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The Inner Dimensions of Climate Change: Young Ecologists Turn Inward

From 18 to 23 January 2017, thirty young ecologists from the Americas and Caribbean working in fields related to environmental education, conservation and climate activism came to Costa Rica for a retreat on the ¨Inner Dimensions of Climate Change.¨ Earth Charter International (ECI) collaborated with The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) and the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association (DDMBA) to bring together young people with mentors from different spiritual traditions to uncover the deeper root causes of the climate crisis to inform our individual, organization, and systemic work in creating solutions.

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Participants and mentors spent their first day at the Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development where the ECI Youth Project´s Coordinator led them in an interactive workshop to experience the Earth Charter. Participants explored the Earth Charter´s four interrelated pillars: (1) Respect and Care for the Community of Life, (2) Ecological Integrity, (3) Social and Economic Justice, (4) Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace, and then learned the incredible story of its creation which stands as the most participatory process of any document in history.

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The group then traveled to Puerta a la Vida, a unique eco-lodge in Puntarenas Costa Rica, where the group spent several days in ceremony, dialogue, and exploration. Dialogue sessions were facilitated by mentors who gave space to youth leaders to open discussions on topics related to their work. Topics included the impact of Climate Change on the Americas and Caribbean, loss of indigenous knowledge, and grassroots efforts to create change.

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Mentors Venerable Chang Ji, Jana Long, Dena Merriam, Mirabai Starr, and Hanne Marstrand Strong shared wisdom from their various traditions and experiences. Mentors Sraddhalu Ranade from India and Tiokasin Ghosthorse from the Lakota Nation in North America brought in systemic and biocentric perspectives to deconstruct colonial, oppressive, and anthropocentric paradigms and language to shift, expand, and deepen the conversations.  In one example, Tiokasin shared that he considers the famous statement ¨I think, therefore I am¨ is to be lost. He and his tribe instead live by ¨I thank, therefore I am—We thank, therefore we are.¨ He begins each day giving thanks to water, a word which in his native language of Lakota roughly translates to ¨the life energy that flows between us.¨

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The retreat closed with a ceremony of gratitude where each person chose to take with them a small, symbolic object that another had brought, bonding the participants to one another and the experience. This gathering was the second in the series of regional retreats; The first retreat was held in Marrakesh, Morocco in November of 2016 with African youth during the COP22. GPIW, DDMBA, and ECI will continue organizing spaces to build intergenerational and intercultural networks of grounded, conscious sustainability leaders with plans to host the next gatherings in Europe and the Middle East.

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