Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Climate change has major implications for the future of the world’s food supply, and for this reason its an issue of prime relevance to the mission of Buddhist Global Relief. Along with population growth, climate change may soon become the most potent factor behind world hunger. As the planet heats up, the freak weather events that we’ve been witnessing so often—the long droughts, fierce heat waves, violent storms, and torrential floods—are doing more than encroaching on our comfort zone. They are ravaging farmland and devastating crops, resulting in poor harvests, food shortages, rising food prices, and more hunger.
But the destructive impact of a changing climate is not limited to bizarre alterations in the weather. The impact of slow, incremental, and imperceptible climate change may be even more ominous. It’s certainly more pernicious, simply because the slow and gradual nature of the change can lull us into thinking that there is no need for concern, that our future will be just like our past. This, however, would be bad faith, a misplaced sense of security. For as the planet grows warmer, below the threshold of immediate perception our vital support systems will gradually be undermined. Forests will dry up, species go extinct, topsoil lose its fecundity, rainfall patterns change, ocean currents shift, and sea levels rise, inundating cities and swallowing up coastal land. And all these transformations, working together, will result in a diminished food supply, triggering social unrest, mass migration, and starvation for millions.
For those of us who care about the future of our planet, who want to protect humanity from the harm that will befall us if we blithely go about business as usual, it’s necessary to act—to act decisively but peacefully—joining our voices and bodies to resist the rising trajectory of global warming. Since the driver of global warming is the increasing concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we have to push for the transition to a new economy, one that will be powered by renewable sources of energy. It’s our dependence on fossil fuels—on oil, coal, and natural gas— that is heating up the planet, and it’s the continued extraction and consumption of these fuels that’s adding ever more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to our air, soil, and oceans. If we don’t act soon, we may pass a critical threshold beyond which global warming will spiral out of control.
To feed a full planet, we’ve got to stop climate change, and this means we must reduce and eventually end our consumption of fossil fuels. The symbol and focal point in the campaign against climate change has been the Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect the tar sands fields in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast. Tar sands, or bitumen, is one of the dirtiest and most polluting sources of energy on the planet, releasing far more carbon dioxide than ordinary petroleum. If the pipeline is approved, it would become a 1700 mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent. If we’re going to feed an expanding human population, it’s thus of critical importance that this substance remain where it belongs: in the ground.
Our atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is already at 400 parts per million, 50 parts above the 350 ppm climate scientists say is the maximum safe level for the planet. We need to be working at breakneck speed to stem the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, and this means we must invest more in developing effective and cost-efficient ways to utilize the safe and renewable sources of energy that are always available to us: solar and wind and geothermal. For our own sakes, and for future generations, we’ve got to reduce our carbon emissions prudently, steeply, and rapidly. Building a pipeline to transport sticky tar sands oil would not only increase to perilous levels the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, but the pipeline would pose an ever-present threat to the rivers, lakes, aquifers, and farmland along the route it would travel.
The final decision on the Keystone pipeline rests on the shoulders of President Barack Obama, through consultation with the Department of State. And this means it’s up to us to let the President know where we stand. The oil, coal, and gas corporations are extremely wealthy and powerful; they already have their grip on Congress, and their lobbyists are cunning and persuasive. But if we work and act in concert, we the people can overturn their propaganda and distortions. We can preserve the planet and its people; we can lay the foundations stones for a new economic system–one that is just and equitable as well as sustainable; we can build a planet that works for everyone. But for this to happen we can’t keep silent, hoping for the best. We have to act, to speak up and make our wishes known.
Summer Heat is the name of a mass mobilization campaign spearheaded by 350.0rg to take on the fossil fuel industry. People across the country are joining this campaign to challenge fossil fuel infrastructure and demand real solutions to our energy future. On July 26th and 27th Summer Heat will be holding two big actions in Washington, D.C. On Friday, July 26th, in the heart of downtown DC’s corporate fossil fuel corridor, nonviolent direct action will take place under the title “Stand Up Against Fossil Fuel Lies.” The action is intended to expose the ways the fossil fuel industry has distorted the current debate about the disastrous effects of carbon extraction. On Saturday, July 27th, a mass rally will be held in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House, to call on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL and take steps to begin leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
The Saturday gathering is a sequel to the large rally that took place on the National Mall on February 17th, when 40,000 people came together to demonstrate their opposition to KXL. Since the President has not yet made his decision, more action is needed to keep up the pressure on him. It’s critically important for Buddhists of conscience and conviction to come forward and join this struggle for a sane and sustainable energy policy. We should not adopt the false idea that equanimity means that we remain indifferent to the planet’s fate. We shouldn’t think that compassion means it’s enough for us to sit comfortably in our shrine rooms radiating compassionate thoughts when droughts and famines strike herdsmen in East Africa or floods ravage the wheat belts of India and Pakistan. We’ve got to put compassion into action. We must demonstrate love for others by speaking up on their behalf.
For an Invitation to Action from Summer Heat spokespersons Bill McKibbens, Naomi Klein, Winona LaDuke, Sandra Steingraber, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, click here: http://joinsummerheat.org/panel1/panel-1/#more-10
To learn more about the events in Washington and to register, go to this link: http://joinsummerheat.org/DC/
I plan to participate and I hope I’ll see you there.