Category Archives: Dharma and Climate Action

First White House Buddhist Leaders Conference – 14 May, 2015

It was a very full day. (You can see a detailed account here.) A diverse gathering of Buddhist teachers and leaders, from a range of lineages, ethnic backgrounds, and geographical locations, made it to Washington DC to take part in what was seen as a historic occasion. This was the first time a range of Buddhist representatives had been invited and welcomed into the White House, to register their concerns, and make themselves known as a body that has political and social impact. Perhaps more important, was that we, as Buddhists, recognized ourselves as stepping out to engage more fully on the political stage.

As a gesture of moving toward making a political statement, we submitted two statements on behalf of Buddhists, one on Racism, and one on Climate Change.

US First White House Buddhist Leaders ConferenceAn article a few days before in the Washington Post asked, “Are we about to enter the era of the political Buddhist?” It went on to say, “On Thursday about 125 U.S. Buddhist leaders from across the spectrum will gather in Washington for what organizers say may be the biggest conference ever focused on bringing their faith communities into public, civic life. After the conference, the group will meet with officials at the White House, which longtime writers on U.S. Buddhism say is a first….The daylong conference represents, some experts say, the start of a civic awakening not only among U.S. Buddhists, but even Buddhists overseas, where spiritual and religious life can sometimes be separated from things like politics and policy. U.S. Buddhists have high rates of political attentiveness and voting, but until recent years haven’t considered or focused specifically on how their Buddhism translates into public action.”

In my own estimation, the primary importance of the White House visit was placing ourselves as politically and socially engaged in response to the pressing issues of our times, and in doing so, overturning a somewhat erroneous narrative that Buddhism is passive and detached. (While some Buddhists maybe, that is not what the Buddha taught or lived.)

As millions of tons of carbon, nitrous oxide and methane gases continue to heat our biosphere, it is not a moment too soon to step up. Not only by focusing on the consequences, but also on the causes, right down to the most profound cause of separative consciousness. What is very affirming to understand, is how much we have to offer into the social and political discourse of America, and further afield, as a Buddhist collective.

In response to some very good questions in the group Q&A session with State Representatives, while seated in an auditorium in the South Wing, I found myself becoming somewhat agitated as the Associate Director for the White House Council for Environmental Quality, Angela Barranco, encouraged us as Buddhists to be engaged in increasing pressure around policy. While an important point, and while her overall address was excellent, I commented to her that, while we can all do something, considering the urgency of our situation, and considering that real power lies in government, what seems more important is that the government shift billions of dollars in subsidies from the fossil fuel industry to renewables. Of course, as she pointed out, and as we are all aware, even with the best will in the world, political machinations distort an expedient and clear response. (And, of course, huge power now lies with the Corporations and their overarching influence.)

Overall, while it was a long day with presentations beginning at 9.30am and continuing to 5pm, and while there was too little time to talk together, which would have been great, there were excellent presentations in the morning from members of the Buddhist community, and very engaging, open, transparent and positive input from the government officials in the afternoon. It was clear to all, that this meeting of Buddhists, while the first in the White House, would not be the last.

One final word; kudos to Buddhist Peace Fellowship for bringing great banners that we could get behind, (literally and figuratevely!)

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Join the Conversation (1) by Thanissara

Things are getting worse and worse, better and better, faster and faster.” Lou Leonard, science advisor and co-founder of One Earth Sangha

Sunday October 5th: What a great launch to our conversation! Thanks to our teachers Tara Brach, Ruth King and Jack Kornfield, alongside our fantastic One Earth Sangha team & Maestro Conference, and mostly your participation and presence, representing our international sangha.

At time of writing we are now 2000+ (and growing) signed up for this conversation. This fast expanding interest show that the time has arrived for Buddhist, Dharma and Mindfulness practitioners to engage climate change. If in doubt, please read leading Buddhist scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi’s post in One Earth Sangha (also printed in Truth Out.) Encouraged by the example of the Buddha, who faced numerous difficult challenges, we too should engage the ginormous challenge of ensuring a sustainable future. Alone it is overwhelming and we can do little, but together we have the focus, clarity and compassion to make a difference. And together not only can we contribute to the fast growing, wonderfully diverse, climate movement, but we can also make an important offering toward the changes that need to happen.

I hope you can continue join us as we further the conversation each Sunday this coming month. (If you haven’t already, you can still register for free here.) Meanwhile here are some of the highlights from our teachers. You can also listen to the full recording here.

“Because We Love” Tara Brach

Tara-Photo

Tara emphasized the need to join together rather than feel alone. That our original suffering is feeling separate and the consequent fear of the “unreal other” which fuels the painful violation of self, other (also in unfortunate racist ways), and the earth. Those who dominate feel the right to exploit, which has now led us to the 6th great extinction: by 2100 over ½ of all mammals and plants will have died off. In the face of this we must, as Rumi said, Sit and be still and listen for we are drunk and at the edge of the roof. Tara then led us into the Grail story and the way of redemption by understanding we are this living earth. Because of this we feel the pain of the earth but we also can make the true choice of the human heart, which is to love and to act from that love.

“Rebelling For Balance” – Ruth King

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Ruth led us into her own process of getting educated on climate issues (recommending Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything.) One thing is clear is the utter interdependence of all things. This understanding challenges us to come out of the “silos” and territorial boundaries we are bound in. At a systemic level we can recognize a skeletal shape of greed and exploitation, which has set a power dynamic play between Capitalism & Culture. We see the planet, Gaia, our Great Mother, exploited unfairly as are poor people, indigenous people, People of Color – over centuries. Climate change then, Ruth said, is a call to clearly see divisions and mostly how our hearts are divided. Climate change is changing us. We are being forced to see the delusion of false boundaries. As encouraged by Martin Luther King, we are learning the true balance of power infused by love and love strengthened by power.

“Setting the Compass of the Heart” – Jack Kornfield

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Jack encouraged sustaining our selves through difficult times and the importance of sustaining our good heart even though there is dukkha (suffering.) As the Buddha taught dukkha is always with us, and now staring us in the face through climate change. And yet there is also the giant vision of the Bodhisattva. We are awakening together with all beings into the way of connection, compassion and care for all. Jack reminded us of the Dalai Lama, and the vows of the Bodhisattva, as the instruction for navigating difficult times. He also reminded us of the important example of great beings like Gandhi, who even while taking down the British Empire, still took a day a week to observe silence and do inner work. That Aung San Suu Kyi, who said of her 17 years under house arrest, that never was she in prison because she never hated “them.” Jack reminded us its important not to hope on the results but to trust the seeds being planted.

Again – here is the full version, plus the Q&A.

Our next conversation is on Sunday 12th October. Join Ayya Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni, Rev angel Kyodo Williams and Susie Harrington (bios here – scroll down) and our team, as we continue to deepen into the conversation. We will be focusing on the following theme:

Imbedded in climate change, are many pressing global issues of our time- privilege, colonialism, patriarchy, consumerism, and a split with the natural world. Presenters will reflect on holding these complex and potentially overwhelming truths, while making space to move into compassionate and authentic response.

“See” you then!

A Next Step by Thanissara

So we are nearing the end of what has been a huge month for the Climate Movement mostly because it went from a disparate number of groups to an actual global movement. Because of this I feel we should celebrate, even as we feel the dread of the very real challenges ahead. Still let’s take a moment to really enjoy and feel the goodness of what has just happened.

There is a party in NY next week. Unfortunately many of us can’t attend (love a party if there’s good dancing music!) Even so we can each celebrate what is a huge accomplishment. We can give thanks to the deeper spirit of humanity that moved so many to step out for the earth, her animals, creatures, forests and plants, and for our future generations.

Climate March

In case you missed what we are celebrating, here’s a few catch ups:

Peoples Climate Story

Great Pics

Inspiring Videos

Religions for the Earth Conference

Pics of Faith Contingent

Most Amazing Interfaith Service @ St John the Divine NYC 

So after the party we must continue to forge forward with determination. There is no time to loose as we mobilize together to tackle the changes that need to happen. Basically this amounts to:

1. Reduce carbon emissions completely (Stop the Fossil Fuel Industry & their government subsidies. Legislate a fee for carbon use & create a dividend for most impacted peoples. Also divest from fossil fuels on massive scale)

2. Sequester existing carbon (Save and increase forests, plant high carbon absorption crops like hemp which can also replace many oil based products. Ensure ocean health)

3. Massive investment in renewable energy (Replace subsidies for fossil fuel to renewables – mobilize renewable energy as if mobilizing a war effort)

4. Re-think consumerism and reclaim the sacred within ourselves and of the earth. (While thinking along those lines, you may enjoy Elder Bing Gong’s Podcasts)

5. Shift from a meat based diet to plant based one.

More about this later, alongside specific possibilities for “what we can to do” together and how we can practice reclamation of the sacred.

Meanwhile, I invite you to join me and our great One Earth Sangha team (check out co-founder of 1ES Lou Leonard’s blog piece The March to March) and sixteen leading Dharma teachers during the month of October. Each Sunday, for an hour and a half, we have teachers input, conversation in break out groups, questions and dialog focused on the layered dimensions of life impacted by climate change. We are already well over 1000 people signed up.

So do join us dear Dharma Friends & Climate Activists as we “break bread” and “share in beloved community.” You can join in wherever you are in the world via Skype or inexpensive phone card. (EST is New York time, USA.)

To sign up and register for free, please click here onto One Earth Sangha. “See” you there!

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The Challenge of Climate Catastrophe to Axial Age Religion

I’ve just finished reading Chris Hedges piece “The Coming Climate Revolt.” His closing paragraph is daunting.

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Gathering for Flood Wall Street

The response of the corporate state is repression rather than reform then our strategy and our tactics must be different. We will have to cease our appealing to the system. We will have to view the state, including the Democratic Party, as antagonistic to genuine reform. We will have to speak in the language of … revolution. We will have to carry out acts of civil disobedience that seek to cripple the mechanisms of corporate power. The corporate elites, blinded by their lust for profit and foolish enough to believe they can protect themselves from climate change, will not veer from our path towards ecocide unless they are forced from power. And this means the beginning of a titanic clash between our corporate masters and ourselves.

Hedges preceding words detail a grim litany of usurped power by the “corporate state” that “perpetuates the facade of democracy.” Why I feel so daunted by Hedges diagnosis is that much of it unfortunately rings true. In the face of corporate and oligarchic power once again I feel like a Hobbit journeying to Mordor. I would like to stay in the Shires and not have to venture further into a terrible journey of confrontation, struggle and risk.

hobbits-at-mordorI am also reluctant to move to this “reality check” while still coasting on the good feeling of our Peoples Climate March and its hopeful buoyant joyful exuberance.

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For now, I’m still digesting the impact of the last week as well as the implications of the challenges ahead. In the midst of that I’ve been talking with friends and teachers about our “Buddhist” piece in all this. Basically, we seem to agree that the reality of our current times is going to profoundly challenge Buddhism along with other Axial Age religions which forged many evolutionary shifts in their time. These focused on an individuated experience and relationship with the divine/ transcendent while also connecting that to an inner moral imperative. However they also shaped a profound split with nature in the tendency to posit “salvation” and “nirvana” as apart from this world.

While Buddhism has followed its own evolutionary arch which dissolved that fundamental split in texts like the Heart Sutra, it is still deeply embedded in the philosophical template that sees the world as samsara and therefore “bad, seductive, lesser and corrupting.” It is this fundamental split and the rise of a patriarchal — earth and female averse — religious doctrine that contributes to our catastrophic and perilous situation.

Rev angel
Rev angel

Fast forward to this last week. I listened to Rev angel Kyodo williams at Shambhala New York talking a straight message. Rev Williams explored “de-white-ing” our collective conditioning. While an obvious reference to skin color and the entitlements of “whiteness” she made the point of including everyone in our “whiteness” focus. The decolonizing of the mind means moving beyond our tendency to characterture and package everyone according to painful social and racial conditioning which generates the inability to actually see each other. In response to her talk, a young African American woman gave the example of arriving at the meditation center where another attendee said to her and her black friend, “Oh the fun people have arrived.” This was painful because immediately the young woman was objectified and stripped of depth, gravitas and seriousness. While it may have been a clumsy attempt to reach out, it actually gave the message “you are other.”

When it comes to the revolution that is needed to ensure our collective survival, we have to understand that part of the problem is our chronic “othering” which denies the reality of a seamless web of life. At Flood Wall Street I was interviewed (a rare occurrence I assure you) and found myself talking about this “othering” as a crisis in consciousness that underpins our energy crisis. We have to stop seeing the earth, the world around us, and the vast diversity of peoples, animals and creatures as apart from ourselves, our tribe and our “special entitlements.”

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Bhikkhu Bodhi @ Flood Wall Street

This new evolutionary arch is summarized brilliantly in Zenji Dogen’s statement Dogen-zenji[1]Enlightenment is the intimacy of all things. Buddhism, when at its best, has never divided evil and good but sees the origin of all dualities within our own mind. We have not launched holy struggles against “evil” but seek to purify our own heart and transform our own consciousness. In doing so, the Buddha engaged Kings and Generals and he sought to stop wars and social injustice. But he did so from an inclusive consciousness.

So blog pieces should not be too long. To be brief here. While I believe Chris Hedges analysis – we have to have a revolution that takes down a rogue fossil fuel state machinery – how we do this is critical. We saw this last week that people power is indeed a brilliant power. We also saw that when it coalesce diversity, youth, grandmothers, indigenous peoples, workers, leaders, people of faith, and a variety of concerned citizens across the globe with creativity, joy, focus and determination, then we have found ourselves a movement. A movement that expresses our new evolutionary edge.

We are warriors and we do have a battle to engage; but we will not default to hatred and violence (though we may feel both impulses.) And it is at this crux that Buddhism has a valuable offering to make. I hope we can get beyond our tribal sangha competitiveness, our narcissistic introversions and sanctioned quietism, our inner splits and entitled “whiteness,” and our fear of the sacred feminine enough to meet the coming wave. Our work is cut out!

Santussika Bhikkhuni carrying a banner made by her 6 year-old grand daughter
Santussika Bhikkhuni carrying a banner made by her 6 year-old grand daughter

What a day! by Thanissara

Friends, today in New York there was a seismic shift in the climate movement. In its report Huffington Post estimated more than 400,000 people were on the street. Our message was clear. We want action now and we’re not going away! This is just the beginning.

NY1I was in the Faith block. When we first arrived it was pretty spacious, but we were a few hours early. By the time it was our turn to march I was squeezed in check by jowl with Buddhist friends and barely able to move, such was the volume of people. (Fortunately it got more spacious as we began to march!) We were a happy, joyous, bunch, but also determined. We are the immune system of the Earth rising…I’ll have more to say but it’s late into the night and time to catch some sleep, so here’s two pics for now…Oh and an update from the UK and a brief snippet around the world.

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Buddhists Rock!

It’s late and it’s been a loooong day – so instead of writing an update myself, I’m going to post on from my dear friend Gayle Markow who will join the Peoples Climate March with us here in New York City tomorrow. Gayle and I have known each other for many years. Our friendship began early 2000 when she became central to our fund raising campaign at San Francisco Insight for Dharmagiri’s HIV/Aids community outreach work in South Africa.

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Now many years later we shared the journey on the Climate Train and today’s events which Gayle records here. This was at at New York Insight. There were about 200 people from a diversity of geographical backgrounds, as well as New Yorkers, meeting to “Prepare the Heart to March.” In the evening we attended a symposium of climate leaders at New York Society of Ethical Culture. Over to Gayle.

I got up, got dressed and hailed a taxi for Insight New York down on 27th Street. Turned out to be the MOST awesome 3 hour event. The two nuns (Ayya Santussika and Santacitta Bhikkhunis) who were on the train with us, Thanissara, Bikkhu Bodhi, Wes Nisker, David Loy, and some other brilliant speakers. It was Mega-awesome!!! A major event unto itself!  

At NY Insight, I “scored” possibly the last available ticket for Bill McKibben’s talk tonight. I never heard him before, or read him, but people spoke highly and I was curious. He was awesome. Then other speakers who were also awesome. Mary Robinson, first woman President of Ireland, and now UN Special Envoy for Climate Change (previously UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). There was Sean Sweeney, founder and co-director of the Global Labor Institute, etc etc… Other speakers All wonderful too. Too numerous to name here right now. Sweeney said that ALL NY area Unions have endorsed the People’s Climate March. Bill McKibben said there will be more than 2700 marches  and events going on around the world (150+ countries) this weekend in Solidarity with the Climate March. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will also be joining the Climate March. So much more got said, and it was all of intense interest, and the 800 or so people there tonight were electrified. The energy was palpable.

The Climate March is gonna be huge. Seriously. Huge. And it will transform the movement for change. This is gonna be a wild and interesting ride. Not just the march, which is gonna be Huge. But the next few decades. Because the Earth, and mainly the survivability of our human (and lots of other) species is Seriously at risk, like Never Before. We’re moving rapidly toward what they call the “tipping point” where it will be too late to reverse, to salvage things. It’s already not clear whether we’ve already passed that point, but there seems to be some hope that we haven’t, but that also we don’t have much time, actually hardly any time.

There is a tremendous sense of urgency here. It’s contagious, and at the same time,hopeful. Because people – in large numbers – have gotten serious. I think we might be witnessing the “hundredth monkey effect”. Wow. So, anyway, that was my day. If you can, get out and demonstrate tomorrow, and then be sure to watch the news, and see what kind of news we make here.”

Just to add onto Gayle’s report a mention the presentation at the NY Society of Ethical Culture by Lester Brown who is considered one of the world’s most influential thinkers. He gave a brief preview of his forth coming book which was packed full of truly inspiring data about the fast moving energy transformation from fossil fuels to wind and solar happening all over the world. Countries like Germany and Denmark are leading, and while lagging behind, the USA has the capacity to really fast forward this momentum, given the political will. Brown thinks that we’ll see a significant energy revolution in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, it’s important to keep the pressure on for change. Here’s more urgency from S.Africa’s Kumi Naidoo – ED of Greenpeace International, spelling it out on the eve of the Peoples Climate March happening all over the world on September 21st.

Rev TK - Japanese American at NY Insight today talking about Nuclear Waste being like having a house with no toilet. (Meaning, we sh#ite in our own home) Time to shift from Nuclear!Back to NY Insight for a moment. The day included speeches on climate, Dharma, and activism, by Ayya Santacitta (we are in climate chaos and there’s nowhere to hide), Ayya Santussika (who reported on the Climate Train, Tar Sands and the Climate Pledge), Bhikkhu Bodhi (who talked of transforming fear into samvega – urgency – and desire into fearless compassion), David Loy (a shift of relationship to body, self and earth), Wes Nisker (the mystery of our cosmological reality, conveyed with humor and lightness), Rev TK (nuclear waste is like having no toilet in your house!), and myself (journey out of denial and reading from The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra.)

Thanks to all who came to share the day and to Kevin Hansen for doing this video of what he called the “new anthem” of the Climate Movement – You heard it here ppl – at our New York Insight event which, as said by Gayle, was AWESOME!

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Fear and Hope by Thanissara

There are two energizing and focusing principles in Buddhist practice, which act as the proverbial carrot and stick, traditionally called samvega, and saddha. Samvega is a sense of urgency, born of the awareness of impermanence and the preciousness of the time we have. Saddha is faith and confidence in the possibility of overcoming the causes of suffering, while at same time, honing our life to awakening.

These two motivating factors are very present in the Climate Movement. The awareness we don’t have much time, and the hope we can turn our catastrophic trajectory around, even at this late hour. This last week, the thought came to mind that when it comes to climate change, our culture has a dearth of samvega. We are sleep walking into a highly precarious and deadly situation. In the face of this, we are simply not frightened enough. Perhaps we are personally, but not collectively.

If we understand the science, our fear would mobilize us to prepare for war. We would be moving way beyond eco light bulbs and a new Prius (as good as they are), to systemic change. Such a change will not happen unless there is uprising on a mind-boggling, unprecedented scale, with the purpose of taking down our psycho fossil fuel empire and its addicted manipulative bride, Wall Street Capitalism gone rogue.

For this reason, I’m setting out to join the Peoples Climate Train, and the Peoples Climate March, making my way to New York. Here’s an update about THE march:

  • 50 US States represented
  • 1,100+ organizations join & endorse the march + 28 faith groups
  • 374 Buses and Trains (check to join one)
  • 26 City blocks the NYPD has reserved for participants
  • 20 (minimum) marching bands – (we dance as well as march)
  • 300+ college campuses mobilizing to come to NY
  • 1500 Global actions in 130 countries. Join or create an event
  • 401 ppm carbon (needs to below 350)
  • 0 progress if we do nothing

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This week, I started my preparation to board the train. On Sunday night, 7th September, I joined a small group of 20 people at St Mark’s Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN. We watched Disruption. I won’t give a précis, instead I invite you to watch it. In the discussion afterward, one elderly man boomed out, his voice ricocheting around the fairly empty church, “This is a prophetic moment – a major crossroad. Don’t waste time trying to convince people in denial, instead do what you can.” Nice clear words said with great passion.

Then, this week, a small headline, nearly lost in the flood of news. It caught my and many others notice. It was a hope against the odds – a small yellow flower growing through concrete – moment. In Massachusetts, district attorney Sam Sutter dropped criminal charges against climate activists, stating the welfare of future generations trumped any possible “illegality” of their actions. He further stated not only was he overturning charges, but also he himself would attend the Peoples Climate March. When sanity trumps the system, a ray of hope lights the heart! (Read more here from The Rev Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, one of our co-Faith collaborators)

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Sam Sutter

So now I am making my way from Chattanooga to San Francisco to get the train. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that flying is bad carbon footprint. I don’t try to justify it, I admit bad practice, but right now – I suppose – I take the view of Eco-activist Bill McKibben and his strategic use of fossil fuels for the greater good cause (I further confess, my use of air travel is not always strategic.) American airports – the Indian, spiced, copper taste chai in Atlanta concourse B Buckhead Bookstore – our fossil fuel way of life – It’s so dam good! …. Yet, sad to say, now so deadly …

So packing… I’m on the road to join “my tribe” of Buddhist and Faith folks bringing the humane, ethical, and the sacredness of life into the mix. We have organized meet ups, services, songs, bells, bands, discussions and who knows what… We’ve collaborated over dozens of conference calls, hundreds of emails, while making alliances over the last months. Soon we will gather on the street to see ourselves in body, stepping out into a hopeful new future, informed, sincere, committed, and I do believe, unstoppable.

Filling a suitcase. It’s not easy – what to do with all those possessions? Leave it behind in a few boxes. These are times for inner simplicity and fluidity – not to be weighed down with “stuff” – physical, emotional or whatever was left undone, the mistakes made – Doesn’t matter now – My theme to myself, keep trying to hone down, keep letting go. Even after years of Dharma practice, letting go — the sheer simplicity of it — is still a practice. The Buddha called it nekkhama – renunciation – a very useful training for inner freedom.

At the same time –whatever emerges in my inner landscape – It’s all “us.” I fly, I consume, I use money, and now, it seems, I MARCH. And while I feel the terror of what we face, I also disconnect and watch Netflix. I care and sometimes, I don’t care. All of this has to be touched with loving awareness. This is my practice too. It’s not “my” loving awareness. It is the divine working through us…playing her dualistic game. She is interested to see what we hobbits will do. Will we throw the poison ring back into the fires of Mordor[i], or will we succumb to its intoxicating seduction?

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[i] Mordor – See “Lord of the Rings” a great metaphor for our times. If you’ve already seen it, still, invite some friends over, get a bowl of eco-vegan-organic chips – and see it again!