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

Among the central tenets of Buddhism is the reality of impermanence and the ignorance generated by ego-consciousness. The ego not only attempts to cement experience into permanence, it strives for control over its surroundings, struggling to conform reality to its personal perceptions. This leads to suffering.

But while the term “climate change” acknowledges impermanence -- the climate after all is constantly in flux -- the movement itself obsesses over maintaining ill-defined or arbitrary points of stability. The core implication of the climate change movement is that there exists some ideal average global temperature that we must strive at all costs to maintain. What is this temperature? No one ever says. Most likely it’s the average global temperature measured in 1967 -- the Summer of Love -- since the climate change priesthood consists mostly of Baby Boomers who seem reflexively nostalgic for their “Youthquake” years.

The declaration also implies that humans have the capability via massive citizen action to dramatically alter the Earth’s climate -- to stop planetary change through the sheer force of human effort. What is this if not the height of conceit -- ego on steroids?

It’s a conceit that assumes we know far more about the ebbs and flows of the planet than we actually do; one that presumes the narrow parameters that describe the Earth at this moment are the benchmark of how the Earth must always be -- “sustainability.”

Example: the declaration assigns a “sustainable” atmospheric CO2 limit of 350 parts per million. Yet over the course of geological history, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have varied widely, reaching as high as 2,000 parts per million during the Jurassic Period, for example. The declaration’s 350 ppm limit is actually a low-end outlier in the context of geological history.

In fact for much of the 19th century CO2 concentrations were higher -- at times more than 400 ppm -- than they are today. Yet the Earth and life survived, even thrived, during these episodes. Far from an awareness of impermanence, the declaration seems to reflect a fetish for contrived stasis.

Our “ecological emergency” stems from a sense of disconnection from the Earth itself, the declaration states -- from the illusion of separateness. But doesn’t the declaration reinforce that sense of separateness by emphasizing the illusion that humans can control the climate? Doesn’t it “disconnect” humans from the Earth by suggesting they are a disturbance in the natural order rather than a part of it? If the Earth is indeed becoming “sick” (whatever that means) as a result of human activity, isn’t that simply another manifestation of the planet’s dynamism and impermanence?

After all, the Earth has “sickened” itself many times over the course of geological history. Massive toxic gas releases from its bowels via supervolcanoes have resulted in catastrophic destruction and mass extinctions. “Ecological emergencies” far more severe than anything envisioned by the climate change movement are a regular feature of the global lifecycle. Far from extraordinary, species extinction is a constant: 99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are extinct. Virtually all became extinct without the disturbances of human activity.

To reach the conclusions posited in the Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change, you must discard the Buddhist principles of the truth of impermanence and the illusions of ego. The alleged climate change crisis stems from the three poisons of greed, ill will, and delusion, notes the declaration. It is disheartening that the Buddhist community seems unaware of these festering poisons in the climate change movement.