1 October 2020

Why We Care - 1 October 2020

Each year, in the week flowing from the International Day for Nonviolence on October 2, an international conference on energy and climate change is held in Greece. It is organized by the Energy and Policy Development Centre of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, KEPA, UNAI’s hub for the sustainable development goal related to energy. The proximity of dates is fitting, for it was Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday is marked as the International Day, who spoke of our earth having enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.

It’s a thought particularly compelling this week which also saw, on Tuesday, the International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction. Nearly 15% of food processed is lost between harvest and the market, or between need and greed; more than a billion and a half tonnes of food is discarded as waste each year. All this while more and more forests, and the trees within them that oxygenate our planet, are destroyed to create more and more and more farmland.

Full circle to KEPA and a remarkable initiative I touched upon some weeks ago an initiative in the modest phrase of its Director, Dimitrios Mavrakis, which “increases gradually its global momentum.” It began with the institute reaching out to nearby municipalities in Greece to plant 75 trees this year as a “United Nations Grove” on our 75th anniversary. But , like a bamboo sapling, that idea grew dramatically and was soon adopted by the Black Sea Economic Cooperation  Organization (BSEC) with eight of its member countries —-Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova ,Romania, Turkey and Ukraine —-expressing interest in taking on the project within their borders this year.

There may, among these countries, be some who have had historically or currently strained relations and it is tribute to KEPA that it identified a theme that so readily united them and one which will flourish. Thanks go also to BSEC’s Secretary-General, Ambassador Michael Christides, who also pioneered three months ago a regional cooperation centre on sustainable food systems to which this new initiative can well relate, as suggested earlier.

Dr Mavrakis, for his part, sees Greece and BSEC only as the beginning. He has already reached out to the University of Manitoba in Canada, UNAI’s hub on clean water and sanitation, for a collaborative venture in this regard and is also exploring possibilities in Japan and in Central Asia. Taoist philosophy suggests that just as they convert carbon dioxide into healing oxygen, trees can turn negative energy into positive , a metaphor for KEPA and Dr Mavrakis and their mission to transform destructive energy into that which sustains and is sustainable .

The KEPA-BSEC call to “plant, care for and register” trees could lend itself to the idea of nonviolence itself , particularly at a time when a global ceasefire in every sense is so essential, whether a ceasefire between those in battle, or a ceasing of the fire of burning fossils for energy , or a cease to blazing forest fires, fueled by climate change. To plant the seed of nonviolence to person or planet in the human heart, to care for it and to register its presence by gentle action and affirmation is, after all, what Gandhi aspired and gave life to.  

At our webinar on the eve of his birthday, Rudi Warjri from India sang a favourite hymn of the Mahatma’s. There is a line in “Lead, Kindly Light” which reads “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step is enough for me.” Dimitrios Mavrakis, Popi Konidari and the other remarkable women and men at KEPA have taken that step, the step, in the phrase of the African proverb, to plant the seeds of a tree whose shade one will not personally enjoy, its distant scene unseen.

Ramu Damodaran
Chief, United Nations Academic Impact