Practicing Appreciation

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In terms of the scientific and moral reality, yesterday’s climate agreement in Paris was a failure of the worst kind because it looks like success. Most significantly, it sets the goal too low, lacks accountability mechanisms, and doesn’t do nearly enough to support those who are least responsible but will take the brunt of climate change.

In terms of the political reality, it was an resounding success, mostly because for the first time ever and against enormous political pressure, country leaders acknowledged that scientific and moral reality and took some meaningful steps to address it.

Immediately after gavel that signaled the adoption of the historic agreement, the first speaker to be recognized by the assembly was South African environment minister, Edna Molewa. Molewa’s comments were spot on, recognizing the authentic commitment and tireless work of her UN colleagues as well as making clear all that was lacking. She concluded by quoting Mr. Nelson Mandela, which perfectly marked this moment for me:

I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.— Nelson Mandela

Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of South Africa
Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of South Africa

I have taken some time today to contemplate the enumerable wise efforts of people the world over. For the past 30 years or more, countless individuals have been researching, naming, strategizing and advocating around the reality that the Earth has limits and we are exceeding them. This is uncomfortable work and made the vast majority of them neither popular nor wealthy. And in the past few years, millions citizens across so many lines of difference have come together in the name of protecting our one and only home. From my perspective, yesterday was a moment of culmination of all those efforts because while it is substantially lacking, it does mark a breakthough on this issue. We have not only an outcome to appreciate but a deeper understanding of interdependence and meaningful relationships to carry us forward.

Sometimes those of us engaged in the work of social change have a difficult time celebrating progress. Perhaps we carry a subtle fear that relaxing will communicate, to others and to our own hearts, that the work is completed. We fear a relapse into complacency. Indeed, we can expect that there will be some relaxing of urgency to address all that is lacking in this agreement. Moreover, the fundamental sources of confusion about our deep interdependence with the earth and all her beings need our vigilant practice and advocacy.

But for me, there is much to appreciate here in the expressed devotion of so many hearts and minds. As Guhyapati from the EcoDharma Centre has clarified, true equanimity isn’t the starting point in the four divine abodes. We come to equanimity only through the practices of loving kindness, compassion and joy. So this may be a moment for practicing joy, even as so much is unresolved. For it always will be so.

Kristin Barker

Kristin Barker

Kristin is co-founder and director of One Earth Sangha whose mission is to cultivate a Buddhist response to ecological crises. She is a graduate of Spirit Rock's Community Dharma Leader program and now teaches with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (DC). As a co-founder of White Awake, Kristin has been supporting white people since 2011 with a Dharma approach to uprooting racism in ourselves and in our world. With a background in technology and environmental management, she has worked at several international environmental organizations. She is a GreenFaith Fellow and serves on the advisory boards of Project Inside Out and the Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue on Climate Change. Kristin was born and raised in northern New Mexico and currently lives in Washington DC, traditional lands of the Piscataway peoples.
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