ECOBUDDHISM QUARTERLY REVIEW


Volume I:

Buddhism & the Climate-Energy Emergency

 A mother, even at the risk of her own life, protects her child, her only child. 
In the same way should you cultivate love without measure toward all beings.
  You should cultivate toward the whole world—above, below, around—
a heart of love unstinted, unmixed with any sense of differing or opposing interests. 
You should maintain this mindfulness all the time you are awake.
Such a state of heart is the best in the world. 
 
  
T
he Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya 

 

Contents

Editors:
Let's Bring Wisdom, Science and Solutions Together Now

China, Tibet and Global Warming


Khondung Gyana Vajra Rinpoche:
Dharma and Ecological Responsibility

 

Video Features:
From the work of Dr James Hansen [NASA]
The Science of the Climate Emergency

 

From Jill Bolte Taylor, David Suzuki
Consciousness & Ecological Responsibility

 
From Dalai Lama XIV
On Ecological Responsibility

 
From Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens
Breakthrough Beyond Fossil Fuels Now Possible

  


LET'S BRING WISDOM, SCIENCE AND SOLUTIONS TOGETHER NOW


   


T
his blue planet of ours is a delightful habitat.  Its life is our life; its future our future.  Indeed, the earth acts like a mother to us all.  Like children, we are dependent on her. In the face of such global problems as the greenhouse effect, individual organizations and single nations are helpless.  Unless we all work together, no solution can be found.  Our Mother Earth is teaching us a lesson in universal responsibility.
Dalai Lama XIV

 

 

The human race has arrived at a critical juncture in its biological and social evolution. We are  triggering environmental breakdown on a planetary scale. For the last 25 years, our corporations, economists, politicians and media have ignored 'inconvenient' scientific data on the causes and consequences of global warming. We continue to use the Earth’s atmosphere as ‘somewhere else’ to dump our carbon gas waste stream. But there is no ‘somewhere else’.  As you read this, we are all breathing air that contains elevated carbon dioxide levels last seen on Earth at least 800,000 years ago. This was never previously experienced by our species Homo sapiens, itself only about 200,000 years old.  


The North and South polar ice masses, together with the great glacier ‘reservoirs in the sky’ of the high mountain ranges have begun to melt. Extreme multi-year drought is extending into long-term hostile climate change in
Australia.  It seems set to do so in southern states of America and in Spain.  Great agricultural cereal grains like wheat and rice, on which humanity depends, could soon be at risk of major irreversible crop losses due to global warming.  The planetary hydrological cycle has already been destabilized, producing bizarre flooding worldwide, as the localized intensity of rainfall overwhelms longstanding structural defences. 


These phenomena are unfolding so rapidly that it is essential to examine what we mean by  ‘human progress’.  The technical advances of the 20th century were unconstrained by either ecological principles or an ethic of human well-being. Rather, they were often driven by lower-order instincts of greed, manipulation and aggression.  Our  'progress' as a whole often overrode the ethical boundaries set by spiritual and religious traditions

[1]
 

Can progress be reduced to technological power?  Or to globalized consumerism with its  deliberate and enormous levels of waste? The artist Chris Jordan states:

The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive type of mob mentality. Collectively, we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no-one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits. 

   

Photographer Chris Jordan's creative-statistical view of  waste accumulation in the United
States. 
He uses objects which people consume massive quantities of, and  photographs
them en masse in an artful way.  His 
play on Seurat’s famous  Sunday In The Park 
represents the 106,000 aluminum cans Americans go through every 30 seconds (see detail below).

 

What humanity and the biosphere urgently need now is sustainable development. In the celebrated UN report Our Common Future, this was defined as meeting the requirements of the present without damaging the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It is the long-term view we must embrace for our species to survive - as Thich Nhat Hanh eloquently put it,  for a future to be possible [2]. Consumer democracy (or consumer totalitarianism, as in China) have generated all kinds of dangerous side-effects. Nonetheless, our cultural conversation continues to reflect the dominance of 'market values'.  The influence of TV and advertising is all-pervasive. Psychologist James Hillman asserts that people in advanced industrial societies are psychically numbed by being cut off from nature, and feeling the beauty of the world. We spend all our time looking for substitutes, though you can never get enough of what you don't really want.  To go beyond this condition  requires conscious choice. We can choose to move from well-having to well-being. 

 

It seems that world religions have so far failed to effectively question the dominant idea of progress.  Have they lost the power or the will to do so?  Corporations spend enormous sums of money on mass advertising.  This gives them huge  influence and control over the collective subconscious mind of humanity.  Consumerism has thereby become the organizing principle for billions of peoples’ lives. It could be said to have replaced either religion or citizenship as the way people participate in society. Unexpectedly, however, all bets are now off. The climate crisis has become oppressive and threatening, just as oil production (which fuelled our notion of limitless economic growth) is peaking. Oil supply will soon begin to decline, marking the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age.  
 

What can Buddhism do to help humanity and the many living species threatened by climate chaos and habitat destruction? It has moral authority, profound ethical teachings, the weight of traditional religious communities and the potential political power of millions of adherents. Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to the Dalai Lama (1989) and Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) have recognized Buddhist leadership in non-violent progressive values.  The world’s 376 million Buddhists comprise 6% of religious adherents. In the 10 countries where Buddhists are a majority, they have significant influence on government policy. In Bhutan, Buddhist principles have replaced the perverse economic concept of GDP by that of ‘gross national happiness’. Exemplary forest protection laws have been put in place.  In modern industrial societies, Buddhism has been embraced by many people looking for authentic spiritual experience.  

There has never been a more important time in history to organize all Buddhist resources on behalf of sentient beings. There has never been a time when communication systems make this as possible as they do now. Buddhist spiritual power can create examples of change that influence the whole world.

Unleashing that power, however, requires religious people to bring their values to the public square….to leave one’s values at home is to assent to the status quo of excessive individualism, consumerism, commodification of myriad aspects of life, environmental decline, and the absence of strong communities. The religious community’s gift—to articulate the ethical and spiritual dimensions of modern issues—is indispensable to full public discussion of the pressing challenges of our day, and to developing a new understanding of human progress in the 21st century. [1]


The most senior American Zen master, Robert Aitken Roshi,  describes our situation thus:

Great corporations, underwritten by equally great financial institutions, flush away the human habitat and the habitat of thousands of other species ruthlessly...International consortia rule sovereign over all other political authority. Presidents and parliaments and the United Nations itself are delegating decision-making powers and oversight that enable faceless and increasingly unaccountable corporations to plunder resources and pillage economies. Citizens of goodwill everywhere despair of the political process. [3]

 

So today we face the karmic consequences of unparalleled greed, and of  the reckless human experiment with fossil fuels.  Having rapidly burned our way through a one-time inheritance of  energy-rich hydrocarbons originating in the Carboniferous Era, we have released vast amounts of fossil carbon gas, an alien element in the planet's contemporary atmosphere. It has brought about a climate-energy emergency that will destroy civilization or teach us to build a sustainable human future. If the appropriate decisions are not made, in a timely and courageous manner, global warming could run on beyond the possibility of human control. It could even   provoke the collapse of an era of evolutionary-geological time. [4] We cannot deny or escape this awesome possibility, but we can acknowledge it and act in a focussed and determined manner  to avoid it. In the words of one of the world's most senior climatologists, Dr James Hansen of NASA: 

Elements of a 'perfect storm', a global cataclysm, are assembled. 

 

In contemplating such a situation, and to formulate the Bodhisattva actions that might positively influence it, we have need of scientifically sound information. We have need of the guidance of senior Buddhist teachers. We have need of strong spiritual practice, fully resolved motivation and inner strength.  To these values and objectives, Ecobuddhism Quarterly Review is dedicated: 

If it is reasonable action which is by nature beneficial to truth and justice, then by abandoning procrastination and discouragement, the more you encounter obstruction, the more you should strengthen your courage and make effort.  That is the conduct of a wise and good person.
Dalai Lama XIV
[5]

 


[1] G. Gardner [2006] Inspiring Progress

[2] Thich Nhat Hanh [1993] For A Future To Be Possible

[3] R. Aitken [2003] The Morning Star

[4] M. Lynas Six Degrees -Our Future On A Hotter Planet  

[5] T. Laird [2006] The Story of Tibet – Conversations with the Dalai Lama




Return to: Volume II: Climate of Denial