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I’m giving a talk and hosting a discussion on this topic at the Dharma Parlour at the Buddhafield Festival this Friday at 2pm. For those of you who can’t make it, I’ve written this blog.
I’m committed to non-violence, personally and politically. Looking to the past for inspiration, Gandhi turned non-violence into a powerful political instrument. More recently, Extinction Rebellion has done the same in relation to the climate crisis.
Gandhi encouraged us to be the change that we wish to see in the world. This means transforming our inner world to be in alignment with our values. And when it comes to transforming the outer world, it’s not enough to tell people to stop doing things – we need to show a different way that is less common all round, and more fun.
I’m not a scientist. However, there seems to be a consensus among climate scientists that human activities have a part in the current extreme weather patterns. Bob Dylan told us, “You don’t need a weathermen to know which way the wind blows.” In other words, we can sense for ourselves the changes in the world and the direction of travel.
Buddhist ethics involves taking responsibility for the likely consequences of our actions. The scientists predict that our collective actions will already have consequences on the climate far into the future. I’d like to suggest that the risks of not acting to reduce emissions are far greater than the risks of acting. The risks of not acting include ecological collapse and economic meltdown. The risks of acting include a reduction in our collective levels of comfort and choice around items such as travel, food, clothes, and gadgets.
But most of us are unlikely to be motivated by risk assessments, however convincing. We need a vision of a life that is less costly and more fun! How do we meet our needs in ways that also meet the needs of those around us, and future generations?
Fall in love with nature. We need to cherish this beautiful earth. The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to it! We belong to the earth because we are the earth: we are made up of the elements: earth, air, fire (heat) and water. However, we are only borrowing them. Every day we exchange these elements through our breathing, eating, and excreting. And at our death, we will hand the whole lot back!
I don’t know about you, but when I read reports of the climate crisis, I cycle through resignation and despair, anger, denial, as well as a genuine feeling of compassion. I can notice when I’m in these states, and give myself some extra self-empathy… so you’re angry and hopeless because you want to protect the earth and future generations? YESSSS!
How can we act in ways that protect the lives of the future? We seem to be suffering from a crisis of imagination, an empathy crisis. We struggle to visualise the data, the scale of the impact. It’s difficult to relate this to our individual actions, which seem so small by comparison. It’s as if we’re being ‘forced’, extremely uncomfortably, into a kind of planetary consciousness, where we hold the needs of all beings, including future generations. If we’re going to identify with anything, let’s identify with Life itself!
We need to address this issue on multiple levels – personal, spiritual and political – offering a vision of life that is less costly and more fun! In the Bristol newspaper yesterday, I read about a community campaign to increase bike use in the city. The headline was ‘Good for people, Good for the Planet!’ Pollution levels are above government guidelines in our area of Bristol. Going by bike rather than using the car is good for your health as well as good for the environment. Similarly, reducing your intake of animal products and increasing plant-based foodstuffs is good for your health, good for animals, and the single biggest step you can take to reduce your impact on the earth.
Gautama the Buddha lived a life of radical simplicity. And yet he said that he could be sit happily for a week doing nothing except meditating. For our own sake, and for the sake of the planet, could we follow in his footsteps?
Shantigarbha, Buddhist activist and mediator.
Author of I’ll Meet You There: a practical guide to empathy, mindfulness and communication. Read the first chapter and order the paperback and e-book here.