A young woman’s gift to na­ture

How to save the world, ac­cord­ing to Mar­i­anna Var­gas


“I have a green heart,” says en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Mar­i­anna Var­gas, “but not a green thumb.” Be­tween her job as a pol­icy project of­fi­cer at the Os­car M. Lopez Cen­ter for Cli­mate Change Adap­ta­tion and Disas­ter Risk Man­age­ment Foun­da­tion and her fre­quent beach trips, Var­gas con­stantly tries to grow toma­toes, pep­pers, and gar­lic, but with less than suc­cess­ful re­sults. “I [would like to] feel em­pow­ered by grow­ing my own food, but I’m fail­ing at it mis­er­ably,” she ad­mits good-na­turedly.

De­spite this, the Univer­sity of South Wales grad­u­ate re­mains at the fore­front of the en­vi­ron­men­tal cause; the rosé she of­fers us bears a “Pro­tect Planet” logo on its bot­tle. Af­ter all, cli­mate change calls for an im­me­di­ate life­style shift and not just plant­ing more trees. “There is no to­mor­row or next year when it comes to cli­mate change,” Var­gas states. “It is ab­so­lutely about the now.”

What is your most re­cent dis­cov­ery about our en­vi­ron­ment?

[That] the Philip­pines is the most im­por­tant coun­try in the world in terms of bio­di­ver­sity, yet we re­main one of the low­est in terms of in­vest­ing in its pro­tec­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

What are the com­mon mis­con­cep­tions about cli­mate change?

That it is sim­ply an en­vi­ron­men­tal problem. Cli­mate change isn’t just hap­pen­ing in some far off rain­for­est or off the coast of Antarc­tica. When a su­per typhoon makes land­fall, it dis­rupts and par­a­lyzes en­tire na­tions. Pol­lu­tion trav­els almost as far as our fa­vorite bud­get air­lines take us, and the peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the harsh­est ef­fects of cli­mate change are those who made the least con­tri­bu­tion to the problem.

As an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, do you still use plas­tic?

Hon­estly, the thing in this city is there are so many plas­tic by-prod­ucts that you don’t even re­al­ize it. When I buy some­thing, even if I carry it in an eco bag, I dis­cover it [pack­aged] in plas­tic once I open it. At its core, [be­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist means] just con­sum­ing less. If I were to be hon­est, I have a cer­tain dis­com­fort with how sus­tain­abil­ity is be­ing mar­keted now. I think the con­cept of it has been turned up­side down, used as a mar­ket­ing tool to pro­mote pre­cisely what it’s meant not to do, which is get­ting peo­ple to con­sume more. Peo­ple think that if they were con­sum­ing some­thing green, it’s more sus­tain­able. But in truth, sus­tain­abil­ity is about [be­ing more con­scious of] how your choices im­pact every­thing else. It’s about be­ing a con­scious con­sumer, of be­ing more thought­ful of and re­spon­si­ble in your choices.

Part of the problem we have right now is that peo­ple are hav­ing a hard time get­ting out of the con­ve­nience of our life­styles. Now, I have this thing of not turning on the air-con­di­tioner in my room un­til I’m ab­so­lutely sweat­ing; it’s been a con­scious ef­fort, be­cause I had to sac­ri­fice a level of con­ve­nience. You can only use an eco bag so much, you can only change your light bulbs to LED so much, but un­til we have lead­ers in place who can ac­tu­ally make the trans­for­ma­tive shift, we will only go [a cer­tain dis­tance]. It’s just a lot of ef­fort and some peo­ple sim­ply can­not be both­ered. Ap­a­thy is the worst en­emy of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism.

“There is no to­mor­row or next year when it comes to cli­mate change. It is ab­so­lutely about the now.”

For Mar­i­anna Var­gas, sup­port­ing home­grown brands not only helps the en­vi­ron­ment but also the com­mu­ni­ties clos­est to them. In this photo, she wears an Anthill skirt, a lo­cal brand that in­cor­po­rates weaves from var­i­ous tribes.

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