Phillip is a lifelong scholar, a student of life, and hopeful futurist. He is the type of person who likes to travel to new places, eat great food, cook new dishes, and try new things (only in that order). Having spent five years living in Northern California as a native Angeleno, Phillip is optimistic that Southern California can be a leader in sustainability. He believes in the future of Los Angeles and wants to be involved in making the city a greener space for future generations to come.
What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability in its purest form is the ability to do something indefinitely. In regards to environmental sustainability, it means understanding our past, enjoying the present, and thinking of our future. Sustainability happens everywhere without people thinking of it. Growing up in an immigrant family, my family was “sustainable” without thinking of “sustainability”, at least the way it is known today. I firmly believe everyone can live a more sustainable life without having to try too hard.
Was there a profound moment that sparked your interest in the protection of the environment?
I was seven years old when I realized the negative effects of humans on Earth. In my elementary school, we were served lunches in styrofoam trays and at the end of each lunch period, the trash bins would overflow with styrofoam and wasted food. The next day, like magic, all the trash would be gone. As a curious kid, I wondered, “Where does all this trash go?” I asked the adults around me and they told me about landfills –– how we dug these very deep holes in the Earth to throw away trash. It was strange to me how adults would tell kids not to litter, yet, landfills were essentially the same thing; the difference was, one was hidden and one was in your face. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about the Earth and endangered species, I knew I wanted to be in this fight. If I didn’t work towards a better environment, how could I expect others to?
Why is this cause personally important to you?
I care about the future and everyone in it. We only have one place we call home. Every human, animal, and living thing in the history of the world came from the same place and we’re all connected. If you care about anyone on planet Earth, then you have a stake in the future.
“I feel optimistic because there is so much more we can do and so much space for change. There’s a lot of work to be done and I am excited to be a part of that.”
In 2014 you were a part of a summer sustainability program. Can you tell us about that and how the experience shaped your views on sustainability?
The program was called Sustainable Cities of Northern Europe (SCONE) and we covered five major cities: Stockholm, Malmö, Copenhagen, Freiburg, and Lucerne. It helped me rethink what sustainability actually looks like when progressive policies are enacted. On both ends, it made me feel both pessimistic and optimistic. I haven’t seen all of America, but in California, we are a leader in the green space, yet it feels as though we still are not doing enough. I wondered why we can’t be more like the countries in Europe? It’s a complicated question and there are many factors to it. One major difference is the population in California hovers close to 40 million people, which is five times larger than the entire country of Switzerland. So implementing policies in that massive population is incredibly difficult because getting a consensus can be near impossible. A more sustainable future will demand investments in the right infrastructure, better education, and so much more, but I believe we can get to that future.
What’s an example of a sustainable effort you want to see applied in Los Angeles?
Cycling and public transportation are both near and dear to my heart. While it’s nice to see people biking, I get more excited about seeing someone biking to work than seeing someone biking for exercise. Someone biking to work is making a necessary trip and minimizing their carbon footprint. It’s that meaningful effort that matters to me. For a sustainable future to take place, we need all people to have a safe place to walk and bike (i.e. more bike lanes in Los Angeles). I would like to see more change in transportation, green space, waste reduction, and energy.
How have you used your passion to engage in conversations with people around you?
There was a time when it was okay to not speak up so that we didn’t make people feel uncomfortable. That time has passed. I won’t ask someone to be perfect, but I will ask everyone to try. I’m a realist and I know I’m not perfect. There are days I won’t bike because it’s too hot or it’s raining really hard and that’s okay. But if I bike whenever I can, then I will take those wins because small changes do have a profound impact. No one wants to be told what to do, but it is an important conversation to have. You have to ask yourself, if I don’t start this important conversation, will someone else? If the answer is no, then it’s time to step up and be bold. There are times when it’s also okay to not speak up because every moment is different. I think every opportunity we have to subtly change the world, even if it’s one person’s world, even for just a day, we need to take it. Every chance you have to make a difference is worth it, so go out there and take that chance!
What keeps you motivated to fight for a more sustainable future?
The people around me give me hope. When I see someone cycling to work or a person bringing their own grocery bag to the market, I feel so much hope for the future. Kids are also inspiring because they are the future and they can continue this fight. I think it’s amazing to see people come on board –– especially those who weren’t in the fight before. It’s motivating to see that light bulb come on for people and having them make that connection between their lives and their impact on the environment. Seeing people realize the powerful impact they can make and the change they can create to make this a better world; that’s powerful.
“I won’t ask someone to be perfect, but I will ask everyone to try. I think every opportunity we have to subtly change the world, even if it’s one person’s world, even for just a day, we need to take it.”
What do you say to someone who thinks they can’t make a difference?
Realistically you can’t change the world alone, but that’s why I’m here with you (haha). Millennials and the youth of today are known to be idealistic. They want to change the world, and I believe we will. We need to show people the depth of their impact and the power of their actions. For example, if you use one pair of reusable chopsticks a day, in one week you’ll save seven pairs of disposable ones. In two weeks, you’ll save fourteen, and so on. That small change over time becomes big changes! You may not be changing the world, but you’re changing your world and that’s better than no change at all.
Any last words?
American author, Marianne Williamson once said, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others”. I know from my own experience, living a “greener” life has slowly influenced those around me to do the same. When I stepped away from my fear of being judged for speaking up for the right thing, others around me began stepping up too. Don’t underestimate what you can do. Keep doing it because every little bit helps. There will be days where you think to yourself, “what’s the point?” and it’s okay to feel that way. I’ve been fighting for the environment ever since I was seven years old and I’ve been picked on for it. It’s not always easy to believe in yourself and to believe in the future, but it will always be worth it.
Read more about our Zero Hour Story: What’s It All About series.
*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.