Without a Doubt – It’s Time to Get to Work on Climate Change

Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni

A couple of weeks ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report intended to dispel the fog of disinformation about the reality of climate change and to impress on us the urgency of taking action. What we need to know is what we ourselves can do about it.


One day, when I was talking about the importance of taking immediate action on climate change, a good friend of mine said, “I just wish the scientists would get together and tell us whether they think climate change is happening.” Well, my friend, there is a paper I want you to see.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, has issued a report entitled “What We Know” that should clear away any residue of doubt. The report states:

So let us be clear: Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists conclude humans are changing the climate. This widespread agreement is documented not by a single study but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from polls of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed literature and from public statements issued by virtually every expert scientific membership organization on this topic. The evidence is overwhelming: levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.

They point out that the consensus among climate scientists that humans are changing the climate is as strong as that among health experts that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. What they didn’t say in the report is that the same tactics that were used to keep the public in doubt about the risks of smoking are now being used to sow doubt about climate change and its primary cause, the burning of fossil fuels. The film Gasland II discloses that the fracking industry has even employed the very same advertising agency that came up with the idea of introducing doubt as a way to preserve the profitability of the tobacco industry.

The report emphasizes that Americans are already experiencing the effects of climate change. It is happening here; it is happening now; the impacts around the globe affect us all.

Last year the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere broke the 400 parts-per-million mark, an increase of 120 ppm over pre-industrial levels. This rise in CO2 levels is causing widespread impacts that will only become worse. They include changes to our global landscape as ice melts, fires rage, and sea levels rise; changes in animal behaviors and increased rates of species extinction; deaths caused by heat and extreme weather events; the increase of heat-related illnesses; contamination of drinking water; and increased challenges for national security.

The report warns that the longer we take to reduce CO2 emissions, the greater the risk that we could experience “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts.” Some of these potential irreversible changes include large-scale ice sheet collapse in Greenland and the Antarctic, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, dieback of the Amazon rainforest, coral reef die-off, destabilization of sea floor methane, and the release of large amounts of CO2 from the thawing Arctic permafrost. The possible large-scale impacts include the collapse of ecosystems and “rates of extinction [that] are likely to place our era among a handful of severe biodiversity crises in the Earth’s geological record.”

You might ask at this point, “How will this affect me?”

As Earth’s systems collapse, so do our sources of food and water and all other necessities for life. This is already being felt in some places on the planet. If run-away climate change becomes a reality, we are likely to experience massive loss of human life and the crumbling of civilization. It’s not a pretty picture. Even though the chances that some of these outcomes occur may be relatively small, the consequences would be very grave. So, the report makes the case for sensible risk management, the kind many of us use on a regular basis, like fire insurance or seat belts and airbags. The chances of our house burning down or of us getting into an auto accident aren’t so high, but we take out fire insurance and use seat belts as a precaution. In this case, the insurance premiums are lower and the coverage is much better if we act as soon as possible. As the report says, “The sooner we take action, the more options we will have to reduce risk and limit the human and economic cost of climate change.”

The final section of the report is entitled “There is much we can do.” I found this part to be characteristically disappointing. Even though the authors may have felt that a concrete list of actions was not appropriate to include, I would beg to differ. To take in the reality of climate change is a pretty tough thing to do, but when we do take it in, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and take action. For this, we need specifics. Here are some of my recommendations:

  1. Review a few sources to be sure you know the facts on climate change and how to “live in climate truth.” Besides the AAAS report , I recommend the “Do the Math Movie” by 350.org and the article by Margaret Klein called “Our Society Is Living a Massive Lie About the Threat of Climate Change — It’s Time to Wake Up.”
  2. Talk with friends, families, coworkers, and members of the organizations you belong to about the facts of climate change and the solutions we need to implement. Help mobilize them.
  3. Join together with others to meet officials at all levels of government to secure their commitments to push policies forward to make the necessary changes.
  4. Make sure that all investments are fossil-fuel free. Divest your own interests from fossil fuels and work to get organizations you are associated with (universities, churches, pension plans, etc.) to do the same.
  5. Participate in actions organized by 350.org, the Sierra Club, and others that are resisting fossil fuel extraction, production, and use.
  6. Speak out against and resist all forms of extreme fossil fuel extraction: fracking, deep-sea drilling, mountain-top removal, tar sands, and drilling in the Arctic.
  7. Write letters to the President, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and any other government agencies with a mission to protect the people and interests of the nation.
  8. Take every opportunity to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to recycle and reuse goods.

Now that we have no doubt about the reality of climate change and the importance of immediate action, this is our chance to make a real difference and rise above whatever might hold us back from fully embracing life as it is now, here on planet Earth, working to restore our prospects for a bright future.

Feeding Youth Starved for Meaning: The Reciprocity Foundation Is Fulfilling Its Goals

Last year, BGR began a partnership with NYC’s Reciprocity Foundation, which trains and counsels homeless youth. The partnership aims to enable Reciprocity to expand its vegetarian meals program. Their half-year interim report indicates this partnership is bearing fruit.

Reciprocity staff and students
Co-director Adam Bucko is lying down at center

For the past eight years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly in New York City to provide care for homeless youth in the age range of 13-26 years. The Foundation aims to nurture the transformation of homeless, impoverished youngsters—most living in homeless shelters—into educated, employed young persons able to take on leadership roles in society. Reciprocity offers a unique holistic synthesis of contemplative, psychological, and practical modes of training. It provides counseling, meditation, yoga, retreats, career coaching, college admission support, and digital media training.

In 2012, the staff at Reciprocity found that their homeless students were arriving at the center very hungry because of a shortage of food at the shelters. Budget cuts had meant there was too little food for too many mouths. In the spring of 2012, they decided to design their own vegetarian food program, which they called “Starved for Meaning.” They began serving home-cooked, vegetarian meals to homeless and foster-care youth in New York City— group meals that provided the homeless young people with companionship as well as food. By the fall of 2012 Reciprocity had the largest vegetarian food program in the country for homeless people.

For 2013-14 Reciprocity wanted to expand and improve the food program, and so they applied to BGR for support. The goals expressed in their application were threefold: (1) to reconfigure their kitchen by upgrading its cooking facilities and serving space; (2) to double capacity, increasing the number of students served per week from 30 to 75, and the number of meals from 2 to 4 weekly; (3) to provide nutrition education by hiring a nutritionist to educate students about the vegetarian meal program and teaching them how to make healthy food choices.
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BGR ED Kim Behan Honored by Oxfam America

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Kim-Close UpThis year Oxfam America is celebrating International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8th, by asking their staff and supporters to share stories of “women who are making a difference in the fight against hunger, poverty, and injustice.” One of their staff members chose as her inspirational model BGR Executive Director, Kim Behan! The writer is Oxfam America’s Manager of Strategic Alliances Elizabeth Carty, whom Kim and I first met in Washington DC in 2010 and who helped us establish an ongoing partnership with Oxfam America.

 In the covering email, the Oxfam America team wrote to Kim: “Thank you so much for all the work you’ve been doing to make a difference in your community and in the world. You’re an inspiration to us.” And, I would add, she is an inspiration to all of us at BGR—truly one of the world’s outstanding Buddhist women.

Here is the text of Elizabeth’s submission, the original of which can be found here:

Kim Behan – Westminster, CO

Submitted by Elizabeth Carty - Newton, MA

I am honoring Kim Behan, Executive Director of Buddhist Global Relief, because of her dedication to helping end hunger, poverty, and injustice. I first met Kim at a White House briefing for Faith Leaders in 2010. Her friendly and warm personality immediately drew me in, and we became fast friends. We were thrilled when Kim agreed to become an Oxfam Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. Not only has she and Buddhist Global Relief partnered over the years with Oxfam on World Food Day and International Woman’s Day, but they have also donated over $131,800 to Oxfam partners and projects over the past 3 years.

Like all staff at Buddhist Global Relief, Kim takes no salary but donates her time and expertise to the organization. She is truly dedicated to ending hunger, poverty, and injustice, and understands well how this vision will only be achieved by investing in women.

Kim, I am proud to honor you this International Woman’s Day!

There’s No Debate about Climate Change Denial

Charles W. Elliott

Originally published at DeSmogBlog

First Phase Digital

Fact and fantasy took the stage at this past Sunday’s CBS “Meet the Press”. Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R. Tenn.) appeared for a so-called “debate” on climate change. Bill Nye is best known for his educational science program “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.  Climate change-denier Blackburn is known, among other things, for echoing Sarah Palin’s claims that the Affordable Care Act included “death panels.” Somewhat less known is Blackburn’s role as vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responsible for legislative oversight on matters of public health, air quality and environmental health, and energy.

One would think that a person in such an important role would have a clear, if not advanced, understanding of the science of energy and climate change in order to guide policy to further the public interest and protect our children’s future.

Sadly, one would be wrong.
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Norin Rotha: Building Bridges for a Future Engineer

Since 2009, BGR has partnered with Lotus Outreach to provide primary and secondary scholarships to high-achieving girls in Cambodia, along with bags of rice to their families. In 2010, the program expanded to provide 25 GATE program graduates with scholarships to college and trade schools.

A future bridge builder

The dusty border town of Poipet has been described as a wasteland. Much of the town was settled by refugees escaping the massacre of the Khmer Rouge genocide, and the shelters and and shacks in which much of the population still lives are a stark reminder that Cambodia is still recovering from those events decades ago. The streets have no sanitation services, and there is a serious threat of typhoid and malaria.

Norin Rotha’s family lives here. Their small home has tin walls and an earthen floor. One room has a small, raised wooden platform on which the family sleeps on straw mats. Just below the platform is a pool of black, stagnant water.

But from these inhospitable surroundings comes a ray of hope. Rotha, who attends 9th grade at Poipet Secondary School, is a Lotus Outreach GATE scholar. Piled on a shelf are her books and a small whiteboard she is using to teach her siblings to read and write. Rotha is completely committed to her studies, but managing the needs of her family and siblings is a considerable challenge.

Rotha’s older sister was married and divorced after having three children. She left Cambodia to find work in Thailand three years ago and never returned. Her family does not know what has become of her. Rotha dropped out of school in 8th grade to care for her sister’s children.

Thanks to BGR sponsorship and a grant from Lotus Outreach’s GATE program, she was able to attend school again. “Since I have the GATE scholarship, I am able to study from 7 AM to 6 PM and use my stipend to pay for a packed lunch that I prepare before I go to school,” she says. “Since November this year, I am now placed 8th out of 50 in my class!” Rotha’s family also receives 50 kilograms of rice support, which is enough to feed them for three weeks out of each month.

Rotha’s favorite subjects are physics, chemistry, and math. She dreams of becoming an engineer. “Ever since I was young, when I see bridges and tall buildings, I always wish I could build them,” she explains.

As GATE and its funders build bridges to brighter futures for these young scholars, Rotha is building academic bridges for her sister’s children, whom she tutors in reading, writing and math. With our continued support, perhaps Rotha will someday build brick-and-mortar bridges for Cambodia.

(Prepared by Jennifer Russ, based on Lotus Outreach’s report to BGR,
Three Years of Great Work, A Review of 2011-2013)

Plean Sreytoek: A GATE Success Story

 Since 2009, BGR has partnered with Lotus Outreach to provide primary and secondary scholarships to high-achieving girls in Cambodia, along with bags of rice to their families. In 2010, the program expanded to provide 25 GATE program graduates with scholarships to college and trade schools.

LOI-plean sretoekPlean Sreytoek is the third of four children born to laborer parents in Bantat Boh village, Banteay Meanchey Province, Cambodia. Sreytoek’s parents care for the cattle of a rich family in their village. Sreytoek is the only child in her family who could reach the 12th grade; her other siblings were unable to even reach secondary school.

The extreme poverty of Sreytoek’s family discouraged her at a young age from academic pursuits. As a child she dreamed of completing high school, but she never believed it would be possible. Her family owns no land. They can grow no crops for sale. At one point in her early adolescence she thought she would drop out in order to migrate to Thailand and support her family from there.

When Sreytoek was in the 8th grade, she applied for and won a full GATE secondary school scholarship.  Sreytoek lived in a GATE residential house and earned excellent grades. Even when her mother fell ill and Sreytoek had to work weekends in the rice paddies to help pay her family’s debts, she maintained her position as one of the top ten students in her class.

Lotus Outreach’s GATE project supplied Sreytoek and her family with rice support to help lessen the burden of her mother’s medical bills. This tremendous assistance granted Sreytoek’s family the disposable income to pay their debts sustainably. Her family said they will never forget this great support for their daughter and their whole family.

Sreytoek is now graduating high school and dreams of becoming a high school teacher. She aspires to provide an education to her community and earn money to support her family. Thanks to the generosity of GATE supporters, Sreytoek and her family have been able to escape the pitfalls of poverty.

(Prepared by Jennifer Russ, based on Lotus Outreach’s report to BGR,
Three Years of Great Work, A Review of 2011-2013)

Chantha Luen: A GATEways Success Story

 Since 2009, BGR has partnered with Lotus Outreach to provide primary and secondary scholarships to high-achieving girls in Cambodia, along with bags of rice to their families. In 2010, the program expanded to provide 25 GATE program graduates with scholarships to college and trade schools.

LOI-from the boar-2The road to Chantha Luen’s success was not an easy one. Luen’s father abandoned her family when she was in ninth grade, and her mother passed away in her final year of high school. She moved in with her grandmother, but she also passed away that year. Fortunately, Luen was able to live in one of Lotus Outreach’s GATE residential homes.

Luen graduated from high school despite these significant setbacks and began teacher training with the help of a GATEways scholarship. Thanks to her hard work and good grades, she graduated third in her teaching class and had the choice to teach anywhere she wanted. A testament to the tremendous community impact of educating women, Luen chose to return to the rural Row Lueh Commune in the district of Svey Check, right next to her home village!

Luen knows the people of her hometown area, and she was proud to return. “I am so happy to be working in my home village. Here, I can be a role model and will help the children and families here to value education and stay in school as long as they can.”

Luen’s story has a fairytale ending. Luen met a young man while in pedagogy school, and they are now engaged to be married. Her fiancé is teaching at another nearby school.

Just several years ago, this kind of story would have been very unlikely in a country like Cambodia. Thanks to BGR and its supporters, and our partner Lotus Outreach, more women like Luen are attending school, and they are paying it forward to the next generation.

  (Prepared by Jennifer Russ, based on Lotus Outreach’s report to BGR,  Three Years of Great Work, A Review of 2011-2013)