I have been asked why we are implementing the YSEALI Generation: Oceans workshop. YSEALI Generation: Oceans is a five-day workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia to educate and engage 64 rising Southeast Asian leaders on current issues in marine and coastal environments.
I am very passionate about this program and excited to implement it with the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Here’s why this program matters for all of us.
While the world is 70% water, only 2.5% of that is freshwater, one percent is accessible freshwater and an even more minuscule .007% is accessible potable water. Across ASEAN, water is the most important issue facing the region.
Of the ASEAN countries, nine of them are coastal countries (only Laos is not). Globally, due to climate change, sea-levels are rising at a rate of three millimeters per year. For coastal ecosystems, economies and ways of life are changed drastically each year as the sea-levels rise. For island nations like Indonesia and the Philippines, continued rising sea-levels will put some of their islands under water. Rising tides also mean trouble for rice farmers in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam as seawater making its way onto rice paddy farms damages crops and rice production.
With over 70% of the protein consumed in the region coming from fish, the ASEAN countries have a responsibility to act to protect themselves. Plastic waste dumped into the oceans negatively impacts the fisheries. Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia are all in the top 10 worldwide for worst abusers of dumping plastic waste into the oceans. Plastics can never fully disintegrate and small pieces of plastic are being found in the stomachs of fish regularly. Therefore, the plastic dumped into the ocean not only plagues the oceanic ecosystem but comes back and stresses ASEAN citizens’ own bodies when they eat fish.
Why Southeast Asia?
As climate change continues its course, due to increased development around the world, it is those who are least responsible for causing the problem will likely to suffer first. This has made Southeast Asia and the ASEAN countries become ground zero for the climate movement. In 2013, the Philippines and Cambodia were the first and second most affected by weather-related losses in the world. Over the last 20 years, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam are three of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate tragedies. These are real problems that put livelihoods in flux across ASEAN. Typhoons, tsunamis, droughts, and floods are becoming yearly occurrences without any chance of slowing down.
What can be done?
Across ASEAN, there is a nascent youth-based environmental movement forming around combatting climate change. As Anbumozhi and Intal Jr. of the Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia argue:
“It is clear today that the process of lifting the standard of living through ASEAN cannot follow the carbon-intensive trajectory laid out by today’s high income economies; the limits of the climate system render such repetition infeasible.”
The average age of ASEAN leaders is over 65 years old while across the region, 65% of the population is under 35 years old. This environmental movement can be a grassroots youth-led movement to counter climate change and show the resilience of humans.
Additionally, as ASEAN continues to grow, this youth-led environmental movement has the opportunity to become the “ASEAN identity” that is desired across the region.
So what is our role there? This all sounds like a Southeast Asian thing. Why are Americans involved?
We are there to empower their autonomy and agency so they can stem the tide. It is not about us, it is about supporting them and making them able to overcome these issues that they didn’t create, but have to live with. We are there to support and see if we can mutually come up with ideas that help us all create a more livable world.
That all sounds nice, but do you really believe that?
This will be my third time administering an exchange program in Southeast Asia. In the summer of 2014, I worked on the American Youth Leadership Program to Singapore and Malaysia (AYLP). While in Singapore, we visited NEWater.
NEWater is how Singapore will achieve water independence. The idea came from when Singaporeans visited Orange County, California and saw how water could be recycled. By 2050, NEWater will be up to 60% of the water in Singapore’s reservoirs.
This would never have happened without the international exchange of ideas. Singapore would be in a severe water crisis instead of water stable.
After that program, the American participants saw environmental successes in Singapore and Malaysia and brought back ideas to their local communities in the United States. They implemented post-program projects that ranged from vertical gardens in schools to youth advocacy campaigns educating young people on the values of being green.
In April 2015, we implemented the YSEALI Generation: Earth workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. During that program, we went out to Tonle Sap Lake during the dry season and saw the effects of overfishing and climate change. Leader Mentors from America teamed up with Southeast Asians to provide multiple contexts to specific environmental issues for 71 YSEALI leaders from all 10 ASEAN countries. The multi-national perspective allowed teams to implement post-program projects that continue today to make a positive environmental change in the region.
It is the collaboration of ideas and coming together of passionate individuals that can drive change. At YSEALI Generation: Oceans, we will go to Pramuka Island and assist in planting mangroves. We will also do a beach cleanup. It is our choice how the world going forward will look.
So to answer why I am going to Jakarta for YSEALI Generation: Oceans, it is because we only have one world and we are in the middle of a crisis. As James O’ Conner says:
“During crisis moments, the individual can make a difference with regard to the resolution of the crisis, since, by definition, no one knows or can know its actual outcome. The last feature is reason enough to become an environmentalist and join the battle for an ecologically rational and sensitive world.”
It is up to us.
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