Buddhism and the People’s Climate March


My sangha, White Plains Zen, is one of over 1,000 organizations co-sponsoring the People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 in New York City. March organizers are hoping to assemble over 100,000 concerned citizens in support of global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The timing of the march is intended to coincide with the start of the United Nations Climate Summit two days later. The Summit is part of the process of developing a new international climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expired in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol— signed by 191 countries, but never ratified by the U.S. Senate — set binding targets for industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. At this year’s summit, world leaders are supposed to announce new actions their countries will undertake to mitigate climate change. As the U.S. Senate is incapable of acting due to the crippling influences of fossil fuel industry money, opposition from coal and oil producing states, and the oddball ideology of climate science denial, President Obama wants any new international agreement to fall short of a legally-binding treaty which would require Senate approval. Because of American legislative branch paralysis, the executive branch has had to go it alone through its EPA regulatory authority to reduce automobile and power plant emissions — a process that has, so far, met with judicial acquiescence.

Significant climate change is already upon us. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are now over 397 parts per million — well above the 350 parts per million Dr. James Hanson called the upper limit for preserving the planet. Temperatures are rising and rainfall patterns shifting in ways that affect watersheds and agriculture. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs dying, glaciers and ice sheets melting, and desertification spreading. One quarter of the Earth’s animal species may be headed for extinction by 2050. U.S. temperatures will rise between 4-11 degrees over the next century. Rates of very heavy precipitation in the Northeast U.S. have already increased 67% since 1978.  Rare weather events like Superstorm Sandy are becoming more common. The Pentagon is planning for increased regional warfare due to increased competition over scarce water resources. If we don’t find a way to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, these effects will only get worse.



Buddhism has a role to play in this world-wide emergency. As Buddhists, we recognize the reality of impermanence, the fragile interdependence of the web of life, and the interplay of causes and conditions. We recognize the importance of seeing things as they are, and our responsibility for the care of all beings. We understand karma — the ripple effects of our actions on others and ourselves throughout space and time. All of our understanding as Buddhists impels us to act with compassion and responsibility. There are things we can do on an individual level to mitigate risk — weatherizing our homes, installing solar panels on our roofs, swapping out incandescent light-bulbs for LEDs, buying more fuel efficient vehicles. But those individual actions, useful as they are, are not enough to make a real difference. We must also work together collectively to change the way we produce and consume energy on a regional, national, and international scale.

It may already be too late. Even if the industrialized nations step up to the plate, the rising nations may not. But we have to start somewhere. Every journey starts where we are. Every successful international movement — consider the abolitionists and suffragettes — starts with individual acts of conscience and a dedicated minority that persists until it prevails. Sitting back and doing nothing because someone else may fail to act is, on the other hand, a guarantee for planetary disaster.

So our little sangha — White Plains Zen — will be marching alongside other Buddhist groups from the New York area — groups like the Brooklyn Zen Center, the Buddhist Council of New York, Buddhist Global Relief, the Downtown Meditation Community, The Interdependence Project, New York Insight, the Rock Blossom Sangha, the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, the Shantideva Meditation Center, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the Village Zendo, and Zen Center of New York City, and alongside representatives from other faith communities.

You can find out more information here.

If you’re in the New York area, please join us.

After all, we’re all in the same boat —  fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth.

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Too Darned Hot

A monk asked Tozan, “When cold and heat come, how should one avoid them?”

Tozan said, “Why not go to a place where there is neither cold nor heat?”

The monk said, “What kind of place is it where there is neither cold nor heat?”

Tozan said, “When it is cold, the cold kills you; when it is hot, the heat kills you.”

The Blue Cliff Record, Case 43

Russ was away, so we opened the Zendo ourselves for the evening sitting.  We turned on the lights but couldn’t figure out how to operate the overhead fans.  It must have been 90℉ inside: we sat, breathed and, sweated.  For one night, the buzzing of the cicadas and the chirping of the crickets could be heard instead of the whirr of the fans.  Something is lost, something is gained.


That day the temperature in Moscow was over 100℉.

July in New York had been the second hottest month on record.

This summer’s heat is just one more data point in the thousands of data points providing overwhelming evidence of global warming.


Annual Average Temperature (Departure from the 1901-2000 Average)

Our planet is rapidly warming with predictable results: floods, draughts, intense storms, desertification, shifts in flora and fauna, changes in disease transmission vectors, and one hot Zendo.  Despite scientists’s warnings, nation states have been disinclined to take effective action.  Coal and oil lobbyists together with political conservatives (who are distrustful of government action, ecological causes, and science in general) have succeeded in stirring up doubt in the public mind. As a result, the public remains aloof and skeptical, and politicians feel no great pressure to act.  Even the modest (and probably ineffectual) cap-and-trade bill stalled in the senate last month.

Maybe today’s heat can help concentrate minds.

As aware human beings who inhabit this planet, we have an ethical responsibility to stay informed, to communicate our concerns to our representatives, and to do whatever we can within the small circle of our lives to contribute to the Earth’s well-being.  We can and should hold our politician’s responsible for supporting solutions on a national and global level.  At the same time, we can and should examine our own lifestyles to see how we may be contributing to the problem through profligate energy use and thoughtless waste.

What is effective action?  Writing your congressman?  Writing letters to the editor? Reducing your own carbon footprint?  Something to sit and think about on a hot summer’s evening.

“Cold and heat are right in your face, right on your head!  Where are you?”

Yuan-wu’s Notes on Case 43

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