Buddhism and climate change
I’ve been working with a group called Australian Religious Response to Climate Change to develop a kit of information and reflections that can help to introduce the notion of climate change in a Buddhist setting. ARRCC is putting together similar kits for each major religion. The first version was from a Christian perspective, and I’ve been tasked with creating a Buddhist version.
The idea is that the kit will be published and distributed widely to Buddhist monasteries and centers in Australia. It should be targeted with a distinctly Buddhist angle. It should be something that monastics or lay people can pick up and recognize immediately as showing a Buddhist perspective on understanding and responding to climate change. In particular, we’d like to encourage the introduction of climate change discourse into Dhamma talks and other contexts where it falls outside the more normal topics of teaching. So we’d like to model ideas and examples from a Buddhist perspective that can encourage the development of a more pro-active response from the Buddhist community. This might include, for example, use of Jataka or other traditional stories, framing the ecological issues in terms of Buddhist philosophy, including statements on global warming from prominent Buddhist leaders, formulating Buddhist liturgy from an environmental perspective, and so on.
I’d like to ask whether any of you would like to contribute to this. We’ve got some great minds and hearts contributing to this forum – let’s make use of them! I’ve published the initial draft as a google doc. If you’re interested to help edit this, just leave a comment below and I’ll add you as an editor (I can see your email addresses.) If you’ve never used google docs, don’t worry, it’s just a matter of opening a web page and writing.
Below I’ll add the opening of the document, which is the only part that I have adapted from the Christian to a Buddhist perspective. When you go to the whole document, the rest of it will be the unedited Christian form, for you to work on!
The scientific explanation for climate change is based on observation of nature. Scientists look at such things as burning of coal and oil, deforestation, and agricultural activities. From the evidence that has been gathered over many decades of study, scientists have concluded that human activity is responsible for changing the Earth’s climate. This change has already started, and will become much more dramatic in coming years. The impact will be especially felt in developing nations.
Anthropogenic (‘human-caused’) Global Warming (AGW) is a controversial issue, and there are many politicians and media personalities who remain sceptical. However, a 2009 survey showed that over 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that human activity is a significant contributing factor to global climate change [Peter T. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman (2009). "Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change". University of Illinois at Chicago. http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf%5D. Indeed, AGW has been endorsed in joint statements by the world’s major scientific academies and organizations, while there are no scientific bodies of national or international standing that currently oppose the AGW theory.
How are we to respond to this as Buddhists? We should listen carefully to what the scientists tell us. But while the science is essential, the causes go far deeper. Buddhism teaches us that the primary causes of suffering are the unwholesome forces of the mind – greed, hatred, and delusion. Greed is what makes us consume far more than we need; hatred makes us lose compassion and love for others, not caring about the suffering that our greed causes; and delusion hides the truth, so that we pretend we can continue to consume without ever paying the price.
Buddhism tells us that human well-being and the natural world are interconnected, an ancient truth that is fully confirmed by modern study of ecology. That means that our choices have profound effects on others. People who are least responsible for greenhouse gas pollution suffer disproportionately from its effects. This includes people across the world who consume few resources. It also includes people like farmers in Australia who suffer disproportionately from drought. And critically, it includes children and future generations.
Buddhists have a deep respect for life. The doctrine of harmlessness is central to Buddhist ethics. We have always acknowledged our affinity with the natural world, and see humans as just one form of ‘sentient being’. We are intrinsically no different to the other beings who we share this planet with, since all can feel pain and suffering, and all have the potential to achieve Awakening. This is why the issue of climate change is a deeply moral one. From this perspective we ask ourselves deep questions. From where do we derive fulfilment? What is the meaning in our lives? Does it really come through actions that damage the world and its peoples, and alienate us from them? As people living in an affluent country, how many material possessions, how much material wealth is enough? How can we better connect with others (human and non-human) in our world?
It is crucial that the way we choose to live should not be harmful to others. But is that enough? Or are we called to a broader engagement with our society, to promoting policies which will serve the common good?