The climate crisis has already hit home for Keziah Gerosano.
The Northern Virginia Community College student has spent the past two years studying in the U.S., but she grew up in the Philippines, one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to natural disasters and other impacts of climate change.
Gerosano tried to convey the urgency and passion she feels about tackling climate change to her peers and faculty members at NOVA’s Annandale campus with a “24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action” presentation on Nov. 21 as part of a two-day, worldwide event organized by the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit founded and chaired by former Vice President Al Gore.
“That was my actual first event that I organized,” Gerosano said. “…It was nervous, [and] at the same time, inspiring and excited because I talked about the science behind climate change, and I was able to share my story to my teachers, my schoolmates, the students in NOVA on how I got started my advocacy.”
Gerosano’s environmental advocacy began in the Philippines, where typhoons and floods have become especially destructive and wreak havoc on people’s everyday lives.
Five of the 10 deadliest typhoons to hit the Philippines since 1947 occurred after 2006. Typhoon Haiyan, the worst storm on record, killed more than 6,300 people and displaced over 4 million in 2013, according to the Climate Reality Project.
While tropical storms are a regular sight in the region, they are becoming more dangerous due to warming ocean waters, rising sea levels, and disappearing natural barriers like coral reefs and mangrove forests that used to protect the country, the nonprofit organization says.
The Institute for Economics and Peace named the Philippines as the country facing the highest risk of climate hazards in its 2019 Global Peace Index, reporting that 47 percent of its population lives in areas highly exposed to floods, tsunamis, tropical cyclones, drought, and other disasters expected to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change.
The Philippines is hardly alone in being threatened by climate change. 50 percent of the nations in the 2019 Global Peace Index are at high or very high risk to at least one climate hazard and almost 40 percent of them at high or very high risk to multiple hazards.
The nine countries with the highest natural hazard risk scores are all in Asia, six of them located around the Pacific Ocean.
When she lived in the Philippines, Gerosano helped organize beach clean-ups, raise disaster awareness, and advocate for the country’s indigenous population, which faces food insecurity, employment challenges, and other issues that make them especially vulnerable to climate change.
However, it was not until she became acquainted with the Climate Reality Project through her participation in the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation’s 23rd Youth Assembly session in New York last February that Gerosano understood how many solutions to climate change are readily available, if only individuals and countries commit to applying them.
“What attracted me to Climate Reality was the fact that they supported youths,” Gerosano said. “Before Greta [Thunberg], we don’t really see youths that much when it comes to addressing issues, but…they gave us resources to tackle the issues that we want to tackle at a local perspective.”
Gerosano then became a climate reality leader after attending a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training session led by Gore, and she decided to start a Climate Reality Project chapter at Northern Virginia Community College.
Her “24 Hours of Reality” presentation was the chapter’s first event, but she hopes to expand its activities in the future with tree plantings and visits to local schools to discuss climate change.
Inspired by the lecture that Gore delivers in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, the Climate Reality Project’s “24 Hours of Reality” initiative encourages its volunteer leaders to hold public talks and presentations on climate change and how to solve it.
According to a Climate Reality press release, more than 1,000 climate reality leaders across 154 countries gave presentations at community centers, schools, workplaces, places of worship, and other public places on Nov. 20 and 21.
Gore kicked off the 24 hours of events with a presentation at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
“Millions of people around the world are fed up and demanding urgent action on the climate crisis,” Gore said. “…I’m thrilled that this year’s 24 Hours will lift up the voices of the inspiring people carrying the climate movement on their shoulders, and I’m honored to join them for this exciting day of grassroots action and education.”
Gerosano collaborated with NOVA Student Life, the Student Government Association, Rotary Club, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, College Democrats, SuperNOVA Dance Club, and the Global Affairs Club to organize her “24 Hours” presentation, which focused on local impacts and solutions to climate change with an emphasis on natural disasters and youth activism.
With their future at stake, young people like Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who leads school climate strikes, have become some of the most vocal advocates for meaningful, global action on climate change, a movement that Gerosano got to witness firsthand when she joined the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in September.
Gerosano says people can help make a difference by using their voice and getting involved with environmental issues and organizations like the Climate Reality Project, voting for politicians who support taking action on climate change, and adapting their lifestyle with changes that can be as small as carrying a reusable cup for drinks, eating less meat, or buying local, eco-friendly products.
“There’s a broad range of solutions that each one of us could do,” Gerosano said. “We just have to have the courage to take action and do our own research about it and join the local movement, join local programs.”