Category Archives: Social justice

A Decision Cruel and Callous

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Much has been written over the last several days about the political and economic repercussions of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out from the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s been pointed out that the decision will diminish our standing in the world and cast us in the role of a rogue state, a pariah among nations. Our economy will languish, overtaken by other countries that make the leap to full reliance on clean energy. The mantle of global leadership will pass to Europe and China, and we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated on the international stage. To be an American abroad will become a mark of shame.

The decision to leave the Paris Accord, however, should be seen not only as an act of foolishness, arrogance, and delusional thinking, but also as an appalling expression of cruelty. The decision is cruel because it reveals a glaring deficit of compassion—a callous lack of concern for the billions of people around the world who are endangered by a more hostile climate. Sadly, it is those nations and peoples with the lightest carbon footprint that are being hit the hardest. Even before freak weather events began to multiply and inflict horrendous harm, smallholder farmers and day laborers in the developing world faced an uphill struggle just to put food on the table and get enough clean water to meet their daily needs. Now, assailed by ever more frequent and destructive climate disruptions, these same people find their very lives suspended over an abyss.

As I write, Sri Lanka, the country where I lived for over twenty years, is reeling from floods that have turned streets into angry rivers, driven half a million people from their homes, and brought hills crashing down on top of the people who lived on their slopes. Parts of Pakistan are experiencing temperatures that have soared past 120° Fahrenheit, heat waves that claim the lives of the poor, elderly, and frail. Large swaths of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been transformed into desert, no longer able to sustain their populations. Four countries border on famine—South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northern Nigeria—partly because of political turmoil, but also because of climate change. In some regions, beset by long droughts, crops shrivel up and livestock drop dead. In others, once lush fields are invaded by hordes of rapacious pests, which find the newly warmer climate a congenial home.

Flooding in Sri Lanka (Photo: Groundviews.org)

When we take in the total picture, the conclusion is clear. Accelerating climate change will condemn millions of people to an early death, either swiftly through sudden disaster, or slowly and painfully through hunger and malnutrition. Fragile countries will be rocked by social instability, giving tyrants the chance to grab power, breeding terrorism, and sending millions in flight across seas and deserts in search of better living conditions. Is this the kind of future we want for the men and women who share this planet with us?

It is the responsibility of the global community, as inherent in our humanity, to protect the poor and vulnerable, to ensure they can live with dignity in their own lands, enjoying an acceptable standard of living. To achieve this goal it’s imperative that we cut carbon emissions as swiftly and sharply as we can in order to prevent global temperatures from rising past 1.5° Celsius above the pre-industrial average, at which point climate calamities will rapidly increase. The Paris Agreement was weak, flawed, and inadequate, and we are already half way toward the 1.5° mark. But for all its shortcomings, the accord has been a step in the right direction. It serves as a starting point that can be built upon and strengthened as the signatories begin to see the benefits of switching to a post-carbon economy and also, hopefully, as their sense of social responsibility extends beyond their own borders to those whose lives are most gravely threatened.

The decision to withdraw, however, turns a deaf ear to the demands of reason and the call of compassion. It even snubs the principle of enlightened self-interest, which tells us that our economy will thrive and good jobs increase with the full-scale transition to renewable energy. Defying the decrees of moral conscience, it imposes a merciless death sentence on the millions who will die because the U.S. denies them the aid they need to adapt to a harsher climate. When it comes to boosting military spending, we have no trouble finding hundreds of billions of dollars to be wasted in fighting futile wars. But when it comes to helping those desperately in need, suddenly our treasury is empty. Yet which policy will make us truly safer: engaging in military operations all around the world or adopting a policy of global generosity by which we share vital resources with others?

The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord may leave those of us who invested time and energy mobilizing for a sane climate policy confused and dismayed about the future—about our own personal futures and the future direction of the planet. While it may take us time to recover from the shock, we should not lose hope. To become disheartened and passively accept the new wave of climate policies would be to play right into the hands of those who  want to force us into submission. It would simply give them a signal that with enough bluster they can get their way. Rather, we must be prepared to stand up even more defiantly, to resist with greater courage. In this we can draw on the strength of our numbers, the righteousness of our cause, and the recognition that the transition to a post-carbon economy is the only way to preserve a natural environment conducive to human flourishing.

While our chances of changing federal climate policy may be slim as long as the current administration remains in power, there are still several lines of action open to us. One is to become more politically aware and support only candidates who recognize the dangers of climate change, make it a pivot of their campaigns, and pledge to act effectively to reverse course. All candidates for office—from the federal level to the local level—must be closely examined and pressed to reveal their positions. Only those who, without deceit and distortion, acknowledge the hard truths of science and endorse the move toward a clean-energy economy should receive our support and our votes.

A second line of action is to actively oppose new fossil fuel projects clear across the country. Such action can take various forms: signing petitions, writing to our representatives, joining protests and marches, and directly obstructing the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. This last option poses risks, since the fossil fuel corporations have been mobilizing police and hiring security firms to attack dissenters, even painting them as terrorists; they have also resorted to severe legal action to discourage those who would oppose their projects. But earlier movements on behalf of social justice—particularly the civil rights movement of the 1960s—also had to face harsh penalties and brutal crackdowns. By pressing ahead, they eventually prevailed. If we have the trust in the rightness of our cause and remain undeterred, we too will triumph and in the process make America truly great again.

To make America great does not mean to abdicate our global responsibilities and close in upon ourselves, self-absorbed and suspicious of others. It means to become a nation great in wisdom, great in compassion, and great in moral leadership. Remaining in the Paris Agreement and strengthening its commitments is essential if we are to rise to this challenge.

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This essay was originally published on Common Dreams on June 4, 2017. t is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

It’s Time to Reawaken the Spirit of Occupy for the Starving Millions

Adam Parsons

04 May 2017

Photo credit: timeslive.co.za

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources in the 21st century? The time has come, the author argues, for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated the Occupy protests from 2011, but now focused on the worsening reality of mass starvation in the midst of plenty.


The world is now facing an unprecedented emergency of hunger and famine, with a record number of people requiring life-saving food and medical assistance in 2017. Since the start of this year, the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war has continued to unfold, while the international community has failed to take urgent commensurate action. The extent of human suffering is overwhelming: more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, including 1.4 million children – a conservative estimate that is rising by the day. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and could soon follow in Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.

In February, the UN launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian funding, calling for $4.4 billion by July to avert looming famines in these four conflict-ridden regions. Yet not even $1 billion has been raised so far, leaving little hope that these vital minimum funds will be raised on time. Last week the UN also sought to raise $2.1 billion for the funding shortfall in Yemen alone – described as the single largest hunger crisis in the world, where two thirds of the population are food insecure. But even this appeal remains barely half funded, which will almost certainly leave millions of neglected Yemeni’s facing the prospect of dying from starvation or disease.

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources, in a 21st century world that is wealthier and more technologically advanced than ever before? It was only six years ago that East Africa suffered a devastating drought and food crisis, with over a quarter of a million people dying from famine in Somalia (including 133,000 children), and millions more left with a legacy of chronic poverty, hardship and loss of livelihoods.

In the wake of this appalling human catastrophe, the Charter to End Extreme Hunger was drafted by NGOs from across the world, calling on governments and aid agencies to prevent hunger on such a scale ever happening again. But the underlying principle of the Charter to take early and large-scale preventative action has essentially remained unheeded. Early warning signs for the latest crisis were visible months ago, yet the international community again failed to respond in time to avert an entirely predictable and avoidable famine. So much for the “Grand Bargain” struck at the World Humanitarian Summit last year, which agreed a package of reforms to the complex international emergency system under the empty slogan: ‘One Humanity, Shared Responsibility’.

This fact should be emphasised, as we always have the power to avert and end famines, which are largely man-made and preventable if sufficient resources are redistributed to all people in need. To be sure, the challenge is now historic with increasing “mega-crises” becoming the norm, mostly caused by conflict and civil war rather than natural disasters. Far from stepping up to meet urgent funding appeals, however, donor governments have not even met half of requirements in recent years, leaving many crises and nations pitted against each other for resources. Meanwhile, wealthy nations are recycling old aid pledges as new money, and the purported annual increase in overseas aid is failing to reach the least developed countries. The Trump administration has pledged no new funding to the emergency famine relief appeals this year, instead announcing plans to dramatically cut foreign aid expenditures and voluntary contributions to UN programmes like the World Food Programme (WFP).

The tragic consequences on the ground are inevitable, as demonstrated in Somaliland where the WFP is providing emergency food aid for a few thousand people at a time, when the need is upwards of 300,000. In South Sudan, nearly one out of every two people are in urgent need of food assistance, yet only $423 million has been received out of a requested $1.6bn. Across North-East Nigeria, where 5.1 million people are food insecure out of a population of 5.8 million in the three affected states, the response plan still remains only 20% funded.

Of course, aid alone is not the solution to extreme poverty and hunger. In the long term, the answers for avoiding hunger crises lie within developing countries themselves, including supporting local food production, enhancing community resilience, and guaranteeing social services and protection for the poorest – all measures that rely on effective national governance. Beyond the need for material resources and financial assistance, there is also a need for long-term approaches towards conflict prevention and peace-building, placing the politics of famine at the heart of any international efforts. A huge part of the battle is not only raising vital funds, but also devising the correct response strategy and securing necessary access in complex, fragmented war zones.

At the same time, addressing the root causes of today’s escalating food crises depends on a turnaround in the foreign policy agendas of competing nations, which are either directly or indirectly responsible for many of the wars across the Middle East and Africa that have led to a record high of global forced displacement. The deadly conflict that is ripping apart Yemen continues to be facilitated by the UK and US governments, who are propping up the Saudi-led bombing campaigns through extensive political and military support, including billions of dollars’ worth of weapons sales that dwarf the amounts pledged in aid.

This is clearly the opposite of policies that can make countries like Britain and America “great” again. The world cries out for a new strategy of peace and generosity to replace the self-destructive policies of “national security through domination”, which urgently calls for a modern global Marshall Plan for investment in education, health, water, sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure across the world’s most impoverished regions. Fully-funded aid shipments in place of arms shipments; an end to drone attacks and military “special operations” within countries like Yemen; the spearheading of much needed diplomacy in all war-torn regions; massive transfers of essential resources from North to South – such is the only way to show true political leadership in the face of entrenched global divisions and escalating human suffering.

As STWR has long advocated, an intergovernmental emergency programme to end life-threatening poverty is the very first step towards achieving a more equal and sustainable world. It must be remembered that the four countries grouped together by the UN as a food security emergency are, in fact, only the worst instances of a wider crisis of hunger and impoverishment. Millions of other marginalised citizens are also suffering from soaring food insecurity worldwide, not only across Africa but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Haiti, the Oceania, and so many other regions. According to the UN’s official statistics, there are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of North America and the European Union. Every day, around 46,000 people needlessly die as a consequence of life-threatening deprivation, the vast majority in low-income countries.

The reversal of government priorities that is needed to ameliorate this immense crisis may never be achieved, unless world public opinion focuses on the worsening reality of poverty in the midst of plenty. Never before has it been so important for an enormous outpouring of public support in favour of sharing the world’s resources, thus to guarantee the long-agreed socioeconomic rights of every citizen, no matter where they live. Against a backdrop of rising nationalist sentiment, anti-immigrant rhetoric and huge funding gaps for humanitarian causes, it is up to ordinary people of goodwill to stand in solidarity with the world’s suffering poor majority.

The time has come for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated Occupy protests from 2011, but now concentrated on one simple and unifying cause: for the rapid implementation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowhere in the world are these long-agreed rights guaranteed for everyone – concerning adequate food, housing, healthcare, social services and social security for all. But there can be no greater example of the lack of these basic entitlements for a dignified life, than the fact of millions of people dying from hunger across vast neglected and conflict-ridden regions. Hence the need for endless global protests to begin with a united call for wealthy countries to redistribute all necessary resources to those at risk of starving to death, above and beyond the UN’s modest appeals for humanitarian funding.

The situation today is potentially even more catastrophic than in the 1980s, when Bob Geldof and Live Aid were at the forefront of a public funding campaign for victims of the Ethiopian famine – eventually resulting in the loss of almost one million lives. To stop a repeat of this tragedy occurring on a potentially even greater scale, it will require much more than one-off public donations to national charity appeals. It will also require countless people on the streets worldwide in constant, peaceful demonstrations that call on governments to massively scale up their efforts through the UN and its relevant agencies. Is it not possible to organise a huge show of public empathy and outrage with the plight of more than 100 million people facing acute malnutrition worldwide? For only a grassroots response of this exceptional nature may be enough to awaken the world’s conscience – calling for food and medicines, not bombs; standing for economic sharing as the only way to justice. Surely there can be no greater cause and priority at this critical hour.


Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources (STWR).

This essay was originally published by Share The World’s Resources under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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

A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading

Giving Girls in Nicaragua the Gift of Education

BGR Staff

2016-09-chicas-colegio-la-esperanza

A partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the North Country Mission of Hope is enabling ninety-four girls in Nicaragua to attend school. The Nicaraguan government mandates that children must wear black enclosed shoes and a uniform with their school insignia in order to attend public school. Considering that rural poverty is a staggering 67%, many poor children in the country are unable to attend school. A family will spend its precious financial resources securing food rather than putting shoes on the feet of their children. Purchasing a school uniform for their children, particularly a girl, is not a priority for survival. Over a third of adults cannot read or write, so they will have little interest in providing their children with the opportunity to obtain an education.

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Sadly, over 50% of babies in the country are born to teenage girls. Young mothers become completely dependent on the males in their community. The penal system in Nicaragua lacks laws protecting the rights of women and children, and therefore domestic violence is rampant. Without the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, this cycle will never end for the young women in Nicaragua.

The North Country Mission of Hope and Buddhist Global Relief have recently joined hands to help break this cycle. The North Country Mission of Hope sponsors nineteen rural schools in the barrios surrounding Chiquilistagua, providing a daily school meal, renovating and repairing the facilities as needed, and providing equipment such as school desks, blackboards, chairs, and tables. Through funding provided by BGR, ninety-four girls received sponsorship paying for their school shoes, uniforms, insignia, school supplies, backpack, and bi-annual parasite medicine.

The global partnership between BGR and the North Country Mission of Hope is a demonstration of what can be done when the power of compassion joins hearts in a common cause. The partnership offers these girls a safe haven to go to every day where they receive the gift of an education, necessary nourishment, and the chance to socialize with other children their own age. This generation of females will graduate and secure employment, which will give them financial freedom and a chance to make an impact upon their communities, society, and nation. In the faces of these girls one can see our future leaders—young women who will help make the world a better place for everyone.

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This article is based on a report from North Country Mission of Hope.

Sending a Message with Our Feet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Yesterday, on July 24, 10,000 people came together in Philadelphia to join the March for a Clean Energy Revolution, held on the eve of the Democratic Party’s National Convention. In Philadelphia, the temperature broke the 100 mark, but marchers remained undeterred. Their  purpose in coming together was to urge our political leaders to act quickly and effectively to ban fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop dirty energy, transition to 100% renewable energy, and ensure environmental justice for all.

Food & Water Watch_Media Mobilizing Project

Scene in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s city hall (Photo: Food & Water Watch_Media Mobilizing Project)

Members of the BGR team and other Buddhists were among those on the march. BGR participants included Sylvie Sun, Charles Elliott, Marcie Barth, and Regina Valdez. Also joining were Rev. T.K. Nakagaki of the Buddhist Council of New York, Ven. Ru Fa of the Chinese Buddhist community, Bob and Sarah Kolodny of Buddhist Climate Action Network NY, and East Coast members of the Plum Village Sangha.

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L to R: Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, Sylvie Sun, Ven. Rufa. (Photo: Regina Valdez)

The heat wave hanging heavy over North America this past week is just one of thousands of manifestations of climate change. We see other signs in blistering droughts, more violent hurricanes, destructive wildfires, and rising sea levels. Some 25% of the world’s animal species face extinction. Climate change threatens the world’s food supply, turning fertile land into dust bowls and deserts, triggering deluges, and reducing the yields of staple grains. If we don’t act quickly, millions of more people will be subjected to terrible food shortages, malnutrition, and even starvation. Continue reading

Marching on Behalf of the Planet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Photo credit: jomilo75 via Flickr / Creative Commons

Walking in unison can be a powerful means of social and political transformation. Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 challenged British authority in India and began the long process of civil disobedience that culminated in India’s independence. African Americans in the 1960s won their civil rights by undertaking long walks and marches through the South and in the nation’s capital. Millions of people in the 1960s marched against the Vietnam War, and again in 2003 to protest U.S. plans to attack Iraq. Just two years ago, almost half a million people converged on New York City to join the Peoples’ Climate March, showing that climate consciousness was no longer the concern of a minority. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution, to take place in Philadelphia on July 24th, continues this practice of using our legs to express the ideals that stir in our hearts. Continue reading