Two major events in the past month have been the subject of tremendous media coverage. They have allowed new Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to immediately position his government as a more engaged global citizen than that of his predecessor. They affect people everywhere. They are the Syrian refugee crisis, and the UN climate change conference in Paris (COP21).
After the failure of climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, and with climate change becoming more evident all the time, environmentalists pulled out all stops to compel heads of government at COP21 to commit to getting off fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy. The end result was a commitment to keep the planet from warming more than 2º C.
In theory, this sounds good. But as Parvati Magazine editor-in-chief Parvati recently pointed out on her blog, “From the perspective of the heated and agitated planet, a 2ºC agreement does not resolve its suffering, but still accepts a grave increase with consequences for human life. To me, it would be like accepting a certain self-created disease with feverish consequence, without addressing the root cause.” 2º C warming is still going to bring with it consequences that many have not imagined yet. And even this commitment needs to be backed with swift and far-reaching action. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that global warming can be kept in check.
The Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary is a vital intervention to help stop climate change and must form part of the work to limit global warming. It establishes the Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, regardless of jurisdiction, as a permanent international marine protected area free from commercial fishing, natural resource exploitation, seismic testing, military activity or through shipping traffic. No negotiation, no mitigation, no contingency changes the imperative to get all exploitative and pollutive activity out of the Arctic Ocean immediately.
As the COP21 conference came to its conclusion, Canada officially opened its doors to planeloads of Syrian refugees, with the first planeload arriving December 10. The Canadian public has been strongly motivated to assist, with donations pouring in to aid organizations. While the US have been more reticent at a political level, we have seen the same passion at the grassroots level in the US, as exemplified by the recent Compassion Collective of authors Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle Melton, Cheryl Strayed and Rob Bell. They reached out to their respective fan bases and raised $1 million in less than 48 hours to go to relief efforts in camps where refugees have been starving and shivering in the cold and rain. They rightly point out that when our fellow humans are starving, freezing, homeless and afraid, it is incumbent on those of us who are well-fed, sheltered, safe and well off to help.
Meanwhile, another humanitarian crisis has been unfolding this fall, and is the subject of far fewer news stories. Many remote regions of Nepal affected by the devastating earthquake in April 2015 have yet to receive aid money to help them rebuild, as the funds received by the Nepali government have not been deployed in their area. Worse, the border between Nepal and India is blockaded, cutting off Nepal’s primary lifeline for fuel, food, medicine and more. Cars line up for three days to get gasoline. Children are malnourished. Hospitals are running out of medicine. Aid agencies like Oxfam can’t get fuel to deliver relief where it is needed. And with another cold winter on the horizon for Nepal, things could get much worse very soon.
The reasons for the blockade seem to depend on whom you ask. Some say it is political reprisal by India against a new Nepali constitution. Others say it is certain Nepalis themselves who feel discriminated against by the constitution. It has also been contended that these are being backed by India. We will simply note that India has significantly more power than Nepal, and that the UN has urged India and Nepal to clear the blockade for humanitarian reasons.
Recent developments suggest an end to the blockade may be in sight. Nepal agreed recently to modify its constitution to give more rights to a protesting ethnic minority. As soon as the blockade lifts, humanitarian organizations will need to urgently get assistance to remote areas. For those not already experiencing donor fatigue from responding to the urgent needs of Syrian refugees, you may wish to consider donating to aid organizations working in Nepal, such as Seva Foundation, Unicef or Oxfam.