Yeb Sano, the Filipino diplomat who became the face of the UN Climate Talks in Warsaw (Poland) in 2013 (COP19) when he fasted for two weeks after super-typhoon Haiyan devastated his country, became a climate justice pilgrim and started a global advocacy movement. He left his previous job, took a different direction and converted into the leader of the Fast for the Climate movement
(#fastfortheclimate if you want to follow on social networks).
"I have been told that at least 300 delegates fasted with me (in Warsaw) at the talks, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the church of Sweden. A petition of one million signatures was collected by churches and faith groups. I hate being the face of a movement but I do believe sometimes movements have to have a face," said Yeb recently in Manila.
After Poland, he went back to the Philippines and visited the battered city of Tacloban, his dad’s hometown, a place completely destroyed by the disaster: "Yolanda was catastrophic but it brought good things too," he said. "There was a surge of brilliant ideas on the ground from Filipino and international NGOs. People came up with really creative ways to build shelters, and help each other. They gave so much, like new fishing boats. It was heartwarming."
And he learned a lot from the people, especially doing voluntary work with a community near Cebu city: "Nobody died there even though Yolanda hit it hard. Why? Because they had organized themselves for disaster management. They had typhoon drills every year, alerts and warnings. That needs to be done in communities everywhere. I am advocating storm shelters for the Philippines, like Bangladesh."
But he decided to go beyond community work and back into some type of deeper experience that could connect people from all ways of life and all parts of the world: fasting. At COP21, three years after Warsaw, the Fast for the Climate movement he started had a place.
Yesterday at the Climate Generations Areas
of COP 21, Yeb formulated the reasons why fasting became a catalyzer for climate action: “Fasting is a journey in itself and a form of prayer”, and it is also a form of interreligious action. “Climate change is the biggest threat that our human family will ever face; if we do not confront it, we will fail the next generations.” Since the issue of climate justice goes well beyond the negotiations, fasting appears as a wonderful symbolic way of building bridges across faiths and cultures while developing a strong advocacy movement.
Fasting takes us deep into our most basics instincts and needs, the instinct of survival and the need to eat; it takes us back to the very essence of life. This is why it can connect our common humanity, well beyond nations, creeds and races. To bring climate change under control we need to exercise self-control, we need to act together, fasting enhances our focus and collective determination.
One of those enrolled in the Fast for the Climate movement said: “I feel physically in solidarity with people who are affected by climate change when I fast, it gives us a glimpse of the reality for millions, a feeling of connection and urgency.”
Of course this is voluntary fasting, very different from the forced fasting brought by extreme poverty. But it still can connect us in a physical and emotional way with all those suffering around the world. In short, fasting is a universal religious practice that can become a universal form of solidarity in light of the environmental crisis.
The Ecojesuit Team