Tag Archives: Global warming

Climate Change and World Hunger

By David Braughton

Climate Change and the World’s Poor

For the 821 million people across the globe who face chronic hunger, climate change is no theory, but an ever-present reality.  Fully 80% of the world’s chronically hungry and malnourished people live in rural areas, surviving only on the food they grow from their rain-dependent farms.  Variability in the amount of rainfall, when the rain falls, days between rainfall, or daily temperatures – all the result of climate change – can quickly transform what is at its best a marginal existence into almost certain starvation.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2018 report, The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, devotes 75 pages of its 112 page publication documenting climate change as a major contributor to the recent increase in global hunger and food insecurity following a decade-long decline in the number of hungry people around the world.  In 2014, the incidents of chronically hungry people had declined from 945 million to an estimated 784 million. By 2017, the count had risen to 821 million, an increase of 37 million people!

With respect to climate change, the 2018 FAO report offers 4 key messages:

  • Climate variability and exposure to more complex, frequent and intense climate extremes are threatening to erode and even reverse the gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition.
  • Climate variability and extremes are a key driver behind the recent rise in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe food crises.
  • Severe droughts linked to the strong El Niño of 2015–2016 affected many countries, contributing to the recent uptick in undernourishment at the global level.
  • Hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. (FAO 38)

Climate change occurs over decades, even centuries, and may not be readily observable.  What can be observed are climate variability and extremes, the incidents of which have more than doubled since 1990, which climate change produces.  Averaging 213 events a year between 1990 and 2016, extreme heat, droughts, floods and severe storms have compromised the availability, access to, and stability of food production around the world.  Climate-related disasters have become so frequent that they now make up more than 80 percent of all major internationally reported disasters. (FAO 39)

Over the past century, the world has become measurably warmer and the incidents of extreme heat more numerous, resulting in lower labor output, increased mortality rates, and lower crop yields.  Rainfall has similarly become less predictable with vast areas of the globe experiencing below normal levels and other areas receiving above normal levels. The result has been long-term drought in large sections of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, and flooding in other areas, such as South and Southeast Asia.   When the rains come, how long they last and when they stop is also changing.  For example, the FAO states that “in the Afram Plains region of Ghana, farmers are noticing delays in the onset of the rainy season, mid-season heatwaves and high-intensity rains that cause flooding, which are resulting in crop loss, low yields and reduced availability of household food.” (FAO 45)

Tragically, 95% of low- and moderate-income countries experienced climate extremes between 2011 and 2016, with 40% of these countries, such as Côte D’Ivoire, experiencing 3 or 4 extreme events during this period. (FAO pg. 54) Why is this tragic?  Because the more climate shocks that a country experiences, especially if its people are already poor or of modest means, the higher the likelihood of chronic malnutrition and serious hunger.  Nearly 600 million of the estimated 821 million people who don’t get enough to eat on a daily basis, live in a country that has experience floods, droughts, storms, extreme heat, or all the above!

The consequences of climate shocks (climate variability and extremes), as the FAO report calls them, are often devastating and only serve to exacerbate people’s tenuous grasp on survival.   In nearly every instance, countries, which have experienced climate extremes, have also experienced increased food insecurity and malnutrition.  The amount of goods and services available to people quickly dwindle, further reducing their ability to cope and adapt to these changes.  Long term or recurrent extremes can result in loss of livelihoods and destitution and may prompt mass migrations.  A downward spiral begins that is difficult to reverse. As the climate changes even more, people become less and less capable of adapting.

Promoting Resilience

Resilience, put simply, is the capacity to bounce back after a disaster or setback.  The FAO 2018 report discusses the need for coordinated planning and policy development, scientific risk assessment, and system change, as fundamental to improving people’s resilience around the globe.  The FAO suggests a number of short-term interventions in the way people grow their food, the kinds of food they grow and the importance of local participation, and gender-based approaches.  Many, if not most of these suggestions are already being implemented through Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) funded programs.

In Sudan, BGR is partnering with Oxfam America to help 500 households return to farming and to adopt improved farming techniques that will not only produce enough food for their needs but provide a surplus that can be sold at market.  Farmers will be provided with crop seeds and agricultural tools and trained in water harvesting techniques as well as suitable methods of vegetable gardening that enable farmers to increase production. (Sudan)

A partnership between BGR and Oxfam India, “Prosperity through Resilient Agriculture,” funded entirely by BGR, focuses on women farmers in 25 villages.  Women are helped to access government assistance while learning climate resilient farming practices to increase crop yields.  As women become proficient in the new techniques, they train other women in their community, thus assuring the eventual spread of both better harvests and a surplus crop that can be sold at market! (India)

BGR has joined with Action Against Hunger to promote agricultural diversification and food access in the Preah Vihear province in Cambodia.  This innovative project again trains model farmers (most of them women) in 22 villages in agroecology for home gardening and climate-resilient rice production. Model farmers have their own garden and commit to training other women once they’ve mastered the basic approach and shown real results. (Cambodia)

The FAO report makes clear that while the global situation is dire, it is not hopeless.  We have the technical knowledge and resources to reverse the recent increase in malnourished and starving women, children and men.  What is needed now are more organizations like BGR and people like you who support us to be:

… inspired by the vision of a world in which debilitating poverty has finally been banished; a world in which all can avail themselves of the basic material supports of a meaningful life—food, clothing, housing, and health care; a world in which everyone can achieve a satisfactory level of education and freely pursue that which gives their life value and purpose; a world in which all people dwell in peace and harmony with one another and with the natural environment.

May I be a good doctor for those who suffer from illness,
a guide for those who have gone astray,
a lamp for those who dwell in darkness,
a source of treasure for those in poverty and need.”
Vows of Samantabhadra, Avatamsaka Sutra

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief. During his professional career he led a number of nonprofit agencies involved with mental health, trauma, and child development. 

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The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World

By David Braughton

In September, 2015, United Nations members participating in a summit on sustainable development adopted a bold and far-reaching agenda whose goal was nothing less than the promotion of prosperity and the elimination of global poverty and hunger by 2030.

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations Sustainability Summit, September 25, 2015)

This year, as last, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, issued a report documenting progress towards the 2030 goal.  This year’s report,  The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, provides an overview of hunger and malnutrition from two perspectives: the prevalence of undernutrition (a statistical estimate of chronic hunger within a population) and a more subjective accounting of food insecurity using a survey called the Food Insecurity Scale.  The report goes on to examine the impact of global warming and climate change as a leading contributor of increased hunger, particularly in Africa and South America.

In this and future articles, we’ll share findings from the FOA report, examine hunger’s effect on kids and pregnant women, and delve further into how climate change is contributing to the reversal of a ten-year decline in the number of hungry people worldwide. Finally, we will look at some of the countries where BGR is sponsoring projects to see how their people are doing and why these projects are so essential. Continue reading

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint through Change of Diet

By Randy Rosenthal

Embed from Getty Images

 

What’s the best way to reduce your carbon footprint? A new influential study recently published in Science says: Go vegan.

The study is described as “the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.” To come to their conclusions, the authors J. Poore and T. Nemecek looked at data covering nearly 40,000 farms and 16,000 processors, packagers, and retailers. This means they studied the impact of the meat and dairy industry, from the bottom up, rather than the previous top-down approach using national data, which is why this study is so profoundly revealing. In doing so, they determined that without meat and dairy consumption, we could reduce global farmland use by more than 75% and still feed the world.

This conclusion rests on their finding that livestock uses 83% of all available farmland and produces 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet meat and dairy consumption provide only 18% of our calories and 37% of protein. Based on this study, it seems that eliminating meat and dairy consumption from our diets is the best way to reduce our environmental impact. According to Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions. Continue reading

Buddhists Roll On Together to the People’s Climate March

Stepping off the Buddhist retreat bus in D.C. on Saturday, two things were apparent: the 2017 People’s Climate March was going to be huge, and it was going to be hot. The record-breaking 92-degree heat seemed to enhance the energy of the staggering crowds that had convened to march from the foot of the Capitol Building to surround the White House.

I’d chosen to march with the Buddhist contingent as part of the Faith Bloc, situated between the Science bloc and Fossil Fuel resistance groups that gathered to surge down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Trump’s 100th day in office, and over 200 Buddhists from around the world had shown up to make their voices heard with another 200,000+ people. The common message was clear: we know the climate is changing, and we want to address this.
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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. 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.

Embed from Getty Images

 

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