The first time I met Filipino and vegan activist Malaya Lualhati, she humbled a room of Corvallisites attending an Advocate CitySpeak event with a harsh reality: when privileged populations talk about climate “change,” it is often addressed as some distant threat. Lualhati, whose ancestors and relatives are from the Philippines, made one thing clear: the climate crisis is already here and it’s wreaking havoc over the Philippines and other vulnerable areas — displacing and endangering the lives, cultures, and biodiversity of all that exists in these regions.
“I can’t imagine there not being a Philippines,” Lualhati later wrote to me. “The Philippines is my ancestral homeland. It’s a beautiful place – my heart – and I still have many relatives living there.”
Lualhati has called Corvallis home for over a decade. She was drawn to the valley, from her Maryland roots, for the same reason many of us are: the gorgeous Oregon outdoors. Laulhati travels often, and visits the Philippines every year. In Corvallis, she actively supports the Youth Climate Strike, participates in the regional chapter of the nonviolent resistance movement the Extinction Rebellion, and is an animal rights street activist through Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV). Prior to her career in activism, Lualhati studied at OSU, with a double major in Zoology and Fisheries and Wildlife studies, and a minor in Chemistry. She plans to continue her activism and advocacy work, ideally with other Filipinos and people of color, and is working with a friend on introducing vegan lunches in local schools.
The second time we met, Lualhati was wearing a cow tag earring, poised across from me at Laughing Planet. She paused our conversation to relocate a plastic dinosaur that was ironically causing her some distraction. Lualhati adopted a vegan lifestyle earlier this year, on January 21, after learning the hard truth of how animal agriculture is the leading cause of freshwater pollution, ocean dead zones, deforestation and habitat destruction, and is the second largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, after energy consumption.
Coincidentally, January 21, 2019 marked another cause for celebration; it was Martin Luther King Day in the United States. Lualhati finds meaning in this coincidence, as she views the climate crisis as “the most pressing social justice issue of our time.”
Canaries in the Coal Mine
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the world is headed toward a possible mass extinction event by mid-century, where as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species will become extinct. Currently, we are experiencing the largest succession of species extinction since the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, with up to 200 species going extinct each day.
Not just plants and animals – the biodiversity of all life is in danger. “Entire ethnic groups, cultures, and their families are in danger of becoming extinct if we don’t change the way we’re living,” said Lualhati.
“People in island nations, arid countries, and coastal regions are the canary in the coal mine.” Lualhati referenced how coal miners used to take canaries into the mines in order to detect toxic gases. If the canary stopped singing or died, miners would know to use respirators or to escape. The analogy emphasizes that while no one is safe, poor and marginalized populations are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.
“We are already seeing the effects of the climate crisis here in the U.S.,” said Lualhati, “from unprecedented high severity wildfires in Oregon and California, to saltwater intrusion in the Everglades threatening South Florida’s drinking water.”
Lualhati also pointed out how “discussions about the climate crisis are dominated by white men and are presented in a way that seems abstract and unrelatable to the general public.”
Philippines at Highest Risk
The 2019 Global Peace Index reported the Philippines as the most susceptible country to hazards caused by the climate crisis, followed by Japan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan.
The Philippines is a tropical island nation located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and is made up of over 7,000 islands. As such, the country is “very culturally diverse,” Lualhati explained, “with over one hundred ethnic groups, each with their own distinct indigenous language.”
47 percent of these populations reside in areas exposed to climate hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tropical cyclones, and drought.
“Ocean levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and the monsoons are happening when they’re not normally supposed to, and are increasingly devastating. Many communities have been displaced from flooding and landslides, and people have died in the monsoons,” said Lualhati.
Lualhati explained how coral reefs help protect the shores and stabilize the islands. Without the reefs, “storms would become even more severe,” she said.
Then there’s the matter of marine life: “The Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot and has a high level of endemism, with numerous species that occur nowhere else in the world. Without coral reefs, thousands of species of fish and marine animals will become extinct,” said Lualhati.
The reefs are also a main source of local livelihood, as “many communities rely on ecotourism, particularly from scuba diving and snorkeling.”
This dependency extends from ocean to island habitats, as Filipino people are more directly dependent on their environments for food and materials when compared with people in developed countries such as the United States, whose food and consumer choices reach all corners of the globe. Food supplies in the Philippines are increasingly at risk due to abrupt seasonal shifts and catastrophic weather events.
“Whenever I find out in the news that there is severe flooding in the Philippines, I worry about my relatives who live there, especially the ones who live in rural areas,” said Lualhati.
The Cause “We need to talk about the elephant in the room,” she said. “The climate crisis is closely tied to eating meat and dairy…. Going vegan is the single most important thing we can do to save the planet.”
Lualhati is not alone in asserting that veganism will save the planet; numerous studies and sources show that going vegan is the end-all-be-all of proactive measures against the climate crisis. As it stands, greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture exceed that of planes, trains, boats, and cars worldwide.
One University of Oxford study found that cutting meat and dairy from a person’s diet could reduce their carbon footprint by 73 percent. If everyone stopped eating meat and dairy, researchers say that global farmland use would decrease by 75 percent, an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia, and the EU combined. Greenhouse gas emissions would plummet and biodiversity would flourish in wildlands no longer subject to deforestation.
According to the most recent data, the U.S. ranks second globally for greenhouse gas emissions, and the UN recently reported that we have approximately 12 years to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent to avoid ecological catastrophe.
“This would be achieved if most of the world became vegan,” said Lualhati, “But, we can’t afford to wait any longer.”
Speciesism & Racism Intersect “When we eat meat, we turn off our empathy and compassion,” said Lualhati, exampling how we are not only bombarded with messages from meat and dairy companies telling us ‘women need to eat yogurt’ and ‘men need to eat a lot of meat,’ but also how we are raised to view farm animals or livestock as products designed for our own consumption. Similarly, we treat exotic animals as entertainment objects in zoos, safaris, and circuses.
Lualhati thinks we’ll someday look back on the way we treat animals with repugnance, comparing it to human zoos in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, wherein people of color were uprooted from their families and cultures, and forced on display as entertainment for European audiences.
Shining a light on the intersectionality between racism and speciesism, Lualhati invites us to imagine living like livestock, in a small space where it is impossible to turn around, or in a large warehouse, where you are unable to feel the sunshine for the entirety of your life.
“Just because [animals] don’t talk, doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want with them… This is their planet too,” she said.“Animals are intelligent in ways that we’re not, and they can show us a lot about how we could be.”
It Starts with You Beyond veganism, Lualhati urges everyone to get involved with local nonviolent activist and civil disobedience movements such as the Youth Climate Strike and the Extinction Rebellion in Portland. Despite any negative connotations, Lualhati explains how civil disobedience goes hand in hand with fun and creativity. In the Philippines for example, youth climate strikers are using song, dance, and street theater to protest the climate crisis.
The Extinction Rebellion is another example of creative, nonviolent civil disobedience. During their first assembly in London last year, 6 thousand people converged, blocking major bridges, planting trees in Parliament Square, and even digging a hole for a coffin representing the future of Planet Earth. As a result, the UK became the first country to declare an environmental and climate emergency.
Given the current state of world politics, it will take individual action to stop the climate crisis. Before becoming an animal-climate-social justice activist, Lualhati said she would often react to injustices by saying, “Someone should do something about that.”
“Then, I realized, I am someone,” she said, “Before going vegan, I thought to myself, ‘I could never become vegan.’ This is what every vegan thinks before they go vegan.”
“You want the world to be better?” she implored. “It starts with you.”
For more info of the Extinction Rebellion, visit https://rebellion.earth/ and https://www.xrpdx.org/ (Portland). In addition to workshops on activist rights and civil disobedience, the Extinction Rebellion offers support and preparedness for mass arrest.
Lualhati recommends watching Cowspiracy and Earthlings on Netflix for further education on animal agriculture and the climate crisis. Other resources include the Food Empowerment Project, chooseveg.com, and Dominion on YouTube.