Vigilance and Resolve: Values for the Trump Era

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Last year in November the political rulebook in the US was torn up by the election of Donald Trump, and on multiple occasions he has indicated his intention to take the US out of the Paris Agreement. America had ratified the Agreement in September 2016 along with China. The directions the world’s two largest economies take on climate change will, of course, have momentous consequences for the world. The final phase of the North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has also been approved by the Trump administration, in a move that could devastate not only the region but also the Standing Rock Sioux community. And the nomination of Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, to secretary of state suggests that the environment will not exactly be a sacred entity to the US government.

Nevertheless, discouraging signals from the US are no excuse for feeling dispirited and helpless: if anything, they are a clarion call to vigilance and resolve. Climate change was a crucial issue long before Trump and no government is spotless when it comes to climate change policy. While there are reasonable grounds to expect a more complacent or destructive response to the greatest environmental question of our century from Trump, the deteriorating landscape of melting ice caps, biodiversity loss, desertification, and hundreds of other issues would persist if his rival had been elected.

Rather, I would look to the very encouraging signs of faith groups all over the world that are taking action to educate their communities about mitigating climate change. As recently as November 2016, 303 religious leaders lent their endorsement to a landmark interfaith climate change statement in Marrakesh, Morocco. Of course, statements are only the beginning, but awareness of the problem and a moral imperative to do something about it are important steps to practical action. That is what faith leaders, through their sermons, writing, and personal examples, are doing. It is what HKICN is promoting through our networks of friends from diverse traditions. Do things look bad? Personally, I think they do. However, they’ve been looking bad for a long time. The task remains the same. We just need to double on our resolve.

I will be back with more thoughts about how our little community can contribute to the fight to save our planet.

Raymond Lam

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香港的信仰團體和組織,於9月28日舉行「氣候行動民間朝聖之旅」,與全球各地的氣候行動朝聖之旅聯合行動,共同努力,爭取能源全面潔淨的能源

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香港的信仰團體和組織,於928日舉行氣候行動民間朝聖之旅,與全球各地的氣候行動朝聖之旅聯合行動,共同努力,爭取能源全面潔淨的能源

9月28日,超過200名來自不同信仰和宗教(包括佛教、猶太教、回教、巴哈伊教、錫克教、基督教、天主教、布拉瑪古瑪麗思和印度教)的領袖和代表,將在大嶼山集合,一起以步行方式,呼籲世界各地的領袖拿起勇氣,在12月於巴黎舉行的第二十一屆聯合國氣候峰會(COP21)達成一份強而有力的聯合國氣候協議,令我們可以擁有一個安全的未來、穩定的氣候,及完全清潔的能源。

今次「氣候轉變朝聖之旅」於9月28日舉行,由大嶼山昂坪蓮寺池開始。今次行動由香港跨宗教氣候聯盟(Hong Kong Interfaith Climate Network),亞洲應用佛學院,以及Our Voices(一個提倡氣候改變的信仰組織)合辦。今次是這類活動首次在香港舉行,而舉辦組織對香港的信仰群團反應踴躍,深感鼓舞。氣候變化,正在逐步影響地球的生態環境。在世界各地,四季在改變,水位和溫度都正上升至前所未有的水平。這些改變,對世上的貧窮人口和低下階層,影響最大。即使香港,亦有可能面對水浸和海浪上升的危険。

現時,在世界各地都有舉辦類似活動,共同呼籲建設一個安全的未來、穩定的氣候,並完全清潔的能源;香港的氣候朝聖之旅,是相關行動的一部分。現時在世界各地,很多不同信仰的人,或本身沒有宗教信仰的人,都同心一致,透過短程或長程的步行,向各界展示他們對氣候變化的關注(www.peoplespilgrimages.org)。

香港跨宗教氣候聯盟主席Ms Ciara Shannon表示:「氣候行動朝聖之旅,是一班不分信仰背景的人,以正面及和平的方式,呼籲在巴黎峰會達成一分強而有力的協議,令我們可以獲得完全清潔的能源。愈來愈多有信仰的人,都對氣候變化表示關注,例如教宗方濟各發表的《願你受讚頌》通諭,及回教發表的氣候變化宣言。宗教團體以言行不斷就氣候變化所帶來的危險表達關注,十分重要。」

亞洲應用佛學院總監Bikkhu Phap Kham表示:「我們樂於支持在香港以及世界其他地方舉行的氣候行動民間朝聖之旅。正如一行禪師指出,個人的覺醒必會帶來群體的覺醒。保護環境是首要任務。改變我們的生活習慣,必人感到無比愉快,而當我們同時注意自己的呼吸,治療便可開始。」

由10月1日至12月1 曰,有250名多自菲律賓的人士,與來自香港的一名人士,將會參與一個民間朝聖行動。他們將會由羅馬步行至巴黎,全長1500公里。他們希望透過行動表達百分百清潔能源的訊息。預期將有數有百計的人在沿途加入他們的行列。他們最後將在巴黎聯合國氣候峰會會議舉行期間,在巴黎集會。來自香港的參加者Sam Inglis(他本身亦是香港跨宗教氣候聯盟的成員)表示:

:「在冬天由意大利步行至法國,全程1500公里,殊不簡單,但我很高興有機會成為由Yeb Sano(菲律賓前氣候變化委員會主席)帶領的團隊的一員,一起提升大眾對氣候變化的認識,務求我們未來使用的能源,可以完全潔淨。」

供編輯使用之附註

氣候行動民間朝聖之旅行程

9am              車由大會堂出發

9:45am         其他人於東涌上車

10:30am       在大嶼山昂坪蓮寺池集合

11:00am       關於信仰,氣候變化和朝聖旅程的短講

11:45am       冥想,自備午餐及詩歌

1:15pm         朝聖由蓮寺池開始

3:30pm         在石門甲完結,慶祝

4:30pm         車經東涌抵達大會堂

中文傳媒聯絡人:

Rosalie Tran (黄元环)(香港跨宗教氣候聯盟成員)

rostranatnetvigator.com

9月28日活動的主講嘉賓包括:亞洲應用佛學院總監Bikkhu Phap Kham,天主教香港教區夏志誠輔理主教,孔教學院常務副院長呂天增,及香港跨宗教氣候聯盟主席Ciara Shannon。

國際民間朝聖行動由OurVoices(一個跨宗教的氣候變化運動(www.ourvoices.net))發起,與不同宗教和信仰團體合作,鼓勵大家以祈禱和行動表達關注。全球民間朝聖行動於6月7日由菲律賓前氣候變化委員會主席及氣候首席談判員Yeb Sano在互努阿圖展開(www.peoplespilgrimage.org)。

香港跨宗教氣候聯盟於2015年1月成立,成員包括佛教、回教、基督教、猶太教、巴克伊教、布拉瑪古瑪麗思、印度教和錫克教社群人士,致力推動和支援度跨宗教團體以靈性和道德角度回應氣候變化,並提升大眾對2015年12月將通過的氣候協議的認識。

民間朝聖行亦發起網上請願,要求第二十一屆屆聯合國氣候變化框架公約氣候峰會的世界各國領袖,必須拒絕固步自封,以勇於承擔的胸懷,排除萬難,遵循2010年在墨西哥坎昆峰會上作出的決定,讓全球可達成一個有意義的氣候協議,使全球平均氣溫與工業革命前的水平相比,升幅不會超過攝氏二度(或華氏3.6度)

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Climate Change Risks in Asia & East Asian Bishops

The Response of East Asian Catholic Bishops to Climate Change Risks in Asia

Most Rev. Isao Kikuchi, SVD, Bishop of Niigata, President of Caritas Asia and Japan Most Rev Philip Huang Jaw Ming, Bishop of Hualian, Taiwan Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju, South Korea Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, Hong Kong

East Asian Bishop Sign the GCCM Climate Petition: Most Rev. Isao Kikuchi, SVD, Bishop of Niigata, President of Caritas Asia and Japan, Most Rev Philip Huang Jaw Ming, Bishop of Hualian, Taiwan, Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju, South Korea, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, Hong Kong, Cardinal Oscar Gracias, FABC President also signed the GCCM petition

I recently attended the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), Climate Change Seminar for East Asia in Hong Kong and spoke about East Asia risks. Before I did that, all of the East Asian Bishops who attended, readily agreed to endorse and sign the GCCM climate petition that asks world leaders to keep global average temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

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Pope Francis , Tomás Insua from Argentina and Allen Ottaro from Kenya. Right: Pope Francis holds the Catholic Climate Petition in his personal office and later endorses (May 2015). Credit: Fotografia Felici.

The GCCM petition was also signed by Cardinal Oscar Gracias, the President of the Federation of Asian Bishop Conferences (FABC). Following on from an endorsement by Pope Francis in May 2015 and Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and President of Caritas Internationalis initiating a massive GCCM petition mobilisation in the Philippines in July.

Asia is at serious risk of climate change and this year we have seen a series of unusual weather events across Asia including: deadly heat waves in India and Pakistan, widespread drought in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, and water rationing in Thailand.

Climate scientists have confirmed that these extremes this year, are compounded by an emerging period of El Niño, a periodic weather event characterized by warming ocean temperatures.El Niño is expected to last well into 2016 leading to energy, food and water insecurity, Asian countries need to take measures to mitigate and adapt their impact- especially for the poor and for coastal areas that may have flimsy infrastructure.

While the effects of El Niño are global and widespread, it is hitting Asian countries the hardest. Last week, Typhoon Etau in Japan produced winds of up to 125km/h (78mph) forcing more than 90,000+ people to evacuate their homes after Kinugawa River burst its banks causing heavy flooding.

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September 12th 2015, Jaso City, Japan Photo Credit: Kyodo/ Reuters

The double whammy of climate change and El Nino will increase sea-level rise, storm surge, flooding and drought and many cities globally are at threat.

In Asia, the risk is particularly acute as many cities are highly dense, with large populations and rapid urbanisation has cemented over green zones leading to a reduction of natural buffers (such as wetlands) and accelerated land erosion. Many Asian cities have poor drainage and flimsy flooding infrastructure. According to the World Bank’s ‘Future flood losses in major coastal cities’ research -flooding could cost cities every year by 2050 nearly US$1 trillion, of this price tag damage to buildings is an significant cost component and land subsidence will account for high share of the damage.

Swiss Re the insurance company has an annual risk index on extreme weather and in 2014, cities that it listed as the most vulnerable to flooding and storm surges globally were: 1. Pearl River Delta – Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Donguan, Macau and Guangzhou, 2. Osaka-Kobe, Japan, 3. Mumbai, India, 4. Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan, 5. Amsterdam-Rotterdam, Netherlands, 6. Nagoya, Japan, 7. Shanghai, China, 8. Kolkata, India, 9. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and 10. New York-Newark, USA. When ranked by vulnerability to river flooding, Swiss Re’s top 10 (2014) list changes, although: 1. Pearl River Delta stays on top, 2. Shanghai, China, 3. Kolkata, India 4. Jakarta, Indonesia, 5. Delhi, India 6. Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan, 7. Bangkok, Thailand 8. Mexico City, Mexico 9. Cairo, Egypt and 10. Tianjin, China

Worryingly, many people in Asia are not aware that climate change poses a significant threat to their families, homes, livelihoods and future economic growth. In many cities across Asia there is a limited capacity to identify their vulnerabilities and there is a lack of coordinated planning on pathways to adapt, along with limited expertise to make changes and a lack of institutional and funding capacity.

Meanwhile, the UN estimates that nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 and in just a decade – 21 out of 37 of the world’s megacities will be in Asia. In 2010, world leaders agreed on the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help finance adaptation and mitigation and a 2020 goal of raising US$100 billion each year from public and private sources to help developing countries deal with climate change. Yet, many experts warn that US$100 bilion is not enough.  Typhoon Haiyan, which swept through the Philippines in 2013, killed over 6,000 people and cost more than US$10 billion. The Asian Development Bank (2014) estimates the annual price tag of coastal flooding will be US$53.8 billion and the number of people at risk of coastal flooding will rise to 410 million by 2025.

So far, the money has been slow in coming – 33 governments, including 8 developing countries have pledged close to US$10.2 billion and French President Francois Hollande recently said that without the US$100 billion, there will be no deal at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris in December.

With less than 90 days to go until COP 21 and with rich nations enjoying a joint GDP somewhere in the region of US$50 trillion and global market capitalisation of US$294 trillion – clearly the issue is not a lack of funds, but rather a lack of will.

Other key ways for governments to free up funding to help achieve the target is by “putting a price on carbon” – through carbon taxes or emission trading schemes – and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. The elimination of fossil fuel subsidies would also make a significant contribution to the goal of keeping average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Globally, all countries need to strengthen their adaptive and resilience capacity and there needs to be better weather forecasting, climate modelling and better risk and disaster management plans. No city is safe from natural hazards, but they can be more resilient. As Asian urban powerhouses advance, their fortitude and growth will be at the heart of the world’s most important social and economic advancements and challenges.  Let’s hope more money comes forward soon.

cjsWritten by Ciara Shannon, chair Hong Kong Interfaith Climate Network (HKICN), OurVoices Asia Coordinator and GCCM Co-founder. Re-published with permission from the GCCM blog and website.

[1] By rising temperatures, water security, sea-level rises, storm surges, extreme weather events, inland and coastal flooding, drought and food security issues.

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Islamic Climate Declaration calls for fossil fuel phase out – August 18th 2015

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Istanbul, Turkey – 18 August.  Islamic leaders from 20 countries today launched a bold Climate Change Declaration to engage the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims on the issue of our time.

Adopted by the 60 participants at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium, (Istanbul, 17-18 August) the Declaration urges governments to deliver a strong, new international climate agreement in Paris this December that signals the end of the road for polluting fossil fuels by creating architecture that will give us a chance of limiting global warming above pre-industrial levels to 2, or preferably 1.5, degrees Celsius.

The Declaration presents the moral case, based on Islamic teachings, for Muslims and people of all faiths worldwide to take urgent climate action. It was drafted by a large, diverse team of international Islamic scholars from around the world following a lengthy consultation period prior to the Symposium. It has already been endorsed by more than 60 participants and organisations including the Grand Muftis of Uganda and Lebanon. The Declaration is in harmony with the Papal Encyclical and has won the support of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace of the Holy See.

The Declaration calls for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and a switch to 100% renewable energy as well as increased support for vulnerable communities already suffering from climate impacts. It can be seen as part of the groundswell of people from all walks of life calling for governments to scale up the transition away from fossil fuels. Wealthy and oil-producing nations are urged to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All people, leaders and businesses are invited to commit to 100% renewable energy in order to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.

Amongst keynote speakers at the Symposium were three senior UN officials – from the UN Environment Programme, the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Secretary-General’s climate change team. Presentations were also made by scientists, NGO leaders and academics. Also attending were religious leaders from many other faith traditions.

That the Symposium was held in Istanbul is significant – for the first time in history, the G20 summit will be organized by the presidency of Turkey, a country with a majority Muslim population.-  just two weeks before the Paris Summit,   Leaders from the world’s largest 20 economies will gather in an  attempt to reach agreement on how international financial stability can be achieved. The economic implications of climate change and the huge amounts of subsidies given by G20 countries to the polluting fossil fuel industry will also be on the agenda.

Read the Statement here.

The Declaration was drafted by a large, diverse team of international Islamic scholars from around the world and has already been endorsed by more than 60 Muslim leaders and organizations including the Grand Muftis of Uganda and Lebanon. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace has issued a message of solidarity in response to the Declaration.

Reactions:

“On behalf of the Indonesian Council of Ulema and 210 million Muslims we welcome this Declaration and we are committed to to implementing all recommendations. The climate crisis needs to be tackled through collaborative efforts, so let’s work together for a better world for our children, and our children’s children.” – Din Syamsuddin, Chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema

“I am proud to be associated with the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change released in Istanbul today. As a Muslim I try to follow the moral teachings  of Islam to preserve the environment and help the victims of climate change. I urge all Muslims around the world to play their role in tackling the global problem of climate change.” – Dr Saleemul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Dhaka, Bangladesh and Senior Fellow, International Institute for Environment and Development,

“The basis of the declaration is the work of world renowned islamic environmentalists, it is a trigger for further action and we would be very happy if people adopted and improved upon the ideas that are articulated in this document.” – Fazlun Khalid, Founder, Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences

“It is with great joy and in a spirit of solidarity that I express to you the promise of the Catholic Church to pray for the success of your initiative and her desire to work with you in the future to care for our common home and thus to glorify the God who created us.” – His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City

“A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.” – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Conference on Climate Change

“Civil society is delighted by this powerful Climate Declaration coming from the Islamic community, which could be a game changer, as it challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations, to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100% renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development around the world.” – Wael Hmaidan, International Director of Climate Action Network

You can find photos available for use under creative commons license here, please credit Islamic Relief

Calls from the Declaration (full version of the Declaration here:

3.1 We call upon the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Kyoto Protocol taking place in Paris this December, 2015 to bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion, bearing in mind –

  • The scientific consensus on climate change, which is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate systems;
  • The need to set clear targets and monitoring systems;
  • The dire consequences to planet earth if we do not do so;
  • The enormous responsibility the COP shoulders on behalf of the rest of humanity, including leading the rest of us to a new way of relating to God’s Earth.

3.2 We particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to –

  • Lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century;
  • Provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve a phase-out of greenhouse gases as early as possible;
  • Recognize the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources;
  • Stay within the ‘2 degree’ limit, or, preferably, within the ‘1.5 degree’ limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground;
  • Re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.
  • Invest in the creation of a green economy.

3.3 We call on the people of all nations and their leaders to –

  • Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;
  • Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities;
  • Invest in decentralized renewable energy, which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;
  • Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to come.
  • Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.
  • Prioritise adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.

3.4 We call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to –

  • Shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint and other forms of impact upon the natural environment;
  • In order to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities, commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible and shift investments into renewable energy;
  • Change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable;
  • Pay more heed to social and ecological responsibilities, particularly to the extent that they extract and utilize scarce resources;
  • Assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.

3.5 We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavour and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race

وَلَكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُم فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ

He (God) wanted to test you regarding what has

come to you. So compete with each other in doing good deeds.

Qur’an 5: 48

If we each offer the best of our respective traditions, we may yet see a way through our difficulties.

3.6 Finally, we call on all Muslims wherever they may be  –

Heads of state, Political leaders, Business community, UNFCCC delegates, Religious leaders and scholars, Mosque congregations, Islamic endowments (awqaf), Educators and educational institutions, Community leaders, Civil society activists, Non-governmental organisations, Communications and media to tackle habits, mindsets, and the root causes of climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity in their particular spheres of influence, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him),and bring about a resolution to the challenges that now face us.

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Conscientious Compassion—Bhikkhu Bodhi on Climate Change, Social Justice, and Saving the World

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Bhikkhu Bodhi at the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, Manhattan. From onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.com

American scholar and Theravada monk Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi might not receive the same high-profile press coverage as the Roman Catholic Church’s charismatic standard-bearer Pope Francis, but it is becoming evident to Buddhism watchers and commentators that his message is every bit as bold, eloquent, and sophisticated as the Pope’s. The recent focus on Bhikkhu Bodhi and other courageous Buddhist leaders who are highlighting imminent threats such as climate change or global hunger might well be influenced by a popular resonance with the urgency with which Pope Francis speaks about ecological catastrophe and poverty. Whatever the reasons, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s actions speak loudly for themselves. As the founder and chair of humanitarian organization Buddhist Global Relief (BGR), his activist work centers specifically on the issues of climate change (he is a spiritual ambassador for the interfaith climate change movement Our Voices) and hunger relief.

“When we started BGR, we initially set our mission to help those afflicted with poverty, disaster, and societal neglect. But after a short time we realized that this was too vague and not practical. Even large, well-established humanitarian organizations like CARE and Oxfam have more precisely defined missions. As a tiny Buddhist organization, we could not tackle the whole range of human challenges on this planet without dissipating our energies,” he says.

“I thus drew on my own experience in Sri Lanka and India, where I knew many people were suffering from malnutrition—though this problem is not as acute in Sri Lanka as it is in other countries. I also had read about the extent of global hunger, and it boggled my mind to realize that close to a billion people were suffering from food insecurity and that some six million a year died from hunger and hunger-related illnesses. I learned that it would take only about US$40 billion a year to eliminate global hunger. Yet worldwide, governments pour perhaps a few trillion dollars annually into military budgets, while millions die of hunger. This struck me as a tragedy and pulled at my heart. The Buddha, in the Dhammapada, had said: ‘There is no illness like hunger,’ and he often stressed the merits of providing food to the hungry. Thereby I saw a close fit between traditional Buddhist values and a more precise mission for BGR.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s visibility in American public discourse over the past several years, especially as a representative of a “minority” religion in the US, is already impressive. In May this year, he was at George Washington University and the White House to discuss Buddhist civic engagement and the types of policies that Buddhists would like to see implemented. From a long-term perspective, however, Bhikkhu Bodhi doesn’t believe that the small number of Buddhists in the US as a discrete movement can have a significant impact on civic life.

“We are just a few ripples on the surface of the lake. Rather, in my view, our best prospects for giving Buddhist values a role in public affairs would be to join hands with other faith-based organizations that share these values. Rooted in our respective faiths we can present a collective front, advocating for greater social justice, ecological responsibility, a more peaceful foreign policy, and an end to racism and police violence against people of color,” he suggests. “This is especially necessary in the US since fundamentalist Christians have grabbed the moral high ground, advocating an agenda that seems driven more by bigotry and religious dogmatism than by true benevolence and care for the less fortunate.”

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Bhikkhu Bodhi. From youtube.com

Many Buddhist leaders as well as voices from other faiths recognize that divided, the religions cannot form a united front on mitigating and transforming many of the selfish and destructive interests that are threatening to exhaust the planet’s resources. “I do not think that we Buddhists on our own can contribute to the fulfillment of a global ethic. As I mentioned earlier, our best prospects are to join with those of other faiths, and with people of goodwill who have no particular faith commitment but share our humanistic values,” Bhikkhu Bodhi says.

“The major threat that I see today lies in the ascendancy of a purely utilitarian worldview driven by a ruthless economic system that rates everything in terms of its monetary value and sees everything as nothing more than a source of financial profit. Thus, under this mode of thinking, the environment turns into a pool of ‘natural resources’ to be extracted and turned into profit-generating goods, and people are exploited for their labor and then disposed of when they are no longer of use,” he warns, echoing many similarly dire warnings from other religious public figures.

“To resist these trends, I believe, we as Buddhists can be most effective by networking with others who regard human dignity and the integrity of the natural world as more precious than monetary wealth. By joining together, a collective voice might emerge that could well set in motion the forces needed to articulate and embody a new paradigm rooted in the intrinsic dignity of the person and the interdependence of all life on Earth. Such collaboration could serve to promote the alternative values that offer sane alternatives to our free-market imperatives of corporatism, exploitation, extraction, consumerism, and toxic economic growth.”

This will be no mean feat, and might be the greatest moral challenge posed to Buddhism and humanity as a whole in our time. To muster the energy to even begin building this united interfaith front, Bhikkhu Bodhi believes that Buddhists in the East and West alike need to nurture stronger humanitarian concern in their hearts. “Western Buddhists—and I think this is probably largely true among educated Buddhists in Asia—take to the Dharma primarily as a path of inward development that bids us look away from the conditions of our societies. If this trend continues, Buddhism will serve as a comfortable home for the intellectual and cultural elite, but risks turning the quest for enlightenment into a private journey that offers only a resigned quietism in the face of the immense suffering which daily afflicts countless human lives.”

He believes there are two primary moral principles involved in this effort. “One is love, which arises from empathy, the ability to feel the happiness and suffering of others as one’s own. When love is directed toward those afflicted with suffering, it manifests as compassion, the sharing of their suffering, coupled with a determination to remove their suffering,” he says. “The other principle that goes along with love is justice. Some of my Buddhist friends have objected to this, saying that justice is a concept foreign to Buddhism. I don’t agree. I think the word Dhamma, in one of its many nuances, can be understood to signify justice, as when the ‘wheel-turning monarch’ is described as dhammiko dhammaraja, which I would render ‘a righteous king of righteousness,’ or ‘a just king of justice.’ In my understanding, justice arises when we recognize that all people possess intrinsic value, that all are endowed with inherent dignity, and therefore should be helped to realize this dignity.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi finally joins the two concepts to form a distinct ethical ideal. “When compassion and justice are unified, we arrive at what I call conscientious compassion. This is compassion, not merely as a beautiful inward feeling of empathy with those suffering, but a compassion that gives birth to a fierce determination to uplift others, to tackle the causes of their suffering, and to establish the social, economic, and political conditions that will enable everyone to flourish and live in harmony.”

He invokes the idea of dependent origination to explain the need to see the interdependence between states of mind (particularly those governed by greed and delusion) and an economic system built on the premise of unlimited growth on a finite planet. If humanity is to avoid a horrific fate, Bhikkhu Bodhi concludes that a double transformation is necessary. First, we must undergo an “inner conversion” away from the quest to satisfy proliferating desires and the constant stimulation of greed or craving. But change is also needed in our institutions and social systems. Bhikkhu Bodhi suggests that people turn away from an economic order based on incessant production and consumption and move toward a steady-state economy managed by people themselves for the benefit of their communities, rather than by corporate executives bent on market dominance and expanding profits.

“At its most radical level, the Dharma teaches that the highest happiness is to be realized through the complete renunciation of craving. But few are capable of such a degree of detachment. To make the message more palatable, we have to stress such values as contentment, simplicity, the appreciation of natural beauty, and fulfillment through meaningful relationships, and the effort to control and master the mind.”

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Blog originally written for Buddhistdoor Global by Raymond Lam (HKICN Committee member). Article posted with permission from Buddhistdoor Global | 2015-08-14 |

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A Community of Ideas: Emerging Faith Climate Leaders in Rome

IMG_20150702_135225When in Rome, it’s impossible to avoid the history of the city. At almost every turn is some Roman ruin, a constant reminder of a civilization that once ruled the entire Mediterranean. The Romans were so technologically advanced for their time that they built the aqueducts and underground water system that brought free, fresh and clean water into the heart of the city, where today it still gushes out of pumps that litter the streets. At the very centre of the city is the basilica of St Peter, it’s the largest church in the world, setting in stone the importance of religion to the world. It is an indelible mark on the Earth, left, by the Romans to awe future generations with the story of the power of their civilization.

Just before noon on 28th June we were waiting in St Peter’s square for Pope Francis to appear and deliver a blessing to OurVoices and the people who marched against climate change, I looked up at my banner, which read ‘Energie Infernale’ beneath a picture of a coal-fired power station. I thought about it in comparison to the basilica that towered above us. I wondered – is the inevitable, 11214380_705917189664_5511456942456680446_nindelible legacy of our 21st century ‘civilization’ going to be a planet where cities and whole countries fall beneath rising seas?Where acrid smog hangs like a cloud of poisonous gas, above our countries, and where ever increasing frequencies of storms and droughts bring death and destruction worldwide, from the Philippines to Brazil, Somalia to the US?

No, it’s needn’t be, as long as we act now. After the climate march, over a hundred youth leaders from faith communities worldwide, joined together to share experiences, ideas and climate solutions in a three day Convergence workshop. I was privileged to be a part of the Convergence -to hear from Fiji a request for sand, just sand, because it might buy a few more years before the Marshall Islands disappear beneath the waves permanently. From New Mexico the story of how man-made climate change has permanently affected the lives of native Americans, and many more stories of tragedy and hope. By the end, we had gained not just sympathetic friends and a better global perspective, but real actions to real problems. Everyone came up with a project to advance the common goal of ensuring that our planet has a safe, sustainable future, and as we all summarized our projects, it was clear that there is plenty of hope left.

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We heard about projects that aimed to educate children, to organize more marches; to persuade politicians that they should take climate change seriously. There were plans to build eco-villages or teach sustainable farming techniques in underdeveloped regions, to bring more religions in an area together on climate issues, and to connect faith groups to scientists to enable them to better understand the underlying causes of climate change. The ideas were as diverse as the people presenting them, plans to change seemingly small things in individual places, all held together by a common thread – a sincere desire to put the words we had spoken into action.

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, was in many ways what inspired us. The pontiff named himself after the saint renowned for his care of the natural world and now speaks out on the global stage, to say why we should care about climate change. That’s crucial because the pope is such an important and well-respected figure, but in the end his words cannot of themselves make any of the changes needed. That can be done only by people, businesses and governments changing their behaviour for the long-term advantage rather than short-term gain.

Sometimes people ask me why faith is relevant to climate change. The Convergence provided the answer from a multi-faith perspective. The moral teachings of all religions emphasise the significance of unity and of community strength, which is crucial if we are to undergo the significant societal change that is necessary. They also bring forwards ideas of care and compassion. “If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.” These the Pope’s words, from the encyclical, could equally apply to many other religions; recognising the importance of interfaith dialogue, and using it to motivate us to “be the change we want to see in the world”, as Mahatma Gandhi said.

The wise words of an unexpected but also inspirational character turned up several times during the Convergence: “it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years in which we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till,” says Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, and as usual, he’s absolutely right.

by Francis Newman, OurVoices and HKICN summer Intern

Photo credits: Francis Newman, Neddy Astudillo, Jenna Pollock

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Bonn 2015 – A Newcomer’s Perspective on the Climate Talks

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Picture the scene. Bonn in June – a lovely and very cultured city, littered with museums; after all it’s where Beethoven was born. Excellent weather too – barely a cloud in the sky, and it’s warm without being stifling.

This was the setting for the SB42 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference a couple of weeks ago: a picturesque corner of Bonn, Germany that’s in many ways as far removed from the devastating effects of climate change as you can find on the planet. No wonder, then, that the document that the summit produced was off track.

I arrived in Bonn before the second of two weeks of debate; this was my first experience of any international conference. I knew that it takes a long time to reach international agreements – but what followed failed to meet even my (very low) expectations. On Monday morning I sat in the conference hall and watched one delegate stand up and tell the chairpersons that he thought the proceedings had been too slow in week 1. OK, I thought, that sounds sensible. Next delegate stood up and said the same thing. And the one after him, and the next – and so on for a couple of precious hours that could, I suggest, have been better spent actually debating the text. The proof of their failure isn’t in one anecdote though; judge the summit on what it produced. Delegates were there in order to streamline the text of the agreement that world leaders are due to sign in Paris in December, and were hoped to cut it from around 90 pages to 45 pages. At the end of the summit it stood at 85 pages – and some were calling it a success.

The irony of what they were saying in that first session I experienced would have been laughable if the conference wasn’t about such a serious issue as climate change. At the very least it affects your food prices, changes the cost of travelling and creates some extreme weather. At worst that weather threatens and destroys lives and livelihoods. Air pollution has become one of the leading causes of death in countries like India and China. From Vanuatu to the US, Somalia to the Philippines, typhoons, hurricanes and droughts are increasingly common and violent. When water levels rise they’ll cause a mass redirection of government funding in the developed world, away from other public services and into flood defences. For less developed countries without the same resources, they’ll have nothing to defend themselves. The right of ordinary people to live in a safe place is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the cornerstones on which the UN was built. Too many delegates and observers get dragged down into every comma, full stop and semicolon in the text– they forget why they’re doing it and who they’re doing it for.

That’s why it’s so important that we speak loudly and clearly, and try to make a change. Most leaders now recognise the undeniable scientific fact that man-made climate change is happening, but many don’t realise how directly it affects them and their countries. Elected leaders respond to the pressure that’s put on them by their people – they know that’s how they stay in office. Technology companies will do more to develop cheaper eco-friendly products if that’s what consumers demand – they know that’s the only way they’ll make the profits they want.The People’s Pilgrimage – thousands of people across the world, of all religions and none, walking forabUntitled a strong agreement in Paris – helps create that pressure. Faith and spiritual groups are ideally placed to bring individuals from diverse communities together for the common good, a key message of world faiths. That’s exactly what needs to happen with the climate change, and is why the release of the Pope’s encyclical is so important.

When we asked delegates and observers in Bonn to show who or what they were walking for, the responses were heartening. Future generations and fish; gender justice and snow-capped mountains. It’s not that people at these meetings don’t know what they’re aiming for – it’s just that they sometimes forget, and need to be reminded. The UN pick Bonn for a climate conference. Maybe they should instead hold summits in Tacloban, devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, or massively polluted cities like New Delhi or Beijing. Meanwhile, what we can do is remind them why they need to hurry up and reach that international agreement in Paris.

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This blog is a cross posting from a blog posted by Francis Newman for the OurVoices blog – with permission. Francis is interning for OurVoices and HKICN for the summer of 2015.

Photo credits: International Institute for Sustainable Development, OurVoices and Francis Newman

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