Buddhism and Climate Change: Political Fads vs. Pursuit of Truth

As the second wave of Climategate emails gums-up the Durban Climate Change Conference, it’s instructive to revisit the Buddhist position on climate change. In May of 2009 just before the first batch of Climategate emails hit, a group of 20 Buddhist teachers from all traditions released The Time to Act is Now: A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change.

The authors urged members of the international Buddhist community to sign the document in the run-up to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The Dalai Lama was the first to sign, endorsing a “sustainable” atmospheric carbon dioxide limit of no more than 350 parts per million.

The declaration is a peculiar document. At its core, Buddhism is the practice of cultivating compassion to dissipate preoccupation with one’s self -- to experience the truth of impermanence by surrendering attachment to things, feelings, and perceptions.

Does the declaration mesh with Buddhism?

The declaration makes note of the “overwhelming” scientific consensus that human activity is triggering environmental breakdown on a global scale. It states with assurance that if humans continue on their current energy-consuming ways, half the species on the planet will be extinct by the end of this century.

To avert catastrophe, the declaration urges fundamental changes in Western civilization. It insists we “de-carbonize” energy systems “by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources that are limitless, benign, and harmonious with nature.” It calls for an end to all coal plant construction.

The document stresses that wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal power are sufficient to meet all of the world’s energy needs. If political leaders refuse to make these changes, putting the long-term good of humankind above the short-term benefits of fossil-fuel corporations, the declaration calls for “sustained campaigns of citizen action.”

The crisis is so pressing that the Dalai Lama indicated he would shelve the issue of Tibetan independence and Chinese oppression, and instead focus on the threats climate change poses to the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau. This is according to leaked diplomatic cables between “His Holiness” and Timothy Roemer, U.S. ambassador to India.

The most disturbing aspect of this unwavering Buddhist stance is not so much the blindness it exhibits to the corruption, data manipulation and suppression, willful deception, intolerance, and even violent sadism infecting the climate change movement. It’s not even the scientific and evidentiary fallacies embedded in the declaration itself. (Example: The Himalayan glacier “crisis” the Dalai Lama notes was based largely on an environmental activist group’s press report and a typo. While some Himalayan glaciers appear to be in retreat, others are expanding, and there is no evidence to suggest that they will disappear by the end of this century as some climate alarmists argue.)

Also contrary to the declaration, science is never certain and isn’t the result of “consensus.” The latest findings from CERN indicating that neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light potentially upend the “consensus” of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

The declaration insists that alternative energy sources are “benign.” Far from being “limitless” and “sustainable,” wind, geothermal, and solar power systems consume vast amounts of very limited land and groundwater resources. Windmill and solar panel manufacturing and maintenance are energy-intensive, generate toxic chemicals, and require mining processes that are often environmentally destructive. Windmills also kill thousands of birds annually.

While the declaration’s suggested abolition of carbon-based fuels might thrill most Buddhists, in reality it would likely unleash a plague of famine and disease to rival the darkest scenarios posited by the climate change alarmists. Fertilizers and pesticides that maintain global food supplies are almost exclusively derived from petroleum. As are virtually all of the life-saving drugs and many of the medical supplies used to treat injury and disease.

Also: fossil fuels are crucial to providing reliable base load power, or the minimum amount of energy required to power essential services such as hospitals, water treatment plants, communications, and traffic signals and airports. Would the Buddhist community accept mass starvation, chaos, injury, infection, and disease as the price of assuaging its offense over widespread fossil fuel use?

The most disturbing element of the declaration: it is in direct conflict with Buddhism itself.