now.
It is essential that there is a joint effort – between the consumer and the industry – to work towards a less wasteful, more sustainable style of fashion. Looking good and trendy shouldn’t have to come at the cost of the environment. There is work towards sustainable fashion, and as long as there is work, there is always a way.
The holiday season doesn’t need to be ugly for everybody. You can still look wonderful in the clothes you have – maybe styling it differently will give it a new look! Remember the consequences of clicking “Add to Cart” from a fast fashion brand – no one should spend their holiday season struggling through mountains of discharged clothes for the sake of fashion.
Waste colonialism hasn’t been a new topic of discussion. With the term itself coined in 1989, waste colonialism remains very much alive in our modern age. Post COP-27, with the establishment of the loss and damage fund, it begs the question of whether waste colonialism is to have its own talks and implementations.
What is waste colonialism?
Waste colonialism refers to the movement of waste past sovereign borders, particularly from privileged and influential countries to lesser privileged and influential countries. The term “colonialism” is used to signify historical colonial relationship dynamics, and some argue that waste colonialism is considered as an extension of imperial colonialism. According to Lamech Opiyo, a Kenyan environmentalist, waste colonialism usually stems from “developed countries with huge multinational industries” with high rates of production, and exploit developing countries with these exports.
This is because the key concepts of colonialism are reinforced: (a) forced entry into a territory and its population (b) alteration or destruction of the indigenous culture and patterns of social organisation (c) domination of the indigenous population by representatives of the invading society and (d) justification of such activities with highly prejudicial, racist beliefs, and stereotypes.
Plastic waste colonialism is the output of plastic waste being moved to borders outside of its manufacturing site. Opiyo added that plastic waste colonialism is when “developed countries are trying to downpour and exploit developing countries by their waste – in this case, plastic waste.” According to the UN, 400 million tons of plastic is being produced annually. Plastic has been identified as the fastest growing material since the 1970s, and most of the plastic waste found in oceans and landfills is single use. 85% of plastic packaging ends up in landfills, which leads to the concept of plastic waste colonialism. Incidents of plastic waste colonialism have been no secret over the past two decades. Statistics from Eurostat showcase that the EU alone has exported 1.1 million tons of plastic waste in 2021. The European Parliament stated that around half of all the collected plastic for recycling is shipped elsewhere, with Turkey being the number one receiver.
Why does waste colonialism happen?
It became evident that the reasons as to why waste colonialism occurs is because of the benefits involved in partaking in it. “Most of these developed countries find it very cheap.” Opiyo stated, with respect as to how plastic waste colonialism is cheaper to execute than to regulate domestically. It was also found that there are economic benefits to importing waste – which outweighs the societal and environmental harm it causes. Developing nations willingly – and at times unwillingly – get foreign waste across their borders for monetary compensation. A study by the World Bank has found that the amount of urban solid waste has increased by 70% and is expected to go from 1.3 billion tons/year to 2.2 billion tons by 2025. This would raise global annual costs to $375 billion from $205 billion.
This global increase in cost will happen most severely in cities of low-income countries. Plastic waste colonialism has made the movement of plastic from developed nations to developing nations a “business” that allows for the cheapest method of waste management with the highest consequence for nations that accept that waste. African and Asian countries are the ones that receive plastic waste from the Global North, with an exception to China. After the Chinese decision to no longer accept foreign waste, developed nations dumped approximately 1 billion tons of plastic waste into Senegal and Kenya a year after that decision.
It is no secret that it’s “relatively poor and marginalised” groups of people who suffer the most because of plastic waste colonialism, as said by Opiyo. According to Green Peace, plastic industries persuaded developing countries that the dumping of plastics could be an attempt to solve the present unemployment. However, it fails to be a sustainable solution to unemployment, and has more severe consequences – one of which correlates to environmental justice.
Plastic waste colonialism only adds to the issue of plastic waste that developing countries are already trying to combat. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, generates over 2,400 tonnes of waste – a fifth of which is plastic, as reported by The Guardian. With the massive amounts of plastic waste that need to be regulated, it has introduced end-of-pipe technological solutions, which often have more negative consequences than positive ones. According to Gaia, an international environmental organisation, these solutions create severe health implications for workers, communities, and citizens by releasing exponential amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic air pollutants, dangerous ashes, and other hazardous materials. This excess plastic waste can negatively affect countries with regards to public health, economy, and sustainability – which is precisely why multiple policies have been introduced to combat plastic waste colonialism.
What has been done officially to combat plastic waste colonialism?
The Basel Convention – formally known as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal – is an international treaty signed in 1989. It was done to reduce the transfer of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries. The intention of the convention was to improve the socio-environmental aspects of the waste transferred, and to assist developing countries in the management of these wastes. As of May 2023, there are 191 parties within the convention; however, Hati and the USA have signed the convention without ratifying it.
In May of 2019, multiple countries have amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste. This was done in wake of the discovery of 100 million metric tons of plastic found in the world’s ocean. The USA opposed this amendment; however, export shipment from the US is considered as “criminal traffic as soon as the ships get on high seas,” as stated by the Basel Action Network (BAN), with the shipments being subject to liability. Opiyo mentioned how there are so many policies and regulations present against plastic waste colonialism, but aren’t being implemented. Opiyo reiterates that policies are required to regulate the amount of waste that is being exported to developing countries, and the gap that is present between the actualisation of these regulations sets them back.
What can you do to combat waste colonialism?
Awareness is a key factor in the fight against plastic waste colonialism. As simple as it sounds, regular citizens need to be aware that the recycling of plastic that they think they are participating in isn’t as straightforward as it seems. German citizens in 2019 were shocked to find their recycled plastic waste all the way in Turkey in 2020, as reported by The Guardian.
Opiyo emphasises that efforts in raising awareness towards waste colonialism should be consistent, and in the scope of an individual. Individual households should start prioritising their waste management, and move towards implementing a circular economic lifestyle. A circular economy refers to a model of production and consumption that revolves around using and reusing existing materials for as long as possible. The decision to become more sustainable should root from an individualistic level, with the priorities being set in line with that. Opiyo mentioned how awareness campaigns – even on social media – could impact different policies with regards to waste colonialism, considering that the biggest impacts start with the accumulation of small actions.
The attempt at being eco-friendly directly affects the products that are present within a household, which reinforces the idea that sustainability starts at home. The ability to influence other individuals to be eco-friendly can create a collective effort – consisting of the government, NGOs, international organisations, businesses etc. – to promote waste management practices. Opiyo states that awareness is key to creating a more “equitable and eco-friendly environment towards managing waste.”
In a world where stories have the remarkable ability to spark change, Lensational, an organization at the forefront of empowering women through photography, stands as a beacon of hope. We had the privilege of sitting down with Lydia Wanjiku, the passionate and visionary CEO of Lensational, to delve into her journey and explore the transformative power of visual storytelling.
In this captivating interview, Lydia Wanjiku takes us on her personal and professional journey, from her discovery of Lensational to her current role as CEO. With a background in both development and photojournalism, Lydia offers a unique perspective on the intersection of these two fields and how they shape Lensational’s approach to empowering women through photography.
Get ready to embark on a journey through the lens, as we dive deep into the inspiring world of visual storytelling with Lydia Wanjiku, CEO of Lensational. Discover the transformative power of photography, the untapped potential of marginalized voices, and the role each of us can play in shaping a brighter, more sustainable future.
Lydia, tell us your backstory and the journey you took to become the CEO of Lensational.
Following my Passions
As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to do things that I feel passionate about and this was the same for whichever career I would decide to pursue. After completing my undergraduate degree in Business and Innovation Technology, I didn’t immediately enter the workforce. I wanted to ensure that I made a well-informed decision about my future. However, this decision was challenging, as my traditional upbringing emphasized pursuing conventional career opportunities solely based on having a degree. My father was not pleased with my choices during that time, and to alleviate the pressure, I took up various jobs.
One of these jobs was in the fashion industry, an area that still captivates my interest today. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, fashion is intricately linked to storytelling, which is a fundamental aspect of all my passions. Subsequently, I worked in technology as a project lead, and it was during this period that I discovered Lensational.
While searching online for photography storytelling jobs, I came across a tweet by Hivos Awards, which highlighted an organization empowering women through photography. Lensational recently received a social innovation award. Intrigued, I visited Lensational’s website and found an opening for a curation manager position. Although the role required someone based in London, where the headquarters were located, I applied nonetheless. Bonnie, the founder of Lensational, offered me the opportunity to volunteer as a program manager in Kenya. It was an incredible opportunity since Lensational had yet to establish a presence in Africa.
Initially, I contributed to Lensational on a voluntary basis until 2018 when we formed a partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Faye Cuevas, the Vice President at IFAW at the time (now a member of our Board of Directors), had pioneered an innovative approach involving indigenous Maasai women in conservation efforts within their communities. We partnered to explore how photography could facilitate meaningful participation for these women. This partnership required my full-time commitment, so I dedicated myself exclusively to volunteering at Lensational. Working closely with Faye provided me invaluable insight into the systems and processes of a large organization like IFAW. At the time, I never envisioned becoming CEO, but my keen eye for detail allowed me to observe these aspects which have come in handy in my current role.
The women I worked with spoke a language I don’t speak, necessitating the use of translators. This challenged me to think critically about how best to deliver effective training. Every session became an opportunity to provide feedback to Lensational, aiding in the improvement of our delivery methods and measurement of social impact. Although I believe this pilot partnership could have been more successful with the knowledge we now possess, the experience laid the foundation for our subsequent program achievements, gaining significant recognition.
The partnership continued for approximately a year and a half, but I began yearning for financial independence. This posed a dilemma for me since I still possessed an immense passion for Lensational and saw its untapped potential. Leaving to pursue a job that provided a steady income bothered me greatly. When I discussed this with Bonnie, she offered me a full-time position as Programs Director in 2020. This opportunity coincided with Lensational’s shift in strategy, adopting a bottom-up approach and increased involvement in training programs. Being closely involved with one of our most active programs granted me valuable insights into program management.
Navigating Challenges and Shaping Strategic Direction
As you are aware, 2020 was an exceptionally challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were unable to run any programs and faced financial hardships. During this period, I proposed utilizing our downtime to focus on programming. This involved evaluating our past programs, identifying areas for improvement, and enhancing our curriculum, which directly influenced program delivery. Unbeknownst to me, I was unintentionally influencing the overall strategic direction of Lensational through my programming work. This led to some friction with the CEO, who is also the founder, as well as the board of directors. However, during an Innovation Bootcamp with the World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator, I had the opportunity to present my work. Bonnie happened to witness my presentation and was deeply moved by its impact. Shortly after, she messaged me, expressing her newfound appreciation for my vision.
From Programs Director to CEO
After a few months, Bonnie approached me and asked if I would be interested in becoming the CEO of Lensational. I eagerly accepted the position, which I officially assumed on International Women’s Day in March 2021. The rest, as they say, is history.
Can you tell us more about Lensational and how it came to be?
In the early 90s, in Hong Kong: A Struggle and a Revelation
In the early 1990s, in the vibrant city of Hong Kong, a young girl named Bonnie Chiu resided with her grandmother, Lin Fa. Their modest life was a constant reminder of the struggles Lin Fa had endured after fleeing her home in Medan, Indonesia, during an anti-Chinese conflict. As Bonnie listened to her grandmother’s harrowing tales of survival and the challenges she faced in making ends meet, she realized the importance of preserving these stories for future generations. Driven by her grandmother’s illiteracy, Bonnie recognized that without her own active participation, these powerful stories would remain untold. This profound experience ignited a passion within Bonnie to uplift women who shared similar backgrounds.
An Encounter in Turkey: Unleashing the Power of Photography
In 2012, Bonnie embarked on a journey to Turkey, where an unexpected encounter would shape her future path. While exploring Istanbul’s magnificent palace, Bonnie found herself capturing precious moments with her friends. In a serendipitous turn of events, four Turkish girls approached her, requesting assistance in taking photographs and learning the art. A deep connection quickly formed between Bonnie and these girls. Later, as Bonnie interacted with them through social media, she discovered something remarkable. The captions accompanying their photographs defied the stereotypes often associated with Muslim women. This revelation sparked Bonnie’s realization of the immense potential of photography as a universal language capable of transcending words, geography, and cultural barriers.
A Vision Takes Shape: Lensational is Born
Drawing from her own travel experiences and the shared stories of women she encountered along the way, Bonnie developed a profound understanding of women as powerful agents of change and the custodians of countless untold stories. Fueled by her unwavering determination to amplify these voices, Bonnie founded Lensational in 2013. The organization’s core mission was twofold: to provide women with the necessary skills in visual storytelling and to create income-generating opportunities for low-income community women in regions such as Asia and Africa. Lensational achieved this by showcasing and selling their powerful images, as well as securing commissioned assignments for these talented photographers.
Through the power of photography, Lensational has continued on this transformative journey, championing women’s empowerment and amplifying their stories to the world.
You have authored a curriculum on photography storytelling for climate action. How can visual storytelling help inspire action on climate change?
Photography in visual storytelling is a very powerful tool to inspire action on climate change by conveying the urgency, impact, and human dimension of the issue.
One way is by evoking emotions. Climate change is still seen as a distant and abstract problem, especially for people who are not directly affected. Photography can bridge this gap by capturing compelling images that evoke emotions such as empathy, compassion, and concern. By showcasing the human and environmental impacts of climate change, powerful images can engage viewers on a deeper level and motivate them to take action.
Closely connected to that is raising awareness. When events and stories related to climate change are visually captured, they bring attention to issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as the melting of glaciers, the destruction of ecosystems, or the displacement of communities due to rising sea levels. There are people who without seeing what’s happening in the world would never believe that climate change is an issue.
Photography also puts a human face on climate change by capturing the lived experiences of individuals and communities affected by its consequences. By showing the real people behind the statistics and highlighting their struggles, hopes, and resilience, photography storytelling helps create a personal connection and fosters empathy. This personalization of the issue makes it more relatable and motivates people to take action. This additionally amplifies the voices of marginalized communities, indigenous peoples, and activists who are on the front lines of climate change and gives them a platform to speak for themselves.
Last but not least is showcasing positive examples and solutions. While it is essential to depict the challenges posed by climate change, photography also highlights positive examples and solutions which in addition to giving hope encourage individuals and communities to adopt sustainable practices and support climate-friendly initiatives.
I find myself standing at the crossroads of two starkly contrasting realities. On one hand, I have the privilege of closely working with underserved communities, affording me an intimate understanding of their realities and lived experiences. On the other hand, I also have the privilege of comprehending the inner workings of development systems and processes, particularly in programming and implementation. What I’ve observed is that despite the goodwill of policymakers to connect with underserved communities, a significant disconnect persists, lacking a common language through which they can communicate and merge their aspirations.
As documentary photographers and photojournalists, we bear the responsibility of bridging this gap. In the realm of photojournalism, documentary work, and development, however, there exists a prevalent tendency to approach underrepresented communities with preconceived notions about what their issues are and how their stories should be told. Often, we evaluate their circumstances through our own lens and determine the narrative angle that should be emphasized, inadvertently misrepresenting them.
By solely focusing on challenges, communities naturally yearn to understand how their situation will improve, which may lead to disappointment if tangible solutions are not presented.
Occupying this intersection has continually challenged me to explore avenues for these two entities to find common ground. Through our experiences working with these communities, I have come to recognize their desire for active participation in shaping how they are portrayed and the role played by development practitioners. At Lensational, we are currently investigating how the women we train can foster collaboration and active participation within the communities they document, even if it involves their own communities.
Our current approach prioritizes including the voices and perspectives of the communities themselves, allowing them to actively participate in the storytelling process. This shift fosters a more accurate representation of their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. By showcasing their resilience, resourcefulness, and agency, we not only empower them but also contribute to a more balanced and authentic narrative that transcends the confines of the victim label.
Lensational works in a range of diverse contexts locally and internationally. Can you share a specific project or experience that has been particularly impactful or meaningful to you?
It is so hard to narrow this down, however, I will say that taking part in in-person training with our photographers interacting with their communities is an experience that is forever transforming me.
Lensational has a focus on amplifying the voices of women. In your opinion, why is it important to elevate the perspectives of women in conversations and decision-making around sustainable development and climate action?
Women make up approximately half of the global population, and their experiences, knowledge, and ideas are essential for creating comprehensive and inclusive solutions. By tapping into their voices we ensure that the perspectives of all segments of society are taken into account, promoting diversity and avoiding the marginalization of certain groups.
Women also have unique insights and knowledge. They play key roles in resource management, agriculture, and community development, which are critical areas for addressing climate change and promoting sustainable practices. By including their perspectives, we tap into a wealth of expertise and foster innovation in tackling environmental challenges.
According to you, what is the role of storytelling and media in creating social change and driving sustainable development/climate action?
Stories form our perceptions of different things. When we think of a particular country for instance, a particular mental image immediately comes to mind based on the stories we hear and see essentially in the media. I firmly believe that every individual has a role to play in sustainable development and climate action, regardless of how small it may seem. However, when we lack proper information about the reality of what is happening, we are unable to effectively fulfill our roles. Hence, the media and storytelling assume a critical role and in my honest opinion, as one of the key players in driving climate action and sustainable development.
As a leader in the sustainable development field, what advice would you give to individuals or organizations looking to make a positive impact in their communities?
Having a clear purpose is essential for individuals or organizations looking to make a positive impact in their communities. It provides a guiding light and a sense of direction. Equally important is the active engagement and involvement of communities in the pursuit of that purpose. By including community members in decision-making processes, valuing their perspectives, and addressing their needs, a more inclusive and sustainable approach can be achieved. Together, with a shared purpose and engaged communities, we can create meaningful and lasting change in our communities.
What’s your mantra for life?
I am intent on knowing and becoming the best and highest version of myself. That’s the mantra I live by.
How can others be involved with you and Lensational?
There are many ways to get involved with us. We are in the process of raising funds for a number of projects and we want to break the idea that philanthropy is the purview of billionaires by inviting individuals with which amount of giving they may have to be part of a greater course. More information on the projects to give to can be found on our website.
We are always looking for new talent to join our team and information about available positions can also be found on our website.
Find Lydia and learn more about her work at Lensational.
This is part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes 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.
In the heart of Kenya, nestled in the foothills of the majestic Mount Kenya, live the Maasai people, a Nilotic ethnic community, members of the Nilo-Saharan family of languages related to the Nuer, Kalenjin, and Dinka. For generations, they have called the land of Kenya their home, relying on its fertile soil and abundant water resources to sustain their way of life. But over the years, the pastoralist community that relies so heavily on livestock rearing and agriculture has seen their way of life and their livelihoods threatened by the changing climate. The once-abundant water resources are drying up, and the land is becoming increasingly arid, making it difficult for the Maasai people to sustain their way of life. Recognizing this issue, international social enterprise, Lensational, along with The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Global Network partnered up to empower the Maasai women through photography and digital storytelling.
Collaboration for Empowerment: Lensational and NAP Global Network’s Partnership
Through the program, these women were trained in photography and digital storytelling, empowering them to share their stories with the world. They were provided with the skills and tools they need to share their stories and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on their community.
Through this initiative, six Maasai women came together to tell their stories about how climate change has affected them and their communities. Through the lens of these skilled photographers, we gain a unique perspective on the profound transformations unfolding in the Maasai community. Each photograph tells a story, offering glimpses into the everyday struggles, remarkable resilience, and inspiring adaptation efforts of the Maasai people, with a particular focus on the experiences and perspectives of women.
The Six Maasai Photographers
Picturing Resilience: Lensational and the Maasai Women’s Fight against Climate Change
As we embark on this visual journey, we are reminded of the urgent need to address climate change and its disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. Through the artistry and storytelling of the Maasai women, we are compelled to listen, learn, and take action to support these communities as they navigate the uncharted waters of a warming planet. So, let us immerse ourselves in the photographs and stories that unveil the Maasai community’s experiences with climate change, and let their voices guide us towards a more sustainable and equitable future.
Meet Catherine Pilalei, a remarkable Maasai photographer and devoted mother of two. Through her lens, she discovered the power of independence and self-reliance. In this project, Catherine and her community of Maasai women learned that embracing their own capabilities is essential, even when men migrate with cattle. Witness the captivating photographs that showcase their resilience, highlighting the importance of women’s empowerment in the face of a changing world. Join us as we delve into their inspiring journey, where visual storytelling transforms lives and paves the way for a brighter future.
Introducing Grace Ntesio, a remarkable photographer and devoted mother to a young boy, whose lens captures the strength and resilience of women in the face of adversity. Through this project, Grace has discovered the indomitable spirit within women, a spirit that refuses to surrender in the face of challenges caused by climate change. Witness their determination as they navigate tough times, defying helplessness and finding innovative solutions to overcome the hurdles presented by a changing climate. Join us as we delve into Grace’s powerful series, celebrating the unwavering resilience and inspiring ingenuity of women in the face of climate-related difficulties. Together, let’s honor their remarkable journey and draw inspiration from their resourcefulness in building a brighter future.
Enter the world of Irene Nanue, hailing from the vibrant Narok North Melili area. Through her participation in this project, Irene discovered the hidden struggles endured by their community under the weight of climate change. Yet, amidst the challenges, she witnessed the remarkable resilience and innovative adaptation efforts of her fellow community members. With a newfound understanding, Irene recognized that climate change is a global issue, far from a mere occurrence, and that the first step in combatting it is through education and awareness. Join us as we delve into Irene’s enlightening perspective, unveiling the silent hardships and inspiring initiatives within her community. Together, let’s embrace the power of knowledge and unite in the fight against climate change.
Allow us to introduce Esther Tinayo, a visionary photographer and devoted mother of three, who unveils the truth behind their experiences in this captivating series. Through her lens, Esther sheds light on the realization that the challenges they have faced for so long are not merely natural climate patterns but are, in fact, linked to climate change. In the face of drought, Esther discovered the importance of managing a smaller, healthier herd rather than struggling to care for a larger, weakened one. As a community, they have learned to seize the precious moments of rainfall, preserving and preparing water resources for the inevitable dry spells. Join us on this visual expedition as Esther’s photographs reveal the wisdom gained from their experiences, highlighting the significance of adaptation and sustainable practices. Together, let’s embrace their journey and draw inspiration from their resilience, as they navigate the ever-changing climate for the sake of their families and future generations.
Meet Immaculate, the visionary photographer behind this captivating series. As a homestead manager in the drought-stricken region of Loita, Immaculate intimately understands the profound impact of water scarcity on her daily life and the lives of her community members, particularly the women. Through her lens, Immaculate fearlessly explores the far-reaching consequences of the prevailing drought, shedding light on its effects on households, communities, and the resilience of women. Join us as we embark on a visual odyssey, guided by Immaculate’s keen eye, to witness the struggles and triumphs of those grappling with the harsh realities of water scarcity. Together, let’s uncover the power of visual storytelling in illuminating the untold stories and rallying for change in Loita and beyond.
Introducing Claire Metito, an extraordinary photographer and devoted mother of four, who brings her unique perspective to this series. In Esiteti, their community had long endured drought without fully understanding the underlying force of climate change. But now, as women, they have gained awareness and embraced their vital role in shaping a better future for their children. Join us as we embark on a visual journey, guided by Claire’s lens, to witness their determination, resilience, and unwavering commitment to securing a brighter tomorrow. Together, let’s explore the profound impact of their storytelling and the power of mothers in shaping a sustainable legacy.
Igniting Change through Art and Empowered Voices
In the resounding echoes of their photographs and digital narratives, the Maasai women have shattered the silence and given a resolute voice to their community’s struggles in the face of climate change. Their impactful work has transcended boundaries, resonating with audiences across the globe and igniting a vital conversation about the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities like the Maasai people.
Lensational’s partnership with the Maasai women, training and empowering them in the realms of photography and digital storytelling, stands as a testament to the organization’s unwavering commitment to fostering empowerment and promoting social and environmental justice. By equipping these women with the tools and skills to tell their stories, Lensational has created a powerful platform for their voices to soar and their narratives to reach far and wide.
Through the lens of this initiative, we witness the transformative power of art, as the Maasai women’s images and words ignite empathy, challenge perspectives, and spur collective action. Their stories have been captured, shared, and celebrated, raising awareness and inspiring individuals and communities to confront the urgent realities of climate change.
Embracing Resilience and Empowering Change
The Maasai women’s journey encapsulates the resilience, strength, and unwavering spirit of communities facing the ravages of climate change. It reminds us that within every challenge lies the potential for change and the capacity for individuals to rise, unite, and champion a sustainable future.
As we bid farewell to this visual expedition, let us carry the stories of the Maasai women within our hearts, nurturing their flame of resilience and empowering their calls for justice. Together, we can weave a tapestry of hope, embracing the collective responsibility to safeguard our planet and create a world where every voice is heard and cherished.
Natalie Chung, a young and dynamic social entrepreneur and sustainability leader from Hong Kong, has returned from the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023, alongside the legendary oceanographer and environmentalist, Dr Sylvia Earle. As the only representative from her country, Natalie had a rare opportunity to explore one of the most remote and fragile ecosystems on earth, while also witnessing the devastating effects of climate change on this pristine environment.
In our previous interview, we shared Natalie’s excitement and anticipation for her journey to the end of the world, and now, we’re thrilled to present a captivating and exclusive glimpse into her post-expedition experience. Join us as we dive deep into Natalie’s thrilling journey to Antarctica – from breathtaking vistas to heart-stopping adventures, we’ve got all the details. But that’s not all; we’ll also delve into the remarkable insights she gained, and how her experience has shaped her work as a sustainability leader. Natalie’s incredible journey to Antarctica is not only a testament to her unwavering passion for environmentalism but also a shining example of her commitment to creating a better world for all. So, sit back, relax, and indulge in this inspiring and empowering interview with the unstoppable Natalie Chung – a true visionary and trailblazer in the world of sustainability.
Tell me about how your 9-day Voyage went.
First of all, it extended from nine days to around 12 days due to the changing climate, because it was very difficult for us to take a flight from the South Georgia Island of Antarctica back to Chile, the mainland. So we were kind of stuck on the ship for three extra days. It was a very special experience but it also allowed us to kind of realize how insignificant mankind is when compared with the ever-changing climate and the force of nature. Some of the people on the ship were very influential policymakers and experts but none of us could or ever can overcome these kinds of natural conditions. So it’s a reminder to us how insignificant we can be and how much we should pay respect to nature as we’re all part of the system.
So I think the whole of the voyage was very fruitful. We had 110 experts joining from different backgrounds over 19 countries and regions and the ages ranged from 12 to 88. The oldest person is Dr. Sylvia Earle, who’s 88 years old. It was such a great pleasure and inspiring experience to meet Sylvia in person and to spend almost 12 days together with her. We had a few meals with her as well, and she shared with us how she feels about the ocean, her life journey, and her ambitions.
The journey started with us, all being in Ushuaia, gathering before we set sail to Antarctica. There, we had a full-day conference to discuss, initially, the 23 resolutions for 2023 to accelerate Net Zero by 2035. In the meeting, we were divided into different groups. And each group focused on a specific topic – my group focused on plastic. We had some plastic experts such as Joanna Ruxton, she’s the producer and filmmaker of A Plastic Ocean, a very famous documentary on Netflix about microplastic and the whole plastic life cycle in the ocean. There was also Esther An who is the Chief Sustainability Officer of CDL, one of the major property developers in Singapore. So it was a very comprehensive and fruitful dialogue, where we got to pinpoint which of those resolutions was the most important because we had this previous conversation in which we already developed a rough list of resolutions.
The purpose of the expedition was to nail it down further with everyone’s input. Some points were raised such as how we should focus on the entire circular economy instead of just talking about ocean plastic as the production and manufacturing of plastic can also infer how we produce other products using a life cycle approach. So we believe that embracing a circular economy is a key resolution for protecting the ocean. Given that, a lot of consumer products may draw resources from the seabed or sea floor, it is important to install that mindset of sustainable consumption – the consumption behavior shifts to include in the resolution.
On the second day, we boarded the Dr. Sylvia Earle ship, it was a very unique experience because it was the first time for the ship to sail too. So we had this christening ceremony of the ship to celebrate a good start of the journey but it was postponed due to weather again. We also started the day with a lot of lectures about understanding the sustainable tourism conventions of Antarctica. This was unique to me because when speaking with some of the expedition guides on the ship, we understood that Antarctica has one of the most stringent sustainable tourism rules around the world. So it’s governed by an agency called IAATO and they have a set of guidelines on what tourists can or cannot do, and researchers can do on the grounds. For instance, for Penguins, we need to keep a distance of five meters, and then for whales, I think it was 15 meters – on a boat. So I think it’s a great reference for how to do tourism – ecotourism around the world, especially in regions with high ecological sensitivity.
One main point that they mentioned is how one virus can even lead to the dying out of the whole penguin colony. Because when we’re doing the continental endings, we will be seeing maybe 10,000 penguins all at once. And these penguins have not developed the immunity against foreign diseases that we may bring to them. So it’s very important for us to keep these diseases out of reach of the species there. Because Antarctica is the only place on earth, the Last Frontier, where no humans happen to inhabit and we need to keep preserving, then observing these rules to ensure their safety.
And so before we do all the landings, we have to change into the proper disinfectant boots provided by the ship and we step into a sanitizing liquid to disinfect everything – not just the boots, but also the tip of, for example, your hiking pole, you need to dip the tip into it as well. We also needed to step into it again before going into the ship. So it’s like a safety protocol. And before everyone goes down we also need to do a very special vacuuming process which I didn’t know it’s so important. So basically, it’s because we don’t want to bring any exotic species or invasive species into Antarctica. So we need to use the normal vacuum to vacuum all our clothes and bags – everything that’s exterior that we are wearing and bringing with us – because we don’t want to bring any tiny seed that probably got stuck onto our clothes and drop it there. So, just to ensure that we’re not bringing any exotic species into there.
I think I’ve learned quite a lot from these. We were taught to respect all lives in nature in this very unique part of the world. So, yeah, on the second day, we did the first landing, which was approximately at 4 A.M. It was a very surreal experience because we woke up so early and everyone was very tired but it was all worth it. Because we saw the sunrise and it was the perfect sunlight to see the Penguins. The first species we saw is the Chinstrap Penguin. We saw three species of penguins out of a total of seven in Antarctica. Chinstrap penguins have a line of their chins, so they’re called Chinstraps. They are abundant but their numbers have been decreasing because the majority of them feed on Antarctic krills, a type of very small shrimp that have declined by 80% over the past 40 – 50 years. The main reason is that they’re sensitive to water temperature, and warming oceans lead to the dying out of these shrimps and also overfishing. So it’s very astonishing to know how important krill is to the entire Antarctic ecosystem.
One of the resolutions also focuses on protecting the krills. Because apart from penguins, seals and whales also consume krill as the basis of the food chain. For example, a typical whale consumes four tons of krill per day to survive. So, it’s a massive amount of krills. So I think it’s interesting how this small creature is playing such an important role in the ecosystem system and ignorance of protecting them in the past has led to disasters. I think a lot of the products, for example, Salmon sold in Europe used to be fat on krill because we used to think that krills were very abundant and we allowed for krill farming in Antarctica – when there were no ocean treaties governing them.
But since the countries have signed the Antarctic treaty to protect Antarctica, it has improved a bit but we still need to raise awareness around it to stop purchasing any krill-based products because there are products like krill oil – like essential oils, that are extracted from krills. Also fish products, fat of krills. But they may not be explicitly stated on the product. So maybe when you’re buying it, you don’t know that it’s from Antarctica and you don’t know how detrimental the impact can be on their ecosystem. So that’s one major lesson I learned from this whole penguin and krill ecosystem.
In the next few days, we also did more landings on different parts of Antarctica. I joined the microplastic team. So we collected water samples from the surface. And on the ship, because this is a new ship that celebrates scientific research and exploration, we have a special laboratory dedicated to Dr. Sylvia Earle that’s equipped with some simple gadgets, like electronic microscopes. So we were able to analyze the microscopic samples to find out whether there was any plastic in them. And indeed, we saw a lot of microplastic in the samples. In all 10 samples, we found traces of microplastic, which was bad, but also sort of expected because there is human intervention. We found some small red filaments which are supposedly from the clothes that people wear. So I think that one of the major takeaways for me is how Antarctic tourism is expanding, and how the industry is starting to become more unsustainable. Although we have all these rules governing, like minimal level of protection for penguins and other species, still for example, some of the belongings of our passengers were lost so they just left it there unintentionally, some of their face masks got blown away because the wind was crazy. So things like the mask definitely disintegrated into the ice and made huge chunks of microplastic. So how do we govern them? Is there a better way? Or should we set a limit on the number of people that can enter at least for scientific research purposes, or maybe allow a quota for leisure tourism? Also for leisure tourism, can we have even stricter guidelines, for example, not allowing polyester clothing to be worn on land, we need to ensure that the clothing would not fall into microplastic pieces in case some filaments get thrown onto the ice.
Apart from microplastic, we also did some whale research. I followed the whale zodiac with one whale scientist called Dr.Olaf. It was super exciting, he brought us on the zodiac and we went further from the ship to identify if there are any whales around and also observe their behavior. We also used a hydrophone which is like an underwater device that helps capture underwater noises and sound waves to listen to the whale. Although maybe sometimes we don’t see the whales swimming on the surface, after we analyzed the sounds, we realized that there are several whales in the area that we explored. By aggregating these different data points, we were able to map out how many whales we saw. And I think throughout the whole expedition, there was a sighting of around 100 whales. Also, we were using drones to take sensory images. Through the drone, it was very clear where the whales were because the water was very clear there. I think that’s another interesting observation.
Personally, as I’m the only one from Hong Kong on that trip and I also want to raise my voice for Asia, I did personal interviews with different stakeholders, like one-on-one with Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Olaf, the whale expert, and other renowned personalities like Hollywood star Christina Ochoa to ask them – why they came on this expedition and what they think about what people in Asia can also do to protect Antarctica. I think I’ll be publishing those as a YouTube series on my channel to spread the word.
Additionally, I’m also working with several museums in Hong Kong to see if we can showcase an exhibition to bring the impact of Antarctica closer to Asia focusing on, for example, some of the whale species there and how it leads to increasing the marine protected area of the world. One delightful piece of news is that the UN signed the high seas treaty to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030. This is a great target and also what we were demanding for.
So in the end, we screened down the list to eight specific resolutions on ocean conservation and climate protection.
What were your preparations like for this trip?
I think the main preparation was to actually identify the right partners to work with me on the impact and amplify the work afterward. Because as a sustainability advocate, I think I had mixed feelings because I didn’t want to go on a high-emissions expedition if I don’t have a clear purpose for going there. So I kind of tried to really understand my objective. I was invited by the organizer back in 2021, and I’ve been reflecting on whether it is useful for me or for my advocacy. And then after I was convinced that I could do something about it, I started to reach out to different partners, to see how we could co-create impact. After all, we want to bring it as a relevant topic, as a relevant issue that can generate enough media attention to raise public awareness. So that was the main part of the preparation for me.
I guess the second part is to take time to research and understand Antarctica. I spoke with several of the experts from the trip before coming, to understand their objectives and whether we can collaborate on several initiatives. So one of the people I spoke with is James Barnes, he was part of the negotiation team for the Antarctic treaty. He’s a lawyer based in the US and now he’s living in France. So it was very interesting to learn more about the Antarctic Treaty, how important it is, and what we can do in the coming years to ensure that it’s being safeguarded because in the past few years, there have been more geopolitical conflicts. And some countries are kind of eyeing the Antarctic resources to do mining for minerals or deep sea mining. So, how do we keep up the public’s attention to scrutinize the implementation of the Antarctic treaty, and how is the treaty evolving, what countries are cooperating or are not – I understood it from James.
What was it like sailing to the Arctic? Did you get to see climate change firsthand in the Arctic?
Sailing to the Antarctic was I guess it was quite difficult for someone because we needed to pass through the Drake Passage which is one of the most unstable and dangerous passages in the world. The waves can go up to 10 meters in the worst kind of weather. Although we weren’t experiencing that, still it was quite shaky and it was for over two days. Some people were super seasick and they were not even able to join the other activities. But luckily I survived, as I had this patch under my ear to stabilize myself, and that worked well for me.
Witnessing the impact firsthand was a unique experience for me. I think, in particular, it’s the temperature. I figured that I didn’t realize this because I felt the temperature was kind of bearable, and I was okay with not wearing so many heavy clothes when I went outdoors. But once I got back, I shared some photos with my friends and they were like, “Oh wow. Is this hotter than it should be?” And I realized what it looks like. My parents were like, “Oh, from your photos, I bet it’s not that cold!” And indeed, it wasn’t super cold. I think, one of the days it was even like six degrees Celsius which was one of the highest, and 2022 is one of the hottest years in Antarctica over the past 50 years. So, it was shocking for me to see how warm Antarctica has become. Some of the expedition members who had been there around 20 years ago, witnessed the changing of the ice. We also saw a lot of green algae on the ice, so those are Antarctic algae. The reason for these algae to bloom is because of the warming temperature that also affects the habitats of penguins and other species. So it’s also another abnormal thing that we saw. In terms of the wind, there are also more frequent intense storms that gust extreme weather than before, which was unfavorable for penguins’ survival. Also, I think we weren’t able to see a lot of Ice cover, I guess it was partly because of the rapid rate of melting. So my perception is that it didn’t feel like I was in Antarctica, I felt like I was in another rocky mountain which is not ideal.
I also did a bit of snorkeling. So I got to get relatively closer to the wildlife to observe the behavior. I personally didn’t see a lot of behavioral changes, but our expedition guys mentioned to us how the penguin colonies are changing a lot. Like they used to see a lot of penguins in this colony, but this time we did the landing there and there were only a few left. so their habitats are changing quicker than we can predict. And it’s worrying and disheartening for us on the ship. But I guess what also struck us was how beautiful Antarctica can be with the other changes in landscape and scenery. The majority of it is still very beautiful and well-preserved. This is how we think Antarctica is might impact how we see the ocean in general and what can be done to revive the oceans if we’re able to implement, for example, the UN high seas treaty was able to protect the whole of the high sea, ban deep sea mining and establish as many actions as possible to cover the rest of the oceans.
Because Antarctica is like the Global Commons, and everyone can get a part of it. Countries can come together to sign such a treaty, like the Antarctic treaty to protect this place with us. We can use this as a positive case study to see what our land could look like without human intervention and what kind of similar mechanisms can be applied to the rest of the oceans.
Tell us about the goals that you were supposed to finalize during the expedition.
We had initially planned on 23 goals, which later became 8 goals. I think after the discussions, we realized that in order to communicate messages effectively, we need to be more focused. So instead of having the headline of 23 solutions, it was more like 8 generic broader umbrellas. And under each of the eight umbrellas, we have two to three action points.
One of the resolutions is to protect and implement a treaty and climate-smart approach to protecting marine resources, which is related to the goal of 30 by 30, i.e. 30% of the ocean protected by 2030, demanding for that to happen. And then another resolution was to demand fossil fuel-free oceans to prevent the extraction in the oceans because obviously, there are still a lot of Mining and extraction activities happening related to fossil fuels in the ocean. So, generically, we agreed on doing that. Another resolution is embracing a full and comprehensive circular economy at all scales and levels which includes resources like plastic and other materials that are extracted from or abandoned in the ocean.
I think we had around 17 members that were youth representatives in the expedition. So, for the youth part, our resolution is to promote an inclusive culture and to support them to become climate and ocean leaders. The last thing is including and respecting the voices of different cultures, including the indigenous communities. A lot of indigenous communities rely on fishing and aquaculture as their livelihood for survival and their major source of protein. So, learning from how indigenous people are operating the smallholder fish farms would shed light on how we create smallholders’ sustainable scale fishery systems. Because we are championing against industrial fishing due to the impact that it creates on ecosystems, essentially wiping out the whole marine ecosystem. So it’s crucial to learn from the traditional wisdom of indigenous people on how to manage and protect Marine Resources.
What was it like meeting Dr. Sylvia Earle personally and being a part of her expedition team?
Meeting Sylvia Earle was very inspiring, as cliche as it sounds. First of all, I really admire her passion and energy. Even though she’s quite old already, she is so energetic and she attended almost every lecture. She’s even more energetic than all of us.
She not only attended my lecture, but she also really paid close attention and gave her feedback to me. And every time she makes a remark, it’s deeply thought through and involves her past experience aligned with the future. What I respect the most is that she doesn’t only talk about the past – while she does talk about it, she will link it back to a future outlook. I feel like she’s continually engaged with the latest research related to the ocean in order to keep herself most updated and she still has all these crazy ideas on what can be done in the future. And another point is about the idea of exploration. So she thinks that a major part of her talk on the ship is about her latest projects on the deep sea. She was the kind of the first generation of manufacturers of submarines to go as deep as 1000 meters, and she continues to do that. Because she thinks that going into the deep sea is like going to outer space as it’s so unexplored that we don’t realize how many species are out there and she discovers something new every time. She showed us some very strangely beautiful marine animals in the deep sea all lit up. It’s like a jungle down there.
She was very generous with her time. Even though she was super packed, she gave me like 20 minutes of her time for an interview, and the most memorable scene was when we were called for a concluding remark by her, which couldn’t have started without her presence. But she insisted on finishing the interview with me first before she went. And when the admin person came in to call her because they needed her, and saw that she was doing the interview with me, the person stared at me for holding her. (chuckles)
Her whole narrative of how we should keep exploring and keep understanding more and respecting the blue heart of our planet. And she’s also super optimistic, she always says that she believes now is the best chance for us to make a difference, and to transform all the tipping points into turning points. This was a quote that I kept close to my mind and heart because I believe that there’s still a chance of creating the change that we need. And I think her optimism lit up a lot of us to continue pursuing climate and ocean advocacy.
What was it like being surrounded by so many renowned people in the field like Jenifer Hayes and David Doubilet? What did you learn from this experience?
Yes, we did meet some other really cool people. Jen Hayes and David Doubilet were like the stars of the expedition. David actually took a photo for us and it was like a big deal because we were under David’s camera which is such a great pleasure. I think Jen and David shared a very personal story with us about their journey featuring harp seals in the Arctic. So they started to kind of understand the harp seals 10 years ago and they realized how they are being threatened by rising sea levels and warming seawater. So they kept following this story for 10 years. They go there twice a year to witness the breeding because each of the harp seals can only breed 1 to 2 times and then in the end, maybe all of them die. So, in recent years, almost all of the babies couldn’t survive because of the very bad weather conditions and extreme weather events. So it’s very disheartening for them.
I appreciate how they told this story by sharing their authentic experiences and how they fought for the funding to get this story covered. And now it’s been elevated on National Geographic. While they work for Nat Geo, they need to continually keep hunting for juicy stories as they work on contracts. So even though this Harp seal issue wasn’t very prominent 10 years ago, they persistently pushed it as a top issue and now it’s become elevated. This has taught me how to stay focused on a particular subject matter and use my creativity to frame a story in a way that is appealing to the audience and to institutions so that it can gather more effort to fight for a certain subject.
Meeting other people, I guess, I got exposed to different ways of life. So there are some people who are explorers; they just keep on going on different kinds of expeditions. I met a lot of people from the Explorers Club and it was eye-opening to see how to join the Explorers Club, you need to make sure that your expedition experience can contribute positively to the advancement of science, humanity, and the environment. There was Josh Bernstein. He is a storyteller. He used to go to all these unexplored places to discover new history or mysteries of myths, archaeology, and human nature. And now he’s working with NASA on communicating science to students like space science, and small stem experiments. So I can see how this can be involved with the agenda.
And there are a lot of people working in the film industry, like documentary filmmakers, this guy called Craig Leeson. I knew him already in Hong Kong because he worked in Hong Kong for like 20 plus years and they made a documentary called The Last Glaciers. I watched it when it was premiering in Hong Kong and I was very glad to meet him again on the expedition. He talked about tackling greenwashing and his hopes to use documentaries as a force of change. I really respect his work and I thought maybe this is something that I can do in the future because I think being a documentary filmmaker, you’re really an agent of telling a story to a wider audience. He was also involved in the making of A Plastic Ocean. And he mentioned how after making this movie about plastic pollution, he really understood a lot more about microplastic from all the stakeholders that he interviewed and how much plastic we’re consuming from eating seafood. So, after this documentary, he actually completely stopped eating seafood.
All in all, I realized there are lots of possibilities for advocacy. Currently, I’m focusing more on the education policy side, but I also see a lot of potential in collaborating with these people and exploring multimedia and multi-disciplinary fields to enable change to happen in a quicker manner.
What are your key takeaways as the Key Opinion Ambassador of the expedition?
It fills me with both disappointment and hope. The fear comes from how rapidly these environmental changes are happening right in front of me. And I fear that continuous exploitation and the spreading of things like tourism culture and exploitative consumerism is encroaching into Antarctica quicker than I’ve imagined.
So while our ship was still like a typical cruise ship, even though we ensured all the operations were as low carbon as possible, we had buffet meals every day which was definitely not good because of all the food waste that we were creating. Of course, they get disposed of properly, but it’s just that the culture of cruising is so deeply rooted in a way that we can imagine Antarctic tourism to be one thing but it should be something more impactful, something more authentic and genuine. So that is the fear.
I was overwhelmed with a thought during and after the expedition, like, how much impact have we created? How much footprint? How do we actually offset it or can we really offset these events? And I feel like it’s also irreversible or hard, given the microplastic that we’re seeing falling from the clothes that we wear. And then in terms of hope, I think it filled me with hope, seeing how hundreds of people can come together to discuss resolutions that are meaningful to the planet and everyone is working so hard in their respective disciplines to add funds to change and to advocate for their own communities. And I wish that we can continue working together as a coalition, as a platform to drive further changes.
I also think that youth have an important role to play to disrupt power hierarchies and to really use movement to transform our society. And I think also like a constant reminder for myself, is that when I get into a position of power, I should always keep this euphemism, this genuine and authentic solid mindset. Instead of just trying to stabilize my own power, I should decentralize my power to everyone so that we can listen to the most effective solutions that come from the communities, from the grassroots.
How do you plan to further implement the high-level goals from the expedition?
I think I will focus on the first and last goals. The first goal is to protect marine resources. Because we are championing 30 percent of marine parks by 2030, and in Hong Kong, currently less than 5% of the oceans are protected as marine protected areas. So I think there’s a large gap and what we can definitely do within our own communities is to raise awareness and I’ll be joining the Marine Protection Alliance in Hong Kong with the other experts to use my expedition knowledge to add to their research work.
Another exciting project that I wish to share is that I am currently advising a fund, it’s a global asset management company based in Shanghai, China. It is an Impact Venture Capital fund. We’re hoping to invest in ocean-related startups and technologies to help them scale their businesses. And our focus will be on Asia because we see that there are some ocean funds focused in Europe and the US but actually, over 80% of the fishing population is based in Asia. So I think there’s a huge gap in some simple solutions, like mangrove restoration and enhancing fishing efficiency, so that we don’t have the problem of overfishing, destroying marine ecosystems, and improving ocean data analytics. So I’m now working with a team and we’re actually already talking to a bunch of startups. There are so many new technologies and spaces and we’re just like getting there. So we really hope to support the early-stage ventures to help them scale up. So this is an exciting project that we’re working on, and obviously, feeding into that target of protecting marine resources.
This is part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes 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.
Music is a magical form of art that has the power to touch souls. It has a way of connecting people, beyond language barriers and cultural differences. Music fosters a sense of belonging and community by enabling people to express themselves and engage with others on a deeper level. As we listen to music, we are taken to a world of emotions and feelings that can make us feel alive, bring us peace, or even inspire us to take actions.
And it’s not just people who create music. With its own distinctive sounds and rhythms, nature contributes to this symphony as well. Birds tweeting, leaves rustling in the breeze, and waves crashing on the shore: these natural sounds influence musicians and artists to produce music that captures the splendor and majesty of our planet.
Inanna, also known as Annalisa G. Dunker is one such musician who uses her art to promote environmental sustainability and inspire people to take action for the future of our planet. Through her soulful songs and fascinating videos, Inanna conveys a message of harmony and hope. She believes that music can be a powerful force for change, uniting people to safeguard the environment and build a better future for future generations.
In this exclusive interview, we speak with Inanna about her journey as a musician, her inspiration for writing about environmental issues, and how she envisions her music influencing the world for the better. So sit back, relax, and join us as we delve deeper into the world of Inanna and her music.
What inspired you to use your creativity and imagination in singing for the planet?
I moved here to Los Angeles in the summer of 2018, I knew that at that point I had a clean page that I could start again, in this city with many things that I am passionate about. It was actually very easy, kind of a quick-change, not only of life but of career in general.
Music-wise, I had done a lot of things before – I had been a singer before in several bands and projects, but I kind of felt I still needed to find my own voice. And this time, I really wanted to do it with something with a deeper meaning with something that I could really stand for.
So the project started because I moved here and I wanted to do something on my own – produce music on my own, find my own sound and my own real voice in the music and I wanted my music to have a specific message. In this case, it was speaking up for the environment and the future of nature, the future of animals and the whole planet. And so I simply decided to dedicate all my music to that.
I really felt I had to do it because in those times, especially in early 2019 with all the new protests and Greta Thunberg and all the movements that were appearing more and more, everywhere I felt I wanted to do more apart from just changing my daily habits, or do little modifications in my daily life. I really wanted to speak up and to contribute to a cultural change and I thought – “What’s better than to be able to change culture itself? ” And I thought that I would do it through music because it’s one of my skills and one of my passions and that’s how it happened.
So, I’ve been working on all these songs and all the imagery and products around it since 2019. 2019 was the time when my very first single that came out. It came out in May 2019.
What inspired you to take the name “Inanna” and what does that mean to you?
Inanna is the name of the Sumerian goddess of love and harvest but also war and justice. I thought, the name of a goddess is something timeless that would be good for this project because I want to give a timeless feel to my music. And also, I’m talking about such enormous topics and issues. I’m taking on this task of discussing the future of humans on the planet and the future of nature – the future in general. So I thought that maybe, only the name of a goddess could contain all that.
I think what I loved the most in Inanna is her duality as a goddess figure. I felt it really fit with this project because on one hand with this music, I’m trying to invite people into a possible world where things are done better, where we reach a higher place, a better place in our relationship with animals and nature. But on the other hand there is witnessing and acknowledging everything that is happening and everything that we’ve done.
So there is this dual thing of the need for love and togetherness and connection and work all together but also the rage and the sadness for everything that unfortunately humans have done to the planet and animals. So I really thought it was a perfect match. I also liked that the name contained part of my birth name, which is Annalisa and this “Inanna” had a little bit of a part of me too, so I feel that Inanna is kind of an amplified version of myself.
Do you think art – different forms of art, can play a significant role to motivate people to take actions in their daily lives, especially now, when the climate crisis is getting worse with every passing day?
I think that all art forms and music in particular, play an enormous role in cultural and social change. Arts have an incredible power to bring people together to inspire collectivity. They have the power to speak to conscious and unconscious layers of ourselves. And that’s why in many people at many times and all points in time, they have the capacity to create these moments inside a person where you understand something in a much deeper way, in a way that only a piece of art can make you see or understand. So, I have a deep respect for all artists who are using their skills and their capacities and their tools to speak up for the things that we should definitely change, revise, redefine.
Another factor that is very important when it comes to Arts is their kind of ritualistic power, specially with music. Not only they bring a group of people together but all the people get to feel something together at the same time and even if it’s different, maybe from person to person but there is something in common, like a common ritual and I love ritualistic events because I always say – “Rituals are made to get one person into the ritual as a person and then when they go out of the ritual, they actually go out as someone else because the ritual actually does something to you”. And I feel that is exactly what I’m trying to do with my music and I feel that’s what the Arts should do, to really make you feel different after you experience that piece of art.
How can artists collaborate to make the climate movement stronger and more fruitful?
Artists can collaborate in so many different ways. I have seen it lately especially from the very beginning of this second big wave of the environmentalist movement that is growing and growing – I have seen so many organizations, associations, platforms, digital platforms and artistic endeavors being born in the last three and a half years. At the beginning of 2019, I thought I was maybe one of the only ones that were doing this – as a musician. But I’ve seen so many things happening since then and artists can definitely find so many ways to collaborate in events where they can do things together, support each other, uplift each other, help each other.
So, what I do personally is really try to stimulate and give a further impulse to gatherings like, really doing things together, whether it is an event where we talked or there is an artistic community coming together for a concert, or maybe I’ve been getting in touch with a lot of other organizations to see if we can do something together. I think, especially in these times, uplifting each other and togetherness is one of the most important things we can do. We should not see each other as competing artists or competing organizations. Because we’re really talking about the future of everything, the future of our soul. And if there’s something that we all have in common is this home, this planet and we must take care of it together.
So what I definitely recommend to all artists, entrepreneurs who are speaking up for the future of the planet and working for the future of the planet – “Get in touch to try to do things together. You’re not alone. There are so many other people doing the same and together, you’re stronger together. Together is much better.”
What do you think are needed as ingredients of a song that can create that can inspire change?
I don’t want to talk about the ingredients to make a perfect commercial song, that works for sure in a radio context or in a TV show context. To me, what really matters is speaking to two different levels in a person. Like if you have a catchy song, that’s great because it’s already the first element that will get to someone, but if that song already has a message that’s even better. And from that message, if you have different layers that will touch and communicate to different people – that’s even better. I think it’s about making it really broad and generous.
I think with the meaning you really want to try to communicate something from who you are from an authentic place. I always try to write from who I am and what I really think. I never write thinking – “Oh what is going to make people feel good or what is going to sell?” I always try to be as authentic as possible and I think that’s the best ingredient that you can put in any piece of art, for sure.
Polluters have surely lost the empathetic connection with nature, and we believe that your songs have the power to mend that connection which might make them take a stand on the right side. How do you plan to get your music to reach them?
As I was saying, the way I am trying to reach people wherever they are in life and wherever they are in the world and whatever historical experiences they have is to try to meet them where they are and to simply invite them to another view, another way of seeing things, I really think it’s important not to impose certain views.
Because we don’t know where other people come from and their past experiences and their life history. So I think one element is to be able to invite someone into something you deeply believe, as you know, your life mission and you think it’s really important for everyone. And for the future is to try to invite with generosity and invite with a smile and always try to make people try to feel what you feel like.
I really want to gather people around me, through a sense of understanding and empathy. I don’t want to blame even if I know it’s hard because we get very angry sometimes, especially environmentalists or animalists, we always think – “Oh my goodness, this is never gonna get fixed. How can some people do this? And they don’t see it.” Of course, I have those moments too and we all have, but I don’t think it’s the most effective way to invite people to what we consider the right side. I think you always have to meet people where they are and understand the enormous complexity of certain systems.
So, I think that it should always start from a place of compassion and empathy, you should always try to meet everyone where they are at, even if you know, that certain people or organizations are actively working against the future of nature and everything, we know of this planet, but the reality is so incredibly complex that the best way we have, probably, the only way we have is to try to invite always through compassion and understanding.
What’s your take on climate optimism as an artist and an activist?
I have to say that it gets very hard at times to be optimistic. Because even if I am constantly surrounded by incredible communities of environmentalists and animal rights activists that make me feel that everything is possible – that we are changing the world conversation by conversation, little by little, song by song, but at the same time you also see the tendencies and what’s going on in the world every day, it’s tough to see that a lot of things are not changing at all. But I always tell myself, – “Should I just give up because I don’t see the change that I want to see? And in the time frame that I want to see it?”
I know what I stand for and I know what I believe in. I am dreaming of a future where nature is always considered in every decision of society and economy. I’m dreaming of a society where animals are not exploited anymore, and are not mistreated anymore. And it’s a society that I acknowledge. I don’t acknowledge animals as other beings that live here on Earth with us and not for our own benefit for us.
So, I’ll just keep working for that, and I know that, even if the changes are not as fast as I would like them to be, changes are definitely happening. And that’s what keeps me optimistic. Because I see that change happening around me every day, even in the arts.
Where do you think “spirituality” stands with art and activism? Do you think that understanding “spirituality” is important to feel more environmentally empathetic?
Yeah, definitely. There is a kind of spiritual element in my songs. To me, it translates into something very simple, which is a feeling of reverence. To me that’s what spirituality is in general. It’s this feeling of reverence towards everything that is alive towards the beauty, amazing, incredible wonders, that this planet has, this incredible biodiversity of all animals, all earthlings. The feeling of reverence when you really see that and take that in is automatically spiritual to me. And that’s the feeling of rediscovered awe, that I would like to transmit through my songs and through the imagery and everything that I’m trying to do. So I guess it’s just that big feeling of awe and reverence towards the Earth and all Earthlings.
Tell us about your favorite song and why it’s your favorite.
It’s difficult because I’m very attached to several of the songs, of course, on different levels, and for different reasons. But I think that if I had to choose one, I think I would still choose “Change” which came out last year for Earth Day.
I think mostly because it’s the one that probably sums up the whole Inanna style among all the other songs. Because it’s got a powerful message, it’s got a little bit of the rage, it’s got a hopeful message of togetherness and coming together for something, it’s got a little bit of Middle Eastern hint – which is something that I do. I feel it’s a song that really summarizes a lot of what Inanna is. So I think I would still pick that one. Yeah, it’s definitely “Change.”
Who are your biggest inspirations?
People that have inspired me and that keep inspiring me – I have to say, one of the first ones that really made an impact was Charlie Chaplin and it all started because of my grandfather who was very passionate about him and all his movies. This may have got nothing to do with the environmental movement but I loved the fact that he had such a clear vision for everything that he did. His movies and everything was almost made by him single-handedly. I simply admire that all his art was really his fruit, like his product from top to toe because it was really coming from an authentic place of who he was and what he believed in.
Other inspirational figures, definitely all the current environmentalists that are doing so much for the planet. I always loved Jane Goodall – absolutely a hero of mine. I really admire what Leonardo DiCaprio is doing. I really hope to meet him at some point. I really admire all the work he’s doing and all the documentaries that he is funding.
Knowledge is power – when we know, when we’re aware of things, we can choose better, we can do better. So every artist that really takes time and spends resources in spreading knowledge, I have a very, very big admiration for them.
Another person I really admire that I have had the honor to meet lately is Maggie Baird. She’s the founder and president of “Support and Feed” an organization that I love. Maggie is Billie Eilish’s mother. She’s been working so hard to promote the plant-based equitable food system. And I really hope her organization will grow more and more because it’s really fantastic what they’re doing.
What’s your mantra for life?
I don’t know if it’s actually a mantra for life but I love to sign my newsletters and my messages to my fans and people that know the Inanna project with this little sentence – “A hand is a paw is a fin is a wing. – Inanna.”
This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes 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.
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 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.
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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