But I believe there is still hope.
We need to transform the three poisons of greed, ignorance, and aversion into generosity, wisdom, and loving care. And I believe this can happen. This is the power of the bodhisattva vow.
The Three Poisons
Plastics fill the bellies of whales. Run-off from factory farms pollutes our waters. And most harmfully, the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change by releasing CO2, which blankets the atmosphere, trapping in warmth.
|The Greenland ice-sheet has lost |
4 trillion tons of ice in recent years.
Climate change has already contributed to serious problems: more powerful storms, greater floods, rising sea levels, intensified heat waves and droughts, climate refugee crises, and species extinctions. Climate change has been linked to the drought, mass migration, and civil war in Syria. Sea levels have already risen 20 centimeters in the last hundred years, displacing hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Indonesia and Bangladesh. Droughts and floods will lead to hundreds of millions of climate refugees unless we take radical action immediately. Entire ecosystems are at risk. If we do not take urgent action now, we may face the mass extinction of species. We even risk collapsing our earth's ecosystem.
So what is stopping us from saving ourselves?
Buddha understood human nature. He pointed out that we suffer from 3 poisons: greed, ignorance, and aversion. We see all three playing out in the climate crisis.
ExxonMobil knew back in the seventies that greenhouse gases were a problem. Motivated by greed, they undermined climate science in order to sustain profits. Through their propaganda, Americans were kept ignorant about climate change for years. In fact, nearly a third of Americans, despite clear evidence, still believe climate change is a "hoax." Perhaps we are also ignorant about how interconnected we are with the environment. Maybe we still imagine that there is an environment "out there" that is separate from ourselves, then imagine that if environmental catastrophes ensue, "I will be just fine."
But ignorance is abating. What is perplexing is that even though a majority of us now comprehend the devastating significance of climate change, few of us are willing to make sacrifices to address the issue. In fact, 70 percent of Americans would not even pay $10 per month to combat global warming. Corporate and personal greed appear to be a hindrance for us. As Christian theologian Sallie McFague says, "We human beings are so embedded in the culture of consumerism that being asked to consume less makes us almost gasp. And we do; we stop for a moment, and then we... get back in our cars and our airplanes, and continue on."
Aversion may be the subtlest sticking point preventing Americans from dealing with climate change. The challenge sometimes seems overwhelming. It can seem like my actions make no difference in the face of powerful energy lobbyists. It is disheartening watching environmental regulations be overturned in this time of crisis. I am averse to discouragement and uncertainty. Sometimes it is easier to slip into forgetfulness.
I am also averse to taking personal risks. I recognize that life on this planet is in jeopardy, but I am hesitant to risk being called alarmist. Thirty years ago, I wrote an email asking for support in an environmental cause and sent it to a group of friends. One "replied all" with a scathing (and brilliantly funny) satire about tree hugging teachers. I didn't write to that bunch of friends about the environment again.
But maybe the biggest challenge is that we are averse to doing the work. That form of aversion we call laziness.
Unfortunately, due to the three poisons, we need greater motivation than awareness of climate change provides. We need some call of the heart that helps us transcend our self-centered greed, ignorance, and aversion.
In Buddhism, the bodhisattva vow is to save all beings. It is based on the wisdom that we are "empty" of separate, fixed selves. We are actually dependent arisings. We are literally made of the earth, sky, air, and rain.
The bodhisattva vow expands our circle of concern from ignorant self-centeredness to an infinite circumference. Based on our wise understanding of how interwoven we are, this commitment to ALL beings transforms greed into generosity and aversion into inspiration.
Transformation of the three poisons is not about feeling better personally. Sometimes it makes us feel worse as we face into great challenges. But our bodhisattva vow wakes us up to the way things actually are and moves us to do whatever we can to be of service.
While other important causes also move me to take action, for me, the priority is environmental activism. If our environment renders life unsustainable, nothing else will matter.
I am inspired by Greta Thunberg and many of her generation. She has exhibited the three virtues of generosity, wisdom, and loving care. Having learned about climate change, Greta stopped going to school in order protest global warming. Driven by her vow to save future generations, Greta made significant personal sacrifices. Greta shows us that where there is will, there are ways to engage.
Most of us already know what we should do. Think globally; act locally. Insulate our homes, reduce fuel consumption, eat less meat, and waste less food and material goods (including plastic). We can also make donations to organizations fighting climate change and join local protests and coalitions. But if we hope to save future generations, we must also support representatives who will shift our energy production from fossil fuels to renewables.
We cannot know in advance what the outcome will be. But in caring for something greater than ourselves, we manifest our true nature, and this has immeasurable value.
It begins with our earnest vow to save all beings.
Whether you have never made this vow or have made it a thousand times, you can take this bodhisattva vow right now. Consider repeating this every day: "I vow to save all the beings of the world."
Let this vow touch your heart where all beings reside, and it will fuel our transformation.
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