Young Indonesian climate leaders demand safe future in new essay book

by Warief Djajanto Basorie

  • “Menjalin Ikhtiar Merawat Bumi: Memoirs by Climate Reality Leaders,” is edited by Amanda Katili Niode, who served as a special adviser to Indonesia’s environment minister in the 2000s.
  • Those who have written essays for the book are “climate reality leaders,” meaning they participated in one of the three-day workshops organized by global nonprofit The Climate Reality Project on finding solutions to the climate crisis.
  • More than 45,000 climate reality leaders are spread across 190 countries and territories. Indonesia has more than 1,000.

On his ninth birthday, Robertus Darren Radyan gave a present to each person who came to his party. Each guest got to take home a light-red flower pot that had a written appeal: “Take care of me. Save the Earth and Go Green!”

Born in Jakarta in 2001, Darren discusses his schoolboy “go green” awareness in Menjalin Ikhtiar Merawat Bumi: Memoirs by Climate Reality Leaders, a collection of essays by Indonesian climate advocates who demand a safe future unharmed by a threatening climate crisis.

Published last year, the book commemorates the 13th anniversary of the Indonesian branch of The Climate Reality Project, a global nonprofit founded in 2006 by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Amanda Katili Niode, founding director of The Climate Reality Project Indonesia, who co-edited the book, earned a PhD in 1988 from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan and was special adviser to Rachmat Witoelar, who served as Indonesia’s environment minister from 2004-2009.

Those who have written essays for the book are “climate reality leaders,” meaning they participated in one of the three-day workshops organized by The Climate Reality Project on finding solutions to the climate crisis. More than 45,000 climate reality leaders are spread across 190 countries and territories. Indonesia has more than 1,000.

Many, if not half, of the book’s contributors are under 40, with a smattering of Generation Z climate advocates.

Their direct-experience narratives are climate-strong, self-initiated, compelling and can instill people to do something in turn.

Cover of Menjalin Ikhtiar Merawat Bumi: Memoirs by Climate Reality Leaders.
Menjalin Ikhtiar Merawat Bumi: Memoirs by Climate Reality Leaders is a collection of essays by Indonesian climate advocates.

Laetania Belai Djandam is a 20-year-old environmental activist from the Dayak forest community in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, now studying at Sheffield University in the U.K.

Going by a Dayak tagline that “forests are the lifeblood of our people,”  Belai meets and lives with local communities and learns about human-nature relations.

Communities that live with nature identify themselves as being a people whose life merges with the life of the Earth, she writes.

What concerns Belai is people who are not familiar with forests and rice fields but grew up in concrete jungles.

As an activist, Belai declares that she has devoted half of her 20 years to getting people to shed their ego identity and accept that they are a small part in the greatness of nature.

“The climate movement is centered on every one of us as human beings and the stories we write are meant to coax other people to join the movement for Earth,” she writes.

“We need to have every person realize they are dependent on the mountains, the rivers, the rocks, the leaves, the soil.”

Meanwhile, Nana Firman, who lives in California, takes a faith-based approach to environmental activism. Nana is senior ambassador for New York-based interfaith organization GreenFaith. She got young Muslims in the U.S., Indonesia and other countries to join an interfaith global movement for climate justice.

Climate justice, she writes, “is a movement that recognizes climate change has social, economic and health impacts as well as other injurious impacts particularly affecting people with minimum means.”

In November 2021, GreenFaith organized 500 actions in 45 countries, calling on governments and financial institutions to end their support for new infrastructure that uses fossil fuels and stop activities that result in deforestation.

They also called for universal access to clean energy and endorsed policies that create green jobs.

For her part, Kamia Handayani engages in science-driven action. As vice president for climate change and safeguards at Indonesia’s state power company, PLN, Kamia manages projects in clean development mechanism and the verified carbon standard program, the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas crediting program. Kamia has a PhD in energy and climate change from the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

Furthermore, she explains, Indonesia sells “certified emission reductions” to industrial countries as an effort to reduce their emissions. Such market-based instruments help PLN to enhance the economics of renewable energy generation, Kamia writes.

With her climate science, Kamia makes a contribution in PLN’s attempt to shape a low-carbon, climate resilient electric power sector.

“In line with fortifying global commitment to the climate change issue, PLN has announced its aspiration to reach net zero emissions by 2060. This commitment stems from a sense of corporate responsibility to environment sustainability,” Kamia writes.

A climate protest in Jakarta.
A climate protest in Jakarta in 2015. Image by Mary A. Colborn/ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Robertus Darren Radyan has had a knack for green-themed organizations since he was a child. To commemorate both Earth Day and the April 21 birthday of Kartini, Indonesia’s fabled late-19th century woman emancipator in education, and to Earth Day, Darren proposed a Kartini Go Green activity when he was in junior high.

In high school at Los Angeles’ Idyllwild Arts Academy, Darren got involved in class walkouts to go on climate strikes. In 2020, he became a climate reality leader and co-organized an event, “Climate Change, We Pledge,” with other young people. This became a global trend sparked by the young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

“Greta Thunberg has become an icon who inspired me to join this climate movement,” Darren writes.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCWP event was held virtually in Indonesia. Participants got four weekly thematic briefings covering forests, waste, community and youth. Briefers included climate activists, environment and forestry ministry officials such as the director general for climate change, and Indonesian film star Nicholas Saputra.

The participants undertook weekly challenges. In the forest week discussions, for instance, they could plant a seed, take care of an old plant or even buy a new plant.

“They would then upload on social media via Instagram their output of that weekly challenge. The committtee would check each item and link them through Google Form,” Darren tells Mongabay.

“Placing their work on social media is to let the public, particularly young people, become aware of the importance of climate action.”

CCWP events have continued in 2021 and 2022 in Jakarta. In the 2022 event, participants met at an assembly hall in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Darren says there are 1,001 ways to communicate the climate issue through speaking, singing, dancing, music playing, body wear — to name a few.

He takes pride in being an active member of The Climate Reality Project Indonesia. TCRP serves as a vehicle for youth in Indonesia and the world to voice their concerns as well as to express pride in their actions in caring for the Earth, Darren says.

These climate leaders attest to their possessing an undeniable sixth sense. They have a sense of purpose, a sense of mission. Their mission is that in their later adult life, Indonesia — if not the world — can achieve a sustained, low-carbon lifestyle.

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