Jan 8, 2007

Buddhist look at Climate Change

The weather is really freaky this winter. Locally, we've been ten or fifteen degrees Celsius above seasonal norms. We've had rain in Dec. and Jan. which I've never seen before. Massive ice-sheets are breaking up in the high arctic. People across the country are starting to notice, and suddenly climate change is the number one hot political issue, causing even the Alberta oil-men of the Conservative government to make feeble green noises.

Guess what folks? You're about twenty years late and a few billion dollars short. This late in the game and they're still talking in terms of "sustainable development." I agree with Lovelock that we've gone beyond the point where that is useful concept. He talks about a "sustainable retreat." It's no damn use at all to mandate ten percent ethanol (like our provinvial gov't) or roll out new hybrid SUVs like GM. We need to start thinking about managing the down-sizing of our industrial civilization before mother nature does it for us, the hard way.

This is where Buddhism can make a real contribution. Buddhism teaches the virtue of santutthi, contentment with little. This is something the whole world needs to take seriously. So far, most people hang on to the forlorn hope that they can sustain their profligate life-styles with just a little greening around the edges; using the recycle box, adding ethanol to gas (a total crock), buying anything marketed with an "Eco" label.

Was it Thoreau who said "All the trouble in the world comes about because people are not content to sit quietly in their rooms"? (note- anyone know the source of this for sure?) Whoever said it, it's spot on. As a species, as individuals, we are all of us taking more from this planet than it can sustain. One way or another, we are going to be reverting to a simpler subsistence life-style in the coming decades. We can do it the easy way, or the hard way.

When scattered individuals here and there adopt some degree of voluntary simplicity, it certainly is good for their own spiritual well-being, but it has very little real impact on the environment. This needs to be a societal change, and it would be a good first step if political leaders and opinion makers stopped talking about "economic growth." If they were wise, they would be planning for a steady-state equilibrium at a much lower level of consumption than now. I don't see any signs of that happening.

Another teaching from Buddhism that helps keep our individual sanity in all this is the teaching of impermanence. The earth we know and love is a changing planet. It's always been in a state of change, just look at some geological history. We actually passed through a hundred thousand year hot spell 55 million years ago at the start of the Eocene. Hey, we got through that eventually.

Buddhist cosmological myths (which I don't necessarily take literally, but think embody a deeper truth) tell us that this world-system will come through a very dark period into one more golden age before the end (not of everything, but of this world). So the long range forecast is good.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this contribution. I do think it is a worthy task to put the Buddha's teachings into perspective with our modern conditions ; here lies, for me, the true « engaged Buddhism ».
By the way, the author of the quote « All the trouble in the world comes about because people are not content to sit quietly in their rooms. » is Blaise PASCAL, the french philosopher and mathematician.

Anonymous said...

This was the best post I've read here. Yell it from the mountaintops and write it in every newspaper!

I never thought it was a coincidence that the Buddha's teachings were *just* starting to make sense over here right at the same point in our history when we really need an alternative way to live. When the time is right, the teacher appears.

Anonymous said...

michel you are one sad wannabe