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Hungry for Change: Fasting for Climate Justice

I have decided to fast on the first day of every month in solidarity with vulnerable people who are going hungry as the impacts of climate change worsen. I’m joining this global action as a way to prepare myself for — and participate in — the necessary changes that a more hospitable and just planetary existence demands.

The “Fasting for the Climate” movement started at the November 2013 UN climate negotiations in Warsaw. Typhoon Haiyanhad just devastated the Philippines. That country's climate commissioner, Yeb Saño, whose own family was affected in the disaster, said he would not eat until conference participants delivered actions to “stop the madness” of the climate crisis. His speech received a standing ovation which echoed around the world. Many of us joined his fast while the climate negotiations were proceeding.

Action to curb climate change has never been more urgent. According to a high-level European organization’s 2012 study, 5 million people are dying every year as a result of climate change impacts and the carbon economy. They also caution that our current inaction on climate change has cost $1 trillion in losses. Most unfortunately, vulnerable people in the Global South are disproportionately affected by climate change, despite the fact that they have done the least to cause the crisis. It strikes me as inescapably ironic and tragic that the 40 million people in India who live without access to electricity subsist in conditions which will only worsen due to negative climate impacts.

This growing fasting for climate justice movement shares a common purpose: to “keep fasting until world leaders [including Prime Minister Harper] do what's necessary to sign a fair and comprehensive plan at the UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015 – negotiations which must secure a safe climate future. We fast to send a message to our governments – we want them to be leaders on climate solutions, not laggards on climate pollution.”

Here in Canada, prophetic religious leaders like the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Rev. Susan Johnson, and some members of the Canadian Council of Churches, have also committed themselves to this fast.

Some of us who are fasting are donating the money we would have spent on food during the fast to disaster relief efforts, or to environmental organizations and groups like CPJ which are working for ecological justice.

Food for thought?

There is a long history in Christianity of fasting as a strategy for personal purification and social change. Fasting is not demanded in the Bible, nor should it be seen as a punishment of the flesh. It should be done with joy, as a strategy to renew our relationship with God and God’s purpose for the world (Matthew 6: 16 – 18). Christians engaged in efforts to right social wrongs – from William Wilberforce to Martin Luther King – have often engaged in fasting and prayer as essential elements of their struggles to initiate change. Indeed, joining a prayerful fast can be a way to engage in what John Calvin described as “making the invisible kingdom visible.”

Researching the threats and impacts of climate change is part of the work of groups like CPJ – but it’s not enough to create the change we want. Those who profit from the status quo are not being convinced of the need to change, in spite of the best scientific evidence and increasingly costly and deadly climate events.

Engaging the public, especially faith communities, in reflection and discussion on climate change, and assisting Christian leadership to speak publicly on this issue is also what CPJ does – but neither has this yet been enough to create the change we need.

Nor will fasting alone be enough to create the change we need in order to protect life on this beautiful planet we call home. That’s precisely why we must join our research, education, engagement, advocacy and, yes, our prayer, fasting and lifestyle change, to deepen our commitment to this most worthy cause.

Fasting for climate justice is not new to Canada. For the last two years, CPJ has supported “Climate Fast” participants in a 12-day fast on Parliament Hill. This Toronto-based group gathers on Parliament Hill annually under the slogan, “Hungry for Climate Justice” and signs up many Members of Parliament and the public as supporters of their goals.

If you would like to join the international fast for climate justice, you can sign up individually or as an organization online.

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