Remember Typhoon Haiyan? The colossal superstorm, by some estimates the largest typhoon ever to make landfall, decimated parts of the Philippines last November. Although it left more than 6,000 dead and displaced millions, for a lot of us the tragedy passed like these things often do: a flurry of heartbreaking reports and terrible images for a few days, only to disappear from the headlines and slip into a kind of half-forgotten memory.
Less than a week after the typhoon struck, however, the U.N. Climate Change Conference was set to begin in Warsaw. Typically a soporific gathering of climate scientists and bureaucrats that often barely causes a blip on the newsfeed, the conference was suddenly thrust into the spotlight by one man: Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines delegation.
In a deeply personal and emotional appeal, Sano did what few climate activists have been able to do: take the issue out of the realm of mind-numbing discussions about things like cap-and-trade economics, carbon sequestration, and what to the public often sounds like a negligible rise in temperature (“Eh, what’s a couple more degrees? Crank up the AC!”) and convey the urgency of the moment against the horrific backdrop of his homeland in crisis.
“I speak for my delegation, but I also speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm,” Sano said. “I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those people who now race against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected: We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life.”
It’s a speech worth watching if you haven’t already seen it.
“In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home, and with my brother, who has not had food for the last three days,” Sano went on. “I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate.”
What began as one man’s poignant stand in the wake of a horrendous weather event—the kind climate scientists say will only become more common if we don’t take swift and serious action to address global warming—has quickly spread around the world, The Guardian reported this week. Dozens of groups are signing on in support of a collective fast on behalf of the climate at the beginning of every month.
“Can a spiritual awakening that hangs on a hashtag be anything more than a gimmick?” The Guardian asks. “And will the virtual unity created by these individual commitments lead to any tangible progress?”
The latter is a legitimate question, even as the former rankles. Gimmick? By that logic, and given Sano’s original moral appeal, you might as well call Gandhi a publicity monger.
Sano’s motivation to fast may have been the desire to show support for his fellow citizens as they struggled to feed themselves in the aftermath of the storm, but there’s a larger connection between food and the climate. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in March, paints as dire a picture as ever about the warming planet, saying that the impacts of climate change are being felt on every continent and across all oceans. One of the potentially most widespread and pressing threats? A dramatic rise in food insecurity, borne largely by the global poor, as yields from heat-stressed crops decline by as much as 25 percent. As one representative from Oxfam told The New York Times about the report’s predictions, if nothing is done to curb global warming, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”
Unlike cap-and-trade and carbon tax schemes, solutions that are the realm of politicians, you can help make this happen by joining the #fastfortheclimate movement.