Seeking Holistic Solutions During

Climate Week NYC 2022

Seeking Holistic Solutions During Climate Week NYC 2022

Written by Ida Eva Zielinska
Photos by Tzu Chi USA Media Team

Holistic Climate Solutions Summit guests check in at the entrance to the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief in New York.

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We only have one Mother Earth, and the temperature keeps rising with wildfires, drought, and crazy rain, and we’re here at the very primordial moment.

From September 19–25, 2022, the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief in Manhattan, New York, hosted the Holistic Climate Solutions Summit (HCSS). The conference was part of Climate Week NYC, which the organizers – the Climate Group, an international non-profit – define as:

The biggest global climate event of its kind. Bringing together the most influential leaders in climate action from business, government, and the climate community, in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly and the City of New York. Climate Week NYC creates an ambitious platform for our mission to drive climate action. Fast.

The theme of Climate Week 2022 was “Getting It Done.” Thus, Tzu Chi’s summit gathered over 30 partners, comprising academics, activists, youth leaders, government officials, and people from all walks of life, with one goal: Developing the innovative solutions we need to tackle the climate crisis.

Our partnership network is very expansive. HCSS is an opportunity for us to bring together these different partners, and the more they partner and work together, the faster we’re going to be able to help those most at risk of being left behind. We wanted to bring innovative ideas and groups together that are working at the grassroots level and connect them to representatives at the UN.

The summit program consisted of 22 sessions: Panels, workshops, and community dialogues with a specific theme each day.

The “An Intergenerational Dialogue: Youth Solutions and Priorities for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems” panel on September 19, 2022.

Food Systems

Food systems were the focus on September 19. The first panel, “An Intergenerational Dialogue: Youth Solutions and Priorities for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems,” brought together youth-led group representatives and veterans at the forefront of championing comprehensive change in global food systems to share their perspectives and activities.

The food system is built on colonialism, and you have the Global North countries using low-income countries as the breadbasket of the world. There’s an opportunity now for young farmers to get together with young investors, young consumers, and start doing things in a different way.

Youth involvement looks a couple of different ways at the activism part but is also supporting, whether monetarily, volunteering, or just getting involved with a lot of the work that youth on the frontlines are already doing.

The “Faith-Based Solutions to Create Climate-Resilient Food Systems” workshop built upon findings generated during the Faith + Food Coalition’s Faith and Food Dialogues for the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit

Then the “Revolutionary Strategies of Food Sovereignty for Historically Marginalized Communities of Color” panel revealed how certain populations globally face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity.

Our current way of going about our food development, and basically our land maintenance, has negatively impacted our access to food, especially in communities of color and Native American communities.

Many indigenous communities are working hard to revitalize their local food systems, and encouraged this as a path forward.

One, research the land you’re on and see which indigenous communities live there. Secondly, just learn about the history and the culture of the entire region. And then also, just go and put your hands in the soil.

The first day of the summit concluded with “In Dialogue With Youth Environmental Leaders: Creating Transformative Change at the UN,” an intentional meal.

The “Revolutionary Strategies of Food Sovereignty for Historically Marginalized Communities of Color” panel on September 19, 2022.
The audience listens intently to a panel during the Holistic Climate Solutions Summit.

Local to Global

The sessions on September 20 explored the geographical aspects of climate change. The “How Global Solutions Are Failing Local Communities” panel highlighted how regions hardest hit by natural disasters in the developing world struggle to cope with the loss and damage while being the least responsible for the climate crisis. 

We have to acknowledge and understand that the countries of the Global North are responsible for, I believe, more than 90% of the damage that we’re seeing.

A summit attendee takes notes during the “How Global Solutions Are Failing Local Communities” panel.

We need to be proactive and really put money where our mouth is right now and work together to mitigate this crisis and support the Global South because if not, it’s not going to happen.

The “How Global Solutions Are Failing Local Communities” panel on September 20, 2022.

The “Responding to the Food Crisis: Future-Proofing Local Food Systems to Be Resilient” panel featured how – given the growing global population, which reached eight billion in 2022 – we must transform current food systems as they are vulnerable for a variety of reasons.

[We talked] about the connection between conflict, climate change, and the food crisis. We’re in the third year of the pandemic, and it has only exacerbated the inequalities that existed before, whether in health, nutrition, or education. And on top of that, now we’re seeing more and more extreme weather events and this is just adding to the number of people that are on the move and vulnerable to these climate risks.

The panel created a space for Tzu Chi and partners, currently collaborating to aid Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion of their homeland and the ensuing war, to converse.

It’s an opportunity to sit around one table and discuss how ‘If it’s now broken, how we can build it back better.’ So, it’s a great opportunity for us to offer communities to think of how to not only bounce back but also bounce forward after facing emergencies.

Broadening the conversation, a Tzu Chi representative to the UN highlighted recycling as part of bouncing forward to a more sustainable future and spoke of Tzu Chi’s innovative DA.AI Technology that transforms PET plastics.

We take trash and then we make it into usable products. Since climate change is worsening every single day, it's our duty to share the ideas to an X amount of people that we can still live a good life, but we just need to make a small change that makes a big difference.

“Global Solutions from Your Home,” a community-based dialogue, drew the day to a close and focused on how everyday lifestyle choices regarding food, fashion, travel, recycling, plastics, and energy can make an environmental difference.

The “Responding to the Food Crisis: Future-Proofing Local Food Systems to Be Resilient” panel on September 20, 2022.
Kenneth Liao (right), Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region Deputy Chief Executive Director, in front of graphics modeling Tzu Chi’s environmental protection approach.

Interfaith and Wellbeing

September 21 opened with “Highlighting Interfaith Responses to Climate Anxiety,” an intentional meal where faith groups connected with mental health experts. Then, the “Faith Dialogue Informing the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health” workshop drew together people of faith eager to contribute their thoughts and experiences to the design of the U.S. national strategy to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and health disparities.

The Faith + Food Coalition hosted the program as part of the Good Food Dialogues led by Food Systems for the Future in advance of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health days away on September 28 – the first conference of its kind in 50 years.

We discussed the first three pillars of the White House Conference: Improving food access and affordability; integrating nutrition and health; and empowering all consumers to make healthy choices. We’re going to use the notes to write a report [then share it] with the Good Food Dialogues and the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

The “Highlighting Interfaith Responses to Climate Anxiety” intentional meal on September 21, 2022.
The “Faith Dialogue Informing the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health” workshop on September 21, 2022.
A workshop, “The Building Blocks of Mutual Aid for Disaster Resilience,” on September 21, 2022.

That afternoon, the “Explorations of the Climate Security Nexus” panel created a space for youth peacebuilders, climate activists, and representatives from government, UN agencies, and civil society to discuss sustainable peace solutions that acknowledge the connection between climate change, peace, and security.

Another workshop, “The Building Blocks of Mutual Aid for Disaster Resilience,” featured preparedness with the growing understanding that among communities’ greatest tools are awareness and resilience. If communities at risk anticipate not being able to receive government assistance following major disasters, they can create mutual aid networks to ensure they’re ready. 

However, disaster readiness is also a personal matter, and many find coming to terms with climate change difficult.

The climate crisis is much more than a political, economic crisis: It’s a spiritual crisis. I think especially young people are grappling with this grief, like, ‘What’s going to happen? What does the future hold?’

A yoga session on September 21, 2022.

I’ve witnessed, not only in my personal life but also in my patients’ life, my students’ life, my family, that we’ve been experiencing a lot of losses, trauma, and what I’ve thought about is grieving: We all lack a place to grieve together.

Building on the thread of resilience, three mindfulness practitioners offered interactive meditation, yoga, and group therapy sessions during the community-based program, “Mindfulness in the Face of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Grief,” that concluded the day.

Envisioning Our Shared Future

September 22 brought three panels aiming to contemplate the future we want. The first, “The Zero-Zero Solution: Getting to Actual Zero Anthropogenic Emissions of GHG with the Vision for Equitable Climate Action (VECA) Framework,” walked attendees through the VECA. Collaboratively created by hundreds of organizations with diverse background experiences, it provides solutions that foster bold, comprehensive, and equitable climate action, recognizing that the scale and scope of the global crisis arise from systems of colonialism, racism, and injustice. 

The “Youth Leadership in the Triple Planetary Crisis: Creating the World We Need to Live In” panel on September 22, 2022.

“Youth Leadership in the Triple Planetary Crisis: Creating the World We Need to Live In” presented perspectives from the frontlines of creating change within communities, building innovative solutions, and ushering in a more sustainable future. The triple planetary crisis – climate change; nature and biodiversity loss; and pollution and waste – are projected to put millions of species at risk of extinction and lead to the continued erosion of ecosystems and destruction of the air and water we depend on to survive. With over 49% of the global population below the age of 30, integrating the voice of youth in decision-making processes is critical.

Climate change is the most pressing issue facing us as humanity. We have to start working together to make sure that we have a just transition to a clean future.

The “Innovative Usage of Storytelling for Media Communications on Climate Awareness and Climate Action” panel on September 22, 2022.
Group activity notes from a summit session highlighting issues of importance.

One key message to send is: The time is now, and the solutions are already here. The only thing lacking is political will. It’s important for young people around the world to understand the power we really have. I think we have the power to change everything.

“Innovative Usage of Storytelling for Media Communications on Climate Awareness and Climate Action” gathered youth activists, climate change communications experts, and representatives from the UN to reflect on how to generate concern about the climate and catalyze social change and climate ambition from governments. Including those most affected by climate change in the conversation, and an uncompromising stance, emerged as vital.

The “Art for Climate Action: Creating Our Future Together” community-based program on September 22, 2022.

When in human history has a movement led by people who have not been affected by it been successful? It doesn’t work. And don’t get bogged down into the language of compromise because compromise will not lead us to survive what is coming ahead of us.

Concurrently, some bemoaned the enormity of the task:

I love the work that I do, but it’s unfortunate that I have to do this work because I’m stuck in a position as a young person, as a 22-year-old having to think about not only my future but my family’s future, my generation’s future.

The day closed with “Art for Climate Action: Creating Our Future Together,” an evening of art-making and conversation where participants shared their hopes and stories.

Building a Flourishing Future

September 23 began with “Marching Towards COP27: Building Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Climate Resilience by Engaging Women of Faith in Food Systems Transformation.” The panel presented how with a collapsing global economy and worsening impacts from climate change, around 20% of people in the MENA region are food insecure, then shared best practices in transforming food systems.

The “Solutions at the Nexus of Climate, Animal Welfare, and Sustainable Development” panel showcased how improving animal welfare contributes to achieving global climate goals and accelerating progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals. A central element of protecting animal welfare is promoting a global shift to a plant-based diet.

The “Solutions at the Nexus of Climate, Animal Welfare, and Sustainable Development” panel on September 23, 2022.
Vegetarian meals and snacks prepared for summit participants by Tzu Chi volunteers encourage a shift to a plant-based diet.

Animal agriculture is the biggest driver for climate change, so any innovation that we can have at the food industry level is going to positively impact the environment. What we’re seeing right now is a huge increase in awareness.

We’re working hard to accelerate the transition toward a plant-based food system and to find an end to industrial animal agriculture.

Tzu Chi brought a religious perspective, emphasizing compassion and ethics.

We spend so much energy feeding the animal. If we use all this energy to produce plant-based food, we can feed the whole world; there will be no people going hungry. It’s about the value system.

The “Exploring the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment” workshop followed up on the July 28, 2022, UNGA declaration that access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a right for all, not just a privilege for some. Individual nation-states must take action to implement it, as people are losing their homes and access to food, causing climate-forced displacement. Participants pinpointed that the dialogue concerning what lies ahead must be inclusive in the broadest sense.

We need to have a dialogue with everyone. Dialogue not only with us humans, but dialogue with creation, dialogue with different people, dialogue with all races, dialogue with all tribes of the world, so that we can come to a consented kind of solution to the current problems we’re having.

A networking event completed the day’s program, allowing attendees to meet the speakers, panelists, event organizers, and other summit participants and continue the conversations informally.

The “Exploring the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment” workshop on September 23, 2022.
The Holistics Climate Solutions Summit agenda is packed, with sessions continuing until after dark.

Confronting Plastics

On September 24, “Confronting Plastics: A Strategic Ethical Response” zeroed in on our global reliance on plastics across all sectors of society, and its detrimental impact on the environment, health, and more. As one of the panelists said, “Plastic pollution, to our environment, to our community, is real. We’re not projecting that it will happen in the future: We’re seeing it happening right now.”

It’s a laundry list of issues. The chemicals used, plastic pollution clogs our streams, it keeps forests from growing, it’s killing fish. We’re looking at this deep existential risk that threatens the efficacy of our species going forward.

The “Confronting Plastics: A Strategic Ethical Response” panel on September 24, 2022.

Some were quite upbeat about potential solutions alongside systemic change.

There are so many solutions out there, and I think recycling is one, but there are so many technological solutions, scientific solutions, and policy solutions. But we also have the driving voice to say that we need change from the systems.

Others were more focused on individual action regarding plastics.

Recycling is important, but the most important is ‘Do not use it.’ By saying no to plastic, we can make a difference right now.

Summit attendees continue their lively discussions outside the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief.

Live Taping of United in Action

The Holistic Climate Solutions Summit ended on September 25 with the live taping of United in Action, the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief’s latest program, produced in collaboration with Tzu Chi USA’s Global Affairs Team and featuring in-depth conversations between the host and representatives from the UN community. The Holistic Climate Solutions episode spotlighted how we can overcome gaps and obstacles and solve the climate crisis through mutual understanding and cooperation.

Steve Chiu, the host of United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center, opens the show during the live taping on September 25. 2022.

It was a stimulating week that motivated attendees to do their part to drive climate action and get it done: Fast.

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