Today is the Rainbow Warrior’s last day in Manila before it sails to Guimaras, Tacloban, and other countries in Southeast Asia. The Rainbow Warrior, designed and built for Greenpeace’s campaigns, is on a journey to amplify the voices of communities affected by the climate crisis.
One of the leading hearts and minds behind the “Climate Change and People Power” tour is Greenpeace Philippines’s Climate Justice Campaigner, Desiree Llanos Dee. When Des was in 4th year college, taking up a pre-med course and spending her free time climbing mountains, her professor asked the class for their thesis topics, but framed the question differently: “What’s your passion? It’s due next Thursday.” The forced introspection made Des realize that the environment was hers.
“Ever since I said that out loud, owned it, and pursued it, one thing led to another,” Des shared. “Pursuit changes everything – it captivates your heart, inhabits your soul, and reignites your imagination. That’s when the odds don’t count anymore.”
Des may not be healing people the way a doctor would, but her work aims to heal the earth, one story at a time.
Tell us about what led you to do your work.
[Growing up], I had no exposure to development work. Every decision in this journey was surrounded by questions and a great fear of the unknown. It took a lot of stepping out of my comfort zone, challenging my limits, being ready to fail forward, and living the questions.
When I was in 4th year college, I was a youth delegate to the UN Climate Negotiations, where I witnessed the inspiring leadership of the Philippine delegation. From there, I met my first boss, Yeb Saño, and started working in the Climate Change Commission. I had so many hesitations about working for government, but being taken under the wing of good mentors relinquished those doubts. For three years, it was a great balance of learning about the international climate negotiations, npolicymaking, and grassroots work in island communities.
After that, I pursued a scholarship to take my Masters on Climate Policy in Berlin. Up to that point, my life was strongly focused on public policy, and then I went on a life changing walk from Rome to Paris.
For two months, I walked 1,500-km through Italy, Switzerland, and France, sharing the stories of how climate change affects Filipinos, and how lives and livelihoods are at stake for most of us. The People’s Pilgrimage was about bringing the interfaith message of climate change as a moral crisis to the Paris climate talks. At the heart of it was sharing stories and the human connection of empathizing with each other. With every day of walking, with every story shared, I realized the power of stories and how it can change people’s lives in a way that a technical document cannot.
After the walk, I went into campaigns and communications, and that led me to my work in Greenpeace.
Des was part of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change for several years
Tell us about your current work.
Greenpeace is working on connecting climate litigation cases around the world to highlight the growing global movement on climate justice. In 2015, Filipino petitioners filed an investigation against 45 big oil and gas companies on their potential human rights violations resulting from climate change. Since then, New York City and California sued big oil companies for their contributions to climate-related impacts; American youth sued the Trump administration; and Norwegian youth sued their government for new licenses of Arctic oil drilling.
Everywhere in the world, people are standing up against big entities to reclaim their rights to a better world. The diversity of these cases, whether across regions and across age groups, is very telling of the strength of the movement. Although the cases come from different people, they tell us a story of what brings us together. It tells us who is at risk and who is responsible, what is at stake, what people love, what people fight for, and what they strive to protect.
As a campaign team, we work on amplifying stories of communities and providing global platforms to highlight issues and connect with global audiences. The essence of it all is harvesting stories, cultivating empathy, and inspiring people to act.
Des on board the Arctic Sunrise
What’s the best and worst parts about your job?
My worst working experience (not with this current job) was having to deal with so many egos and people focusing on power play that people forgot about the work that needed to be done. I channeled the frustration and focused on doing good work and letting that speak for itself.
Another thing to watch out for is burnout. The solution to that is self-care, this includes saying no, focusing, meditating, exercising, eating well, and getting enough rest.
The best part about the job is seeing storytellers shine. We have community storytellers from Quezon, Bataan, Tacloban who are at the frontlines of climate change, and they’re bringing their stories all over the world. The role of the campaigner is to ask the right questions, enabling compelling stories to emerge, and sharing that with people who are ready to listen.
I also really love being surrounded by people who are so alive and inspired with what they’re doing. It’s contagious.
What can people do to help your cause?
I want people to share their stories of how climate impacts changed their lives. If you’ve experienced Ondoy, Pablo, Sendong, Haiyan, or extreme monsoons during Habagat, you have a story to tell. Whether it’s about what you realized from the loss, how you rose, how you comforted yourself, what inspired you, and how you lived your life after: it’s all part of our collective experience. We have a lot to learn from each other, and the world has a lot to learn from our experiences too.
You can support these brave communities who are rising up to the climate challenges and standing up for the future they want.
I want people to remember their own power.
What pointers would you provide for people who'd like to pursue an environmental lifestyle?
Don’t judge others for their actions, that includes yourself. Curiosity and judgement cannot live in the same space. Some environmentalists get such a bad rap for being righteous, and it turns off a lot of people. Instead of bombarding people about your lifestyle, you can wait for people to be curious and ask about your lifestyle. That’s your cue that they’re ready to listen.
Run your own race, you are not in competition with anyone. Don’t compare your chapter 1 with someone’s chapter 20. We can be easily be overwhelmed when we compare ourselves with people who are so deep into environmentalism, remember that everyone started somewhere.
What is your why - why you do what you do?
Stories are the oxygen to my fire. We are made of stories. I want people to believe in the power of their stories - the places it can go, the hearts that it can reach, and its potential to transform lives.
Follow Des on Instagram at @desiderataonearth and @deslikesdoodling. Learn more about Greenpeace Philippines here, and People versus Big Polluters here.