Fasting for the Philippines


By Guest Contributor

8,446 miles. That is how far it is from Middlebury to Tacloban City, Philippines.

When the Earth suffers, we suffer with it, but not everyone suffers equally. Today, the Philippines is bearing much of the burden. Since our community often tends to feel apathetic towards the people and communities that are distant from us, we are fasting today not only to stand in solidarity with the Filipino people, but also because we believe that shared suffering is a path to empathy. Although fasting will not have an actual impact on the lives of the people who are suffering, it brings our attention closer to their suffering. It gives us a feeling which we cannot simply forget about: every time we feel a pang of hunger we are reminded of people living with this condition but are without much hope of relief. Fasting is a way to at least incorporate a very small part of their struggle into our lives, helping to bridge the geographic gap between us.

Our idea of fasting for climate justice came from the Filipino delegate to the UN climate talk, Mr. Yeb Saño. He is fasting for the whole length of the current conference “until meaningful outcome is in sight”. This is the second time in a row where he has addressed the international community at the annual climate talk after a disastrous storm had struck his country. At present, youth groups attending the conference in Warsaw, as well as many people around the world and other Middlebury students, are also fasting.

If this storm had happened in a wealthier area, the damages done to human lives may not have been so great. An IPCC report from 2011 shows that 95 percent of the deaths resulting from “extreme climate disasters” are in developing countries. The reason why this figure is so skewed towards people in developing countries is because they are less adequately prepared for coping with climate disasters than developed countries. Rapid population growth and urbanization produce clusters of poorly constructed houses in cities in developing countries that are extremely vulnerable to even smaller-scale climate events, let alone “extreme climate disasters.”

At the end of the day, we still know that we will have food available for us to eat. But as climate change becomes an increasingly significant problem, and stronger and more frequent storms become the new climate norm, more and more people will not have that food security. What should we do in order to be able to relate to them on a deeper, more personal level? Fasting is a good first step, because it draws our attention to what they are going through and keeps them in our thoughts. It helps to bring us closer to the reality of the words and images that we hear and see on news reports. But it will not relieve the suffering in the Philippines. Fighting for environmental and social justice cannot be tackled in one day, we must incorporate these ideals into our everyday thoughts and actions.

ASH BABCOCK ’17 is from Deerfield, Ill., ADRIAN LEONG ’16 is from Hong Kong and VIRGINIA WILTSHIRE-GORDON ’16 is from Wilmette, Ill.