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Buddhistdoor View: Irreversible Climate Change—One Decade Left


It is no exaggeration to say that unless dramatic steps are taken at a global level to address climate change in the next 10 years or so, the current generation will leave behind a planetary ecosphere that is unhealthy and even uninhabitable for future generations. Coastal regions, from island nations to continental shorelines, will be submerged. Ocean temperatures will wipe out a significant portion of sea life. Not only will starvation and resource conflict be prevalent, but also large tracts of places like the Middle East may become unfit for human settlements, which will likely trigger immense migration patterns and exacerbate an already volatile political landscape. Global upheaval is not some dystopian science fiction novel: it is bubbling away and will erupt within 10 or so years should things continue the way they are.

A recent special report approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Incheon, South Korea, warned that “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” must be undertaken to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Zhai Panmao, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I. Co-chair Valerie Masson-Delmotte, noted: “Some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC are already underway around the world,” but these measures still need dramatic acceleration. (IPCC)

There is no one single force to blame, as the roots of climate change are manifold and interconnected. When we survey countries around the world, the picture is mixed. China’s coal output has remained the highest in the world despite real efforts in sustainable energy, while Australia remains the world’s largest coal exporter. Li Ning, nuclear scientist and dean of the College of Energy at Xiamen University, observed: “With renewables ramping up so quickly, it has given the illusion of decarbonisation, but China is falling into the same trap that Germany has fallen into—deploying lots of renewables that have to be backed up with lots of coal-fired power plants.” (CNBC)


Meanwhile, in a report published on 23 October, the European Court of Auditors reported that the EU’s US$486 million spent over the past decade on carbon-capture technology (technology aimed at capturing waste carbon dioxide from sources such as fossil fuel power plants and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere) have been largely unsuccessful, with “the hurdles in commercializing a nascent climate technology being blamed for the difficulties.” (Quartz)

The Arctic ice cap continues to melt; yet some frame this dire situation as a new economic opportunity for shortened sea-lanes between the shrinking icebergs. This is not just an inappropriate response, but would seem to reflect some kind of “magic thinking” on the part of a culture of craving (tanha) that has shut away reality and hurtles toward not only dukkha (suffering) but destruction. The refusal to face hard truths head-on has always been a dangerous accomplice to a vested interest in keeping short-term profit over long-term sustainability.

Most of these difficulties have deep-rooted causes that could even be said to date back to the Industrial Revolution, but many of today’s crises have been exacerbated by human greed and expediency, such as the immense fossil fuel lobby in the US or the relentless logging industry in Southeast Asia. They require political will and courage to address. One might wonder why climate change denialism remains so embedded in the political, social, and cultural fabric of certain countries. Unfortunately, vested interests argue in bad faith, with little concern for the consequences of false speech and a lack of concern for the idea of zhengming: majority consensus on what is epistemically reliable and therefore can be acted upon.

Even a cursory examination of the Three Poisons reveals what these vested interests really think. The motive force is not based on good faith, nor on an assessment of scientific knowledge. It is a threefold alliance between the forces of greed (raga), delusion (moha), and aversion (dvesha). Polluting industries seek freedom from regulation or responsibility to maximize their profits (greed). Their courtiers in the media and politics promote bizarre conspiracy theories about climate change being a hoax created by scientists to obtain study grants (delusion). They also seek to absolve human beings of any responsibility for the rise in global temperatures and extreme changes in weather patterns (aversion).


Perhaps the most sober warning on humanity’s fate if things go as they are projected to run is from Adam Frank, astrophysics professor at The University of Rochester: “The idea that we’re destroying the planet gives us way too much credit. Certainly, we’re pushing the Earth into a new era. If we look at the history of the biosphere, the history of life on earth, in the long run, the Earth is just going to pick that up and do what is interesting for it. It will run new evolutionary experiments. We, on the other hand, may not be a part of that experiment.” (Truthdig)

In other words, we have, from an evolutionary perspective, very little time to prove our worthiness in Mother Nature’s eyes. Otherwise, it will be our own folly that casts us aside. The Earth will continue spinning, and the Sun will keep on shining without us. Technically, we do not have much to fear for planet Earth. It is, in some sense, for a self-interested reason that we join the chorus for all people to shift their habits and to support forces in the public and private sectors that seek to change our trajectory for the better.

It is our faith that homo sapiens deserves better than to end up as a footnote in nature’s grand book of life. We not only deserve better, but as latent Buddhas with all the potential in the cosmos—every single one of us—are capable of better and owe it to ourselves and our children to do better.   

See more

IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC (IPCC)
‘Next decade critical’: Perils mount at 1.5 degrees of warming, says IPCC (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Despite climate pledges, China struggles to break coal habit (CNBC)
The EU has spent nearly $500 million on technology to fight climate change—with little to show for it (Quartz)
Saying Goodbye to Planet Earth (Truthdig)

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