It’s almost the 4th anniversary of Haiyan – when the world’s strongest typhoon struck the Philippines and caused mass destruction.
Hardest hit was Tacloban City, also the hometown of climate change activist Yeb Saño.
Yeb’s emotional speech for the victims of Haiyan captured the world’s attention during a climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland.
Madonna Virola caught up with Yeb in Quezon City.
I’m here at the office of Greenpeace Southeast Asia in Quezon City, in the capital Manila.
It’s a minimal office, with organic cleaning products by the sink in the kitchen.
I’m here to meet the new Executive Director, climate justice activist Nadarev Madla Sano. Everyone calls him Yeb.
He’s just rushed across town after giving an environmental talk at his son’s school.
I’ve met a lot of climate change activists but there’s something slightly different about Yeb.
He’s not angry or bombastic. He is gentle and unassuming and really listens when you ask him a question.
Yeb has held senior positions in the environmental world, but his career highlight so far was when he had the ears of global leaders at a climate change conference in Poland, in 2013.
That was three days after the strongest typhoon in the world, typhoon Haiyan, killed more than 7,000 people in Yeb’s hometown, Tacloban.
After Haiyan, Yeb has become a petitioner in a landmark case against big carbon-emitting companies whose emissions, according to scientists, have contributed to extreme weather conditions.
The Philippines Commission on Human Rights will start hearing the case this month.
Here’s Yeb at that conference in Poland.
In Poland, Yeb told global leaders, “The climate crisis is madness. I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm and those orphaned by the storm.”
Yeb continued, “we refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead become a way of life.”
He told the conference, “I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate until a meaningful outcome.”
Three years later, Yeb reflected on that statement saying,“I made that emotional appeal to world leaders to take climate change seriously because of its profound impacts on many communities in the world, not only talking about typhoon victims but those who, in their daily lives, are experiencing environmental in justice.”
But Yeb’s efforts have continued since then.
To pay tribute to the victims of the super typhoon, Yeb and a group of 12 others, including his brother, artist AG Sano, walked 1,000 kilometers – all the way from Tacloban City to Manila.
It took them for 40 days.
“We’ll always have in our heart the memory of the lessons we’ve learned about the Filipino spirit. We were passing through villages where we were total strangers. They gave us food, shelter, they gave us water.”
And when the next big global meeting was coming up in Paris, he resigned from his job and organized a second long walk.
This time it was 60 days – through the mountains of Italy all the way to the doors of the climate change summit in Paris.
He called it the ‘People’s Pilgrimage.’
“During the journey, everyday we stopped and we talked with people, sometimes we have gatherings with the communities, sometimes my brother AG led painting murals on walls, we always said Paris is not really our destination but to reach the hearts and minds of people all over the world.”
“Climate change is not just being an environmental issue but an issue that deals with accountability of people who cause harm to others.”
Also in our climate change series: In Kabul, where the rivers run dry
Yeb says there are three short words that sum up what the globe needs to overcome when it comes to climate change: Greed, Apathy and Avarice.
He often thinks big picture, about humanity, global movements and the role of millennials, but Yeb also walks his talk.
His whole house, for example, is powered by the sun.
“Every time I wake up in the morning especially when I am in the Philippines, I want to be able look at my children in the eyes and tell them I’ve done my best.”
He knows how important the next generation will be.
“I remember when I was young 11 years old, I planted a tree in front of our house. Then one day I came home and the tree was gone. Somebody cut it down. It was a very painful experience for me. I nurtured it and it grew up to about 15 feet for one year. From that day on I resolve I will protect nature.”
For more in our climate change special from across Asia, check out these stories: