Changing Directions Before It’s Too Late

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

 

Buddhists marching at the People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014

Suppose I was a bus driver driving a busload of people along an unfamiliar route and at a certain point my GPS device showed me that I was heading toward a precipice. I would not assume that the device is mistaken or argue that the accuracy of such devices is a matter of debate. As I got close to the edge of the abyss, I would not jiggle the steering wheel, much less step on the gas pedal. Rather, I would turn away and head in a different direction.

Yet, expand this picture to a global scale, and it shows us exactly what we’re doing with our climate. The climate crisis is probably the gravest danger that humanity has ever faced, the precipice toward which we are heading, yet those in the driver’s seat are doing just what the reckless bus driver does. They’re insisting that the great majority of climate scientists are mistaken; they’re claiming there is still a debate about the causes of climate change; they’re attacking investigators who seek to hold offenders accountable; and they’re stepping on the gas pedal with policies that will push carbon emissions to perilous heights. If they continue to have their way, they’ll drive the bus of humankind over the edge to a fate we can hardly envisage.

As a Buddhist monk and scholar, I look at the climate crisis through the lens of the Buddha’s teaching, which shows that our leaders’ dismissive attitude toward the crisis stems from two deeply entrenched mental dispositions, ignorance and craving. Ignorance is the blatant, willful, and even spiteful rejection of reality, the denial of unpalatable truths that threaten our sense of our own invulnerability. Craving is the voracious grasping after ever more wealth, status, and power, a thirst that can never be satisfied. When the two reinforce each other, what we get is a stubborn refusal to see that wealth and power, no matter how exorbitant, will be worthless on a dying planet.

What makes climate change so insidious—and reinforces the tendency to denial—is the fact that it occurs incrementally, beneath the threshold of perception. The immediate effects strike virulently only on occasion and in limited areas—a drought here, wildfires there, floods in this country or a heat wave in that one. Spared the global picture of the effects in their totality, we can convince ourselves that the extreme events we hear about are merely disconnected vagaries of the weather. And thus we go on blithely living our ordinary lives, thinking we can do so forever.

Yet, while we drift along complacently, climate change hovers over us like an ominous cloud, posing both an existential threat and a moral reproach. It’s an existential threat because, when its full consequences are unleashed, everyone will be affected. Since the climate enfolds everyone everywhere, there is no spot on earth to which one can escape. Human existence itself is in the crosshairs, and if we don’t change course, we may well bring the entire project of human civilization crashing down to a pitiful end.

At the same time, climate change reminds us that, as we procrastinate and backtrack, we are staining our moral record, committing a travesty of justice at multiple levels. At home, fossil-fuel projects tend to strike poor communities—largely people of color—more severely than they hit the rich in their more secure enclaves. On a planetary scale, the disparities are even worse. Over the past few centuries, the industrialized countries—primarily the U.S. and Western Europe—have built up their economic empires by burning fossil fuels, yet it’s the people in the poorest countries—in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Pacific island nations—that are paying the heaviest price. And it is these people again that will face the harshest penalties in the future when whole regions turn barren, when famine and starvation leave behind millions of emaciated bodies, when social disruption erupts in political chaos and regional wars over dwindling resources.

If we’re to avoid such a fate, we must boldly reduce our carbon emissions and hasten the transition to a clean-energy economy powered by renewable sources of energy. This must be done with utmost urgency. What we need is nothing short of a full-scale climate mobilization, as complete as the war effort launched during World War II. This will require changes not only  in our practices but in our attitudes. We’ll have to proceed from the inside out, with transformations in our minds and our values. We’ll have to replace a culture of extraction and endless consumption with one that prizes reverence for the earth and gratitude for the resplendent bounties of nature. We’ll have to reject an economy that thrives on exploitation and competition and enshrine in its place one that gives priority to mutual care, collaboration, and respect for other peoples.

To deal successfully with climate change, we must draw upon wisdom and compassion, the antidotes to ignorance and selfish craving. Wisdom is the calm voice that tells us to take the blinkers off and see things as they are—in this case, to acknowledge the truth that climate change is real, that human activity is behind it, and that the chief culprit is an economic system propelled by the quest for short-term profits. Compassion is the inner force that makes us recognize that others count too, that shakes our hearts with the suffering of others and moves us to act so that billions of people around the world are spared the death and desperation that a hostile climate would inflict on them.

By a tragic twist of fate, just at this critical juncture when fresh initiatives are called for, when bold and determined action has become imperative, our country has handed the reins of power to a president whose administration is doing exactly the opposite of what is needed. We’ve installed at the command center a narcissist who thinks he can defy the laws of nature and come out ahead; we’ve let him appoint a team that denies the hard truths of science, scorns the advice of informed policy experts, and does everything it can to pump new life into the fossil fuel industries. In effect, we’ve appointed a bus driver who is driving the bus of humanity ever closer to the cliff.

On April 29th, along with hundreds of thousands of environmentally concerned Americans, I will be going to Washington to join the People’s Climate Mobilization. I will be marching not only on behalf of people here in the U.S. but for people all around the world, especially the poor and dispossessed, whose own voices will not be heard in the halls of privilege and power. I will be marching to demand an ambitious climate policy, one that meets the severity of the crisis and moves us quickly toward zero emissions. I will be marching on behalf of truth, to insist that we cannot ignore the warnings of our best scientists. I will be marching on behalf of a clean-energy economy waiting to be born, one that is respectful of natural limits and can uplift people everywhere. I will be marching on behalf of the earth, hoping to usher in a new relationship between humankind and nature.

I will be marching to show our government that America must live up to its highest ideals, that we must serve the rest of the world as a model of wise, conscientious, and compassionate leadership. In short, I will be asking our leaders to to turn the bus around and lead us all into a safe and sustainable future.

This essay was originally published on Common Dreams. A shorter version appeared on the website of the Faith Contingent of the People’s Climate March.

Reconnecting Homeless Youth to Food, the Earth, and Spirit

Taz Tagore

Grants from BGR have provided not only food to homeless youth, but opportunities for companionship and a sense of belonging.

For the past 10 years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly to support homeless and foster-care youth aged 13–26 in their transformation from impoverished persons living in a shelter to educated, employed youngsters playing a leadership role in society. With BGR support, Reciprocity is expanding its Urban Food Project, taking youth upstate to spend time working on small organic farms where they learn the basics of planting, harvesting, and cooking fresh organic meals. Below is a six-months report from Reciprocity Foundation co-founder Taz Tagore.

The second half of 2016 was one of the most meaningful and challenging periods in our organization’s history! It has been a year of great change—some of the changes involved loss and others involved finding new inspiration, allies, and community.  While I want to summarize where we have been in 2016, I also want to address the enormous energy building at Reciprocity to invent a more courageous, visionary and loving model for transformation in the world. But first, our work in the past year…

In June 2016, we completed our 2-year project entitled SEE ME—a full-sized, full-color photography book detailing the stories and faces of New York City’s LGBTQ homeless and foster youth.  SEE ME was about more than taking photos—we worked with renowned photographer Alex Fradkin and the Reciprocity team to support a powerful transformation in the lives of 45 homeless youth who participated in this project.  Of the 45, 42 are now employed or in a college program of their choosing.  And more importantly, they are engaged in work that is meaningful to them, engaged in contemplative practice and are feeling seen.

In Spring 2016, we also planted our second Urban Garden in Harlem. Youth learned to plant a garden, grow food, cook meals, and develop their “Recipes for Life.”  And, we continued to transform the lifeless spaces in which homeless youth live in New York into more vibrant, energetic, and healing spaces for both youth and staff.

We also helped youth connect with food in a new way—both introducing youth to vegetarian food and helping them to have a direct experience of the power of food on your mind, energy level, aspirations, and overall well-being.  We helped youth make strong connections between eating wholesome vegetarian food and managing their mental health.

In fall 2016, Reciprocity co-founder Adam Bucko left New York City to pursue priesthood with the Anglican Church.  He will be in seminary for three years.  As a community, we engaged in a deep process of letting go and embracing a new way of being with each other.  I will lead the organization with a team of staff and youth graduates as supporting members of the team.  And we are slowly seeing the possibilities that lay dormant inside this loss—we are taking the time to transform this period into an opportunity for innovation, risk-taking, and building new connections.

Our change also affected our program space.  We left our space on West 36th Street (due to rent increases) and now have a smaller space inside the Good Shepherd Services building on East 17th street.  Our interim space has a large Multi-Purpose room for group workshops, coaching and Career Projects with a beautiful meditation space and meeting room on the third floor.  I believe strongly that we will sign a new lease when we have more fully developed the new vision for Reciprocity.  It may be that we have a retreat center upstate and a small space in the city—or a re-envisioned space in the city.  Either way, we are grateful to be housed in a temporary space for now.

In fall 2016, we launched two new projects—first, to help homeless youth who have been incarcerated or court-involved to heal, find community, and express their gifts in the world.  This program has included food, meditation, and coaching.  Second, we have launched a program to support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth in their gender transition—and, perhaps as important—to transition into a new, fuller, and connected way of being in the world.  I am so encouraged and inspired as I move our organization into a more courageous, visionary, and creative incarnation.

Last but not least, we are expanding our retreat program to include more programming to actively reconnect youth to food, the earth, and spiritual ecology.  The grant from BGR is helping us to take an ever-deepening journey that is about more than feeding youth. Urban youth are finding that food is a powerful salve for their bodies, minds, and spirits.  How wonderful!

Taz Tagore is co-founder, with Adam Bucko, of The Reciprocity Foundation

Improving Nutrition among Children in Korhogo District, Cote d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

Mothers gather to discuss nutrition in Korhogo Health District

Malnutrition is a pressing problem in Cote d’Ivoire, where over 40% of the population lives in poverty. Cote d’Ivoire ranks 172 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, making it among the poorest countries in the world. The country has a population of 22 million, of which 6 million are children under five. Estimated child mortality under five years is 195 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is just 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc being the most important), is a major contributing factor to the high rate of infant mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five years. Micronutrient deficiencies are also widespread.

BGR is currently partnering with Helen Keller International (HKI) to implement a program to improve an understanding of proper feeding practices among young girls and women in Korhogo Health District over the next three years. The primary goal of the project is to decrease the incidence of malnutrition in children during their first 1,000 days of life by training health workers in ENA in the Korhogo Health District. Korhogo Health District, located in the under-served Poro Region in northern Cote d’Ivoire, operates 77 health clinics that serve a target population of around 760,000.

Through this project, entirely funded by BGR, HKI will use the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) framework to reach new mothers and expectant women at the right time with the right message to improve their own health and the health of their children. ENA promotes optimal nutrition practices, among them women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding the sick child, vitamin A, and the integrated control of anemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiency.

Salimata Coulibaly providing ENA training to health workers in Korhogo

The implementation of the project started in September, 2016, when HKI-Cote d’Ivoire contracted Mrs. Salimata Coulibaly to serve as master trainer in nutrition practices in the district. Salimata has a long, impressive history of successful nutrition interventions in the area. She has played a national advocacy role in building awareness of the need to treat childhood under-nutrition in the northern region of Cote d’Ivoire. She was the first person, 25 years ago, to start treating infants with severe acute malnutrition at a center she established in Korhogo in partnership with the Red Cross. She is highly respected, and brings years of experience as she works to reinforce health workers understanding of the Essential Nutrition Actions.

Salimata benefited from special train-the-trainer sessions organized by HKI to build her capacity to reinforce health worker’s understanding of the ENA framework during a regional workshop organized for nutrition experts from French-speaking Africa.

Salimata demonstrating proper breastfeeding position to healthworkers

To date, Salimata has undertaken assessment visits at 29 health clinics in Korhogo district, and has developed plans to reinforce and scale-up ENA practices in the respective communities being served by these health clinics.
As of the writing of this report, Salimata has trained 85 health workers on the following themes: (1) nutrition of expectant and breastfeeding mothers; (2) exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a newborn’s life; (3) appropriate complementary feeding and continuation of breastfeeding for the first two years of a child’s life; (4) feeding the sick and malnourished child; (5) vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc deficiency; and (6) essential actions in hygiene.

Training of health workers to organize community cooking demonstrations are slated to start soon so that women can better understand how to incorporate healthier foods into their diets and that of their children.

This article is based on a six-months interim report on the first year of the project from Helen Keller International.

Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood in Lakhimpur Kheri, India 

Patricia Brick

Manju Devi mulching in tomato cultivation

Manju Devi cultivates peas, tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers on 1/5 acre of land in her Musadei village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, India. Through Oxfam India’s “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project, Devi and sixteen other women farmers in the Santoshi Mahila Kisan Samuh collective gather for a monthly “farmers’ field school” to learn sustainable practices for improving soil quality, agricultural productivity, and climate resilience.

Devi and other group members have begun selling organically grown tomatoes at the local market, and they have found that their income has already increased, to an annual income of INR 50,000 on average, exceeding the net per capita income for Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, by learning to use locally available materials to prepare organic insecticide, fungicide, and fertilizer, group members have been able to save money on purchased fertilizers and pesticides.

Jaidevi collecting peas from her fields

Supported by a $20,000 grant from Buddhist Global Relief, the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project is working to improve the lives of women farmers in twenty villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. With an emphasis on community-led knowledge-sharing, support, and collective organizing, the project has created 22 new women farmers’ groups offering trainings in organic methods and other climate-resilient agricultural practices to improve productivity and income and lower costs. The project also seeks to improve farmers’ access to government grants by developing connections between village groups and the government agriculture department.

Women comprise more than a third of the agricultural work force in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and it is estimated that 85 percent of working women in rural areas are farmers or farm workers. But with few land titles in their names, women farmers are far less likely than their male counterparts to benefit from government grants and projects: only 4 percent of women in Uttar Pradesh have access to credit, and less than one percent have participated in government training projects. Farming in general in this area of Uttar Pradesh is subject to drought, flood, poor soil quality, poor seed replacement, and general low productivity. An estimated 33 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty, including many farming families.

In the first six months of the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood,” Oxfam India reports, 75 women from 20 villages began cultivating crops in kitchen gardens, and 20 Dalit (scheduled caste) women farmers began mushroom farming. Six villages, representing 102 small-holder farmers, created agriculture development plans, and 376 farmers, including 32 women, were registered under government agricultural projects. Additionally, 255 farmers received seed and 121 farmers received agricultural equipment from the government.

Rajmati picking chilies

In another women farmers’ group supported by the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project, a mother of two named Rajmati joined 20 other women in her village of Pritampur to learn about climate-resilient agriculture practices, including the preparation and use of organic fertilizer and other methods of crop intensification. With her husband, Rajmati grows vegetables and other crops on 4/5 acre of land, but in past years, the harvest has not been enough to support their family. In her women farmer’s group, Rajmati said: “I learned different techniques in our group and explained everything to my husband. We used cow dung as manure in our field and observed that productivity has increased. Now I can say that through this, we are getting high yield with less input cost.”

Shrivani and Rajmati

Among the techniques Rajmati has implemented is the use of a manure or compost mulch covered by a plastic sheet to increase productivity by supporting moisture retention, regulating temperature, suppressing weed growth, and enriching the soil. She explained: “We applied plastic sheets in vegetable cultivation. This has minimized our investment, as our vegetable crop used less water and was protected from weeds, as well. We also did mixed-cropping: Between the beds we had sown cauliflower, which gave us an extra crop at the same time. We earned INR 12,000 extra by selling cauliflowers.” Rajmati continues to attend regular meetings of her women farmers’ group.

Climate-resilient farming practices support food and livelihood security for farmers and their surrounding communities by increasing output and making crop production less vulnerable to the weather extremes of a changing climate. Over the past decade, farmers in Uttar Pradesh have faced dry spells during the monsoon season, increased flooding, and increased winter temperatures. At the same time these practices, focused on long-term sustainability, lessen agriculture’s contributions to global climate change.

Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area. This article has been adapted from Oxfam India’s report on the project.

BGR Provides Emergency Relief to Countries Facing Food Crisis

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, announced that the world is facing the most serious humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the United Nations. More than 20 million people in four countries—Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria—are suffering from extreme food shortages, with millions at risk of starvation, a large percentage of them children. Speaking to the UN Security Council last Friday (March 10), O’Brien warned that “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”

Photo: World Food Program

The gravest  crisis is in Yemen, where  17 million people are facing dangerous levels of food insecurity and will fall prey to famine without urgent humanitarian assistance. Seven million people are deemed to be in a state of emergency – one step away from famine. In South Sudan more than a million children are acutely malnourished, including 270,000 who will die if aid does not reach them in time. In Somalia close to 3 million people are struggling with severe food shortages and need immediate help to survive. Close to a million children under five in Somalia are expected to suffer from acute malnourishment this year. In northeast Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the armed group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes. Malnutrition in this region is so severe that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.

These food shortages, while due partly to drought and crop failures, are largely precipitated by regional conflicts. The conflict may be internal, as in South Sudan, where fighting between rival factions prevents food supplies from reaching those in need. Conflict may also be external, as in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been unleashing relentless aerial bombardments against Houthi rebels, attacks that claim the lives of many civilians. According to O’Brien, in Yemen “all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid.”

One of the biggest obstacles to relief aid is inadequate funding. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that this year humanitarian operations in the four countries require more than $5.6 billion, with $4.4 billion needed by the end of March to avert catastrophe. However, he added, “just $90 million has actually been received so far—around two cents for every dollar needed.”

Although the U.S. has consistently been a major supporter of the UN’s humanitarian projects, reports suggest that the Trump administration intends to slash its contributions to the organization as a whole as well as to the three agencies on the front line in responding to the crisis: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, and UNICEF. These cuts, if implemented, will increase the need for nongovernmental actors and private philanthropies to come to the rescue.

While BGR is not an emergency relief organization, when crises erupt that require immediate aid, we have often responded with special donations from a fund  maintained to meet urgent demands for food aid. In response to the present crisis, this past week BGR made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Program, to be divided equally between the four affected countries–$2,500 each to Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. This, of course, is a mere drop when measured against the amount needed, but we have to respond in a way that fits our capacity, monitoring the situation with a view to future aid.

This donation brings to $58,000 the amount that BGR has so far contributed in emergency aid over the past fiscal year, which extends from July 2016 to June 2017. Previous emergency donations went to relief organizations working for flood victims in Assam, India; for people living in famine stricken areas in Eastern and Southern Africa; for relief aid in Haiti following the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew; and to provide food aid to Syrian refugees.

Note: BGR makes emergency donations from its own special emergency fund and does not solicit contributions from the public for such purposes. Readers who wish to donate to support food relief in these four countries can do so through the website of the World Food Programme. There are separate windows for each country.

Enhanced Homestead Food Production in Côte d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Mother and child with recently harvested eggplant

In May 2013, Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) awarded Helen Keller International a three-year grant to support their Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) and Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP) production in Côte d’Ivoire. The project extended from September 2013 to August 2016. The goal of this project was to improve the nutritional status of children and families in the Gebke Region of Bouake District. In this region, as elsewhere across Côte d’Ivoire, people face a constant struggle with food security, availability of micronutrient-rich foods, and accessibility to markets.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Group members in the garden

With BGR’s support, HKI piloted a three-year adaptation and expansion of its proven Food Production program model. They integrated EHFP into an existing community group and promoted the production and consumption of vitamin A and micronutrient-rich crops, including orange sweet potatoes. In an effort to improve the local group’s capacity to adapt to ever-increasing water shortages that threaten production, the HKI team helped pilot a drip irrigation system on the group’s model farm, which was used to train group members on improved agriculture techniques. Continue reading

Worldviews Clash at Standing Rock

 Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The standoff at Standing Rock offers a choice between two worldviews: one that can lead to a new economy of shared prosperity and one that will hasten the devastation of the planet.

 

The struggle to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline marks not only a difference in economic policies but a contest between two radically different orientations to life. The struggle, which pits Native Americans and their allies against a company that constructs oil pipelines, has a profound significance that extends far beyond the plains of Standing Rock. The contest is both ethical and existential, and how it is resolved may well determine the future of human life, whether for harm or for good, on this beautiful but fragile planet. Continue reading