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January 5, 2010 / sujato

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?

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60 Comments

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  1. Blake / Jan 6 2010 12:53 am

    I’m willing to join in.

  2. Bill Stanley / Jan 6 2010 1:22 am

    Hi Bhante

    More than happy to help

    With Metta
    Bill

  3. David Mead / Jan 6 2010 1:57 am

    I would love to contribute.

  4. Anagarika Jason Chan / Jan 6 2010 2:18 am

    “As people living in an affluent country, how many material possessions, how much material wealth is enough?”

    Hmmm … Did I hear somebody mention renounceathon? …

    >j<

  5. Guptila de Silva / Jan 6 2010 2:31 am

    My observation is that almost all effort to contain global warming is directed towards finding ways and means to overcome it by way of finding a substitution while maintaining the levels of consumption – eg. use solar energy not electricity generated by coal etc etc.

    However, I have seen very little being said on reducing human consumption of energy and material which probably would be the core Buddhist approach to this problem.

    Everyone appears to be suggesting alternative solutions while maintaining or even increasing their consumption levels.

    Only Schumacher’s Small is Beauiful was able to come close to this idea of reducing consumption. The heart of Buddhist practice is based on reducing consumption in every way possible and that probably is the most important message from the Buddhists to the global warming forum. It probably will not go down very well with the ever increasing consumerism in the world but personally I cannot see any alternative.

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 7:31 pm

      Guptila

      I think you are right in the abstract.

      The problem in practice as far as I see it is that the developing world (which means predominantly China and India because of their huge size) wants to catch up, as they see it, with the consumer lifestyle of the developed world and nothing is going to stop them. The environmental, social and spiritual damage that a consumer society causes are not foremost in their minds – they only see the comfort and convenience in which the developed world lives and they don’t see why they shouldn’t have it. Even if the developed world reduces its consumption (which I think we should for all sorts of reasons besides and including global warming), this will be far outweighed by the impact of increased consumption in India and China.

      Therefore I think we just have to accept that global consumption is going to rise and, given that, one of the most effective actions as far as global warming is concerned is to find energy sources that the developing world can use that don’t produce greenhouse gases – sun, wind, wave, geothermal, hydro.

      David

  6. Sylvester / Jan 6 2010 2:46 am

    Dear Bhante

    Having done a wee bit of work on environmental law nearly 2 decades ago, I may still have enough of relevance to contribute.

    Much of the ex-scientific discourse on climate change is framed within a classical Western paradigm of Rights. From my vague recollection of the Rio Declaration, that seems to be the general tenor of casting the issues in terms of rights and obligations. Would this be an appropriate method in a Buddhist document?

    The Rights paradigm has been further developed into this animal called Intergenerational Equity, ie the rights of future humans. It is very appealing on the emotional level, but I am cautious in reifying things that have not yet come to pass. Too Sarvastivadin for my liking. :)

    • sujato / Jan 6 2010 5:03 am

      Well, maybe we need a special version for the Sarvastivadins.

  7. Lars / Jan 6 2010 2:57 am

    @ Guptila: I agree, I read a UN report stating that consumption of animal products and especially factory farms, is actually a bigger contributer of green house gasses annually than even cars.

    This is something that the Buddhist community world wide could easily implement, and from the research Ive read reduce your annual production of green house gasses even more than buying a prius. Save countless beings from the fear of being killed and eaten, and save countless beings from living in a future world inhospitable to life.

    • Albert Mah / Jan 6 2010 7:34 am

      Dear Lars

      The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report “Livestock Long Shadow” released in December 2006 estimates that 18% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are attributable to animals farmed for food. This is considerably higher than all transport forms including cars, heavy vehicles, aircraft and ships which contribute an estimated total of 13.5%.

      A new report has just been released which claims that, as a source of GHGs, domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated and actually account for at least HALF of all human-caused GHGs. This report http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf by Goodland and Anhang of the Worldwatch Institute has found that livestock and their by-products actually account for at least 51% of annual GHG emissions.

      The climate change lobby seems to largely ignore the FAO report for whatever reason and only recently has Al Gore acknowledged the link between eating less meat and helping the environment which he had ignored in his famous slideshow to the world.

      As a Buddhist I find factory farming, where animals are imprisoned in cages too small to move or even stand e.g. sow stalls, egg farms, broiler cages, to be cruel and the consumption of meat to be an ethical problem.

      Bhante Sujato, I would dearly like to contribute to your endeavour. Thank you Lars.

    • Ace / Jan 6 2010 7:49 am

      I agree that it would be important to highlight not only the climate matter and its effects on humans of this and future generations, but also use it as a vehicle to reduce mass production of lifestock/factory farming by promoting a more vegetarian lifestyle.

      We should not only focus on suffering for mankind, but on the animal world as well.

      Having said this, any effect to counter “(over-)consumption will clearly impact economic parameters as the economies of the world are based on (mass) consumption to drive personal wealth. This means the messages are/will not be popular.

  8. Jill B / Jan 6 2010 4:22 am

    Tan Sujato – I am happy to help with this. I am the Climate Change and Sustainability Manager for Santa Clara County in California, U.S.

    I am curious why it continues the idea that this is so controversial and that “many”politicians and media remain skeptical… At least it doesn’t say scientists! We seem to be much more on a path of agreement here and the press (except for specifically right wing press) tends to be less concerned at covering the fewer and fewer deniers.

    There is a strong parallel between consumerism and greenhouse gas emissions. Something that Buddhism could do well to point out.

    Are you familiar with http://www.ecobuddhism.org/ ?

    • sujato / Jan 6 2010 6:43 am

      Dear Jill,

      That’s not the impression I have. As far as i’m aware, roughly 50% of media coverage is sceptical about climate change. Leading Australian newspapers such as The Australian regularly publish sceptical articles. I just searched ‘global warming’ on their website, and the first page of results includes phrases like:

      The Global Warming debate has been hijacked by interest groups

      The science is out on Global Warming,

      climate change alarmists

      Man’s industrial activity does not cause Global warming or climate change

      Global Warming is not the number one threat. Immigration is.

      it is interesting to note how easily they swallow the fear-mongering myths of global warming.

      So much for the elaborate Global Warming scam,

      Just today they printed this opinion piece. And that’s a reputable rag, the shock jocks are much worse. The beloved leader of our opposition, Tony Abbot (known as the ‘Mad Monk’) is a overt climate change sceptic. ARRCC met him recently and he said that he thought a rise of 1 metre sea level would not impact Australia too drastically… A recent Pew poll found that ‘While 84% of scientists say the earth is getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, just 49% of the public agrees.’ (http://people-press.org/report/528/)

      My concern is that many non-specialists are still ill-informed about climate change, and this would include many of Australia’s Buddhists. There is a divide here: the ‘new Buddhists’, including European-Australians, children born in Australia in traditional Buddhist families, and those who, while traditionally Buddhist, have a renewed interest in Buddhism from the English language teachings, would generally be well-informed about climate change. I’m not that concerned about reaching them – it’s preaching to the converted.

      The main target audience will be the large amount of Buddhist immigrants whose English is not that great, whose participation in Buddhism is mainly along traditional lines, and who are not necessarily tuned in to the global debate. Many such people will have little exposure to English language media, and some of them will not have heard of climate change, or not made any connection between the issues and their own lives and Buddhist practice. We want to bring the issues into the traditional temples, translated into the different languages if possible, and motivate individual and community-based action.

      • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 8:33 pm

        Dear Sujato

        I must admit when I hear phrases like “a Buddhist response to the climate crisis” I can’t really understand why the response of someone who identifies themselves as a Buddhist (Christian, humanist, etc.) should be any different from the response of anybody else who wants to do something effective about it. I guess the difference is in the motivation to do something in the first place.

        If the job is really one of education, I think that showing the connections between our own actions, purchasing decisions, investment decisions and so on and the suffering of people on the other side of the world is the most important thing, probably using lots of stories with, if possible, real people in them. I would love to help but my familiarity with the “traditional” Buddhist cultures that you want to address is limited, so I’m not sure how useful I would be.

        David

      • sujato / Jan 7 2010 9:41 pm

        Dear David,

        You are quite right, there is nothing particularly ‘buddhist’ about the issues, they are human problems. But we could say that about most of the Dhamma, couldn’t we? In any case, the issue here is primarily one of motivation and understanding, reaching people who remain outside the mainstream of Australian secular society, and pointing out connections that may not have been emphasized.

      • Visakha Kawasaki / Jan 8 2010 5:26 pm

        Isn’t there a whole lot that is particularly Buddhist here, both in issues and in solutions? Because Buddha understood and taught causation, dependent origination, without the copout of Creator God, human resposibility can’t be dodged. For one thing, what other religion ever talks about Right Livelihood? Just imagine a world without trading in weapons, poison, alcohol/drugs, flesh or living beings?

      • David Conway / Mar 19 2010 6:51 am

        Dear Vishaka

        Not really. I think that view of the theistic religions as dodging responsibility is not accurate. Most serious believers (i.e. a minority of those who profess themselves as believers) believe that they will have to account to their God for their behaviour in life and their stewardship of the Earth. Other religions may not use the words “Right Livelihood”(tm) but they certainly do talk about it.

        I think that view of theists is as distorted as the view of Buddhists which says that all they are interested in is sitting contemplating their own navels, thinking themselves into a subjective state of bliss and ignoring everybody else’s suffering. That view is also inaccurate, but it is quite widely held among ill-informed non-Buddhists.

        This link might be of interest: http://www.patriarchate.org/multimedia/video/green-patriarch. It’s the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (one of the original Christian patriarchates now called Eastern Orthodox since the Roman Patriarchate went its own way), whose activism has got him dubbed “the Green Patriarch”.

        “Just imagine a world without trading in weapons, poison, alcohol/drugs, flesh or living beings?” Well, yes. Theists (I know mostly about Christians) have been active in working against all these things, as have Buddhists and non-religious people. Theists have also done them all, as have Buddhists and non-religious people.

        (I have no particular brief for theists here. I’m just trying to address the view that you expressed).

        Regards

        David

    • sujato / Jan 6 2010 6:52 am

      Are you familiar with http://www.ecobuddhism.org/ ?

      I am now. It looks great, but the main emphasis is on Tibetan Buddhism, while the majority of traditional Australian Buddhists would be either Theravadin or Chinese/Vietnamese Mahayana. I’ll explore it in detail, I’m sure there’s lots of great stuff we can use.

      It led me to here, another fascinating resource.

      • thanissara / Jan 6 2010 7:20 pm

        haven’t had time to read as yet – but notice eco-buddhism has
        A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change
        some of it may be of useful..

      • Jill B / Jan 17 2010 12:40 am

        I would not let the Tibetan nature of the website deter you. Why not offer to add perspective? I’m sure they would welcome a broader view and readership.

        I live in California and perhaps we have a somewhat different view of the world here! We have legislation and Air Quality Management Districts focused on many different aspects of climate change. The big debate is on whether this movement creates jobs or slows workforce development. :)

      • sujato / Jan 17 2010 5:46 am

        Hi Jill,

        I’m not deterred by the Tibetanness, it’s just that we need a broader canvas to be representative of Australian Buddhism. Most of the people we are aiming to reach will be traditional Buddhists from either Theravada or East Asian Mahayana background. Our aim is to speak in an idiom that is as close and familiar for these peoples as possible.

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 7:49 pm

      Dear Jill

      Unfortunately climate change seems to have become a question of faith and politics rather than practical fact. Speaking only for the UK and the US, with which I am most familiar, in the last year or two there has been a huge growth in global warming scepticism. It is noticeable that this comes mostly from right wing commentators who seek to portray global warming as a leftie conspiracy designed to undermine the free market. On the other hand many on the left seem to regard anyone who questions global warming as malicious or a heretic.

      I think it is important that the existence or otherwise of man-made global warming remains open to question. Despite recent revelations of some data seeming to be “adusted” to fit the story, I think that the theory of man-made global warming does stand up to scrutiny. We probably won’t get as warm as we were during the Medieval Warm Period, so as a planet we shouldn’t get too worried, but the impact of rising sea levels on Pacific island states and South Asian coastal regions is likely to be devastating.

      Then there are all the other issues which were there before global warming emerged: pollution, environmental degradation, deforestation, species extinction, Third World poverty, food shortages, water shortages. I think global warming has served to roll up all these issues and make huge numbers of people aware of how their actions affect the planet and affect people on the other side of the world. I am heartened by the response of most people that I know in the UK in terms of reducing energy consumption, recycling, and so on.

      David

  9. Alison Hoffmann / Jan 6 2010 4:54 am

    Dear Bhante
    I am interested in joining in, even though I am in New Zealand.
    Metta
    Alison

  10. Lisa Karuna / Jan 6 2010 6:34 am

    May I share something that I learned yesterday and find helpful in considering the environment – in my practice? I just learned the Fifth Precept as Venerable Thay teaches it.
    “5. Nourishment and Healing. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society, by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble or use alcohol, drugs or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves, peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.”
    With Metta

    • belle / Jan 6 2010 9:18 pm

      Dear Lisa,
      Thankyou again for sharing your practise here and the fifth precept as Venerable THay teaches it…and how it is so relevant to this blog topic and this project.
      Wonderful!
      With Metta

  11. Willie Senanayake / Jan 6 2010 9:39 am

    We, Buddhists need to contribute positively to the climate change issues. I am happy to support your initiative.

  12. ben / Jan 6 2010 9:51 am

    Yes I’d like to be involved. I work in the environment section of a major Australian oil and gas company so have a professional interest too.

  13. Jean-Loup / Jan 6 2010 11:05 am

    Bhante,
    I live in the UK but would love to be involved as well, if there’s anything I can do to help.
    Metta

  14. thanissara / Jan 6 2010 7:13 pm

    happy to chip in -

  15. Alan / Jan 6 2010 7:19 pm

    I just hope whatever we come up with does not turn into a vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian screed. Given that the historical Buddha was very likely not a vegetarian and explicitly did not make vegetarianism part of the precepts for lay or monastic followers, I cringe a bit when (some) modern Buddhists seem to equate being a Buddhist with being a vegetarian. My understanding that vegetarianism was a topic of much discussion in the Sangha of Buddha’s time and the fact that the Buddha did not require vegetarianism speaks loudly.

    These are complex moral issues with a lot of emotional baggage. For me, I feel I need more information on this topic, because the research I have read about the impact of livestock has come from interest group research (such as done by organizations such as WorldWatch.org). I have not found any peer-reviewed research, though I expect it exists (any links or references would be appreciated). I also believe farming of plants, especially the form which we do it (mono-cultures, etc.) is also immensely damaging to the environment and sentient beings (insects, fish, birds, plant eating wild animals, farm workers, etc.).

    What I think we need to see is peer-reviewed research that weighs the trade-offs. Less livestock may mean more cutting of forests, or more ecological damage because of increased plant farming of soy and other protein sources, increased prices for some medicines, increases in certain diseases, decreases in certain diseases, etc., etc. Does anybody know of any such research (note, I said peer-reviewed)?

    Just saying that we need to think carefully about what we ask people to do to solve global warming. If we get too rigid, or ask people to make hard choices that aren’t based upon solid scientific fact, people won’t listen to us.

    Saying something like “Scientific research may indicate that a more vegetarian diet will also reduce greenhouse emissions” seems to me accurate and fair.

    • sujato / Jan 6 2010 7:44 pm

      Dear Alan,

      Yes, very much so – peer reviewed literature is ideal. A few months ago I did a powerpoint for the Australian Sangha association called ‘The Green Temple’, which included the following: “The meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than the lactoovovegetarian diet.” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 660S-663S, September 2003).

      In terms of the practical methods, this won’t differ too much between the different religions, so using the existing document as starting point should be ideal.

      In my presentation, however, I emphasized the importance of green building, as i have noticed many temples are built with no regard for the environment. this has another great selling point: there are lots of govt. grants available in Australia for community groups doing green building projects. The idea is that we act as a model for the community. At Santi we’ve just received $26 000 for rain water tanks and composting toilets, and are about to pitch in with a community-based drive to install solar electricity.

      • belle / Jan 6 2010 9:25 pm

        Dear Bhante,
        That is wonderful news about Green Building at your temple and in general…and how the government is being so supportive on this front for community initiatives!!!
        I agree that we need models , such as Santi… to inspire households and community groups to continue to unfold building greenly :)

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 8:16 pm

      Dear Alan

      Having gone into this in some depth, it seems to me that the single most effective thing that we could do to reduce global warming is stop eating meat, or at least drastically reduce its consumption. I’ll try and dig out the references. That’s quite aside from the issues of the suffering caused to farmed and hunted animals. Second in line is renewable energy sources for the developing world.

      You make some reference to the complex impact of some of the things that we might do. I’ve seen this in my family’s experience in South America, where ethanol derived from renewable sugar cane is commonly used as an alternative to petrol for fuelling cars. Seems like a good thing. The problem has been that the rising demand for ethanol has led farmers to switch from food production to biofuel production and more Amazon forest has been cleared for growing sugar cane. Food production is down and prices are up and some people now cannot afford a basic healthy diet.

      The issue of Third World poverty is also tied up in this. Much of Amazon deforestation is done by subsistence farmers who would otherwise starve. If the rest of the world wants the Amazon forest to remain as big as it is, it will have to provide that farmer with another way to survive. As Brazil’s President Lula put it at Copenhagen “Let no gringo [foreigner] ask us to let an Amazonian starve to death under a tree.”

      I think that the religions can and must play an educational role in making people aware of what is happening and why and motivating us to act. It is the scientists who in the end must guide us all as to what action will be effective – after all it is they who have made us aware of the problem in the first place. I am heartened by the amount of goodwill that there is around the world from people of all religions and none, once they realise what an impact we are all having on each other.

      David

    • Alan / Jan 8 2010 9:14 pm

      Thank you for all your kind and thoughtful comments. I grew up on a farm where we raised our own animals (and ate their meat). It was just expected and there was no possibility of a vegetarian diet. I don’t even think I realized that was an option until I got to college. We raised our animals in a way that was much (much!) more humane than what is going on in today’s factory farming.

      I was thinking of the side effects of ethanol when I wrote my post. Going to a diet lower in meat will have unexpected consequences. Another example of unexpected consequences is the closing of horse slaughterhouses in the US (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-12-16-horses_N.htm).

      People who would have taken horses to the slaughterhouse are now abandoning them. This caused many abandoned horses, old or infirm, not used to taking care of themselves (a skill taught to them by their mother), and not part of a natural herd, to die of starvation and/or animal attack. Was the closing of slaughterhouses, taken in the entirety, a moral one that fits non-harming? Starvation or animal attack can be a gruesome way to die. Is that better or worse than a slaughterhouse, especially since the animal products can be used to better human life? I’m not coming down on one side or the other on this question, I don’t know the answer, but this an example of the complexity of these types of issues.

      As to the issue of monks not having a choice about what they eat, and therefore eating meat if they are given it, I don’t buy that argument. The Buddha had a rule that monks could not eat meat if they thought it was slaughtered specifically for them. The Buddha could easily have said that monks could not eat meat, period. Why his rule? It could have been a ethical issue or it could have simply been to protect the laity from feeling obligated to butcher their animals to feed the monks. In the society of the time I’m sure that animals were very expensive and precious. The Buddha was also a contemporary of Jainism which takes non-harming to an extreme. Jainism has a concept of karma that does not allow for intention, therefore the killing of anything, no mater why it was done, is considered “negative karma”. So the Buddha clearly had a contemporary example of a much more rigorous form of non-harming.

      I am looking forward to seeing the links and information you folks can provide. Intuitively, I think that eating less meat has a strong ethical and pragmatic (for global warming) basis, but I also think we need to realize that, because of the side effects, changing our diet may not have the impact (for the better) that we think it will. People need to have protein in their diet to be healthy. Where will protein come from and how will the change in the protein source affect the climate and ecosystem (including the other sentient beings, including insects, etc.)? I hope there is peer-based some research being done in this area.

      It is interesting to me that my Dad, who was raised on a remote ranch in Eastern Montana, and who hunted as a child/young man and who had killed and butchered many meat animals in his life, got to the point where he just could not kill anything anymore. And that included insects and other (so-called) “less aware” creatures.

      I think it important for us Buddhists to realize that it is not possible live life in this type of existence without killing something. Just look at how much life a human immune system kills over the course of an individual human existence. Eating a vegetarian diet will kill life also, either indirectly because wild lands are converted to agriculture, or because we need to protect “our” plants. Also, unless you go to extremes, it is impossible to not use a product that somewhere in it’s development, does not use animal products.

      All this ties into human population growth, which I did not see any commenter mention. One question is can we provide enough food (either plant or animal) to a growing population without some form of factory farming? What should we do about human population growth?

      • Albert Mah / Jan 9 2010 2:00 pm

        Dear Alan

        Here are some links:

        A series of studies on health and climate change published by a group of scientists in the respected British medical journal The Lancet http://www.thelancet.com/series/health-and-climate-change

        UK’s official recipe to help health of consumers and the planet: Setting The Table – Advice to Government on Priority Elements of Sustainable Diets by the Sustainable Development Commission which is the government’s independent watchdog on sustainable development http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/Setting_the_Table.pdf

        Lord Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review on climate change calls on people to consider turning vegetarian to help reduce global carbon emissions. Reported in the Guardian UK http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/26/palm-oil-initiative-carbon-emissions

        The articles answer many of your questions and give us plenty of food for thought.

      • sujato / Jan 10 2010 11:37 pm

        Factory farming is the most resource-intensive and inefficient form of food production ever invented. First you grow the grain, then you mix it with a whole bunch of medicines and other artificial products, then you feed it to chooks (or whatever), and eventually you get back just a tiny proportion of the food and energy you have invested in the whole crazy process. Factory farming is a great way to make money for big business, but it’s a terrible way to produce food.

    • iMeditation / Jan 9 2010 3:45 am

      Dear Alan,

      Perhaps there are other alternatives to look into, such as breeding cows and goat for milk, chickens for eggs, producing cheese ,producing nuts, soy,avocados, etc.. These are good sources of proteins that people would always need. Various plant food are also high in protein. For example, spinach–49% protein, broccoli–45% protein ,cauliflower–40% protein, kale–45% protein, ,wheat germ–31% protein, mushrooms–38% protein.

      Nutritionist says that only 15% of our meal should be protein . Dr. M. Ted Morter, Jr. believes that you can maintain glowing health on a
      daily protein intake of the amount that is in two eggs. He states, “Even without meat,a variety of typical American foods will give you at least enough protein.” One slice of cheese pizza has 6 grams of protein and 1 cup of potatoes has 7 grams of protein.

      It is good that your farm still raises animal the natural way instead of subjecting animals to a life long torture. I believe that people might be able to dramatically reduce meat consumption over a period of time, but it would be difficult for everyone to stop eating meat altogether. They might prefer produce from these farms over the other ones.

      It used to be that the Bhikkhus carried a bowl from house to house for alms. They had to accept what was given to them, which was usually a portion of what people cook for their family to eat. Even so, the Buddha didn’t give permission for them to accept meat that were specifically killed for them. Which means he doesn’t want them to be even remotely connected to the cause of the death of any animals.

      As for lay devotees, one of the five precepts that he taught was No Killing. One of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood. Business in meat are not recommended , “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.

      Of course, there are always exceptions. Such as, people living close to the North Pole would have a hard time finding any agricultural products to eat. The Buddha’s words indicate that people who encounter such unusual difficulties may survive on animal flesh rather than starve. In a sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya , the Buddha advised lay followers to avoid dependence on animal flesh if they have physical strength.

      Bhikkhu Basnagoda Rahula wrote that :

      ” This seems to likely indicate that one who has enough physical strength to work should engage in agriculture, rather than use the easy method of killing domesticated animals or trapping wild beasts for food. Not everyone needed to be a farmer , of course- one could use one’s strength to do any appropriate work that provided one the means to buy or barter for the goods of the agriculturalists. ”

      ” the Buddha’s teaching strongly suggests that people ought not kill animals for food or buy animal flesh when other food is abundant. Greed for animal flesh, particularly when sufficient nutritious food is obtainable through harmless methods,indicates encouragement of killing, according to the Buddha’s ethics.”

  16. thanissara / Jan 6 2010 7:26 pm

    Poss new mantra:

    “Enough, Enough, we’ve got Enough Stuff!”

    (Courtesy Wes Nisker)

  17. iMeditation / Jan 6 2010 10:50 pm

    Sustainable living fits well with the spiritual teachings of the Buddha. If we have been putting off practicing his instructions in our lives, now is a good time to start.

    Part of the Noble Eightfold Path is Samma Sankappa ( Right intention/ thought) . The intentions we generate moment to moment direct the course of our lives. The direction we take always comes back to ourselves ( due to the law of cause and effect / karma). Before we can arrive at Right Intention/ Thought at non-returning, there are three kinds of intention the Buddha considers to be beneficial-renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.

    1. Simplicity ( renunciation)

    Whenever a desire arises, there is also a feeling of discontentment or restlessness that accompanies it and remains until the desire is fulfilled. The way that many people approach the vague sense of discontentment in life is by trying to fulfill desires. It is true that you get a temporary relief from discontentment by this method, but before you know it another desire arises along with the sense of discontentment. And again, you need to do something to appease the discontentment. This traps you in a vicious cycle of fluctuation between contentment and discontentment (dukkha) instead of providing a permanent solution. That is the reason that whatever you may acquire in life, there is vague under current of discontentment that never leave for good. And happiness is always just around the corner.

    What the Buddha suggests is to remove what gives rise to discontentment in the first place, which is desire. To remove this discontentment we need to remove desire. One way that we can put this to practice in our lives is to distinguish between what is necessary and what is merely a preference that we can let go of if we choose to. Our basic physical needs are food & water, keeping warm (clothing) , and shelter.Perhaps we can make a list of preferences in our lives and decide which ones we will let go of . Gradually, the number of unnecessary material desires can be reduced. This practice alone not only contribute to our spiritual practice and contentment in the long run , but it also reduces our carbon footprint.

    In the Four Noble Truth , the Buddha points out that: 1. There is dukkha in life. 2. The origin of dukkha ( is craving / desire).3. The cure or cessation of suffering ( is letting go or fading away of that same craving). 4. The way to do that ( is the Noble Eightfold Path) .When we practice simplicity in life, we are trying to practice one of the three right intentions that the Buddha recommendeds for his followers. Right intention is part of the Noble Eightfold Path.

    2. The intention of harmlessness

    The intention of harmlessness is wishing that others be free from suffering, and it is extended without limits to all living beings ( including animals. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes they continue to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other form of dukkha.

    “The green pastures and idyllic barnyard scenes of years past are now distant memories. On today’s factory farms, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy windowless sheds, wire cages, gestation crates, and other confinement systems. These animals will never raise their families, root in the soil, build nests, or do anything that is natural to them. They won’t even feel the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they are loaded onto trucks bound for slaughter….Yet farmed animals are no less intelligent or capable of feeling pain “- “Cruelty to Animals: Mechanized Madness”

    Let us put the intention of Harmlessness to practice in our lives and consider reducing our meat consumption . One way to do that is by choosing the non-meat based alternative whenever possible. For example, order vegetarian pizza instead of the usual kind.

    The Buddha and his monks are not allowed to possess money to choose what kind of food they want to buy or eat. They just eat whatever they get from the alms round. For the general public, this is a personal choice that one can make for oneself depending on each person’s situation and circumstances. It is not to say that it is wrong to eat meat, but perhaps reduce our meat consumption as much as possible. It is just one way of putting the intention of “harmlessness” into action in our lives.

    For people that are interested but don’t know how to start :

    Eating out:
    To locate veg friendly restaurant in the area when eating out go to http://www.happycow.net/ or UrbanSpoon

    Eating in:
    Recipes database – http://vegweb.com/index.php?action=recipes;start=0;sort=views;desc

    Ipod touch users can use various apps to do the same thing (ie..Vegetarian Cookbook , Vegetarian Food Street, etc..)

    • Ace / Jan 7 2010 5:33 am

      Thank you, iMeditation, you posted it more eloquently than I could have done :)

      • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 9:15 pm

        Ditto

  18. Visakha Kawasaki / Jan 7 2010 9:23 am

    For Buddhists anthropogenic (‘human-caused’) Global Warming (AGW) shouldn’t
    be a controversial issue, should it? In many places human actions are said to determine the weather. A wicked king (government) can cause drought and famine. The 16 Dreams of King Pasenadi Jataka predicts all sorts of social and environmental calamities (which many Burmese argue their desperate country is enduring now.)

    In Jataka 466 (Samudda Vadija) the people on a pristine island infurate the local deities by getting drunk and vomitting and defecating all over. The Bodhisatta takes the warning of a compassionate deva seriously and saves his followers, while Devadatta’s followers are destroyed in the tsunami that sweeps the island clean.

    Won’t that be humanity’s fate if we don’t take scientists’ warning seriously? A wimpy, warmed-over Christian statement just isn’t going to do justice to what should be the Buddhists’ statement — the world as we know, our lovely plane of existence, is going to be destroyed — by fire, by wind, by water or a combination of those.

    • sujato / Jan 7 2010 10:04 pm

      Thanks Visakha, that’s exactly the kind of story that we need to bring out. That particular Jataka is a reinvention of the universal flood myth, spiced up with typically Buddhist humor.

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 11:37 pm

      Visakha and Sujato

      I would find stuff like this this really helpful too. From my upbringing I know all the Christian stories backwards and forwards, and I have read many of the basic Pali suttas, but I know almost nothing of the Jatakas and other tales that you might use.

      Online Jataka class?

      David

      • sujato / Jan 8 2010 12:31 am

        I did a series of talks on the jatakas just a couple of months ago. They’ll be uploaded in due course….

  19. Visakha Kawasaki / Jan 7 2010 9:28 am

    I intended to add that that doesn’t mean we can’t act so as to change things — obviously if it is human caused, humans can alter their behavior and have better effects. A new king can reverse the drought and famine and we can slow global warming too.

  20. andrea / Jan 7 2010 1:46 pm

    Thank you for your blog Bhante and for your invitation to participate. I’ve been keenly following your commentaries the last couple of months. As a former member of the female community at Amaravati your discussions follow subjects dear to my heart.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular issue lately. I was in the supermarket yesterday buying sugar and I felt baffled by the choice. In particular the decision to buy fairtrade/organic or regular sugar where the former was twice the price. I find that it’s easy to slip into a ‘right/wrong’ way of thinking. A bit like the above mentioned vegetarian issue. Vegetarian/organic/fairtrade all seem like the ‘right’ thing to do/buy. But like Alan writes, rigid ‘solutions’ can also lead to unintended consequences.

    I wonder whether the Buddhist reflection is one of awareness of the consequences of one’s actions and the interconnectedness of everything. What are the consequences of buying regular vs organic/fairtrade sugar for the environment and the people involved in its production? I don’t really know. I can read about the theory, but the reality and all its twists and turns are harder to measure.

    Consumerism is a subject that seems to fall into the ‘bad’ category, yet most of us are selling something, be it teachings or light bulbs. I’m able to offer offer dana because someone walks into my shop and buys a painting because somebody has paid them for something and so on. Though stinginess doesn’t promote an opening of the heart, I suppose the reflection on greed is key:

    “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.”

    Our interconnectedness seems to me paramount in the Buddhist perspective, whatever views one has with regards to climate change, and mindful awareness the root to acting in accordance with the laws of nature. I think there’s enough ‘should shouldn’t’ pollution in the world.

    Having said all that …^_^… isn’t there a story about how Luang Por Chah encouraged fisherman to consider another livelihood?

    Thank you for your sharing Bhante.

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 10:41 pm

      Dear Andrea

      We face similar dilemmas in the supermarket during our weekly shop. If we don’t buy sugar snap peas air freighted from Kenya out of season, we reduce our carbon footprint, but the Kenyan farmer won’t make a living if everybody does the same and then maybe his children won’t get as good an education.

      To be honest, I often don’t know what to do. I am just constantly made more aware of our global interconnection and the necessity of discerning right action in any given circumstance. After that it seems to get complicated!

      David

    • Anagarika Jason Chan / Jan 7 2010 10:43 pm

      Perhaps an alternative to ‘rigid’ solutions would be a general rejigging of all the assumptions belying our economic structures.

      Currently, it is generally assumed that we ought to maximise consumption and profit, and minimise costs. All of this is made possible by a general indifference, or insensitivity, or ignorance to ‘quality’ (see Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) on all levels of the chain of production and consumption.

      Imagine a world where assumptions are different. A world of sustainable consumption, profit and cost. This would be a world of drastically lower consumption, lower profit margins, and higher prices at the grocery (and every other) store. We would be happier earning less, having less, and paying more because the quality of our choices on both ends of supply and demand would be imbued with care, love, attention and a sense of craftmanship.

      Furthermore, in such a world, many of the activities that have been co-opted into the sphere of cold contractual exchange at arms-length would be returned to the realm of reciprocal generosity within living communities of peers, family and friends.

      We can all make small steps towards the creation of this kind of macro-economy by creating micro-economies within our own local communities. We can build community gardens, start co-ops, get to know our neighbours through regular bbqs so that we can share each other’s tools and knowledge …

      And, it goes without saying, that as Buddhists we should encourage our local temples and monasteries to become leaders in sustainable practices.

      >j<

      • Anagarika Jason Chan / Jan 7 2010 10:49 pm

        … I forgot to mention donating a higher proportion of our income to high quality charities (see Peter Singer’s, The Life You Can Save), and choosing to buy products made by producers who choose to sell at a higher price in order to make their products sustainable.

        Money is energy. If we invest it in ‘fields of merit’ instead of ‘fields of profit’, we can change the world!

        >j<

      • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 11:26 pm

        Dear Jason

        I wholeheartedly agree.

        I think action is coming from the macro end too. I work managing people’s pension money (super funds) in low risk ethical investments and over the last couple of years it’s amazing how everybody, even the greediest highest risk taker, has been shaken at the degree of interconnection in the economic system, how decisions made by individuals in California can ricochet through the already wobbly financial system and bring it down. There is a great deal of will to bring things back to earth to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Fingers crossed.

        It’s as if we are a team of mountain climbers roped together. If one or two people stumble, the rest hold them on the mountain. If four or five stumble, they take everybody else with them.

        I don’t think we can go back from a globalised consumerist economy to an agrarian one – the genie is out of the bottle. But we can go forward and do the kind of local things that you suggest within the current economy and change it from inside. In the end the economy is just the result of billions of individual decisions. In the end the recognition that the global financial system has tied us all together could be a necessary and valuable lesson for humanity, if we can but learn it.

        Trade and exchange of skills and goods is fine and can lead to good community relationships and a better society, and money can be better than barter for that purpose. The line is crossed when we go from exchange to simply trying to make a profit, get something for nothing rather than giving of our time or skills. That has practical consequences but also social, psychological and spiritual ones too.

        I can see why the Abrahamic religions forbid lending at interest (something for nothing) and why monks don’t handle money. Money can easily divorce you from the relationship inherent in exchange. Hence dana is the giving of food and other requisites, not money, I guess.

        David

  21. Sam Jerga / Jan 7 2010 9:24 pm

    Dear Bhante,
    David R Loy has some very good insights regarding environmental issues from a Buddhist perspective. His book Money, War, Sex, Karma would be of great help. I can pass this book on at some point for reference if you wish. Perhaps also Thich Nhat Hanh also would have some good points?

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 10:55 pm

      Thich Nhat Hanh specifically mentions global warming in his expanded version of the Five Precepts, in the second precept about stealing:

      “True Happiness

      Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.”

  22. David Conway / Jan 7 2010 9:26 pm

    In the UK we seem to have solved global warming for the moment: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8444862.stm.

    If I can find out how we did it I’ll let you know.

    • David Conway / Jan 7 2010 10:30 pm

      I posted this in jest, but there has just been a serious piece on the main BBC news about the difference between weather and climate, since some people are claiming that the current freezing conditions in the UK “disprove” global warming!

  23. Anagarika Jason Chan / Jan 10 2010 7:55 pm

    Alan :
    All this ties into human population growth, which I did not see any commenter mention. One question is can we provide enough food (either plant or animal) to a growing population without some form of factory farming? What should we do about human population growth?

    More ordinations? No … seriously!

    >j<

  24. Albert Mah / Jan 11 2010 4:40 pm

    Here are more links for Alan and everyone else with a social conscience:

    Two abstracts from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

    1. Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment by David and Marcia Pimentel http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/78/3/660S

    2. Diet and the Environment: Does What You Eat Matter? by Marlow, Hayes, Soret, Carter, Schwab and Sabate http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/89/5/1699S

    Happy reading.

  25. Gillian / Jan 27 2010 12:59 pm

    It’s certainly the case that Thay, the Ven Tich Nhat Hahn, was onto the issue before many other Buddhists. His reworking of the precepts (above) is testimony to this. We could look more closely what he and his followers are doing (I remember using composting toilets at their place in NSW). Not all dhamma centres have reached this level of awareness yet.

  26. Lloyd Blakeley / Jul 19 2011 9:56 pm

    Happy to have found this site….

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