On February 17th, 23-year-old Belen Morales Ferrer posted an anxious Tweet. “I have been in panic this last week. Thinking if what I’m doing with my life, it’s what needs to be done today,” she continued. “Children as young as THREE and SIX years old demanding immediate action for climate!!!”
The next day, Ferrer, of Santiago, Chile, recorded a video of herself breaking down Greta Thunberg’s address at COP24 this past December and explaining how Thunberg’s recent climate strikes have ignited a global movement. “It seems that here in Chile our newspapers and media only focus on fashion and irrelevant stuff,” Ferrer explained when asked what pushed her to post her call to action. But it is essential that Chileans get involved in the climate action movement, Ferrer says, especially because Chile is hosting COP25 in December.
Ferrer is not able to join the weekly Fridays For Future strikes because she is in the midst of medical school and cannot miss a single day of her hospital practicum. “But I believe we all need to find a way to participate that is reasonable for us,” she says. So Ferrer has been working with the Student Council for Sustainability at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile to push for change inside of her institution.
As a medical student, Ferrer says she is shocked by how seldomly doctors, researchers and professors discuss the impact that uncurbed climate change will have on the health of human populations. “I believe that people can not be healthy on an ill planet, and it’s our duty to advocate for a better environment that supports healthy lives,” she says. Ferrer thinks it is most important to focus on studying and preventing infectious disease, especially those related to drought and climate migration. The World Health Organization anticipates 250,000 additional climate change-related deaths per year between 2020 and 2030, caused by ailments like heat stress, malaria, and malnutrition. “As medical students and educators, we need to be talking about this,” Ferrer says.
On March 15th, Ferrer joined the global school strike for climate. There is far too little discussion about climate change between Chileans, she says, and she wanted to help to broaden the discussion. Although the Chilean government passed a plastic bag ban last December under President Sebastián Piñera, Ferrer notes that Piñera’s administration has withdrawn from legislation protecting the Patagonian glaciers from being mined. And activists have alleged that Piñera helped to cover up water pollution caused by Barrick Gold’s mining operations–the same company seeking to re-open the gold mines that would threaten the wellbeing of indigenous communities in the Huasco valley. “We are decades late, and we can’t just talk, we need to act,” she says. So Ferrer planned an intervention to try and get people talking more and educating themselves about the gravity of the situation.
First she painted the world on her face, her eyes emerging from the African and American continents. “I wanted to represent how Earth is dying, and we are literally living our lives as if nothing is happening.” Armed with a simple handwritten sign “Vamos Camino A La Extinción,” or, “We Are On the Path to Extinction,” and an Extinction Rebellion hashtag, Ferrer laid on the ground alone in the middle of Santiago. Onlookers shuffled by, some without noticing, others alarmed. A few took photos. By the end of the day, another young woman joined her on the ground. “I hope this intervention can scale, so everytime we are more people demanding action,” she says.
This week in London, Extinction Rebellion has occupied public spaces, some gluing themselves to the London Stock Exchange. They have captured public attention, inconvenienced people in the process, and thereby fostered awareness about the precariousness of our planet’s wellbeing. Having captured the UK’s attention, and the world’s, the group has earned concrete meeting times with elected officials like Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and varying commitments from local leaders on demands like bringing net emissions to zero by 2025.
Seeing how these actions have spurred momentum for the climate movement this week, Ferrer says that she plans to read more, talk more, share information and regularly hit the streets. “People will join,” she says. Though she can’t strike every Friday, die-ins fit into her busy schedule as a medical student. “Infectious diseases and diseases related to environmental disasters like droughts, floods and pollution are going to exacerbate [problems in vulnerable populations] if we continue on this suicide path,” she says. “Youth needs to be stronger than ever, because we are the last generation who could change the fate of humanity.”
Photos by Matt Maynard. See more of his work at