Creating Climate Hope

Report from the September 2020 Virtual Dialogue Event

By Lillian I

With the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the continuing fight for racial justice, it can feel overwhelming to add one more challenge to the table. Yet, climate change is a long-term issue that is inseparable from the prevailing challenges that we have faced this year. It is Center founder Daisaku Ikeda’s conviction that in the midst of such large-scale issues like climate change, when facing them head on, we find in them “a remarkable diversity of opportunities for human beings to give expression to their limitless potential.” Thus, if we can tackle the climate crisis together, we then can develop the ability and capacity to address the countless other issues we face in our world today. With this in mind, on September 24th, the founding date of the Center, we hosted our fourth virtual dialogue event of the year, titled “Climate Hope: Awareness Into Action!”

Attended by 178 participants from 19 countries, the event featured an intergenerational panel discussion between three members of the Ikeda Center community: Dr. Breea Govenar (a Rhode Island-based scientist and executive director for a non-profit), Parul Kashyap (a Boston-based young professional), and Victoria Torkornoo (a Worcester-area high school student). 

In her welcoming remarks, Program Manager Lillian I noted that the topic of climate change has long been on the minds of many youth in the Ikeda Center community. In fact, a climate-themed Dialogue Nights was scheduled earlier this year in March but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She then noted that central to Mr. Ikeda’s vision of peacebuilding is the concept of “human revolution,” which she described as “this personal vow we each can make to challenge the things in our lives that make us feel despair, that cause us to separate ourselves from those different from us, that make us feel apathetic about issues that seem like they don’t affect us.” Lillian expanded on this thought by sharing these Ikeda observations:

No matter how complex global challenges may seem, we must remember that it is we ourselves who have given rise to them. It is therefore impossible that they are beyond our power as human beings to resolve. Refocusing on humanity, reforming and opening up the inner capacities of our lives--this kind of individual human revolution can enable effective reform and empowerment on a global scale. (https://www.daisakuikeda.org/main/educator/education-proposal/edu-proposal-2002.html)

In our world today, there is a tendency for people to avert their eyes from pressing problems; this tendency becomes stronger the more serious the problems are. Even among those who are aware, for example, of the threat posed by nuclear weapons or the dangers of environmental destruction, people are apt to give up without trying, convinced that their efforts would not be meaningful. (https://www.daisakuikeda.org/assets/files/peaceproposal2014.pdf)

To wrap up her remarks, Lillian cited the youth climate activists  and the countless ordinary individuals speaking up and taking action against racial injustice as examples of “human revolution,” adding that the event’s title, “awareness into action,” is not just the awareness of the realities of climate change but the awareness that “each of us can contribute in our own unique ways to make this world a better place.”

Zoom gallery for September 24

Next, Events and Publications Coordinator Anri Tanabe led an icebreaker activity during which she read a series of statements that helped each participant reflect on the impact of climate change on their daily lives. After hearing each statement, if they agreed, they would reply by using the thumbs up reaction button on Zoom. Some of the statements included:

·      If you have started your own food garden during this pandemic

·      If you learned about climate change in school

·      If you have access to clean water

·      If you or someone you know has had health challenges related to climate change

Panel Discussion

Following the icebreaker, Program and Office Assistant Preandra Noel introduced the panel discussion, which she also moderated. Preandra emphasized that even though 2020 has been an extremely challenging year, planning for this dialogue made her feel optimistic about the future. After brief introductions from each panelist, Preandra invited them to share their own concerns about climate change and what role justice plays in this growing movement to confront and transform this threat.

Parul Kashyap kicked off the discussion by speaking about the wildfires happening in California, where she is originally from. Her biggest concern is that environmental issues have been politicized and as a result we forget about the most important thing when considering climate change, which she identified as “sustaining humanity.” Parul also shared that for her, “justice really means leaving no one behind.” In addition, for her it also means “not taking action based on what’s economically or quantifiably correct, but based on what’s fair and just.” Speaking about her work in the health care industry, Parul noted that she sees many disparities in terms of marginalized communities gaining access to resources.  She added that those in decision-making positions often do not think about the people who are more adversely impacted.

Sharing Parul’s concerns about the disproportionate effects of climate change on marginalized communities, Breea Govenar stated that, in her view, climate justice is about “accountability, specifically to mitigate the various effects and consequences of climate change.” This means we must “fix systemic practices of discrimination to be more equitable and inclusive.” She underscored this point with a quote from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who contended that we “need greater representation of our diverse population in the places where decisions are made.”

Victoria Torkornoo, the youngest of the three panelists, jumped in here, commenting that she is concerned with the ability of future generations to take care of the environment, given that things only seem to be getting worse and worse. She shared that because of her concerns as a young person, she conducted a project where she asked her friends various questions about the climate crisis, with the goal of raising awareness and sparking conversation. Three of her questions were:

·      What are your growing concerns about climate change?

·      What helps you maintain hope during this time?

·      How do you envision Climate Hope to look like?

The responses varied from some feeling like it’s too late to fix the climate crisis to some who felt that “instead of waiting for someone to make a change, we have to be the ones to make the change first.” Also, in addition to practical things like using less plastic and eating healthy, Victoria’s friends also mentioned the importance of lawmakers uniting around a common goal and vision.

In preparation for the virtual event, the three panelists studied several proposals on climate change by Mr. Ikeda, who has written extensively on the issue over the last couple of decades. During the next portion of the discussion the panelists spoke about which themes from the proposals have resonated with them and how they are applying them in their daily lives.

Breea referenced Mr. Ikeda’s 2014 peace proposal, which she first read years ago while teaching a first-year seminar on symbiosis in which she worked “with students to see the ways in which biology can teach us about the interconnectedness of life.” She said that in reading it again for this virtual event, the notion of resilience stood out for her and challenged her previous understanding of the term. Specifically, she pointed to Mr. Ikeda’s conviction that:

If we are to realize the rich possibilities inherent in the concept of resilience, we will need to expand and recast our understanding of what it means. Resilience, in other words, should not be thought of as simply our capacity to prepare for and respond to threats. Rather, we should think of it in terms of realizing a hopeful future, rooted in people's natural desire to work together toward common goals and to sense progress toward those goals in a tangible way. It should be seen as an integral aspect of humankind's shared project to create the future—a project in which anyone anywhere can participate and which lays the solid foundations for a sustainable global society. (https://www.daisakuikeda.org/assets/files/peaceproposal2014.pdf)

Breea said that this quote gave her a completely new way of thinking about the meaning of resilience, observing that it is not simply about returning to “what we think of as normal,” but actually is realized in “advancement” toward “a more sustainable and peaceful world.”

Wrapping up the panel discussion, Preandra asked the panelists to offer some thoughts on the question of hope, specifically what creating climate hope looks like for each of them. Victoria talked about the importance of educating young people about climate change in school, something that’s been mostly absent from her own education. She truly believes, though, that “if we are taught more about it and more awareness is brought to it, we can make a change. She concluded, saying that “before this experiment, I didn’t really know a lot about climate change. Honestly, the last time we talked about it was probably like in elementary school and we haven’t talked about it since, so I think that those are very important things to keep in mind.”

Parul then spoke about becoming more aware of how she consumes news and information and how she can become a better agent of change instead of feeling overwhelmed, sharing that Mr. Ikeda’s philosophy helps her feel empowered about what she can do as an individual. Reading Mr. Ikeda’s published dialogues helped Parul to think about how she can “focus on redirecting, reforming, and nurturing” her resilience within her own life and her environment.

Finally, Breea spoke about the importance of diversity and action in our efforts to transform the climate crisis. She referenced the Buddhist principle that every person is worthy of respect and that “our differences are actually what make us great,” not something that “needs to divide us.” For Breea, creating climate hope is about bringing forth the potential of every individual and fostering “global solidarity.”

Creating Climate Hope

After the panel discussion, participants had the opportunity to break out on Zoom into small groups to, first, reflect on their own unique potential in the fight against climate change, and also to come up with a “Climate Hope” statement using the following format:  “With the awareness that I can give expression to my limitless potential, I will _________.”

Following the breakout groups, participants came back together to share reflections. One participant, whose group had members from Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S., shared that they discussed both the importance of governments prioritizing climate change as well as the little things that we can do in our daily lives to make a difference. Despite the present challenges, they all felt hopeful because of the power of youth and seeing how young people are making changes and taking action. Another participant shared her “Climate Hope” statement: With the awareness that I can give expression to my limitless potential, I will never slacken to seek to learn and seek to maintain hope.

The event concluded with closing remarks from Ikeda Center Executive Adviser Dr. Jason Goulah, who examined three unique lenses that Mr. Ikeda has been approaching the climate catastrophe through: 1) the inseparability of life and its environment; 2) the interdependence of all life and living; and 3) creative coexistence. He said that for Ikeda, these are “interlocking principles for actualizing a fundamental inner transformation, for leveraging and enhancing the full complexity of the human condition to effectuate outer change.” In Jason’s view, these principles are grounded in Mr. Ikeda’s continual emphasis on the unending inner transformation, or human revolution, of each person. And it is this emphasis on “the individual human being” that gives us a clue on how to proceed. The climate threat “seems so massive,” said Jason, “and yet we have to think how do we bring this down to a life-sized paradigm: what the human being can do.”  

 

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