|Courtesy of Gina Lopez|
I felt so energized and inspired after interviewing Gina Lopez, the Philippines’ former environment minister, for this issue of New Internationalist.
She is both a philanthropist and an environmentalist - a fiery, fearless, maverick activist who is not afraid of fighting the Philippines' powerful mining industry. She believes that protecting the environment and promoting social justice go hand in hand.
She is irreverent, funny, full of energy and always in action – rolling her sleeves, campaigning, cleaning slums, jumping into a river to make a point, climbing a rock – and giving ministers and industrialists a piece of her mind.
"Yes, mining creates a few jobs and perhaps a few schools, and a few people enrich themselves, but thousands suffer and water sources are polluted for generations afterward. Mining is just greed and selfishness."
As a minister, she banned open-pit mines and moved to shut down more than half of the operations of the country’s mining companies, after audits showed massive violations against the environment and the law. It cost her her job.
She is not your typical environmental activist. The daughter of one of the country’s wealthiest families, she fled the Philippines in 1972 to avoid political persecution during the Marcos regime, but returned in 1986 after being educated in the US, becoming a yoga master, and then working with disadvantaged communities in Africa. She still meditates every day.
She uses her connections as a shield in a country that is one of the world most dangerous places to be an environmental activist. “My family owns the biggest media company, I don’t think someone would want to harm me. I am not afraid of anything,” she told me matter-of-factly.
“What is needed is not a shift in economic priorities - but a greater realization and awareness of the damage some economic activities (mining, logging, rampant quarrying) inflict not only on our economic potential, but on our well being as a people. What is needed is a total economic valuation (monetizing the costs, the benefits) of these activities and then asking the very pertinent question - is it worth it?"
Last year, she received the Seacology Prize, awarded to those showing exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.
You can read my story in New Internationalist here.