English Page
 Reflections from a Buddhist on How Poverty Affects Children
The Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) Fourth Forum
17th June, 2012, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Ending Poverty, Enriching Children INSPIRE. ACT. CHANGE.

Hidehito Okochi

Chief Priest : Juko-in Temple and Kenju-in Temple
Representative : Edogawa Child Advocacy Network (Edogawa Kodomo Ombuds)
Director : Campaign for the Children of Palestine (CCP)

Director : Japan International Volunteer Center(JVC)
inspector : Japan International Center for the Rights of the Child (C-Rights)
 I am a Buddhist priest from Japan. Perhaps you may regard this as a rather typical standpoint from which to think about poverty. It may be thought that the problems of poverty and children in Japan are completely different from those that you have in mind today.
 However, Japan, along with the U.S.A., could be considered a country of advanced poverty because the issues of poverty today have been brought about by economic development and globalization. Even in Japan, said to be one of the most economically advanced countries, the problem of poverty is becoming bigger.

 Now, it is true that Japan is suffering from economic recession. The number of unemployed and homeless people continues to increase as the economy slides. More than 30,000 persons commit suicide every year, mostly due to economic problems, it is said. Solitary death of people living alone has been a problem for some time, but in recent years, there have been families living together losing their members to starvation. An activist friend working on poverty issues told me that the problem of poverty in Japan has advanced to a new stage. As a matter of course, poverty has had various impacts on children.

 The increase of mental disease, often linked to the causes as well as effects of poverty, is also taking a toll on children. It is often pointed out that poverty becomes one of the causes of child abuse. As the number of children dropping out from school increases, the vicious circle of poverty intensifies.
 The essence of poverty is "the division of" rather than "the lack" of the resources which are necessary to live as a human being. Enough leftover food to feed hundreds of thousands of people is thrown away every day in Tokyo. And there are many unoccupied houses and empty rooms. This might be considered an issue of unequal distribution, but we have to ascertain a more basic problem.

 The essence of Buddhism is the teaching of interdependent co-arising (Pratītyasamutpāda). It is the understanding that every existence is connected and related to every other. All phenomena are manifested as a result of the mutual relationship of innumerable causes and conditions. There is nothing unrelated to me in the world. We have to live in harmony with nature, with other people, with the past and with the future. It is seen that the essence of life is suffering and the root cause of this suffering is our craving, anger and ignorance. We are taught to face all who suffer, both ourselves and others, with loving kindness and empathy, to discern the mechanism of suffering, and to walk the path of truth as beings who share one universe.

 Seen from this perspective, the essence of poverty is human greediness and mammon.

 In a society that gives top priority to economic growth, making money becomes the cardinal virtue, valued more than traditional culture, the environment or life itself. Since people with money have decided the laws and policies, we live in a society where people can do anything if they have money, but can do nothing without it. Villages relying on farming, forestry or fishing in harmony with nature, and communities based on mutual aid have collapsed, and our shared assets and social capital have passed into the hands of private corporations. The value of all things is now gauged in terms of money. As Japan has plundered resources and exploited labor from the Global South at cheap prices, our agriculture, forestry, fisheries and industries have collapsed, making us ever more dependent on money.
 It is claimed that economic development eventually trickles down to people at the bottom. But the reality is that disparities are widening, a complex, shrewd and ruthless system is protecting vested interests, and we are walking the path towards further division rather than redistribution of wealth. A lion has no use for money and does not attack other animals if it is full. But hunger for money is insatiable and knows no limits.

 It can be said unequivocally that poverty today is structural violence due to liberal economic globalization. This structural violence is epitomized by nuclear power generation, which has been promoted in the name of economic development while inevitably exposing workers to radiation and contaminating the environment. The effects of radiation on health and the environment have been downplayed while the actual damages and anomalies have been covered up with the power of money. Though the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima has exposed tens of millions of people to radiation, not only in the vicinity but also in the Tokyo region, its impacts have been underestimated. The government has raised the limits so that the children in Fukushima are left to live under higher radiation levels than in which adults would normally be allowed to consume food or drink.

Exposure to such radiation levels is violence against children. Prioritizing economics over life has victimized the children the most, including the unborn, who are more susceptible the younger they are. But our nation, ruled by money, does not stop to look at this suffering. The citizens, also enslaved to money, have lost the strength to change the government's policy, which promotes nuclear power generation in order to protect vested interests in the name of convenience and economic development.

 Such loss of the strength to live is an important facet of poverty today. The children also face the same problem. A high school teacher recently asked his students whether Japanese society would get better or worse in the future, and almost all of them answered that they thought it would get worse. A survey also found that only 20% of young people in Japan think they can do something to change society. One can see to what extent young people have been alienated from society.

 I once tried to collect the views of children about child abuse. Unaccustomed to saying what they think, many children at first seemed to be at a loss. They next reacted with suspicion that they would not be listened to or would be made use of. However, once they began to think about the children being abused, they started to show their wish to do something. And as they began to delve into the issue with interest, they tried to understand the feelings of the abusive adults. They debated about the causes of abuse and whether current countermeasures were effective. They began to raise issues and come up with solutions that only children could think of. The children are our partners, gifted with remarkable sensitivity and imagination; they are an invaluable social resource, capable of participating in society with awareness of their own responsibility and potential.

 All forms of violence such as poverty and discrimination have a top-down structure of domination as a backdrop. This can only be overcome by a society which embraces human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which came into being through deep reflection on the many aspects of human suffering. A society free from the tyranny of money, exemplified by many indigenous peoples that have lived in harmony with nature. A flat society that respects all people equally, including children.

 I have been given much courage by the children who are participating and speaking out here today. I feel called to begin building a society that truly listens to the voices of children, starting from this hall and reaching to the corners of the planet.
 Because we are connected to everything, we are able to change the future and to remake the world. This is the hope that I want to share with the children.

(Translation: Tom Eskildsen)

 The Citizen 's Strategy for Creating a New World

After the 20th Century, 'the century of wars, many approached the 21st Century with hopes of peace. But the very first year brought a tragedy of violence, firstly in the form of terrorism and then a war of revenge. It seems the ideology and the actions of the state have not changed at all in the new century. So what should we do as citizens? Do we continue with previous tactics of trying to change governments and corporations by forcing them to recognize the weak in our society, or do we adopt an alternative strategy in order to create a new world?
This month, NI Japan looks at one attempt to build a new world from the bottom up-from citizens and communities themselves. The actions and thoughts of people who try to make changes within and immediately around themselves are bound to influence other communities and individuals who are looking for a vision for the future.

The future starts with us

December 1997- the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) is held in Kyoto. Movement and NGO representatives from all over the World gather at this environment conference, and media attention is also focused on the Conference and the environmental issues it is raising. But it would be completely meaningless if this attention was to just fizzle out after the Conference ends. Down-to-earth, grassroots action is necessary to continue the work... With this call to action, Edogawa Citizens Network for thinking about Global Warming (ECNG) was formed in summer 1996.

It was an offshoot of Group KIKI, which is a community group that deals with alternatives to nuclear power, garbage recycling and other environmental issues. Most members are residents of Edogawa Ward in Tokyo, but connections to other groups outside the ward are strong-for example members take part in activities of peace groups and some have attended study tours to developing countries.

Under the theme ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’, a group of citizens attended a study tour to Sarawak in Malaysia. After retuning, the group led a successful campaign to lobby the Edogawa Council to include a stipulation in local building specifications that 'wood from tropical rain forests should not be used.' Another activity is collecting used aluminum cans (recycling aluminum uses 97% less electricity than manufacturing new aluminum) and in the course of this, we began to wonder why the price that. We were getting when we sold the cans was dropping. It turned out that aluminum raw materials and products were being made cheaply in countries with huge national debts by exploiting the people and environment of those countries. We began to understand the problems associated with 'Structural Adjustment Programs.' We also became aware of how the Japanese government's yen loans are part of these problems. A large part of the funds for these loans comes from postal savings accounts and insurance. Most Japanese deposit their money in the post office because 'the interest rate is higher than in the banks' or 'it's government guaranteed, so there's no risk,' but not only money lost because the loan becomes irrecoverable, it is also part of the system that makes life unbearable for people in the poor nations. Unlike the national budget, a parliamentary vote is not required to determine how to use this massive fund of citizen's money-it is also used for projects within Japan that are a source of great concern for our lives and futures, such as nuclear power plants, roads and so on. Activities that KIKI engages in such as recycling, often involve the participation of families, so we look at issues from the point of view of daily life, of bringing up children, etc. Our activities started off simply in our own community but gradually our concerns expanded as we realized the structure and cause of problems. Identifying these is of great importance-in order to make the future a little better as a single member of society, philosophical discussions are not enough. If there is no realistic analysis of the difficulties, citizens, who are not familiar with the 'system’, will be easily defeated. When it comes to the efforts of each individual, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by the size of the problem, become disempowered and loose all will to act. The problems that we face are largely structural and for that reason, they are hard to see.

There are many Parts of our own lives, which we should think about and change but, compared to the effort required, the result is negligible. Whether it is the garbage problem, or energy, the main culprit is industry; the damage caused by the domestic sector is comparatively very low. The further away from our daily lives this structural problem is perceived, the more disempowered we become. Our idea is to start by changing the structure that is closest to us-our community. We believe that the experiences gained are a definite step, if a small one, towards coping with the major global environmental problems that we face.

Project 1 : Project for Recovery and Decomposition of CFCs and Electricity Saving Campaign

In order to think of things we could do and things we should do for COP3 as Edogawa Ward citizens, we investigated global warming. First, it was essential to gain an understanding of the problem: why global warming is bad and what kinds of problems are associated with it. The scale of disasters will increase as a result of climate change, some species will become extinct and some land areas will be flooded. The weaker members of society will be most affected, but except for a few individuals, people living in modern Japan have difficulty conceiving of global warming as an urgent problem. Luckily (or otherwise?), much of Edogawa-ku would be below sea level, and this is one of the points being emphasized.

The cause of global warming, more than anything else, is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The economically advanced countries of Japan, America and Europe account for the overwhelming share of this, and after recognizing that industry accounts for almost all of Japan's portion, we must consider our lifestyle. Investigations show that actually the largest source of emissions is not automobiles or gas utilities or heating oil, but generation of electricity. Electricity itself is a clean energy, which does not produce CO2 when being used, but lots of CO2 is generated when it is produced. For each ten units of thermal energy going into production, only four units (in the case of nuclear generation, three) of electrical energy are obtained.

CFCs are another problem. It is well known that the specified CFCs, the production of which has been banned in Japan because of their role in ozone destruction, also cause global warming, but even the substitute CFCs have a greenhouse effect several hundred times to several thousand times stronger than that of CO2. Tokyo, along with other municipalities, has made efforts to recover CFCs, but only those found in a portion of household electronic goods. 50% or more of the CFCs used as refrigerants are contained in automobiles, and as of that time, there was no legal obligation to recover these in Japan. Japan stood out among advanced countries such as America, which levied stiff fines for failure to recover CFCs. As a result, when cars were demolished in Japan, almost all of their CFCs escaped into the atmosphere. At the time the problem of automobile CFCs came to light, about 60% of the car demolition businesses of Tokyo's central 23-ward area were concentrated in Edogawa Ward, and we could see that lots of CFCs were being released from our region.

Upon getting a grasp of the causes and actual conditions, we wanted to take the following measures, but first, we had to reconfirm precisely what it was we were aiming to do. I will make a digression here to explain that I am the head priest of a Buddhist temple. When the Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddartha Gautama) gained enlightenment, his first teaching was the Four Noble Truths, that is, first, get a solid grasp of the suffering (the problem), second, ascertain its causes and structure, third, form an image of the world to be aimed for, and fourth, act according to correct practices. Then, one gains a sense of the meaning of life in modern society as a citizen with responsibilities in the irreversible course of time. The suffering of the southern peoples and nature, from which we derive support, for our lives even as we exploit it, has caused the ECNG to think, and therefore we have achieved concrete results. The problem is structural in nature, so by changing the system and creating measures for improvement, we achieve results. The first thing is to fulfill our responsibilities to the people around us and to future generations. We do not want to fall into self-complacency as volunteers.

The ECNG aimed to be involved in COP3, bringing results through concrete local efforts. First, we conducted an electricity-saving campaign, and produced a booklet called "Tottemo Watkariyasui Chikyu-Ondanka" (Global Warming Made Very Easy to Understand), regarding the current state of global warming, and the problems, causes and possibilities for preventing it. We also appealed for efforts to save energy (for example. by cutting standby electrical power capacity. by recognizing that direct. use of gas and oil helps prevent global warming better than use of electricity as a thermal energy source, in which 60-70% of thermal energy is lost in electric generation. etc.), backing it up with knowledge gained from research.
It was decided that a possible way to contribute to prevention of global warming as citizens of Edogawa Ward, would be to increase recovery ratios of automobile CFCs, as Edogawa Ward is responsible for 60% of such emissions in the central Tokyo 23 ward area. We provided CFC-recovery equipment to car demolition businesses, which we purchased, using interest free loans, had these businesses recover the CFCs on a voluntary basis, and had them processed at a CFC-decomposition plant in Ichikawa-shi, Chiba Prefecture, which adjoins Edogawa Ward just across the Edogawa River. We worked out a way to pay for the costs of processing the CFCs by selling campaign stickers for automobiles.

We also went to work in Edogawa Ward, making proposals to the Ward Mayor and frequently holding consultative meetings with the departments in charge, the local demolition businesses and us NGOs. As a result, money was allocated from the budget at the Ward Council in June 1997, and starting from September of that year, the ward lent ten CFC-recovery machines free of charge to the businesses, the businesses used them on a voluntary basis, and the ward paid for tile costs Of decomposition and transportation in what was called the Edogawa Method. In December 1997 at COP3, the Ward Environment Division Chief participated, announcing the results of the ward's efforts, and the NGOs also held a rally.

Of course, this does not end just with Edogawa Ward. We are working on a national level, cooperating with NGO networks regarding CFCs and other problems. The automobile industry is attempting to hinder legislation for Compulsory recovery of CFCs. instead promoting voluntary recovery, but our data shows that the method used by Edogawa Ward obtains recovery ratios twice as high on the average. We use this data to counter their arguments and in our lobbying activities.

Project 2: the First Edogawa Citizens' Power Plant

One more theme the ECNG brought attention to in relation to COP3 was the water-lifting electricity generating dam. As can be seen in the diagram, water-lifting electricity generation involves construction of two dams (reservoirs). Water is pumped from the lower dam to the upper dam using the excess electricity produced at night by nuclear reactors whose output is difficult to adjust, then generating electricity during daylight hours with peak demand by releasing water from the upper dam. This entails enormous costs and environmental destruction with poor returns, so this method is rarely used in other countries, but a number of them are being planned in Japan, and they will be a heavy burden in the future, impacting on the environment and being reflected in the cost of electricity to consumers.

Moreover, while development of nuclear reactors is currently decreasing, there are also Coal-burning power plants, and the water-lifting units are being planned in conjunction with these. As coal is a solid, its energy output cannot be adjusted unlike those of gas and oil, and it keeps burning even when energy is not needed, so the excess energy can be used to lift water. As a result, it poses the problem of necessitating coal-fired generation, which is the worst from the standpoint of global warming.

Even before the ECNG took up the issue of water-lifting electrical generation, doubt had already been cast upon electrical power, especially upon nuclear power. In order to meet steadily growing demand for electricity in Japan, it is claimed that we need new, large-scale power plants. Those against dams and nuclear power are attacked as being extremists who want us all to return to a primitive age, confusing the debate. Much of the public are also confused about energy issues and the situation needs to be considered more thoroughly.

The electricity demand forming the basis of claims by those advocating multi-billion dollar projects occurs only during peak hours in the summer. Other countries do not claim that they need to build multi-billion-dollar nuclear reactors or water-lifting electrical generation dams in order to meet demand that might occur for only 20 hours (not 20 days) during a year. It is common sense to consider other methods instead. In France, fees are raised during peak daytime hours, and this smoothes out the demand curve. In America, electrical power companies provide subsidies for energy-saving devices. This has much bigger merits than making wasteful investments. In Japan, however, the power is held by businesses wanting to proceed with multi-billion-dollar projects at any cost, regions looking for grant money, and politicians using large amounts of political funding and enticed by incentives of several percent.

City residents lack the ability to imagine the suffering of future generations and people living far away. They have blind faith in their government and power companies and unquestioningly pay electricity bills that are up to three times more than in America. Symbolizing this is the myth that peak electrical demand occurs when everyone is at home in their air-conditioned rooms, drinking cold beer and watching the summer baseball championship matches at Koshien Stadium. In fact', during the day, demand for electricity rises from morning to noon, decreases a little during lunch, rises after that, and decreases again in the evening. From late evening to night, it shows a slight rise again, with the curve generally resembling Mount Fuji.

Households generally use little electricity during the daytime. Noting the dip at lunchtime and the fact the peak is much lower during holidays. It becomes clear that industry, including Offices, is responsible for the peak. Furthermore, compared with electrical fees for households, those for industry, called motive power, have a higher base fee but are more economical with regard to the amount consumed. This makes it harder for energy saving incentives to have any effect.
Furthermore, Japan's power plants, built to meet peak summer demand, have an annual average operating ratio of only about 50%. Nuclear power plants and others whose power output is difficult to adjust are given priority in operating as base electrical power. As a result, there is a commercial saying nuclear power provides 40% of the energy we use. Thus, people who do not know that half of Japan's power plants are idle get the misimpression that if it weren't for nuclear power, only 60% of the country's needs would be supplied.

ECNG has made it a goal not only to reduce peak demand and change policy in order to promote the spread of alternative forms of energy, but also to familiarize people with the concept of energy and get communities involved in initiatives. We want people to understand that this matter should not be left only to the electrical power companies, who are in extremely close cooperation with the authorities, but we ourselves should be producing energy, even though it is obvious we cannot meet the entire demand. Even if we choose thermal generation, it is possible for the region around the power plant to make use of the 60% of the thermal energy that would otherwise go to waste.

The first test of this was the establishment of the citizens' power plant using solar electrical generation. It was a test of natural energy which produces power during peak daytime hours. For a while it was said to have no merits because of the large amount of energy, which went into producing solar panels, but now at least that problem has been overcome. The cost of installing them, however, is a big obstacle. The ECNG installed solar panels with output of 5.4kw on the roof of the newly constructed Juko-in Temple, where I am head priest. It is said that three kilowatts is enough to meet the needs for the activities of a family of four, so our plant produces a little less than twice that. The cost was six million yen Grants from government foundations and NGOs plus donations from the public gave us, about \2.7 million. Juko-in Temple prepaid its electricity bills for about \1.5 million more. The rest was obtained by taking out a loan from the Mirai Bank ('Future Bank'). Initially, when asking for donations, we imitated a method used by temples and shrines to solicit donations, asking people to donate for solar roof tiles. The Japanese word for community is “koukyo”, consisting of the kanji(Chinese character) meaning government and common, and temples were never government but were always supported by the people as common.

Establishment of our citizens' project as a common endeavor has been a key point. Initially, we considered putting it on public facilities such as a school where many people could see it, but made our final choice from the standpoint that it was more important to gather operational data, including those regarding economic aspects, to be used in propagation than to appeal to the public for solar power. The electricity generated is used primarily by Juko-in Temple, and the rest is sold to Tokyo Electric Power Co.

If only the portion used by Juko-in Temple and that sold to Tokyo Electric Power Co. are considered as returns, it will take fifteen years or more to pay off the initial investment, so we decided to issue Green Power Certificates. In Europe and other places there are regions which stipulate the obligation to buy natural energy, which does not put a cost burden on the future by harming the environment or creating radioactive waste, at a higher price than that of energy generated by normal means. There are also green powers systems, which designate power produced by consumers using clean generation methods and purchase it at higher prices.

The ECNG decided to sell the \33/kWh difference between the price paid by Tokyo Electric Power Co. of \22/kWh and the price paid for natural energy in Germany of \55/kWh for the annual generation of 6000 kWh by the First Edogawa Citizens' Power Plant in the form of Green Power Certificates. By selling 200 certificates for 30 kWh for \1000 each, we have reduced the time for return on investment to within nine years. Then, as a bonus for those purchasing Green Power Certificates, we provide badges in the shape of a solar panel and a community currency called Edogawatt. For each certificate they receive three 10 Edogawatt bills the size of a calling card. These are currently being used among people wearing badges as a certificate of debt or obligation in exchange for baby-sitting, carrying loads, translating and other small jobs. They have provided an incentive for creation of a mutual aid society within the community and we would like to make them a tool for deepening interpersonal relationships and trust.

Towards the Future

I feel that ECNG has had some important successes and raised a lot more attention than we expected. The media have mentioned us often right from our establishment and, even though the 'Power Plant' has been running well past the three year mark, each month we still get 4 or 5 media requests for interviews etc.

There are not so many core activists, but we get a steady flow of new members. It is important to enjoy ourselves with something fun and interesting and not feel burdened and pressured. Each of us has a strong desire to make our community a better place to live and this is easier to achieve working with local government. With the office that KIKI shares with several other NGOs as a central gathering point, we hope to expand our network with groups involved in other activities.
Having said that, we may be a group that tends to attract experts. all of our staff is of course volunteers who have other jobs, as well as being people who are involved in other NGOs and movements.  We have not really yet achieved recognition or support from the overall resident population in Edogawa, and this is one of our aims for the future. By our community, we would like to be seen as an energy consultant with a vision of the future.
Through building an independent community based on trust and joining with other communities, we hope to preserve our own uniqueness and integrity from the ravages of globalization.

Okochi Hidehito is head priest at Juko-in Temple. He is involved with various NGOs in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo where he resides, as well as NGOs outside Edogawa, including 'Campaign for the Children of Palestine.'

Edogawa Citizen's Network thinking about Global Warming (ECNG)
Tel&Fax:03-3654-9188 Fax:03-3654-4727

Mirai Bank (Future Bank)
Same contact details as ECNG (Mirai Bank and ECNG, share office space
along with several other NGOs) Established in April 1994, Mirai Bank is
a financial system that aims to provide an alternative to major banks,
allowing citizens to use their assets to invest in projects that will
help build a sustainable future.

Another World is Possible
“ni Japan” No.30, Jan-Feb 2002
Environmental Activity
▼Learn about Energy Conservation while Playing a Board Game!(introduced by JFS)
▼Provides Financing for Purchases of Energy-efficient Home Appliances(introduced by JFS)
Summary INEB Working Group on Environment and Climate Change

International Meditation Centre of Maha-Chulalongkornrajavidyalaya University,

Chiang Mai, Thailand, 14 November 2009
he International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) held its 20th Anniversary Conference at the International Meditation Centre near Chiang Mai, Thailand, from 13 ? 15 November 2009. Over 200 delegates attended the INEB Conference representing most South, South East and East Asian countries.

Reverend Hidehito Okochi of Japan and Dr Nigel Crawhall of South Africa gave presentations on Buddhist responses to global warming and climate instability. Following the presentations, a working group of 22 delegates from eleven countries was established to spend an afternoon reviewing current experiences, concerns and strategies for improving networking on responses to climate and environmental vulnerability. This report summarises the issues raised by the delegates and sets out recommendations for further cooperative action.

Okochi's presentation focused on the experience of his temple and congregation members to reduce their carbon emissions to zero and helping congregation members audit their carbon footprint and reduce their energy consumption or switch to sustainable energy, notably solar power.

Crawhall’s presentation was based on his experience of working with indigenous peoples in Africa on climate advocacy and the application of traditional knowledge to the crisis, as well as the 2009 book, A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency (ISBN 0-86171-605-1), edited by John Stanley, David R. Loy and Gyurme Dorje. The presentation focussed on three thematic areas:

1. A summary of the causes of global warming and the predictive science of the crisis, including examples from Africa where the climate instability is already affecting communities with droughts, flooding and changes to rain cycles and intensity;

2. Reflections on Buddhist ethical responsibilities in the face of the crisis, emphasising the obligations set out by the Precepts, and core values of compassion and engagement to reduce suffering against sentient beings, both human and non-human;

3. Avenues for individual and collective action, particularly helping the vulnerable with adaptation and access to reliable weather prediction and disaster avoidance, and the need to take the local experience and use this for coordinated inter-Buddhist and inter-faith advocacy at national, regional and global levels.
The full paper will be published and circulated in 2010. The Working Group took up the major themes and added details from each local and national situation. Delegates in the Working Group included both clergy and lay people. Delegates participated from Bhutan, Burma / Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, Ladakh, Laos, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United States of America, and Vietnam. It was significant that delegates came from different parts of Asia and diverse ecosystems, from the glacial territories of the Himalayas, down along the main rivers, into farm lands, deltas, islands and coastal fishing communities. The experiences showed the effects of warming at high altitudes on those living thousands of kilometres away at low altitudes.

Main Issues

Climate change: Delegates reported the following climate related experiences: droughts, melting glaciers, problems in farming, flooding, sea level rising and flooding of island coasts and river deltas, coastal erosion, vulnerability to cyclones, lack of advanced warning on extreme weather phenomena, and seasons out of order with impacts on biodiversity and food security; Japanese innovations in educating congregations about energy use and alternatives, including carbon neutral temples and reduced congregational emissions.

Ecology and biodiversity: Delegates reported deforestation where traditional governance has broken down (the exception was Bhutan where governance and conservation are intact), problems of pollution and plastics; loss of valuable ecological practices and knowledge systems; loss of mangroves; loss of seed diversity; too much burning of rubbish; loss of fish stocks; declining support for sacred landscapes and monastic secured conservation of forests and biodiversity.

Farming and food security: In Thailand, farmers are increasingly in debt from trying to switch from food crops to cash crops; high reliance on chemical fertilizers which pose problems to soil and water, including fishing areas; loss of food security and agro-biodiversity; the role of trees in micro-climates and mitigation; replacement of traditional crops with foreign or genetically modified seeds; some Sangha (clergy) are working to help rural villages return to organic farming and food security.

Ethics and economics: Delegates agreed that there have been major changes in community values, desires and use of natural resources. Sustainable, community-based practices related to ecosystems capacity have been de-valued in favour of commodification, cash-cropping, urban migration, cash gifts replacing community d?na, debt and greed at the local level. This ideological / identity shift has been amplified or influenced by the global economy, particularly extractive industries, loss of rural land tenure by small scale farmers, undermining of indigenous subsistence economies and artisanal fishing, loss of food sovereignty, and the shift towards land aggregation by powerful industries or urban land owners. Climate change is fundamentally a problem of ethics, both in terms of our relationship with the natural world and the willingness of the minority to place the majority in situations of poverty and insecurity. The group noted that climate crisis also increases the opportunities for conflict, from family, to community to international insecurity.

The large group did a round-table identifying issues (shown below) and then divided into smaller working groups on the themes of:

i. Organic farming, food sovereignty and agro-biodiversity, community based energy alternatives and reducing vulnerability;

ii. Climate change, environmental education and outreach / promotion;
iii. Dhamma (Buddhist ethical framework) and ecology
Below is a summary of the issues and recommendations:

Recommendations to INEB and network members:
INEB should continue to provide a platform for climate and environmental justice, including establishing a working group to organise a global Buddhist conference on climate and environmental sustainability, tentatively set for 2012. Working group recommends the theme of ‘Under the Bodhi Tree’, looking at ethical and practical responses to climate change and justice issues. The conference should be built on local experiences, national networking strategies and global witnessing and advocacy;
Urgent attention should be given to informing the monastic Sangha on their role in coping with environmental changes, disasters and vulnerability of local communities. Monasteries will be affected by falling agricultural production and migration, but they can also play a key role in education and helping villagers improve ecosystem resilience and services, based on Dhamma and Vinaya;
Buddhists can work with media, including INEB media, to publish and promote issues of agro-biodiversity, including promotion of organic farming, resistance to ‘agricultural colonialism’;
・   Publish case studies of Buddhist experiences with alternative energy, emissions reduction, cleaning up polluted landscapes, promoting food sovereignty, improving ecosystem and community resilience, revitalising traditional natural resource governance, reforestation and water management;
Publish an INEB Manual on mindful organic farming techniques for promotion through monasteries, NGOs and communities;
・   Elaborate a Buddhist Declaration of Ecological Vinaya (environmental awareness rules for Buddhists to live by), including a set of precepts related to biodiversity, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, the reduction of individual and communal emissions;
・   Establish a fund to support exchanges between communities working on agro-biodiversity, organic farming, emissions audits and alternative energy use;

For further information contact Nigel Crawhall at , website
 The State of Society Can be Changed
 Let’s Deeply Consider Things from the Side of Suffering:
The State of Society Can be Changed
 Rev. Hidehito Okochi
 Bukkyo (Buddhist) Times   June 23, 2011
     Rev. Hidehito Okochi was born in 1957. He is the abbot of Juko-in temple in Edogawa ward, Tokyo, where he helps run a variety of local NGOs focused on ecological living, community support, and activism in various social issues, such as the Palestine Children’s Campaign and the Citizens Network for Thinking about Global Warming. He is also a good friend in our JNEB network.    
 In commemorating the 800th anniversary of the death of its founder Honen Shonin, the Jodo Pure Land denomination created two themes to mark the event. The first is the shift of Kamakura Buddhism (of which Honen was one of the principal architects) to the side of the people through developing a faith based in the value of community. In this different age, democracy has been as a virtue of contemporary society, yet I would like to ask, ”Is it really the case that we have taken responsibility to ensure such a society?” The other theme is the vow to emancipate all life. Honen demonstrated through his encounters with both the warrior Kumagai Naozane and the prostitute at the port of Muro that life should never be thrown away. Rather, the deeper a person’s failings are should lead us to help them all the more. From these two themes, I believe we should develop a way of thinking that is exactly opposite to nuclear power.

Concerning the theme of supporting all life, we can see that when nuclear power becomes operable, it is inevitable that radiation will eat away at the health and lives of sentient life. The Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy to which I belong has been connecting with families who’s loved ones have lost their health and even their lives as radioactive poisoned workers at the nuclear power plants. We have also turned our attention to the voices of parents with children who have shown congenital illnesses and/or illnesses connected to radioactive contamination like cancer to internal organs and leukemia. The very nature of nuclear power tolerates this kind of sacrifice and buries it in darkness.

The Trick of Nuclear Power

However, there is this continual insistence that we must have it in order that to enjoy prosperity and convenience. In other words, our lifestyles require nuclear power ? but is this really so? For myself, I thought that this is the trick, the problem of nuclear power at its root, which is that the democracy that we first championed cannot advance under such influence. It is clear that living in this contemporary society, we use electricity extravagantly and surround ourselves with wasteful things. But in the end, the things that we buy and use are not really things we need but rather have been designed for us to consume. We have been induced into using these things even though we don’t need them. Until we investigate and interrogate this system, that is, changing the political and economic system, then the tragedies that hit the young will continue to be repeated. In the Buddhist discipline (sila), it is worse to sell alcohol thank to drink it.

From the beginning, Japanese have been weak in facing the authorities while keeping a strong sense for regulations and rules. Now, we our own lifestyles have been condemned and we feel ashamed, but this diverts us from investigating the real structural problems. The result has been that many Japanese have given up thinking “deeply” for themselves and “taking responsibility for the final consequences”.

A few days ago, I was invited as a panelist for a talk on thinking about the state of society at a university in Tokyo. When it was pointed out that there are very few students who have been participating in the anit-nuclear protests over the past months, one person said in response, “I don’t think there is much meaning in protesting. For myself, I’d rather do a candlelight vigil with friends and develop an attitude to saving electricity.” Unfortunately, this sentiment is just what the promoters of nuclear power want. Certainly developing an attitude towards saving electricity is not bad and it would be good to do on a large scale. However, the most important thing now is changing the way electricity is generated and delivered. This kind of thinking does not lead towards such a change while it helps to conceal the suffering of people and prevents a deepening awareness of the problem.

Towards a Cyclical Society

The authorities have been denying the effects of the influence of radiation for years and have ordered the fraudulent recording of deaths to the laborers within the nuclear power plants and the residents in the area of the plants. The causes of death has been written down as “heart failure” though they died while they were fighting the effects of cancer and leukemia. In the area of Wakasa in Fukui prefecture (which hosts the “Nuclear Ginza” of 17 reactors) patients were transferred to the Kansai Electric Power Company Hospital in Osaka so that their true conditions could be hidden. A few people fought this, but most have been buried in darkness. It is the role of religious people to discern the true reality by experiencing the ground level where people are thrown away and then present a way of living and the way society should be.

For the past 20 years, some residents from my area of Edogawa ward in Tokyo and I have visited the location of where waste from dams and nuclear power plants are dealt with. Listening to the local people who have been forced to suffer for the comforts of our present society, we came to think this is “the place” where society and nature are destroyed. Therefore, I think that we must do some kind of activity somehow that leads to self-awareness and personal responsibility towards where one lives as “the place” for determining consumption patterns and policy making. Starting with the real situation of electricity, we should thoroughly clarify the mechanism of financial system. This begins by examining system of gross cost as well as the government financing system. With the goal of a “non-nuclear low carbon society”, we can combine a loan financing system with clean energy. From the maintenance of social capital at the community level, we can present the model of a cyclical society (in which production, consumption, and waste feedback into each other). The should be something that we should all feel is within reach.

However, we must now bear the burden of the suffering of radioactivity that will last for some decades or even centuries. This is an irreparable situation that will effect our children and grandchildren, but we must now become intimate with the tragedy and squeeze out as much positive energy as we can to link to the future. I think this is the mission of those who are living now to truly make a common connection between the past and future. In order to realize a “true society”, it will require the utmost commitment to serving society. Together with the silent victims, we are working to recover hope for 300 years into the future.

Translated by Jonathan Watts