Interview with Sammy Gamboa from Freedom from Debt Coalition in the Philippines, an organisation conducting policy advocacy work and campaigns to realize a common framework and agenda for economic development, opposing to large-scale mining and acting for climate justice. Sammy has been involved with the organisation for several years and in several movements for social justice. We met him in Brussels and discussed some of his ideas for the shift needed in society, moving away from the exploitation of nature and social instability and inequalities.
What defines, according to you, a just society?
The main elements that make society a just one are that there is freedom from hunger and freedom from fear. No more hunger, no more fear!
We should also reflect on inequalities. In our current situation our campaign’s slogan of “ending poverty and ending inequality” well describes the elements that we need at the moment in an urgent manner.
The crisis and the sufferings of the people cannot wait any longer because it’s so scandalously unpardonable and intolerable to see a certain number of families only owning 70% of the world’s wealth, while 80% of the people in the whole world, are just sharing the rest of the global wealth.
What’s needed to create the shift in people’s minds away from the current extractivist model?
The extractivist model is something abstract to most of the people, even to many activists. They see the danger and the damage of extractivist activities like large-scale mining and coal extraction as well as natural gas and oil extraction as dangerous in themselves right away and therefore as something to be opposed and resisted.
However, extractivism means much more than that; it refers to an order and a kind of an economy where it’s necessary to have dirty, dangerous and harmful practices like extracting minerals from the ground and leaving the surrounding environment and the affected communities destroyed.
Shifting away from the extractivist model will require a systematic understanding of the connection between the poverty and the sufferings and the environmental destruction of the affected communities, with the way the wealth from minerals extracted are being syphoned to the North rather than to the communities. It will also require an understanding of the kind of political and governance situation which allows a situation where people are oppressed, where the environmental damage resulting from mining and the poverty that persists in a mineral-resource rich community are actually interrelated. That’s the only way that people can think in terms of systems and at the same time understand extractivism not only as manifestations of the problem but as a problematic system of economy and political order.
How are you linking your anti-mining and climate change work?
We oppose large-scale mining because it contributes to environmental damage and at the same time it contributes to the danger or the geo-hazard situation in the affected community. Mining has a contributory factor to worsening the climate change impact of that particular mining-affected community. We consider, mining, poverty and the lack of education, as the pre-existing conditions that contribute to the vulnerabilities of communities to climate change impacts. At the same time climate change will also provide the condition for mining and mining issues to be brought to the forefront and no longer be ignored, either by apathetic community dwellers or by decision and policy-makers. They have to consider mining in the light of the kind of climate change impact that we have now, striking whether you are rich or poor.
What are the connections between fossil fuels extraction, climate change and the role of finance?
The campaigns against fossil fuels are being undertaken now with much more urgency and much more vigor because of the reality of climate change itself. What we are now trying to avoid is the development of climate change or global warming of the world into a level that would exceed 1.5 C. The more we oppose the use of fossil fuels, the more we will contribute significantly to the climate justice movement because the biggest source of emissions and therefore the heating up of the planet is by the fossil fuels-based industry, whether it’s transports or industries that run the factories etc. This is directly related to finance because shifting from fossil- fuels based industry to a zero carbon economy is expensive, because you really have to rethink everything, you have to make adjustments to your target. Certain industries and mode of transportation that are dependent on fossil fuels won’t exist anymore and this will cause job cuts and dislocation of workers. What we need is to provide finance, especially public finance, to prepare and at the same time to set up a new mode of livelihood that is not based on fossil fuels. But in the long run the question of being expensive and the question of finance will be considered less important in comparison to the primacy of preventing a runaway climate change impact. With the situation continuing as it is now, some scientists are now talking about getting ready for a 3 degree C global warming which could have terrible impacts.
Why is it important to take gender equality into account in this process?
Whenever people suffer, whenever a household or a family suffers, it’s always the women who bear the most sufferings. It means that for example when crops have wilted because of too much heat and too much drought and families have too little food to share on the table, it’s usually the women who take the least portion of the meal. It’s usually the father and the children who are being fed first because of the very nature of women as caregivers of their household.
And also when the husband loses his job and therefore the family has little resources and funds to budget for the entire the family, it’s always the women’s needs that are sacrified first. The food, the consumption of the whole household that are being prioritised. That’ s the double burden of women… in case of drought it’s the women who go further in search for available water so that they have some water to cook the food for the whole family for the next meal.