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Greetings dear ones! As I write this, I look back on a week of extreme weather phenomena--floods in Queensland Australia, a heat wave in Argentina, the New York blizzard and Britain's coldest winter on record. And I look back too, on a year of weather catastrophes, above all, the Pakistan floods, one of the worst natural disasters in history. Many Pakistani villagers face a mountain winter without food supplies, blankets or housing. Oxfam is still supplying one and a half million Pakistanis with water, while admitting they are meeting only a fraction of the need. Many of us by now are getting the message that human-caused climate change implies more than warmer weather.
Looking forward, I see a year in which the human population is expected to top the seven billion mark. Seven billion humans wreaking havoc on the environment and competing for scarce resources! Seven billion human beings, each one infinitely precious, each unique, each a potential gift of hope to the future! I contemplate the essential paradox of these two sentences. Population is a complex topic, not susceptible to pat answers. Wealthy nations have a larger environmental impact due to greater consumption, whereas people in poor nations impact endangered species as a direct result of hunger and lack of education. The carbon footprint of an average American is much greater that that of an average Indian, yet the poor of the world are suffering the effects of climate change today, without ever having reaped the benefits of life in the developed world.
If there are 'too many' of us, why give our time and money to lengthen lives by improving healthcare and nutrition? From the pragmatic perspective, the answer is that the Malthusian checks of war, famine and epidemics wreak social havoc, and social havoc is dangerous for the human and natural environment. Improved education and lower infant mortality naturally lead to lower birthrates, in turn causing population to plateau and then fall, in a more harmonious way. From the spiritual perspective, the answer is simple. As I cherish my own life, health and wellbeing, so I cherish the life, health and wellbeing of each one of the seven billion humans who are not separate from myself. A hungry child in Pakistan is my own hungry child. A cold and desperate street person is my very self. If one of us is suffering, all of us suffer. We are all one.
It is so inherent to see ourselves as the centre of our own universe. Yet the child going to bed hungry tonight, the mother in the refugee camp with no clean drinking water, the person dying of AIDS alone in a hut with nothing to eat but UN rations--each one is as special as we are, as precious as we are, each one has the same dreams, the same hopes, the same potential as we do. Take a moment to think of your greatest heroes or heroines. Where would we be without these great souls? And now remember that today, a child with the potential to be the next Alexander Fleming, the next Mahatma Gandhi, the next Rosa Parks, the next Vanadana Shiva, may die from malnutrition or preventable disease.
The unique needs of the poor, whether in our own city or developing nations on the other side of the world, will never be met adequately by governments or large NGOs. Private philanthropy, people helping people, working through grassroots organizations, has the greatest potential to provide the poor of the world with a decent human life. Following the financial debacle of 2008, many of us have seen our retirement savings dwindle, our benefits cut, our incomes reduced. Some of us live from paycheck to paycheck while others of us no longer have a paycheck at all. Some have had to put off retirement; some have been laid off when we still need to work. Many in the US, myself included, have no protection from catastrophic illness. Facing these altered circumstances, it may be hard to recognize how immensely privileged we are compared to the rest of the world. However hard-up we may feel ourselves to be, we can spare something for those who have nothing. As citizens of our municipality, we have a duty to the hungry and homeless in our midst. As citizens of the world, we have great responsibility for the poorest members of our global community. Food for others, like food for ourselves, must be a non-negotiable expenditure.
As one of the soon-to-be Seven Billion, I am a part of the problem. As a resident of the developed world, I am a disproportionally large part of the problem. And as a visionary and philanthropist, I am a part of the solution, and hope that my positive influence will be much greater than a seven-billionth part. Please join us in our efforts at private philanthropy by participating in Alandi Ashram's Peace Push for Pakistan, in collaboration with Global Greengrants, an organization that unites donors and activists across the globe in their shared passion for social and environmental justice. To help Pakistan's victims of climate change catastrophe, please visit http://www.greengrants.org/get-involved/special-campaigns/
Dear friends, I wish each and every one of you a peaceful, healthy and blessed New Year. Let's make 2011 the year we take our world back through compassionate action!
With my love and blessings always,
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