Starweek Magazine

Environmentalism + Fun x Passion

- Nathalie Tomada -

Young people are often accused of being apathetic towards environmental challenges, and if they do engage in youth activism, images of rowdy and angst-ridden student protesters often come to mind.

Along comes young environmental activist Razceljan Luis Salvarita, who has struck a balance between being openly concerned for Mother Earth and being compelling enough minus the stereotypes.

The Bacolod native conveys his environmental passions in a fun, creative, and feel-good way. I recently caught up with Razcel – a cheerful, curly-haired fellow who has a penchant for wearing things he stitched himself – when he was attending a forum on climate change for youth leaders in UP Diliman and writing a “simple” letter of appeal that Greenpeace Philippines will use for the campaign to engage the Senate to pass the Renewable Energy bill at the “soonest possible” time.

The next time I heard from Razcel, he was at Bali, Indonesia for the UN Summit on Climate Change, blogging his heart out as the official youth representative of Solar Generation-Pilipinas, a local chapter of the Greenpeace-initiated international youth group Solar Generation that spans more than 15 countries in membership. Not to demean youthful routines or recreations in this day and age, but it is not everyday that you hear this kind of lifestyle for a 23-year-old.

“I’ve been involved with climate and energy campaigns for some time now. I’m passionate about them because they encompass the collective problems in the following aspects: ecological, economical, socio-cultural, political,” says Razcel on how he pretty much spends his time these days, seriously bothered that experts believe developing countries and the poorest of nations will be hardest hit by the early harmful effects of climate change because wealthier countries can better shield their citizens from flooding, droughts, and other destructive phenomena.

“Of course, I also make sure I have time to organize art exhibits,” adds Razcel, who has founded a Negros-based organization of young eco-artists and advocates called Artpaix.

Coming from a family of well-known Bacolod artists, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Razcel carries out campaigns with style. “My family taught me to appreciate beauty. Appreciation of natural beauty is the key to environmental conservation.”

Nurtured in an environment that’s grounded in the arts, Razcel walks the talk. While taking his masters in environmental policy at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Razcel, who also served as the former student government president, took on a solo crusade to help fight a bill of a congressman to reduce the area of the protected Lake Balinsasayao in Negros Oriental to half its original size to give way to unnecessary “exploration.” He shocked the sleepy university town of Dumaguete and landed in the national news after walking around town, stripped to his briefs, and coated with white paint – “to represent a blank future,” he explains the symbolism of his act. One university official said that what was notable about what he did was not just how uniquely he raised awareness for the issue, but how he doggedly pursued it on his own accord, with or without the backing of any organized group.

For his part, Razcel found the experience both meaningful and fun, especially with the support it generated from family and friends. “The campaign was in time with the day I turned 21. It was a gift to myself and the environment,” he says. 

Another enjoyable yet evocative campaign was when he was chosen as the country’s official youth delegate to the 2005 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal, Canada. With the event coinciding with the 25th death anniversary of iconic musician and peace activist John Lennon of the Beatles (whom he says has been a personal inspiration of his as far as he can remember), he spearheaded a performance art by youth delegates from different countries inspired by Lennon’s concept of “Bed-in-for-Peace,” which caught the eye of the world media such as New York Times, BBC World Online, Reuters and Canadian dailies. As one Canadian newspaper wrote: “With his long hair and dark sunglasses (circle-framed), Razceljan Salvarita brought back the memories of Lennon.” And more importantly, as the New York Times put it, he along with other youth delegates made a spirited case at the Montreal climate meeting. 

At the Bali Climate Change Summit last month, Razcel was part of the creative team responsible for some of the best- remembered sidelights in between high-level meetings, including gamely putting on the polar bear suit for a day. A certified scene-stealer, the polar bear’s guest appearance cut a telling picture; after all, it has been dubbed the “poster boy” among species most threatened by climate change or global warming.

Soaked to the skin under the sweltering Bali sun, Razcel happily blogs, “Undeniably, the creative spirit of the youth loosens up the intense atmosphere of the conference –such a good way to feel fine.”

Razcel understands that many people his age find it hard to bridge the gap between what they feel and what they can do for the environment. A feeling of helplessness (“What can one person – a young one at that – exactly do?”) is not an uncommon dilemma.

If current initiatives are difficult to grasp, they can always take one step at a time, and start things rolling even at home. He suggests personal and practical tips on how to be eco-conscious: Unplug. Switch off. Save energy. Support local eco-friendly products.

Aside from environment education and Green Campus Project campaigns with other SolarGen youths in universities, cities and municipalities in Negros and neighboring regions, this budding painter, whose favorite subject is the vibrant underwater life, also has his hands full with volunteer work with different NGOs – Great Physician Rehabilitation for Children (as art therapy teacher) and One Candle Schoolhouse (as art educator) – and is into eco-fashion, making and selling customized colorful tote bags and tropical shirts.

All these bring on the kind of fulfillment that makes you look back at your “youthful adventures” with pride. He hopes too that these will underpin his long-term goal of assuming a major role in championing environmental causes in the coming years. Caring for Mother Earth is not just the business of the government, corporations and environmental groups, but is a responsibility that should also be shared by the youth.

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