Dharma Teachers Collaborative Statement About Climate Disruption

The Problem

Today we face an unprecedented crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude. Escalating climate change is altering our global environment so drastically as to force the Earth into a new geological age. If we continue on this trajectory without making fundamental changes, in mere decades we are almost certain to trigger planetary disasters. Ultimately, we may undermine the pillars of human civilization.

When we openly accept the fact that we are jeopardizing the Earth’s life support systems, we may experience a profound shock. Our own reaction unites us with family, friends, and many others who may share our distress. The need to negotiate these feelings, within ourselves as well as with others, is an increasingly common experience. It is because of the enormity of this crisis that we must draw together to find the most skillful ways to respond, both privately and in the larger sphere of social and political discourse.

Origin of the Problem

Climate scientists are nearly unanimous, with 95% or greater certainty, that climate disruption is the direct result of human activity. As we burn fossil fuels, clear forests, and rely on industrial systems of agriculture for our food, we spew ever more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping heat and warming the planet. As global temperature rise, many fertile regions will lose their fecundity. Food and water scarcities will spread, resource wars will become commonplace, and states may collapse. Subtle feedback loops, as yet unknown, may accelerate this process faster than we expect.

But climate change is more than a mere byproduct of unbridled economic activity. From a deeper perspective it can be seen as a collective manifestation of ignorance, craving, and delusion, as the outcome of flawed assumptions that operate both at systemic and personal levels. Our market economy revolves around the twin goals of profit making and consumption, even at the expense of a stable planet. The fossil fuel corporations try to convince us we can continue to burn oil, gas, and coal forever, without damaging the natural systems that life depends on.  The media sustain this illusion with distortion and disinformation. We ourselves buy the lies with our complacency, believing we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, without having to face the consequences. Climate disruption clearly shows just how delusional those beliefs are.

Looking for a Solution

The perilous course on which we have embarked should demonstrate to us the need to envision new directions for our collective future. We must recognize the finite sustaining capacity of the Earth and the fragility of the web of life in which our own lives are enmeshed. We must replace our obsession with exponential growth and profit at any cost with a future of sustainable development: a world powered by clean energy, where poverty is eradicated, where population growth has been stabilized, and where natural systems— oceans, forests, soil, etc.—have been restored.

We must acknowledge, too, our moral responsibility to all people across the planet and to generations yet to come. By widening our focus to encompass the happiness and wellbeing of all and the preservation of the natural environment, we can minimize the suffering we are creating for the Earth and her species, other people, and ourselves. We also have a special responsibility to the most vulnerable and marginalized among us, who have contributed least to climate disruption but will suffer the most, at least initially.

A Path Toward The Solution

We already have the know-how, skills, and tools needed to reduce carbon emissions to manageable levels and eventually re-stabilize the Earth’s climate and natural systems. But action and not merely belief is necessary. Recognizing the impending crisis we are facing should move us to take personal responsibility for helping forge a solution.

The kind of action required is threefold: personal, communal, and systemic.

  • First, we must each live with greater mindfulness and moral integrity, which entails curbing our desires for material acquisitions, being frugal in our consumption of resources, and paying more attention to our use of energy.
  • Second, we must engage our friends, neighbors, and communities in honest and peaceful dialogue, to ensure they understand the gravity of our situation and are willing to join us in action.
  • And third, we must be ready to act at the systemic level, by seeking more sustainable alternatives to the deep structures—social, political, and economic—responsible for  climate change.

Each of these modes of engagement is critical. Individual effort enables us to contribute directly to protecting the planet, to live up to our personal ideals and serve as a model for others. Initiating conversations with friends and communities mobilizes people to engage in local action, the seed from which wider transformations can ripple out. And systemic change is needed to actually and effectively reduce carbon emissions.

Some types of systemic change will be technological: rapidly replacing our reliance on dirty fossil fuels with clean, renewable sources of energy; shifting from industrial-scale agriculture to small-scale ecologically sustainable agriculture. Some changes will be ideological: replacing a scheme of values that exalts private profit, competition, material consumption, and individualism, with a scheme that extols human relationships, cooperation, and spiritual self-cultivation. And some changes will be structural. Above all we must replace profligate political, social, and economic systems with new paradigms more conducive to human flourishing and to harmony between humanity and the earth.

These new paradigms and systems should acknowledge that humans are part of the earth, which is not just our home, but our mother. We can no longer pursue luxury and convenience at the cost of the biosphere. We must develop ways of living together that cherish the other living beings that, together with us, compose the earth’s ecosystems. In this we should not be afraid to engage politically, thinking we will thereby be “tainting” our spiritual practice. If change is going to occur at all, we have to stand up against the powerful vested interests that infiltrate the halls of power; we have to put pressure on our elected representatives to follow the call of moral integrity and the trail of science, not the call of the fossil fuel corporations and the trail of dogma.

As we each awaken to our responsibility to preserve the planet, we may feel awed by the immensity of the challenge. We should take heart, however, and know that on numerous past occasions people committed to human decency have, by concerted effort, overcome even the most entrenched systems of oppression. Never before has the need for concerted effort been so urgent as it is today. To engage skillfully, it is imperative that we join hearts and hands to support each other and all those seeking more sustainable models of human life. We’re facing what might well be the biggest wake up call in all human history and thus we must bring all our resources of creativity and compassion, of love and intelligence, to bear on our response.

At this moment of great crisis the Earth herself—along with her myriad innocent species—calls each of us to be her protectors. To effectively respond to this call to action, we already have the guidance we need in the principles laid down in the Buddha’s teachings. What we need is clear minded courage: courage to recognize the truth of our situation, courage to speak up and convey the truth to others, and courage to promote changes in the larger structures that govern our lives. When we come together to celebrate our love for the natural world and the beings that inhabit it, when we speak the truth about climate change, when we take a stand to counter the forces that threaten our climate, we reclaim our own inner stability and strength and live closer to the truth, closer to the Dharma. We must seize the opportunity before us, for our own sakes, for countless others across the globe, and for future generations, putting our differences behind us and working in harmony to create a sustainable future. Together, we can ensure our descendants and fellow species will inherit a viable planet. Individually and collectively, we will be honoring the great legacy left by the Buddha and fulfilling our heart’s deepest wish to serve and protect all life.