Triratna News

The Three Jewels meet the Climate Emergency

On Mon, 11 February, 2019 - 16:05
Sadayasihi's picture
Sadayasihi

In December the Bristol Buddhist Centre hosted a practice morning on the theme ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’. The event offered a space for the Sangha to come together to explore thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency, how Dharma practice helps with facing the reality of the situation, and what ‘taking action’ might look like in this context. This was followed by an action outside Barclays bank in the afternoon with meditation, leafletting and singing ‘climate carols.’

Listen to the guided meditation and talks from this event

Read more about the Triratna Global Emergency Initiative and get involved!

Amrtanadi was one of those involved in this event. Here is an interview with her about her involvement in climate activism, the event that took place in Bristol, and what she thinks the Dharma can bring to the table.

Do you have a background in activism?
One of the strongest guiding principles in my practice of the Dharma is my desire to live from love and to avoid causing harm. Making choices that minimise the harm I cause through contributing to climate change has been important to me for a long time - for example, around transport and where my food comes from.

But I’d never taken that further into collective action or activism - in part, because I didn’t quite know where to put my energy, and perhaps also because of a feeling of powerlessness, not having a clear sense of what I could do that might make a difference beyond my own individual ethical choices. I think this is a common response in the face of such a massive, complex and emotive issue as climate change. I very often hear from other people that there is nothing we can do, it’s all much bigger than us, a kind of collective sense of disempowerment, together I think with the emotional overwhelm that can quite easily arise when we try to take in the enormity of the situation that we face.

Something really changed for me when the latest IPCC report came out in at the beginning of October of last year which stated, in much more urgent terms than I had heard before, the need for us to act now. What really affected me about the report was the almost deafening silence that greeted it in the mainstream media, and life carrying on all around me as usual. I think it really sank in to me at that point just how much we really can’t take in what is happening and what the climate emergency calls on us to do. The group Extinction Rebellion (XR) rose out of this time, calling for mass civil disobedience to try and force the issue more into public consciousness and to make the government take notice and take action, spelling out in black and white the reality of the situation that we are facing: the potential extinction of much life on earth and a real threat to human survival. This felt like a much more real and congruent response to the IPCC report than the business as usual life I saw going on all around me.

I also began reflecting a lot on what it means to be a practicing Buddhist in this time, and what part we, as a Sangha, and as part of the larger faith community might play - and, perhaps, have a responsibility to play - in raising awareness and being part of the collective change that must happen.

I saw clearly that focusing on individual ethical actions is not enough in the face of the urgency of our need to act. It wasn’t that my, and our, individual actions and choices didn’t now matter - they do. But my perspective on my practice of the first precept, my sense of what it means to practice non-harm and take loving action for the benefit of all beings in this age of climate breakdown, expanded and deepened. It felt clear that this must include engagement with collective action directed to raising awareness and to systemic change to try and bring about the dramatic and urgent reductions in carbon emissions now needed.

So, from never having taken part in any activism, apart from a march or two over the years, I quickly found myself involved in many actions and events with Extinction Rebellion and the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE). It felt so helpful and important for me to make connections with others who are also in touch with the reality of the situation, to have a context to share our feelings, to be able to express them through positive action, and to experience a strong sense of solidarity and empowerment through coming together.

Who organised the ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’ event in Bristol and what was its purpose?
My friend Dayajoti, who has been involved with Buddhafield for many years, and I were talking about the IPCC report, Extinction Rebellion and activism on the way up to Bhante’s funeral and the idea to run an event at the Bristol Buddhist Centre came out of that conversation. We knew that many people had been affected by the report and wanted to offer a space where the Sangha could come together to share thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency, how our Dharma practice might help us engage and face the reality of the situation, and explore taking action as a part of our practice.

We asked Rowan, who is a Mitra who has asked for ordination with the Oxford Sangha, to join us and give one of the talks. Rowan has been very involved with XR and DANCE and activism around the climate emergency is an integral part of her going for refuge and expression of the Bodhisattva ideal. We also asked Taranita to give one of the talks, who had also been at an XR event I was at in Bristol, Beth, who had also become involved with XR, and Amaragita who has been involved with Buddhafield and activism for a number of years.

This was the first recent Sangha event exploring the issue – though we did run BAM (Buddhist Action Month) at the Bristol Buddhist Centre in 2015 on the theme of climate change. The climate emergency will also be the theme for this year’s BAM. Both Dayajoti and I are away from Bristol for 3 months until the spring so haven’t been able to run any follow on events, but hope to pick up some momentum again with BAM in June and will see if anything more ongoing may emerge from that.

What happened during ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’ event?
We began with Dayajoti leading a guided meditative reflection in the shrine room, inviting us to allow the issue into our hearts and notice our response. Myself, Rowan and Taranita then gave short personal talks on the climate emergency. We had space in small groups and then as a whole group to share anything that we wanted to in response, and ended in the shrine room chanting the Bodhicitta mantra together and transferring our merits.

Around 25 people came to the event. I was deeply moved by everyone’s honest sharing of their responses to the climate emergency itself and to the morning’s input. People shared their fears around the situation, sense of overwhelm and not quite knowing what they could do, but also hope, energy and enthusiasm to take action, a sense of empowerment, and a desire to try and stay open to the situation and to support one other in this. It felt that there was a strong sense of solidarity in the simple act of our coming together to engage with the issue with honesty and courage. Something in this that felt very significant, meaningful and necessary for all of us there.

Some of us helped organise a separate action after the morning event at the centre under the DANCE umbrella. DANCE and other groups, including Greenpeace, have been holding actions calling on Barclays Bank to divest from fossil fuel projects and companies for some time. Our action involved a sitting mediation protest outside the main branch of Barclays in Bristol and singing ‘climate carols’, with posters calling on Barclays to wake up to the climate emergency and divest from fossil fuel projects. We gave leaflets and explained the issue to members of the public who were interested in what we were doing. Around 10 of us took part in the action, and there was a collective sense of it being helpful and important to take the energy of our contemplative and discursive morning into action on the streets. I found it particularly meaningful to be involved in helping to raise awareness with members of the public - many people I talked to expressed gratitude and support for what we were doing.

What do you think the Dharma can bring to climate activism?
I think the Dharma can help us to try and make some sense of the climate emergency and our collective inability to really know its truth and take action. The Buddha named the roots of our own personal suffering as greed, hatred and delusion and, as well as manifesting in us individually, these roots will of course manifest in the structures, systems, behaviours and values of the societies and cultures we create collectively.

Delusion at heart is ignorance of our interconnectedness. We are intimately interconnected with the earth, her living systems and the other species and human beings we share this beautiful planet with. Our actions have consequences throughout the web of life, and these consequences are becoming increasingly destructive and dangerous to life on this earth. However, our belief that we are separate, autonomous selves is much more alive and real to us, and individually and collectively, we don’t live from this place of deep interconnectedness.

This not seeing, this ignorance, is, of course, basic Buddhism. It is perpetuated by our tendency to pull towards us that which makes us feel real and secure. This is the same pull that drives the entire, deeply damaging, consumer culture that we are part of, and also leads us to hold on to the normality of business as usual, the belief that ‘perhaps climate change isn’t real after all’, or ‘it won’t affect me and what I love’.

And, we’ll also push away that which threatens us or our sense of self, which in relation to climate change may include the unease and fear that all of us must surely on some level feel, the reality that our way of life must and will radically change, as well as our pain and grief about the situation.

Knowing the depths of the roots of the poisons in myself helps me to understand the very surreal situation of ‘business as usual’ and helps me to avoid falling into judgement, anger and blame around what is happening to our planet and our collective inaction. And I think that the reality of the climate emergency can be an urgent, potent and positive ethical challenge to wake ourselves up more and more to the reality of our own interconnectedness and to our delusions. We are not separate to the collective karma that has created the situation we are in, nor to what we collectively are called to do.

This understanding and perspective is something that the Dharma and we, as practicing Buddhists, can bring into climate conversations and actions to help guard against the danger of polarisation. Hopefully we can also bring awareness of our own motivations and views and a commitment to try to act from loving-kindness and in a way that supports harmony and understanding. It’s so easy to fall into seeing, for example, politicians, fracking or oil company executives, or people who seem to act as if they don’t care about climate change as ‘other’ than us, to see the problem as ‘out there’ and to set ourselves apart, taking ourselves out of the web of interconnectedness; in short re-creating and perpetuating the very tendencies that have led to this situation in the first place.

The Metta Bhavana can be a fantastic tool for helping to guard against this, something we can take into our actions and offer to others. I introduced the practice at a day in London organised by DANCE to support XR activists, including how it can help us to avoid falling into polarisation - as well as helping us to remember self-care - as we try to hold the reality of the situation we are in and take action. The response was very positive and affirming, with people expressing how important they felt it was to have tools to support them in this way.

Our practices and the teachings of the Dharma can help us and others stay open and in touch with the the climate emergency and all the feelings that that may bring up for us, whether that might be grief, anger, fear, despondency, complacency or something else. From my own experience, it can be very hard to stay open, and not to fall into overwhelm or shut down. What we are called on to do, to hold in our hearts and minds, in this era of climate breakdown is huge. I feel an important part of what is needed is to grow our collective capacity to stay open, to stay engaged, to stay in touch with the reality and with each other as we face it. All of the practices that help us stay centred, positive, open-hearted, resilient, in touch with the beauty of life and our gratitude for what we have, and open to a bigger perspective are an essential part of this. And, of course, we need to do this together, in open, supportive communication and solidarity with others.

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Responses

Guhyavajra's picture

That’s set the cat amongst the pidgeons hasn’t it. Interesting thread.

Can’t say I’m particularly bothered by the impending global warming catastrophe. There have been people standing on speakers corner holding up ‘the end is nigh’ signs for at least two hundred years. In 1974 my mates and I bought 500 acres grid acres of land in Takaka New Zealand, 90 % gorse. 3.2 kilometres long and a kilometre wide with one of the most beautiful rivers on gods earth flowing along its foot. Forty years on and it is a prime piece of native bush, beautiful. That’s where my meditation hut is. Did back to the land, organic gardens, all that stuff.

Then Triratna. Have spent 28 years of my life since 1978  living in Triratna communities, mostly mens communities. Very ecological!

2003 to 2013 I ran an ecological building business in the UK. Mainly because people were wanting to go green and no one could figure out how to integrate the various systems. Well we did and started doing quite a lot of it. I did a development in Hardingham Norfolk turning a barn complex into 3 large eco barns with gardens, victorian garden walls, a lake, woods, fields etc.  

At the start I was a fully paid up card carrying member of the eco community but began finding things out as I went along. Let’s assume that for arguments sake that the alarmists are right. We are all doomed unless we revolutionise society. OK so whose revolution is it going to be?

For a start it is mostly rich people do the good eco work, because they can afford it. That’s my experience. Fossil fuel economy is the basis of our wealth and affluence. If we deconstruct our economy where is the money going to come from for the eco stuff. In my experience while some of the green technology is very good and has potential, a lot of it is rubbish. We developed a term after a few years called greenwash. I’m unconvinced about the economy of the green revolution especially if it is prosecuted by a centralised political class.

In the early 2000’s we as builders just got on with it and there were some very good eco companies emerge. By about 2006 the suits in white hats with data coming out their ears also began to appear on the scene, the eco engineers. The odd one was very good, but mostly a waste of space. One guy couldn’t even understand that different materials in a wall meant a different thermal rating. Then they got into local government, and it became even more expensive.

I could say a lot, I had an eco barn, glass houses, organic gardens, a wood, a lake, ran my heating off wood splitting 8 cord of wood every year, mostly living out of the garden; fruit trees all that stuff. Built it myself with friends. I went forth from it all in 2014 like the kovilara tree shedding its leaves. You know it just wasn’t radical enough, I still felt a mainstream part of the problem. Moved back into a mens community and Triratna life style, no money no security.

So OK what to do about the crisis. Drive an electric car. Electric cars don’t come into carbon plus until 114 000 kms, and probably longer depending on the source of electricity. Also if everyone starts driving electric cars then Britain needs to build 6-9 new power stations.

What about renewables though. We don’t know how to store electricity. Renewables provide an unreliable spikey supply that can’t be stored. The national grid has what is called a base load so that when everyone turns their kettle on 7.00am there is enough juice so the system doesn’t collapse. That’s coal, gas, oil and nuclear. Once we work out reliable electricity storage then renewables take on a new light. (sic) But until then…

Travel by train instead of flying? Flying is 2-4% of the carbon footprint, pay more and travel with a new air fleet it is about 3%. The question arises as to how the carbon footprint is calculated.  You have to take into account the infrastructure servicing a system of transport, communication etc. In the case of rail high speed trains, rails, girders, power lines. etc, all use high quality steel What makes steel different from iron is coke. Coke is coal basically and so far we don’t know how to make steel without coke. People are working on it with so far limited results. How many trains, bogeys, steel rails etc are in Europes’ train network; all heavy industry. Do the sums.

Mobile phones? Satellites, rockets, fuel, big electricity, rare minerals etc. Asphalt for the roads: oil – bitumen. Vegetarian probably quite good. But the list goes on and on. So what is the solution going to be? Energy saving light bulbs, recycling egg boxes. Destroy our economies?  Run lots of earnest conventions aimed at making people behave in certain ways, terrify our children with portents of certain doom.How is the plan actually going to work. More people sitting around bonfires eating roadkill?

I’ve kept an eye on IPCC literature over the years and couldn’t help forming the impression that Global Warming is the shop window for a new political culture shall we say. I recently befriended a women in Stockholm coming along to the centre, mid 50’s worked at a high level in the UN and now with SIDA ( Big Swedish government aid agency) working at a high level there. Chatting one day she informed me that they, the UN mandarins, realised some years ago that global warming was their one opportunity to change the system, i.e. the free market capitalist system. Listening to an interview with Noam Chomsky from 2011, one of my left wing heroes, he says the idea of the politicisation of IPCC is a right wing campaign to discredit the IPCC. Very interesting. Weighing it up my view is that the IPCC is politicised and that is where the argument was lost for the climate alarmists. Loads of people just don’t believe the ideologues, don’t trust the media, experts even less and are generally resistant to the insufferable arrogance of the political class and educated intelligentsia.

Question is how is this going to work in Triratna. Do we become an obedient left leaning progressive social action group spouting our goobledeegook like good spooks, saving the world with preternaturally serious stifled hysteria???.

What ever happened to living in communities, becoming celebate, starting ethical right livelihoods, renouncing  government funded jobs and pensions, doing truckloads of meditation in jungles and along wild coast lines, living in poverty, practicing puja, living in caves, super solitaries, serving the spiritual community. Practicing ethics indexed to our order chapters and so on. Does anyone think that this might have a social affect?

Seems to me there is enough reputable evidence to question the approach of the climate alarmists. May not matter anyway inasmuch as we probably won’t have a habitat to live in a before long, if we don’t blow ourselves up with atomic bombs in the mean time. I recall doing a 3 month solitary on my land in New Zealand a few years ago during which my staple diet was rice, imported from Argentina. My friends in the area who live out of their organic gardens and off carbon zero beef, apart from a few incidents of bovine flatulence, had plenty to say about that. Well…I had to think about it as they had a point. Concluded that the most important thing for the planet in my view was to stop killing every thing that lives, walks, runs, crawls, swims and flies. I guess that is where the Dharma comes in.   

james murphy's picture

#Guhyavajra- Great stuff, is all. Many thanks for your time, effort and articulation in setting this all out.

Advayacitta's picture

Vajrashura, in a response to me has reiterated what he sees as the importance of the ‘consensus’ on climate change.  He also, in a reply to Ratnaguna, mentioned the ‘97%’ consensus. Yesterday, someone following this debate sent me an email of a link to the ‘skeptical science’ website, about his 97% consensus:

https://www.skepticalscience.com/debunking-climate-consensus-denial.html

They mentioned that the piece seemed convincing to them, and asked me for my comments. I will quote the piece first:

“Communicating the expert consensus is very important in terms of increasing public awareness of human-caused climate change and support for climate solutions.  Thus it’s perhaps not surprising that Cook et al. (2013) and its 97% consensus result have been the subject of extensive denial among the usual climate contrarian suspects.  After all, the fossil fuel industry, right-wing think tanks, and climate contrarians have been engaged in a disinformation campaign regarding the expert climate consensus for over two decades.  For example, Western Fuels Association conducted a half-million dollar campaign in 1991 designed to ‘reposition global warming as theory (not fact).’

The 97% Consensus is a Robust Result

Nevertheless, the existence of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is a reality, as is clear from an examination of the full body of evidence.  For example, Naomi Oreskes found no rejections of the consensus in a survey of 928 abstracts performed in 2004.  Doran & Zimmerman (2009) found a 97% consensus among scientists actively publishing climate research.  Anderegg et al. (2010) reviewed publicly signed declarations supporting or rejecting human-caused global warming, and again found over 97% consensus among climate experts.  Cook et al. (2013) found the same 97% result through a survey of over 12,000 climate abstracts from peer-reviewed journals, as well as from over 2,000 scientist author self-ratings, among abstracts and papers taking a position on the causes of global warming.”

This is what I replied to the person sending me the link:

“It looks highly suspicious to me. The very fact that the different studies give such close agreements to 97% looks very fishy to me. One would expect some natural variation. Of course, to the extent that Saccacitta is correct about the selection process for who gets funding, and the issue of biased peer-review, then that will bring about an unnaturally high consensus.  It is interesting to compare and contrast it to the area of science I am currently reading about - fundamental theories of physics that try to go beyond the limitations and contradictions between general relativity and quantum mechanics. There are different schools of thought among theoretical physicists - those that follow string theory, those that propose loop quantum gravity, as well as other individuals proposing things like twistor theory. That divergence of opinion seems healthy to me. If there really were a 97% consensus, in such a complex area as climate theory, this in itself rings alarm bells.”

Sometime later they sent me another link, that was about the 2013 study by Cook et al mentioned with approval on the Skeptical Science website: 

http://www.populartechnology.net/2014/12/97-articles-refuting-97-consens…

This includes the following quote about the Cook et al. study mentioned approvingly on the Skeptical Science site:

“The ‘97% consensus’ article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country [UK] that the energy minister should cite it.”

- Mike Hulme, Ph.D. Professor of Climate Change, University of East Anglia (UEA)

Then it goes on:

“Summary: Cook et al. (2013) attempted to categorize 11,944 abstracts [brief summaries] of papers (not entire papers) to their level of endorsement of AGW and found 7930 (66%) held no position on AGW. While only 64 papers (0.5%) explicitly endorsed and quantified AGW as +50% (humans are the primary cause). A later analysis by Legates et al. (2013) found there to be only 41 papers (0.3%) that supported this definition. Cook et al.’s methodology was so fatally flawed that they falsely classified skeptic papers as endorsing the 97% consensus, apparently believing to know more about the papers than their authors. The second part of Cook et al. (2013), the author self-ratings simply confirmed the worthlessness of their methodology, as they were not representative of the sample since only 4% of the authors (1189 of 29,083) rated their own papers and of these 63% disagreed with the abstract ratings.

Methodology: The data (11,944 abstracts) used in Cook et al. (2013) came from searching the Web of Science database for results containing the key phrases “global warming” or “global climate change” regardless of what type of publication they appeared in or the context those phrases were used. Only a small minority of these were actually published in climate science journals, instead the publications included ones like the International Journal Of Vehicle Design, Livestock Science and Waste Management. The results were not even analyzed by scientists but rather amateur environmental activists with credentials such as “zoo volunteer” (co-author Bärbel Winkler) and “scuba diving” (co-author Rob Painting) who were chosen by the lead author John Cook (a cartoonist) because they all comment on his deceptively named, partisan alarmist blog ‘Skeptical Science’ and could be counted on to push his manufactured talking point.

Peer-review: Cook et al. (2013) was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters (ERL) which conveniently has multiple outspoken alarmist scientists on its editorial board (e.g. Peter Gleick and Stefan Rahmstorf) where the paper likely received substandard “pal-review” instead of the more rigorous peer-review.”

Assuming this is accurate, it is a serious indictment of the study, as well as the Skeptical Science website, of whom Cook is himself a leading member.

Vajracaksu's picture

It’s not the first time that I have come across a piece that has criticised the methodology of Cook’s study. A leading climatologist sceptic who Ratnaguna quotes above, Dr. Roy Spencer, complained in one video that he was included in this 97% figure…As I recall he thinks that the man made contribution to GW is between 10-90%, that’s a very, very almost meaningless broad band!

And I noted another vague assertion by Dr. Judith Curry in 2018 that she thinks the man made contribution is ‘less than 50%’. For a sceptical position I thought that was a very high percentage, especially if it was in the high 40’s!

In terms of the scientific consensus, just to break the mold of the 97% figure, in a study of peer-reviewed climate science authorsfrom 2012-2013 99.9% of  (i.e. 9,135 climatologists) accept AGW. That’s extremely high!

https://www.desmogblog.com/2014/01/08/why-climate-deniers-have-no-scient…

 

ratnaguna's picture

Hi Vajracaksu,

On Judith Curry and her ‘sceptical position’. There isn’t one sceptical position, there are a whole range of views that represent different types and levels of scepticism. In a  PowerPoint presentation (and this may be where you heard her statement about ‘less than 50%) she asks the question:

“To what extent are man-made CO2 emissions contributing to climate change?”

And she replies “The short answer is:  ‘we don’t know.’ The reason is that we don’t know how to disentangle natural internal variability from the effects of CO2–driven warming”

She continues “The most recent IPCC assessment report says it is ‘extremely likely’ to be  ‘more than half.’ ‘More than half’ is not very precise…

“So here is my personal assessment, using the jargon of the IPCC:  Man-made CO2 emissions are as likely as not to contribute less than 50% of the recent warming.”

So I think in this context at least she was being a little ironic.

Vajracaksu's picture

Yes, you absolutely right Ratnaguna I did make use of that talk from June 2018:

“Climate Debate - Mann vs Curry & Moore June 2018”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVXHaSqpsVg&t=3505s

Your ‘quote’ wasn’t exactly a quote, she did not say, ‘using the jargon of the IPCC’, despite this I think you’re probably right that she was being a little ironic.

P.S. The bit we are talking about comes at 24.10 in the video

ratnaguna's picture

She may not have said it but she wrote it - Slide 13. I haven’t listened to the talk, I’ve read the PowerPoint slides.

https://judithcurry.com/2018/06/12/the-debate-mann-titley-moore-curry/

Vajracaksu's picture

i see, thanks for that ratnaguna,

kind wishes

vajracaksu

Akuppa's picture

I note that there is as yet no response to a crucial part of Vajrashura’s piece, namely his thought experiments on acceptability of risk. So let me reiterate them in a different way.

Suppose you were driving a car at high speed along winding country roads. And suppose a mechanic had told you that there was a 50% chance of the steering and brakes failing. Would you still drive? Suppose it was just 5%… 0.5%…?

I’m not convinced by the skeptical posts on this thread. Like many such claims that I’ve looked into over the last thirty years, they evaporate on close examination. They rely on general impressions rather than clear sources, or on claims unsupported by peer-reviewed science, or on generalized unsupported denigrations of peer-reviewed science, or address arguments that don’t form part of the core case for a human role in climate change in any case.

However, let’s suppose I’m wrong not to be convinced. (I will try to put from my mind for a few minutes that fact that no-one has come up with a climate model with any degree of predictive accuracy that doesn’t involve human carbon emissions, whereas climate modeling that does take it into account is becoming ever more accurate.)  Even disregarding this, the fact remains that the most that has been established here is that some of you think that there is a higher degree of uncertainty about scientists’ conclusions than I, along with most of the scientists themselves, do. 

The burden of proof in the climate change debate lies with the deniers / skeptics for two reasons:

1. The precautionary principle – as expressed above – which is essential in large scale decisions about technological innovation. This is, to my mind, a pretty straightforward application of the first precept.
2. Given what we know from uncontested physical science about the properties of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse’ gases, and what we already know about the sensitivity of climate systems, it would be extraordinary if the amount of stuff we’ve pumped into the atmosphere for the last 300 years were to have no effect. Actions have consequences.

When a new nuclear power station is built in the UK, the range of acceptable risk, at least in theory, to an average member of the public from normal operation is held to be one in ten million.  Given the potential catastrophic and widespread risk being posited here for continued large scale fossil fuel use, is there an argument for acceptable risk for being any greater than that? If someone proposed to build a rather makeshift nuclear power plant in your neighbourhood with a calculated risk of meltdown of, say, 50% or 5% - wouldn’t you do everything you could to protest? Indeed, wouldn’t you feel duty-bound by the fourth precept to have the integrity and guts to speak out?

For the above reasons, I contend that not one contributor on this thread has come anywhere near close to establishing a valid basis for criticism of these good people in Bristol (remember them?). 

I suggest an approach to these questions based on some clear Dharmic principles:

Respect for the empirical method.
The precept of non-harm.
Non-polarisation and non-attachment to views.
A willingness to live one’s whole life as a response to the suffering of beings.

In practice, I suggest this means:

- If you’re going to question the science, don’t just ‘follow your nose’ on the internet (a sure way to misinformation and confirmation bias). Start with the core climate change science (‘Climate Change – What Everyone Needs to Know’ by Joseph Romm, 2018 version, is a good up-to-date summary). Stick with the arguments and with solid peer-reviewed science.
- If you’re going to question the integrity of some published peer-reviewed research, give solid evidence rather than casting general aspersions.
- If you’re going to criticize people for taking action on climate change, or downplay the need for collective policies, then be open about what degree of risk you regard as acceptable and give evidence as to why you think that threshold isn’t reached.

To be moved to action about climate change (or even the possibility of such) isn’t some kind of ideology or distraction from Dharma life. On the contrary, responding, as it were, with one’s Dharma life (renunciation, communal living, meditation, right livelihood…) is nothing less than the Bodhisattva path. No, that doesn’t mean that centres or Triratna as a whole is about to be taken over for this one cause, or should be. But to those who are moved to respond, like our friends in Bristol, I have only gratitude and respect.

Vajracaksu's picture

Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu Akuppa! I very much concur with the ‘risk assessment’ points.

ratnaguna's picture

Thanks for this Akuppa,

I too have been aware that no one has responded to the final section of Vajrashura’s first post, on the precautionary principle. As you have probably noticed, I have been rather busy on this discussion and haven’t had time to get round to responding. I have been hoping that one of the other sceptics would do so! Having dropped that rather heavy hint, if no one else does so in the next few days I will see what I can do.

Tejopala's picture

Thank you, Akuppa. Indeed. I particularly appreciate the Dharmic principles you mention. 

Guhyavajra's picture

Hi Akuppa,

Respect for the empirical method.
The precept of non-harm.
Non-polarisation and non-attachment to views.
A willingness to live one’s whole life as a response to the suffering of beings.

Sound principles though it does sometimes appears to me in discussions like this that the above is the case except if one is a so called ‘sceptic’. Seems to me we are also working off the implication that the science is settled. I’ve been under the impression that science is always open to modification in the light of new evidence in search of objective truth and deeper understanding. 

In a similar vein Vajrasura expresses a commonly held view:

 ‘And if it turns out that we’re wrong about climate change, well, all we will have done is make the world a better place.’

I think it is the weapons grade self assurance of the factual and moral high ground of the AGW case  where I smell a rat and I don’t think I’m alone in this. What I can say is that it is absolutely not my experience that green legislation and associated progressive policies have inevitably made the world a better place. Beginning with the astronomical rise in professional costs in building driven by environmental legislation at council level in the UK, exacerbated by protected species legislation, insulation regulation and the bureaucratic burden of various legislative bodies on small business, employment and opportunity. I could write a long thread on this detailing my case, but perhaps not appropriate in this forum.

It is quite instructive to me observing different highly educated people shaving millimetres off facts, figures and research upholding the undeniable truth. But where the vapours of discussions like this distil down into society the ordinary working people of Britain and elsewhere are paying for all this. The same people who are bombed by terrorists, paid the bankers bill for the sub prime melt down and who are roundly dismissed as racists, misogynists, deplorables and a variety of other descriptive terms.

In scientific and academic terms hard to say who is right, and on academic terms difficult without the training. Weighing it up personally leads me to conclude that the solution to the impasse lies in coherent workable policies grounded in science and engineering, not ideology.   

If it is the case that we are doomed because of green house gasses then it would be helpful for someone to give it to us in plain English. Seems to me given the terms of the ‘alarmist’ position that the burden of proof is not on the ‘skeptics’ but on the ‘alarmists’. Trump is not far away from winning another term, Britain has pulled itself apart over brexit with nationalism on the rise internationally representing a move away from globalism with the majority of populations  often not that concerned about global warming. People are not buying it.

Perhaps as you suggest, dialogue is the way forward with some adherence to the principles you outline.  

Warm regards                 Guhyavajra

Vajrashura's picture

Wonderful! Thank you Akuppa.

It is as if, Akuppa, one might set upright what had been upturned, or might reveal what was hidden, or might point out the path to one who had gone astray, or might bring an oil-lamp into the darkness so that those with eyes might see material shapes – even so this science has been made visible in numerous ways by Akuppa.

ratnaguna's picture

Historically, this house has made its worst mistakes, not when it’s divided but when it’s virtually unanimous. Not when it’s adversarial but when MPs switch off their critical faculties in a spasm of moral self congratulation.

In this post I want to respond to, and challenge, what is known as the precautionary principle, and which Vajrashura and Akuppa put forward in their posts. Before I do that though I want to say a few words about the attitude that those who believe in AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) often have towards sceptics. We are largely seen as a nuisance, ignorant of the real science of climate change, contrary, stupid, or holding ulterior motives (funded by big oil!). Even in this discussion among Buddhist friends it has been implied that sceptics are rather stupid, and explicitly stated that we don’t understand science, and that the best way to deal with us is to ignore us (because there is an emergency and there is no time to debate the issue).

I must admit that there are times when I doubt myself in this area. After all I am not a scientist, we are constantly being told that 97% of scientists believe that the world is warming dangerously due to human CO2 emissions, therefore we need to act decisively and swiftly, and maybe I’m just getting in the way of something vitally important. But then I reflect - has anything I’ve said or written to those who believe in AGW made any difference? Have I managed to change their minds? Not that I’ve noticed. Have I made them think? Have I caused them to question their assumptions? Have I stimulated them to look more closely at the evidence? Possibly in some cases. And if I have, that would be a totally good thing. There are some very knowledgeable climate activists out there, as we have seen from some of the posts in this discussion, but most people I talk to about this know very little. Only what they’ve heard on the news or read in the newspaper. The belief in AGW is very much a belief for most people. Almost a religion. But one thing the knowledgeable and the not-so-knowledgeable have in common is that they seem to be closed to different points of view. They’ve come to a conclusion and that’s it.

So to those of you who are fully convinced of AGW and you climate activists, I want to say one thing. Will you please stop dismissing us, and listen. We are not stupid. There is a debate to be had. Don’t dismiss sceptical scientists by impugning their motives. You don’t gain anything by ignoring us and you stand to gain a lot by listening, even if that gain is simply that you look more closely at the evidence, question your assumptions, and think twice about the actions that you are about to take.

The quote that began this post was said by an MP in the House of Commons in England. I don’t know who the MP was or when he said it. I saw him saying it in a short film about the unintended negative consequences of the UK Climate Act, which was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Commons ten years ago, with only five MPs voting against it. To see the film, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=447&v=_wQR48_LuG4

The film was made by a ‘think-tank’ called the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The GWPF will be a red rag to the bull of climate activists. They are perceived as a climate sceptic lobby, although they say of themselves “The GWPF does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming – although we are of course aware that this issue is not yet settled. On climate science, our members and supporters cover a broad range of different views, from the IPCC position through agnosticism to outright scepticism.” However, I think they are perceived as sceptics, and I suspect that in reality they are - “we are of course aware that this issue is not yet settled”. That’s sceptical isn’t it?Unfortunately, this means that climate activists will not watch that film or read their literature. Or they might watch the film and read their literature just in order to refute the points they are making. That would be a pity.

So, to the precautionary principle. Vajrashura and Akuppa invited us to participate in some thought experiments. The first of Vajrashura’s was:

Let’s say that you really like to eat a certain food, let’s say a burger. It can be vegetarian or vegan, depending on your preferences. Perhaps it’s the highlight of your week, food wise.

But then, unfortunately, it seems that some serious concerns are raised about it. Let’s say that 97 of the 100 experiments done on it by food scientists seem to indicate that it will cause you cancer in a few years’ time.

What would you do? Would you stop eating it? I certainly would… What if it was only 90 of the 100 experiments? Or 70? Or even 50 of the 100 experiments?

Akuppa’s was:

Suppose you were driving a car at high speed along winding country roads. And suppose a mechanic had told you that there was a 50% chance of the steering and brakes failing. Would you still drive? Suppose it was just 5%… 0.5%…?

So in these thought experiments, humanity is the burger eater, CO2 is the burger, and climate catastrophe is cancer. Or humanity is the car driver, CO2 is the faulty steering and brakes, and climate catastrophe is the nasty crash.

Now there’s only one sensible thing to do in each one - stop eating those burgers, get out of the car immediately and get the steering and brakes fixed. And there is almost no downside to either action. The only downside to the first is that you don’t get to eat burgers anymore (even if they are the highlight of your week - poor you). The downside of the second is that you’re inconvenienced for a little while, until you get the steering and brakes fixed.

If what climate activists are pressuring governments to do were as harmless as that, I would agree with the closing paragraph of Vajrashura’s first post:  “And if it turns out that we’re wrong about climate change, well, all we will have done is make the world a better place.”

Let’s try another thought experiment.

Imagine that you are in a small rowing boat with a few other people and a dog. All is going well until you realise that you’ve lost your bearings and you don’t know where you are anymore. You don’t have a radio either. What to do? One of you, the one who is most sure of himself, thinks that you have drifted way out into the ocean, a very long way from the shore. Because this person is so sure of himself everyone goes along with his assessment and plan. It’s going to take a very long time to get back and you have very little water, not enough, you realise, for everyone to survive in the time you have. What to do? The dog. He will have to go. You can’t afford to keep that dog on board. But  then someone else says, “what if we have not drifted a long way out? What if we’re actually quite close to home?”

What would you do?

The precautionary principle doesn’t come without any costs. It’s not like stopping eating burgers or getting the brakes in your car fixed. If only it were as easy and painless as the way Vajrashura puts in the closing paragraph of his first post: “And if it turns out that we’re wrong about climate change, well, all we will have done is make the world a better place.” But the  ‘cure’ could be worse than the ‘disease’.

I’m not going to spell out all the possible and probable negative consequences of climate activism, and anyway I have spent too much time on this discussion at the expense of other parts of my life. It’s time for me to sign off. But you can easily find this out for yourself by googling ‘unintended consequences of climate change activism, or litigation, or policy. 

Achara's picture

Ratnaguna, that’s a very interesting post on the ‘precautionary principle’.  

It’s helpful that you’ve responded to the assertion that we should apply this principle.  It’s a regular proposition.  The subscript is ‘even if I am wrong about AGW, it’s best to assume I’m correct and act as if I’m correct’

This would be true if there were no consequences of treating CO2 as a dangerous substance.  It would be true if there were no consequences of dictating, for example, energy policy around this assumption.  It would be true if renewable energy policies only brought benefits.

Consequently, any fair-minded investigation of the precautionary principle would therefore look at both sides of the equation. This is the point we move past science and need to start paying attention to applied physics, or engineering.  

Take electric cars for example.  Because of climate change policy, it is planned to replace most transportation in the UK with electric vehicles.  Is that a good thing, with no adverse consequences?

An electric car is a small power station, so if you remove the power generation from the vehicle, the power has to be generated somewhere else.  Depending on the distance to the power generation, for each car about twice the energy has to be generated.  This is because energy is lost as heat when the power is transported through a national distribution system.  

Consequently, several more power stations will be needed to supply electricity to the electric cars.  That will result in increased CO2 emissions.

But we couldn’t have that, could we? So will it need to be more nuclear power stations?  Or better, more renewable energy sources?  So here is a genuine question - how would that work out in practice?  With a bit of work, you could run the arithmetic yourself.  Some of us enjoy this sort of thing and it’s not too difficult.  It enables us to fact check energy policy statements. If you are tempted to do the same, here is David MacKay, who is pro-renewables and pro-arithmetic talking us through how to do this in a TED talk ‘a reality check on renewables’

Vijayasri's picture

Thanks Akuppa.

Centre Team's picture

Hello all, 

Here on the team we wanted to post a few thoughts in response to editorial issues raised in this thread around climate change-related stories and features within Triratna and on The Buddhist Centre Online. 

First of all, many thanks to everyone for a (so far! 😉) courteous exchange of views. It may come as a surprise to some readers of this space that there is such contention around climate change, its causes and remedies, and its relevance to Dharma practice - but at least we are modelling friendly discourse online! 

Triratna News’ purpose as a space is to report on Triratna events and issues of community-wide interest that are both relevant to, and in the spirit of, Dharma practice as it goes on within Triratna around the world. Since the question was asked, this article was posted by Sadayasihi as an editor of Triratna News and not in her capacity as an individual member of the sangha. This is, clearly, not a space for The Buddhist Centre Online team’s personal views; it’s Triratna’s main website, and we take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of the space in how we represent the community in curated stories - and in how we try to support the community in representing itself, over time, via blogs, Dharma content, social media posts, news, etc..

As to concerns that this post and other Triratna online content or initiatives constitutes Triratna ‘taking a position’ on climate change, it’s worth touching on the broader context and explaining how editorial choices on the site are made in respect to the life of the Order and community. 

To start with the example of this particular exploration of links between the Dharma and climate activism, in Amtranadi’s excellent interview it is clear that her primary focus is to root the issues in the context of the Dharma – rather than just in science or in a particular political stance – since that is the basis for our community. Indeed, the event the interview referenced was one set up to look at the Dharmic implications of, and possible responses to, an area that is of widespread concern to many in our Buddhist community, i.e. climate change.

How do we know it is of concern? Well, first we pay attention a lot to the great stream of content from friends, Mitras and Order members on the web generally, where active concern about climate change features as a regular topic of interest (that should hardly be a surprise today, whatever one’s views are about it). Most importantly however, the team at The Buddhist Centre Online attends an annual cycle of local, regional, national and international gatherings within Triratna (eg. the European Chairs’ Assembly, Order Conventions around the world, and the International Council) designed to help promote a joined-up sense of who we are as a global community. We also organise and take part in weekly and monthly conversations online amongst teams of folk who work for various Triratna institutions (from Buddhist Centres to funding bodies to the College of Public Preceptors). We do all this precisely to make sure that as far as possible the content on The Buddhist Centre Online reflects areas of consistent focussed interest across the Order and community, and adequately attends to our collective culture and the shared priorities that arise within it (insofar as that is actually possible in such a diverse and wide community). We have an editorial board to help us out when needed, and a set of trustees standing with us, and a wide range of other relationships with members of the Order whose work and practice informs what kind of content finds a home on the site.

It’s abundantly clear from our participation in these events, gatherings and meetings that societal-level concern about climate change is a strong focus within Triratna too, as one might expect. Therefore, we make sure it’s covered in our own work, and that people and institutions focussing on this area have the space and support they need to address it online. 

We are very happy to facilitate a site where harmonious disagreement can also find a place as part of the broad exemplification of community online; but we don’t have the resources to represent every point of view with equal attention, nor do we feel that would even be appropriate. This is not to say we’d never consider a piece that represents a controversial dissenting point of view about climate change or anything else, but we’re not primarily interested in controversy itself so that wouldn’t be a good enough reason to commission a story. Since this article was about activism, we’d encourage anyone who wants to make a different case from the one advanced in this interview to get involved with their local/regional/national/international Dharma contexts and see if their perspective is shared widely enough to indicate a need for more focussed attention within Triratna, and from our team when we are thinking about what content best represents our community to the world.

With metta, Candradasa (Director, The Buddhist Centre Online)

Vajrashura's picture

I think I’m done here for now, I’m afraid.

This is for a couple of reasons, the first one being that in a little over three weeks I’m off to Guhyaloka, via London, for four months to support the ordination course, and I’ve simply too much to do before I go to keep posting here, especially with the amount of content and detail coming in.

The other reason is that I too, like Akuppa, see little to convince me that any of the disagreements here have much merit. As Akuppa concisely says:

Like many such claims that I’ve looked into over the last thirty years, they evaporate on close examination. They rely on general impressions rather than clear sources, or on claims unsupported by peer-reviewed science, or on generalized unsupported denigrations of peer-reviewed science, or address arguments that don’t form part of the core case for a human role in climate change in any case.

As an example, let’s take the 97% consensus figure. One of the main sources for the 97% figure is taken from a peer-reviewed paper / letter published here and already referred to above.

Some aspects of it are challenged by Tol (who says “Clarifying these issues would further strengthen the paper, and establish it as our best estimate of the consensus” – my italics), and in other papers by him too. In any case, this is rebutted again by Cook et al here in 2016.

(By the way, Tol, quoted on his personal blog, says “There is no doubt in my mind that the literature on climate change overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that climate change is caused by humans”.)

In any case, this is no longer the main source of the consensus figure: Cook et al’s papers and several other such papers confirming the 97% consensus, for example see footnote 1 of the Nasa Scientific Consensus page.

By contrast, the webpage on populartechnology.net that Advayacitta points to above refuting the 97% figure is a blog which does not seem to point to any reputable scientific sources. The paper, as with so many of these sites, points to internal links and external PDFs which are free-standing (i.e. not on any scientific websites), or other blogs. I cannot find a single place where it is published in a peer-reviewed paper. The site also links to several far-right US media organisations, including Breibart and The Daily Caller.

So I think this reinforces the point that Akuppa and I are trying to make. And nobody has even begun to tackle the precautionary principle yet.

The main thing, for me, is that I’m simply not going to engage with theories proposed here that are not from peer-reviewed sources, be they from websites or be they proposed and developed in person by any poster here.  

In any case, the degree of expertise needed to conduct the research, analyse the results, and create models of climate change is far beyond any of the skills I’ve seen here in this forum, and I include myself in that.

To highlight what real climate science looks like, go to the Physical Science Basis of the IPCC report, and take even just one chapter, e.g. Chapter 13 on Sea Level Change, and go to the references.  You’ll see that this report draws upon the conclusions of (at a rough count by hand by me) approximately 500 peer-reviewed papers.

(Ratnaguna – in response to your earlier question about the actual scientific papers the IPCC report is based upon, you’ll find it at this link.)

Why on earth would I go with the arguments on this forum over the sheer volume of peer-reviewed papers published on the subject? The idea that people here can create coherent arguments against the climate consensus is to me a sign of some very badly misplaced confidence.

The idea of most of us here coherently analysing the data ourselves would be a bit like us brainstorming to come up with a coherent plan to build and fly a rocket to the moon. The analysis I see here would be analogous to us trying to debate the best alloys to use for the materials, the best chemical make-ups for the different fuels used in the rockets, the best materials to use for the spacesuits for moon-walks.

In other words, it’s make-believe and non-scientific, and a huge majority of ‘rocket scientists’ (i.e. trained climate scientists) involved in the peer-reviewed world (by ‘majority’, at least 97% would be my guess) would instantly dismiss it, hopefully with the good grace to not be too embarrassed for us.

And I certainly wouldn’t get in that spaceship. 

I’m sorry to be blunt, but nobody here proposing an alternative to the IPCC results seems to display anywhere near the kind of training and knowledge, in terms of hard scientific analysis and modelling, done in peer-reviewed papers that contribute to the IPCC findings. 

If it makes you feel any better, I include myself in this category too. Unless we’re prepared to do a few years in university to train up, it’s beyond us right now. And training in other non-physical sciences, such as social or psychological sciences, is not going to fill that knowledge or skill gap.

However, grasping the scientific method and the method of arriving at scientific consensus is not beyond any of us, I would argue. It simply requires a bit work and interest, and, most importantly, an open mind. However, I don’t see that happening either, and instead we’re fiddling while the world burns.

So I’m going to leave it there in terms of this debate and get on with practising and spreading the Dharma, and offering whatever support I can to the many people engaged with the many projects for easing the suffering of samsara. And I echo Akuppa in extending my congratulations to the people in Bristol and other places getting off their computers and doing something about climate change!

Vijayasri's picture

Thank you for engaging with this.

Guhyavajra's picture

Here is an interesting link to Bill Gates outlining some of the problems to do with implementation of green policy. I think it is not a question of denigrating Amrtanadi and others, or even sceptics who happen to think differently. Long live free speech and robust discussion in the order. If there is going to be an environmental improvement to humanities interface with the planet then it will by necessity need to occur from within the current cultural/political climate. 

Here Bill Gates states the difficulty. In any scientific or engineering problem first one needs to locate the problem then derive a workable solution. If the facts are wrong the solution doesn’t work. Cause and effect. In terms of environmentalism to date some things have gone quite well, others not so. In the panic over ‘the emergency’ we are talking about deconstructing our industrial economic base and making fast wholesale changes to our social structure. Beware there are monsters and dark waters beyond the protective barriers of our accumulated social structures and social customs, beyond the descriptive social process of our cultural mythology and symbolism. 


https://youtu.be/9xe3BWPsBTU

 

vidyadevi's picture

Since I was a young Buddhist, I’ve been troubled by the question of the evolution and involution of universes. Over the years I’ve diligently tried, as we all do, to accustom myself to impermanence, but I think even the contemplation of the four sights has the feeling, though it isn’t stated, of an enduring, even if changing, backdrop against which impermanence plays itself out: the impermanence of oneself, those one loves; the impermanence of things, and mental states, and even places, somehow held within something more lasting, someone to tell our story, as Hamlet asks Horatio to do, a sense of history. Much harder, though just as important, to learn to accept that no such enduring backdrop exists. Refugees know only too well the pain and terror of losing a whole lifestyle, but even they are sometimes motivated by a hope of somewhere else to go. But the whole planet could go – one day will go – and ‘leave not a rack behind’. And it won’t just go; it seems only too likely that it will go painfully, with such suffering, perhaps in the future to look like one of those bare, desolate stars by which our blue planet is surrounded. This is a special way of being afraid, to borrow a line from Larkin’s ‘Aubade’. No wonder the myth of Gaia is so appealing, the idea of ‘the earth that endures’.

I’m afraid that what we’re witnessing is the death, not even so slow, of our planet. It’s not just climate change (caused by whatever forces) but the very evident loss of biodiversity that is so troubling. It feels dreadfully wrong that it’s so evident that I can observe its effects myself, from my own kitchen window, the planet so swiftly showing the signs of its mortality after all these millions of years, and that human action is clearly so much to blame. One of the saddest lines in all poetry, I think, is Wilfred Owen’s, reflecting on the dreadful effect of war on a young soldier in his poem ‘Futility’: ‘O what made fatuous sunbeams toil to break earth’s sleep at all?’ One could weep. Well, I am weeping. No wonder I love the Vimalakirti-nirdeśa, with its vision of other, more enlightened worlds than our Saha world, which, the text warns bodhisattvas thinking of working here, is so very difficult.

So, is the wisest approach to learn to bow to the inevitable, to try to accept that it will all go, whether at the hands of humans or not, and there’s no help for it? Or – being aware of the rapacious and destructive effects of the greed, hatred and delusion of human beings – do we try to stay hopeful, keep trying to work for change in the hope that humanity can develop enough compassion and wisdom to avert catastrophe, at least as caused by us, to do our bit ‘on the side of the angels’? Or somehow both? D. H. Lawrence’s poem ‘To hold on – or to let go’ discusses this, and ends with the lines:

Must we hold on?
Or can we now let go?

Or is it even possible we must do both?

A way of putting the terrible challenge of the bodhisattva ideal, and (come to think) the context of my (shamefully half-hearted) attempt at Dharma practice these last thirty years. I can’t help thinking of that scene in the film Titanic when the people on the ‘unsinkable’ ship finally realise that it’s about to go down: some grasp at the hands of the priest, some try to work out a strategy for survival, some comfort each other, or play cheerful music, or lie still and wait for the crash of the waters. But – to change to a happier metaphor – I so appreciate, and feel grateful for, all the efforts, on so many fronts, of so many in our sangha, all of us doing our best to make effective use of whatever we hold in whichever hand of Avalokitesvara we represent, and even if we would weep, keep a steady hand.

In my case, the hand is holding an editorial pencil. In these surreal times, (I’m thinking of politics), my main effort is going into the preparation of Bhante’s complete works for publication. If I’m in a ‘futility’ mood, paying such close attention to all the myriad details of that work, however valuable I know it is, seems to me as futile as anything else, though sometimes it’s a refuge all the same. Sometimes only the sense of the present moment seems to matter, like that of the dying Dennis Potter adoring the blossoms of the spring, and I lament that my ability to pay attention to our beautiful world in that loving way is still so very rudimentary.

One thing I’m glad about is that the books of the complete works are being printed (albeit at the expense of trees), not just digitised. They represent seventy years’ worth of Bhante’s attempts to communicate the Dharma. In another seventy years I won’t be here (at least in this form), and I wonder if any humans will, because I wonder whether the earth’s environment will still support life – a shocking thought in itself. But if some people are still here, perhaps some of those books will also survive and be of some help. I find it impossible to believe in a future in which technology will solve all problems. As far as I can see, it’s much more likely that all technology will go – the material resources needed to make the machines having been used up – and any humans still around will perforce be living a much simpler and more natural life. If our age is remembered in that future, it will probably be as the Plastic Age, the detritus of which will still endure, or the Dark Age, because – digital records having disappeared or being no longer accessible – hardly anything will be known of it. But I saw in a recent exhibition at the British Library books that had lasted 1,500 years; maybe at least a few copies of the ones I’m working on will last a while too. Or maybe things will come full circle and whoever is part of the sangha in the future will find, like the early Buddhists, that their recourse to the Dharma is just what people can remember – for as long as human memory lasts, until it’s all forgotten. And then in some future age, someone will discover the ancient road to the ancient city and it will all begin again. Our situation seems to require of us a much bigger perspective, outside space and time, to assuage the misery of witnessing the fatuous toiling of sunbeams. I don’t have that perspective yet, though at least I can try to imagine it.

As I’ve been writing this effort to contribute (admittedly tangentially) to this discussion, I’ve been surprised to find the direction it’s taken and how very sad I feel. That sadness isn’t stopping me from doing what I (even if futilely) can do day to day, for the environment and for other beings as well as for my selfish self, despite all my weaknesses, but I’m often conscious of this fear, this ‘special way of being afraid’, unless I distract myself from it, which of course is easy to do. I’m also surprised at how full of poetry my mind is. I didn’t know when I started writing that the poets would come into it at all. And perhaps that’s encouraging – the way the mind retains traces of truth and beauty in whatever form appeals to it (science for some, poetry for others, or music, or friendship, or a flower … all the delights of the human story), and perhaps will, whatever happens, or will pass it on somehow to other beings, whether oneself reborn or others born in the future (no great difference between those?) Maybe we’ll even all find ourselves reborn in a world where the Dharma is taught through perfume …

parami's picture

Thank you so much Vidyadevi. I’m feeling moved by your piece. I’d like to write something too because I have been thinking along similar lines - albeit less articulately. I don’t know if I will but I deeply thank you for this 

metta, Parami 

Munisha's picture
Beautifully put. Thank you, Vidyadevi. Love Munisha
Vijayasri's picture

Hello Vidyadevi, this is beautifully expressed, and it is one reason why I am subscribing the Complete Works - the idea that there are physical books out there in the world, because who knows what may come. Thank you for your work.

Advayacitta's picture

When I posted my first piece on this topic, to request that someone provide a good argument, based upon good evidence, for anthropogenic global temperature increase, I mentioned that I had become much more sceptical about the argument for anthropogenic global warming.

What actually set me on the path to scepticism was the graph of Vostok ice core data that you can see on the first page of this site:

http://www.antarcticglaciers.org/glaciers-and-climate/ice-cores/ice-core…

What did I glean from this graph? Firstly, that up until the beginning of the industrial age, global temperature and the levels of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere were closely correlated, as can be observed quite easily by comparing the coincidence of the wavy lines on the chart representing their levels.  The interesting thing for me was that it was clear from the chart that with the industrial age CO2 and methane have increased significantly.  However, if global temperature level had still been closely correlated with them, then the global temperature now would be much higher. It isn’t.  Actually, the graph gives little indication of whether global temperature has increased or not, especially in comparison to what it has been doing over the last eleven thousand years.

That made me think about claims about anthropogenic global warming, and to start questioning them.  However, until very recently I did not pursue this.  A friend of mine became a sceptic in this area.  However, I did not particularly follow-up what he was arguing or describing. It did, however, make me wonder whether another part of academia had become systemically dysfunctional.

In this regard I was reminded of a statement by the economist Paul Krugman, about the field of economics:

“It’s hard to believe now, but not long ago economists were congratulating themselves over the success of their field. Those successes — or so they believed — were both theoretical and practical, leading to a golden era for the profession… Last year, everything came apart. Few economists saw our current crisis coming, but this predictive failure was the least of the field’s problems. More important was the profession’s blindness to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy. During the golden years, financial economists came to believe that markets were inherently stable — indeed, that stocks and other assets were always priced just right. There was nothing in the prevailing models suggesting the possibility of the kind of collapse that happened last year.”

(New York Times; Sept 2nd, 2009)

Economics was a field in which a strong consensus had built up, about how the economy works, which was simply wrong.  I see this as being due to two factors – firstly, economics was using ideas and mathematics that were highly inappropriate for understanding a very complex interactive system; secondly, there was an ideology associated with this, which one could characterize as ‘capitalism good’. 

With regard to climate, I am struck by the ‘consensus’ that is trumpeted by those proposing anthropogenic (and catastrophic) global warming.  I am also struck by their focus upon one factor in their explanation of the behavior of a highly complex system.  As with the economists, there has been a dominant ‘consensus’ amongst climatologists about the behavior of a highly complex system.  Also, like the economists, there has been a dominant ideology influencing them, only this time it is an ideology which one could characterize as ‘capitalism bad’. In contrast to the economists, of ‘capitalism good’ persuasion, who forecast stability, the climate consensus, of ‘capitalism bad’ persuasion, has forecast what one could call climate Armageddon.

In very recently exploring on-line, to some extent, about the climate consensus, and those sceptical of it, it became clear that there is a pattern with which the consensual dismiss those that disagree with them. This pattern includes the following features:

1. emphasise the consensus
2. avoid debate of key issues, or use selective evidence in debate
3. use ad hominem arguments against those that disagree, impugning such things as their morality, scientific credentials, political views and financial motivation. (At times this becomes very unpleasant.)

Now, in my first post, I requested that someone provide a good argument for anthropogenic climate change, taking into account the history of climate.  So far, no-one has done this.

Perhaps the reason no-one has actually done what I requested, is that it cannot be done, because climate is so complex, and climate scientists still do not understand it enough. I will quote from a climate scientist, referring to all the factors that can influence climate:

“the bottom line is, we don’t yet have a unified theory of climate variability and change, that integrates all this in a predictive sense…”

That quote comes from a debate which you can follow here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVXHaSqpsVg&feature=youtu.be

The debate has Michael Mann and David Titley as the climate alarmists, and Judith Curry and Patrick Moore as the sceptics.

Interestingly, both Curry and Moore have been on the receiving end of denigration and vilification.

Now economics and climatology are not the only academic fields about which I have serious concerns. You could add management theory and business schools, and much of social sciences and the arts.  I am also reminded more and more of parallels with the past.  For example, in the nineteenth century there was the rise of the pseudo-scientific ‘social Darwinism’, with its preoccupation with natural selection and ‘survival of the fittest’:

“We know now that in natural selection at the stage of development where the existence of civilised mankind is at stake, the units selected from are not individuals, but societies…  The French nation was beaten in the last war, not because the average German was an inch and a half taller than the average Frenchman, or because he had read five more books, but because the German social organism was, for the purposes of the time, superior in efficiency to the French.”

That is from the Fabian Essays by Sidney Webb. (The Fabian Society became important members of the Labour Party.) Such thinking magnified racial preoccupations, with fears about the survival of one’s ethnic group. Such anxieties underpinned much of politics, leading to increased racism, the practice of eugenics, enhanced militant nationalism, and ethnic strife.

Ideologically influenced pseudo-science can be harmful and, at times, very harmful.

Guhyavajra's picture

Interesting Advayacitta,

Here are another couple of links to do with ice cores, not that I’m presenting it as bible; but rather as interest. Dr Judith Curry in one of her interviews pointed to something that Sacacitta was talking about which is to do with scientific research funding, in that she thought the research needed more funding for research into the natural causes of global warming by way of re balance.

http://www.sciencebits.com/IceCoreTruth

https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/12/03/is-antarcticas-climate-change-nat…

Ivor Giaever is pretty good also, direct, comprehensible and accessible. Even for people who vehemently reject his thesis, his presentation is nonetheless an excellent example of how to present complex material in a comprehensible manner. 

https://youtu.be/Dk60CUkf3Kw

Shantiketu's picture

Advayacitta requested ‘a  good argument, based upon good evidence, for anthropogenic global temperature increase.’

The summary for policy makers distilled from the fifth IPCC report (AR5, finalised 2014) states

“It is extremely likely (ie with a  confidence level of 95-100%) that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since 1950, with the level of confidence having increased since the fourth report.”

This conclusion is based on a rigorous process, citing 9200 scientific publications and fully documented in the report, of examining and assessing all the relevant available evidence. Can Advayacitta or others who doubt the reality of human influence on the earth’s climate suggest a better methodology for discovering the truth of this matter?

Guhyavajra's picture
See what happens 😊 Nothing gets lost in life. Personally I’m very optimistic.
Guhyavajra's picture
Besides it is not doubting the influence of humans on the environment, it is the extent of the influence that is under debate, and specifically the influence of CO2 in relation to natural causes etc. …maybe people should relax a bit…no one gets out of life alive anyway.
ratnaguna's picture

Hi Shantiketu,

Would you be able to tell us how all those scientific publications have come to the conclusion that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed human warming since 1950? i.e, what is the evidence that it’s extremely likely? I’m not expecting you to have read all those reports of course(!), but does the report summarise the evidence?

You see, what you have quoted is merely an assertion, not evidence.

ratnaguna's picture

P.S. To be more precise in my question - if you look at this graph:  https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/service/global/global-land-ocean-mntp-ano…

you can see that the current warming period started at around 1970. You can also see that there was a similar warming period between 1910 and 1940. The question is, why do scientists think that the warming of the last 50 years has a different cause than the warming that occurred in that earlier period?  

Shantiketu's picture

Hi Ratnaguna.


If you’re interested in seeing the detailed evidence for the IPCC’s conclusion that human activities are having an effect on climate, I suggest you start by following the link to the physical science basis of their report that  Vajrashura pointed you towards a couple of days ago.

Advayacitta's picture

I have looked at relevant sections of that report, and they do not contain adequate arguments.

Shantiketu's picture

That’s interesting Advayacitta. The report of IPCC AR5 Working Group 1 alone, published by Cambridge University Press as Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, runs to over 2000 pages. Can you specify any sections of that report you think are flawed and offer reliable evidence that clearly shows that they are? 

Advayacitta's picture

I was referring to the specific report that Vajrashura gave us a link for, which is not the one to which you are now referring.   Instead of telling me to plough through thousands of pages of a report, kindly do what I initially requested - which is to give a reasoned argument, backed by evidence.  Trying to discuss the issue of anthropogenic climate change is coming to increasingly resemble asking a Christian to give a reasoned argument for the existence of god, and they always reply by telling you to read the Bible. Please give here, a reasoned argument, based upon evidence..

Shantiketu's picture

Hi Advayacitta.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports lay out the evidence-based arguments you have requested far more thoroughly than I possibly could. Vajrashura gave a link to the most recent report (the one I mentioned in my previous post) on the scientific basis for the panel’s conclusions. As it presents reasoned deductions based on verifiable data, it’s a rather different work from the Bible.

You say you’ve read the ‘relevant sections’ of the report and state that they do not contain adequate arguments. Can you be specific as to which sections have led you to make this assertion?

As far as I’m aware, the finding that the climate has warmed in recent decades and that human activities are producing global climate change has been endorsed by every national science academy that has issued a statement on climate change. I’d be interested in learning about any reliable and evidence-based source that supports a contrary view.

Advayacitta's picture

The AR5 ‘synthesis report’ and sections such as 8 and 12 from ‘The Physical Science Basis’.

Where to begin?  The report as a whole is so large that reading it is like being bludgeoned into submission. The phrase ‘blinded with science’ also comes to mind. In reading sections of it, including the ‘summary’ section, I have gained the impression that an adequate argument, based upon appropriate consideration of all the important issues, is not being advanced.  This is despite, or even, in part, because of, the sheer amount of material. An analogy came to mind in pondering this – that the report appears not to be written by a person but by a rather imperfect artificial intelligence programme, one that repeats certain ways of discussing data and its analysis, and which repeats certain ways of expressing the likelihood of something being true. What that AI programme has not been programmed to do, is the more intelligent task of ‘distinguishing the wood from the trees’. (Of course, the report is not written by AI, nor by a person, but by a multitude of people.)

In pondering this I also asked myself the question ‘in my own field of experience, regarding expert witness work in psychology, what would be an analogous report?’  A particular case came to mind.  This involved a patient of mine who had suffered a head injury, having been knocked over by a bus. They were involved in litigation against the bus company.  (They had been referred to the mental health team in which I worked, mainly for help with anxiety and depression.) Their solicitor had engaged a neuropsychologist to assess their psychological state, especially their cognitive problems. The patient was assessed, the neuropsychologist did their report, and the expert opinion given in the report puzzled the patient’s solicitor, who asked me what I thought. That neuropsychologist’s opinion had been that the patient was malingering.  This opinion was based upon the set of very low scores on all the various psychometric tests administered during assessment, that could not have been the consequences of the particular head injury.  All the psychometric tests were appropriate and respected tests. To a layperson, the report would have read as an authoritative expert opinion.

In reading the report I realised that something had been left out.  Indeed, I also became concerned about how the assessment had been undertaken, and how that had actually increased the importance of the issue which had not been discussed in the report at all. When I next saw my patient, I asked her what had happened.  She described being taken by her husband on a two hour car journey to where the neuropsychologist was based. There, she had undergone hours of psychometric assessments, administered not by the neuropsychologist but by an assistant. She had then had an interview with the neuropsychologist.

As I expected, she described to me how she became increasingly fatigued that day.  Fatigue was the important issue undiscussed in the report. I knew, as her clinician, that she suffered a serious issue of fatigue, which could set in after only a little time of her doing something, and which then impaired her psychological functioning.  The neuropsychologist had not only not considered this issue, but they had also done their assessment in a way that I never would – getting the patient to make a long journey and then subject them to hours of psychometric assessment followed by an interview.  This would have brought on serious fatigue, impairing her mental state and cognitive functioning, and resulting in low test scores. (Another thing that I would not have done was have an assistant do the psychometric testing.)

Yet the report, to an outsider, would have seemed authoritative.  Rather like the IPCC report.

However, whist I was pondering this analogy, and beginning to consider more about what the IPCC report does not adequately discuss, I was sent a link of an interview, which I include here. It is an interview of an investigative journalist, Donna Laframboise, and her investigation of the functioning of the IPCC and how its reports are written: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5weFQYBL5w&feature=youtu.be

What it reveals gives me grave doubts about the validity and reliability of the IPCC and its reports.  I can no longer take them seriously.

Moreover, the more I read, the more is reinforced my previous observation that there is a pattern in which proponents of anthropogenic global warming respond to disagreement:

1. emphasise the consensus
2. avoid debate of key issues, or use selective evidence in debate
3. use ad hominem arguments against those that disagree, impugning such things as their morality, scientific credentials, political views and financial motivation. (At times this becomes very unpleasant.)

Laframboise has written a book about the IPCC.  See: ‘The Delinquent Teenager’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Delinquent-Teenager-Mistaken-Worlds-Climate-ebo…

Shantiketu's picture

Hello again Advayacitta.

I agree that the IPCC reports are not an easy read. I’ll check out the link you’ve given to the Donna Laframboise interview.

I asked a young post-doc researcher at a marine biology station I happened to visit this morning if he believed that  human activities contributed to ocean warming. Without hesitation, he replied ‘It’s not a belief - it’s a fact’. I imagine you’d say he’s simply going along with the current scientific consensus - which, to be fair, I gathered one of his ecology lecturers had encouraged him to question.

Of course, natural events such as unprecedented solar storms or a major volcanic eruption (or human activities such as deliberate or accidental nuclear explosions) may make the current climate models irrelevant.

As I suspect we could go on discussing this matter at length and are unlikely to come to an agreement (I almost said consensus) on whether or not human activities have a substantial effect on the earth’s climate, may I suggest we leave it there?

Advayacitta's picture

Hi Shantiketu

I think that it is best that ‘we leave it there’. However, I am disappointed that no-one has actually done what I requested.  If someone had come up with a good argument, based upon good evidence, addressing the issues I raised, then that may well have persuaded me to change my position back to what it used to be. 

Shantiketu's picture

Since, Advayacitta, it’s highly unlikely that any contributor to this thread has the years of training and practice in the relevant disciplines to offer you from first hand knowledge and research the argument and evidence you’re asking for, I fear you may be doomed to remaining disappointed. And I don’t suppose you’ll accept the opinion of the (2014) Presidents of the (British) Royal Society and the (US) National Academy for Sciences. In a foreword to a paper entitled ‘Climate Change: evidence & causes’ they write

It is now more certain than ever,  based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate.

You can, if you wish, read the paper (a much more easily digestible piece than the IPCC reports) that gives an informed summary of the evidence and argument for that statement at https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-change-evidence-causes/

Whatever effect releasing quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere may have on the climate, it is (I hope!) beyond dispute that, at the current rate of consumption, we’ll soon have used up all the so-called ‘reserves’ of fossil fuels. So even if the vast majority of the scientific community has got it completely wrong about the extent of human influence on the earth’s climate, I hope we can agree that it makes sense to look for peaceful ways to prepare for a future in a world without coal, oil or gas.

Advayacitta's picture

Hi Shantiketu

Here is an interesting (and worrying) article by a climate activist, on the major financial and environmental costs of ‘renewables’:

https://quillette.com/2019/02/27/why-renewables-cant-save-the-planet/

Shantiketu's picture

As Michael Shellenberger points out, all the proposed solutions to the energy problem come at a cost. His would impact most in areas such as those lived in by the indigenous population of Australia, who deserve to receive adequate compensation for helping to save the rest of us.

Advayacitta's picture

With regard to the question of ‘consensus’ in science, here are some thoughts by the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin that relate to this question:

“Science is a kind of open laboratory for a democracy. It’s a way to experiment with the ideals of our democratic societies. For example, in science you must accept the fact that you live in a community that makes the ultimate judgment as to the worth of your work. But at the same time, everybody’s judgment is his or her own. The ethics of the community require that you argue for what you believe and that you try as hard as you can to get results to test your hunches, but you have to be honest in reporting the results, whatever they are. You have the freedom and independence to do whatever you want, as long as in the end you accept the judgment of the community. Good science comes from the collision of contradictory ideas, from conflict, from people trying to do better than their teachers did, and I think here we have a model for what a democratic society is about. There’s a great strength in our democratic way of life, and science is at the root of it.”

“I also learned from the philosopher Paul Feyerabend the importance of conflict and pluralism in science. I read him in graduate school and I felt immediately that, unlike other philosophers I had been reading, he really understood what we scientists actually do. He pointed out that science often develops out of the tension that arises when competing research programs collide. He advised that in such situations one should always work on the weakest part of each of the competing programs. He also emphasized that pluralism in science is good, not bad. According to him, and I agree, science moves fastest when there are several healthy competing approaches to a problem, and stagnates when there is only one approach. I think this is true on every level—in the scientific community as a whole, in a research center or group, and even in each one of us.”

These are extracts from a longer piece at:

https://www.edge.org/conversation/lee_smolin-loop-quantum-gravity-lee-sm…

Holly PJ's picture

Thanks for posting this article- I feel very moved. xx

aranyaka's picture

Hi Everyone,

I’ve just been catching up on this long thread after a few weeks away and while wading my way through it I couldn’t help but be reminded of ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ (‘PMQs’) from the UK parliament. 

For those unfamiliar with ‘PMQs’, this is a weekly ritual in the UK Houses of Parliament in Westminster in which whatever facts,figures and statistics the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ throws at the Prime Minister they are met with an equal number of facts, figures and statistics proving exactly the opposite…. and vice versa. After about an hour of this everyone shuffles off to get on with other things with nothing having changed.

A similar kind of process seems to have beem underway in the course of this current discussion with no matter how often “a well-argued case for anthropogenic temperature rise, based on good evidence’ is requested; nor how often attempts are made to present such evidence, any progress being made in the discussion. Various creative refutations of whatever is being presented being offered by all parties.

This suggests to me that what we are really faced with here are examples of ‘Bias Confirmation’ and ‘Belief Persistance’ in action. At which point the interesting question ceases to be the content of the discussion itself or any expectation that the discussion will lead to any kind of resolution. Rather what becomes interesting to me are the underlying views that are at play powering a ‘Cognitive Dissonance Reduction’

As such although it is not often that I agree with Ratnaguna on these pages(!) I must confess that I am with him of the importance of the following when he questions and writes 

has anything I’ve said or written to those who believe in AGW made any difference? Have I managed to change their minds? Not that I’ve noticed. Have I made them think? Have I caused them to question their assumptions?….one thing the knowledgeable and the not-so-knowledgeable have in common is that they seem to be closed to different points of view. They’ve come to a conclusion and that’s it….Will you please stop dismissing us, and listen….You don’t gain anything by ignoring us and you stand to gain a lot by listening, even if that gain is simply that you look more closely at the evidence, question your assumptions

And what are these underlying base assumptions that may be playing out in this discussion? Of course I don’t know…and no doubt any speculations that I might come up with could, and probably will be, refuted!… 

But I think it is worth at least exploring and, as Ratnaguna suggests, questioning our assumptions - On Both Sides!

So here are some suggestions from me.. Maybe on the part of the Climate Change proponents there is some kind of underlying World Denying Neo-Romanticism, as alluded to by Saccacitta, at play…. or even an Armeggedon Myth playing out?….

…and as for the skeptics…. perhaps a clue to the main real underlying concern and even fear is to be found in Advayacitta, Guhyavajra and Achara’s comments about the danger of the broken and corrupt mainstream narrative and dysfunctional political culture ideologically harmfully influencing the dominant religious/philosophical/political viewpoints of our time to the detriment of the superior view of a spiritual community.

Much Metta, Aranyaka xx


 

Shantiketu's picture

Hi Aranyaka.

Your reference to PMQ’s is apt, given the ideological and economic assumptions that are mixed in with the science of climate change. I don’t see myself in any of the typologies you’ve outlined and I’m not sure how useful it would be to explore this here in the way you suggest.

Ratnaguna, in the piece you’ve quoted, makes some valid points. Equally, I wonder if anything I’ve said or written to those who don’t believe in AGW has made any difference.

Ratnaguna’s points and Advayacitta’s requests have led me to look more closely at the arguments both for and against AGW.

As other readers’ wading boots may not be as sturdy as yours, for now at least I think my part in this discussion has gone on long enough.

Narapa's picture

I’ve found it an intriguing exercise to read the various responses here and wonder if in a desire to challenge, justify and validate the different arguments it may better to accept that yes our climate does and indeed has changed due to a variety of factors over millenia and yes some activities of man do and have impacted over time and we have some influence over some of these e.g. the banning of CFCs and subsequent effects on the atmosphere. I would though rather see a reframing of the argument away from climate change and to global change. My case being that there are major influences we have that are affecting our own and the ability of other species to cope. For example man produces plastic which is now visibly affecting our seas and water courses. People drive cars which regardless of their impact on air quality and climate are blocking our roads. Too many people eat too much meat, impacting on habitat, transport, methane and waste. Too much food is wasted even while people starve. Even the purchase of flowers means some communities in Africa no longer have access to traditional areas for food growth and water. All this without including issues of war, migration and other impacts. I’d also question the concept of problems caused by natural disasters. To me there are no natural disasters there are natural events which become a disaster due to their impact on man, e.g. flooding isn’t a disaster unless you choose to build on a flood plain. A tidal wave, avalanche, earthquake, are all natural occurrences which become disasters because we build resorts, villages, towns where they are likely. Population growth is a major issue that will certainly affect my children, not only because people need to be fed and where will the food be grown? If all these people desire the same as we have (and that is what they are taught to expect) then where will extra resources come from on this finite planet? So please reframe then maybe we can see we do have a responsibility to act for the benefit of all beings.

parami's picture

Thank you Narapa. I was moved by this

saradarshini's picture

Great, thank you, I look forward to listening to the talks. Love Saradarshini

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