Buddhist perspectives on climate change – a response to the UN Climate Change Conference – November 2017

Dennis Jagestad

Our representative with the Norwegian contingent for the COP23 conference

One of our mitras who is preparing for ordination, Dennis Jagestad, is currently at COP23 in Bonn. So if you happened to meet Dennis in Bonn or you are curious on buddhist perspectives on climate change we have forwarded some notes from a previous gathering.

Statement from buddhist leaders:

Buddhist leaders from across the developing and developed world have called on world leaders to cooperate with compassion and wisdom and reach an ambitious and effective climate agreement in Paris. Their statement follows:

We are at a crucial crossroads where our survival and that of other species is at stake as a result of our actions. There is still time to slow the pace of climate change and limit its impacts, but to do so, the Paris summit will need to put us on a path to phase out fossil fuels. We must ensure the protection of the most vulnerable, through visionary and comprehensive mitigation and adaptation measures.

Our concern is founded on the Buddha’s realization of dependent co-arising, which interconnects all things in the universe. Understanding this interconnected causality and the consequences of our actions are critical steps in reducing our environmental impact. Cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion, we will be able to act out of love, not fear, to protect our planet. Buddhist leaders have been speaking about this for decades. However, everyday life can easily lead us to forget that our lives are inextricably interwoven with the natural world through every breath we take, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Through our lack of insight, we are destroying the very life support systems that we and all other living beings depend on for survival.

We believe it imperative that the global Buddhist community recognize both our dependence on one another as well as on the natural world. Together, humanity must act on the root causes of this environmental crisis, which is driven by our use of fossil fuels, unsustainable consumption patterns, lack of awareness, and lack of concern about the consequences of our actions.

We strongly support “The Time to Act is Now: A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change,” which is endorsed by a diverse and global representation of Buddhist leaders and Buddhist sanghas. We also welcome and support the climate change statements of other religious traditions. These include Pope Francis’s encyclical earlier this year, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, as well as the upcoming Hindu Declaration on Climate Change. We are united by our concern to phase out fossil fuels, to reduce our consumption patterns, and the ethical imperative to act against both the causes and the impacts of climate change, especially on the world’s poorest.

To this end, we urge world leaders to generate the political will to close the emissions gap left by country climate pledges and ensure that the global temperature increase remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels. We also ask for a common commitment to scale up climate finance, so as to help developing countries prepare for climate impacts and to help us all transition to a safe, low carbon future.

The good news is that there is a unique opportunity at the Paris climate negotiations to create a turning point. Scientists assure us that limiting the rise in the global average temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius is technologically and economically feasible. Phasing out fossil fuels and moving toward 100 percent renewable and clean energy will not only spur a global, low-carbon transformation, it will also help us to embark on a much-needed path of spiritual renewal. In addition to our spiritual progression, in line with UN recommendations, some of the most effective actions individuals can take are to protect our forests, move toward a plant-based diet, reduce consumption, recycle, switch to renewables, fly less, and take public transport. We can all make a difference.

We call on world leaders to recognize and address our universal responsibility to protect the web of life for the benefit of all, now and for the future.

For these reasons, we call on all Parties in Paris:

  • To be guided by the moral dimensions of climate change as indicated in Article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • To agree to phase out fossil fuels and move towards 100 percent renewables and clean energy.
  • To create the political will to close the emissions gap left by country climate pledges so as to ensure that the global temperature increase remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels.
  • To make a common commitment to increase finance above the US$100 billion agreed in Copenhagen in 2009, including through the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to help vulnerable developing countries prepare for climate impacts and transition towards a low-carbon economy.

The time to act is now.

Notes from Dharma Teachers Gathering June 2015

Notes taken by Dharmacharini Amala, adopted for Oslo Buddhistsenter by Gunaketu 2017..

Sessions on Climate Change. Presenters: David Loy, Deborah Eden Tull, Angel Kyodo Williams, Kritee Kritee, Rinaldo Brutoco

Questions to consider and things to reflect on:

What is wise action in the face of climate change?

What does the Dharma (Buddha’s teaching) uniquely have to offer?

Are we so focused on being ‘happy’ that we are not able to have the difficult conversations? (see the work of Joanna Macy http://www.joannamacy.net/ )

Is there some new expression or synthesis of Dharma and skillful action that needs to emerge?

The history of exploitation of peoples around the world (e.g. slavery), and the degradation of people leads to an entrenched attitude that makes it OK to also degrade the environment. (Angel Kyodo Williams)

What the Dharma has to offer most powerfully:


The Dharma is all about prajna jnana – the realization of wisdom

The Four Noble Truths – observation, cause, another way – truth-telling about suffering and not turning away from it

The Dharma offers a radical critique of the notion of separate self, and a distinction between need and greed.

The Dharma is about the teaching of conditionality and interconnectedness. The teaching leads to understanding of no separate self, thus individuals are then able to understand and act according to universal connectedness.

The Dharma teaches us how we can train the mind-heart , and develop our body and energy. There are the meditation on loving kindness (metta bhavana and lojong trainings) towards unselfishness.

The Dharma offers the Bodhisattva ideal, the compassionate spiritual altruist/activist whose practice is about one’s own transformation & altruistic activity.

The Dharma teaches original goodness.

The Dharma helps us realize qualities of fearlessness, compassion, clear-seeing, equanimity, etc.  

….in Dharma teaching contexts:

Buddhist organizations help people transform personally. We can connect that personal path of transformation with social and global transformation.

Dharma Centers can address the ‘wisdom deficit’ in our world.

Buddhism offers tremendous skills in adaptation to change. These can help people be resilient to the changes already happening, and those to come. Practices help develop flexibility, resilience, responsiveness – all in contrast to reactivity.

At a deeper level Buddhism can help us understand change process fundamentally.

With the Dharma we can hold the positive in our hearts and emanate. We can develop equanimity, which forms a stable basis for the work that needs to be done.

We can cultivate compassion – seeing in the ‘other’ our own interest as well.

We can support people to make a personal commitment – we do it all the time in practice contexts – to learn more, to take action re. the environment. The concept of commitment is already part of what we do.

We can learn how to see and practice the Dharma in non-Buddhist sources, such as Non-Violent Communication and science.

…and a bit more active:

Buddhist organizations can help with much needed stopping and mitigation of carbon and methane emissions  through individual and collective education, dharma talks, and bringing up the issues.

Sangha building is now a political act.

We can make ‘eco-vows’, and explore what that means, what those might be.

We can contextualize the teaching of pratitya-samutpada, conditioned co-arising, in relation to climate change.

We can ‘green’ our Center buildings and facilities and encourage sangha members to do the same.

We can cut through the addictive quality of consumer-comfort-ism through understanding that things pass away and through positive renunciation.

We can model and exemplify simplicity in our Dharma centers (vs. luxury). Happiness is not dependent on material things.

We can offer programs that encourage and develop nature connection.

Through the Dharma and Mindfulness programs we can offer significant tools for anger management and emotional regulation.

We can teach loving kindness to children (and their parents!).

Engage youth.

We can practice peaceful witnessing in violent places (all kinds of violence, including environmental).

Resources and links


http://globalbcan.org/  Buddhist Climate Action Network

https://thebuddhistcentre.com/ simple practical steps by Bikkhu Bodhi

http://www.buddhafield.com Buddhafield Green Earth Awakening is a camping event for up to 500 people



http://www.blessedunrest.com/ book by Paul Hawken

https://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_how_to_let_altruism_be_your_guide?language=en  TED talk by matthieu ricard

http://charterforcompassion.org/ compassionate community movement

http://www.billmckibben.com/  Do the Math



http://www.sciencedirect.com/ scientific article on how to use mindfulness for a double dividend in sustainable living.