One of the most heartrending moments in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is a quiet meeting in a small conference room in Manila, Philippines. There, John Leonard Chan recalls for former Vice President Al Gore what it was like to be in Tacloban City, Philippines, when Super Typhoon Haiyan bore down on the city in November 2013, killing thousands and leaving 4.1 million refugees in its wake.
Haiyan, which is also known in the Philippines as “Yolanda,” is one of the most intense tropical cyclones on record. Its strength was born from crossing Pacific Ocean waters more than 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal – a condition that’s made more likely because of the climate crisis.
Through tears, Chan describes that day – the way the winds tore at his family’s single-story home, how the floodwaters poured in, the two terrifying days the family waited before climbing over mountains of debris to make their way to safety at his grandparents’ home.
Now 22 and working toward his master of science degree in microbiology at the University of the Philippines, Chan became a Climate Reality Leader in 2016 and recently talked to Climate Reality about how this experience opened his eyes.
Climate Reality: Before Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban, what did think about the climate crisis? Were people you knew talking about it much?
John Leonard Chan: Before Typhoon Haiyan, I was an undergraduate student and studying biology. As part of our curriculum, we discussed climate change and its effect, not only for us but also for the other organisms.
Not all from Tacloban are knowledgeable on what the climate crisis is. Maybe they [had] heard about climate change, but action and mitigate were not taught. After the typhoon, [everyone in] Tacloban was concerned with climate change and its effects.
How did living through Haiyan affect how you thought about the climate crisis?
After the typhoon, I saw how nature changed the lives of the people of Tacloban, taking the lives of their loved ones… the devastation of some infrastructure. And this made me think, what causes this kind of monster? The only answer [that] comes to my mind is climate change. This kind of crisis affects all of us, but the most vulnerable are the poor.
What made you decide to train as a Climate Reality Leader?
When I saw the [Climate Reality Leadership Corps training] application posted on Facebook, one thing that came to my mind was, “I need to act – not only for myself and for Tacloban but also the future.” This kind of opportunity will lead me to be more knowledgeable, and I can use it to inspire people to act on climate change.
What was the most valuable part of the training for you?
When Al Gore invited me to a closed-door meeting. When I saw Vice President Gore and Senator (Loren) Legarda, I felt surprised. But the meat of the meeting was my story – stories of my experience, survival, and the effect of the typhoon. For us in Tacloban, it’s not easy to share what we experienced. Trauma is still on our mind. This is maybe the most horrifying [thing to happen in] our lives. But I knew it would impact other people.
What does being a Climate Reality Leader mean to you?
Now, as a Climate Reality Leader, I can share my story and serve as an eye-opener for other people that climate change has a huge impact on society.
What would you like to tell people who are inspired to take action after seeing your story in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power? What advice do you have?
Listen to the people – people who have suffered the effects of climate change, people who can’t eat or drink due to drought, people who lost loved ones to typhoons. Listen to the people who lost their homes due to floods. This way, every one of us will realize that climate change is happing right now. And take action! Even in small ways, you have a big impact on humanity.
Are you read to take action like John Leonard Chan? Learn more about becoming a Climate Reality Leader.
At the training, you’ll work with Vice President Gore and renowned climate scientists and communicators to learn about what’s happening to our planet and how you can use social media, powerful storytelling, and personal outreach to inspire audiences to take action.