5,000km on One Wheel for Climate Action! That's the journey Joseph Boutilier will be making across Canada during the Unity for the Climate campaign. Please view the full website or update your web browser for a better experience. Click here to do so.
How A Hunger For Change Has the Potential to Unite Us All
When it comes to effective, peaceful, actions that inspire massive change, fasting is perhaps the most notable trademark of almost every social change movement in the history of mankind. Why? What’s so special about not eating, and why would anyone care if you drank only water for a day? Unlike theatrical protests like burning signs or flags, crashing private meetings, flipping cars or blocking traffic, fasting is peaceful, passive, legal and most importantly individual, despite its deep community roots. And that’s precisely its strength. Without anger, blame or judgement, without inflicting violence or even inconvenience on opponents or observers, fasting demonstrates willpower, commitment and solidarity like nothing else.
With each passing hour of a fast, and with every person who joins rank, the evidence mounts that a rare and powerful conviction is present in the movement. When it comes to climate change, the sacrifice of fasting for a day, or a week, or even a month, is slight compared to the devastating effects that the less fortunate are already feeling from its effects, and that we are all vulnerable to in the coming decades. Famine is just one of hundreds of diverse impacts of climate change that are already causing serious health problems and loss of life. It’s just one of thousands of factors that are killing 400,000 people every year. But fasting isn’t just particularly fitting for the climate issue, it also packs an extra potential punch in spurring global action and promoting climate justice. While the first reaction to violence and civil disobedience by uninformed observers may be anger or indignation, the passive nature of fasting invites curiosity which spurs education, and promotes sympathy. Fasting is also uniquely accessible, inviting broad, sweeping movements in the internet age, that reach across borders both national, religious and philosophical.
Hence, fasting for the Climate is now a recognized and rapidly expanding global, grassroots campaign of concerned citizens from all walks of life who are hungry for serious change. Every year, new heroes of the movement instill renewed hope for a rapid, peaceful transition from the unsustainable status quo to a new era of conscious consumerism and sustainable energy. In 2009, Australian Anna Keenan started the Climate Justice Fast with six other activists at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. She was protesting the dangerous inaction of government institutions, corporations and individuals alike. She was also protesting the obstructive participation of her own government and others like Canada, the US and the UK who – by refusing to commit to more ambitious targets than developing nations and negotiate in good faith – crushed attempts to construct a sequel to the Kyoto protocol. Keenan’s steadfast fight struck a chord with other conference attendees plus activists and would-be activists from afar. Soon, a network of hundreds of fasters standing in solidarity with Keenan emerged through the threads of social media and made their presence known around the globe. The concerns that spawned that six-week fast are every bit as valid today, and so is fasting as a tool for demonstrating unity, resilience and resistance.
The attention and support garnered through Keenan’s protest (itself, inspired by earlier fasts) was perpetuated through a series of smaller actions at a range of events, and paved the way for the thousands to join the fasting movement when the head of the Philippines delegation at the 19th UN Conference of the Parties on climate change, Naderev Yeb Sano, famously announced his intentions to fast in protest based on similar concerns. With the conference starting just after Sano’s home country was rocked by the horrific Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, Sano declared he would fast “in solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home…until a meanginful outcome is in sight.” He fasted for the duration of the conference, along with dozens of other delegates who stood at his side and reframed from eating. Yeb Sano also took to twitter to announce his protest, where #FastForTheClimate eventually became a trending hashtag in environmental and politically-active circles. Sano also continues to fast on the first day of each month along with thousands of supporters in the lead-up to the next conference in Peru in December, 2014.
Sano’s 24hr fasts and his calls for others worldwide to join him in these simple acts of solidarity have helped to unite a diverse network of related actions and events, one of which is ClimateFast in Canada, which has been organizing 4-day fasts every fall on Parliament Hill since 2012. The Global Climate Convergence – a ten day series of events and protests in the US between Earth Day and May Day – also worked with Sano to promote a fast over the same time period. Now, more than 15 such prominent organizations around the world are coming together to facilitate united fasting events through a single web portal and campaign at fastfortheclimate.org.
Many of the same activists already participate in all of these actions, recognizing that the movement grows larger and stronger with every new campaign and with each passing month. Others (like me) are only participating in 24hr fasts, including the one that coincides with the landmark fastfortheclimate.org debut today, on May 1. Although I’m mostly preoccupied with a 5,000km unicycle ride from Canada’s west coast to the nation’s capital to protest climate inaction, it’s important for me to also embrace the bigger movement of fasting. Through this relatively minimal participation, we are exposed to an empowering network of likeminded supporters who are amplifying our call to action. Announce your intentions to #FastForTheClimate on` Twitter, and you won’t feel alone in your hunger for change.
We may be starved of justice now, but the growing worldwide Fast for the Climate has every possibility of feeding new political willpower for a dramatic shift in our leaders’ approach to the climate crisis. Considering the apocalyptic predictions anticipated in the business-as-usual approach to climate change, there isn’t much to lose by making this small sacrifice in the name of those who are already paying for our inaction. As Yeb Sano says, “there are no winners and losers. We all either win or lose in the future we make for ourselves.”