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Dec 05
Dharma Teachings, Featured Stories
Universal Responsibility and the Climate Emergency

His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo from media.photobucket.com. By His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who was the first to sign the Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change

It is difficult to fully comprehend great environmental changes like global warming. We know that carbon dioxide levels are rising dangerously in the atmosphere leading to unprecedented increases in the average temperature of the planet. The Earth’s great stores of ice—the Arctic, the Antarctic, and the Tibetan plateau—have begun to melt. Devastating sea level rises and severe water shortages could result this century. Human activity everywhere is hastening to destroy key elements of the natural ecosystems all living beings depend on. These threatening developments are drastic and shocking. It is hard to imagine all this actually happening in our lifetime, and in the lives of our children. We must deal with the prospect of global suffering and environmental degradation unlike anything in human history.

If we can begin to act with genuine compassion for all, we still have a window of opportunity to protect each other and our natural environment. This will be far easier than having to adapt to the severe and unimaginable environmental conditions projected for a “hothouse” climate. On close examination, the human mind, the human heart, and the human environment are inseparably linked together. We must recognize we have brought about a climate emergency in order to generate the understanding and higher purpose we need now. On this basis we can create a viable future—sustainable, lasting, peaceful co-existence.

Ignorance of interdependence has harmed not only the natural environment, but human society as well. We have misplaced much of our energy in self-centered material consumption, neglecting to foster the most basic human needs of love, kindness, and cooperation. This is very sad. We have to consider what we human beings really are. We are not machine-made objects. It is a mistake to seek fulfillment solely in external “development.”

Unofficial Earth Day flag, by John McConnell.

Unofficial Earth Day flag, by John McConnell.

This blue planet of ours is a delightful habitat. Its life is our life; its future is our future. The Earth, indeed, acts like a mother to us all. Like children, we are dependent on her. In the face of such global problems as the climate emergency, individual organizations and single nations are helpless. Unless we all work together, no solution can be found. Our Mother Earth is now teaching us a critical evolutionary lesson—a lesson in universal responsibility. On it depends the survival of millions of species, even our own.

The destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed, and lack of respect for the Earth’s living things. Future human generations will inherit a vastly degraded planet if destruction of the natural environment continues at the present rate. Our ancestors viewed the Earth as rich and bountiful. They saw nature as inexhaustible. Now we know this is the case only if we care for it. It has become an urgent necessity to ethically reexamine what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations. We ourselves are the pivotal human generation.

Since the industrial revolution, the size of our population and power of our technology have grown to the point where they have a decisive impact on nature. To put it another way, until the latter half of the twentieth century, Mother Earth was able to tolerate our sloppy house habits. However, our environmental recklessness has brought the planet to a stage where she can no longer accept our behavior in silence. The sheer size and frequency of environmental disasters—Atlantic hurricanes, wildfires, desertification, retreat of glaciers and Arctic sea ice—these can be seen as her response to our irresponsible behavior.

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the forests and oceans which sustain millions of different life forms, and the climate that governs our weather systems all transcend national boundaries. It is a sobering thought that every breath we now take contains more carbon dioxide than at any time for the past 650,000 years—long before the advent of the modern human species. No country, no matter how rich and powerful or how poor and weak, can afford to ignore global warming. It is time for the industrially developed nations to take rapid action to greatly reduce energy waste and to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and ocean power. Let us adopt a lifestyle that emphasizes contentment, because the cost to the planet and humanity of ever-increasing “standards of living” is simply too great.

Sometimes we entertain an incorrect belief that human beings can “control” nature with the help of technology. The emergency that climate change represents now proves otherwise: we must restore the balance of nature. If we ignore this, we may soon find that all living things on this planet—including human beings— are doomed.

We are part of nature. Ultimately nature will always be more powerful than us, despite all our knowledge, technology, and super-weapons. If the Earth’s average temperature increases by two to three degrees centigrade more than the pre-industrial level, we will trigger a hostile climate breakdown. Morally, as beings of higher intelligence, we must care for this world. Its other inhabitants—members of the animal and plant kingdoms—do not have the means to save or protect it. It is our responsibility to undo the serious environmental degradation caused by thoughtless and inappropriate human behavior. We have polluted the world with toxic chemical and nuclear waste, and selfishly consumed many of its resources. Now we stand at the precipice of destroying the very climate that gave rise to human civilization.

Eminent scientists have said that global warming is as dangerous for our future as nuclear war. We have entered the uncharted territory of a global emergency, where “business as usual” cannot continue. We must take the initiative to repair and protect this world, ensuring a safe-climate future for all people and all species.


( c ) John Stanley,David R. Loy, Gyurme Dorje, 2009. Reprinted from A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency, with permission from Wisdom Publications, 199 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144 USA. Wisdompubs.org

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