Why I Spent Some Time with Al Gore

The author (back row, third from left) and Fmr. Vice President Al Gore (front row, center) with other Climate Leaders at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ 2012 North American Training in Burlingame, CA, August 2012. Image via Climate Reality.

At the end of August, I traveled just up north from my home in Los Angeles to Burlingame (outside San Francisco), where I was trained over a few days as a Climate Leader by Former Vice President Al Gore and others in the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. You might ask why I, as a Buddhist minister and ivory tower theologian, chose to devote so much time to learning from ex-politicians, climatologists, tech wizards, professional storytellers, and others. Well, look no further than the night before last for your answer: for the first time in twenty-four years, the presidential candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties did not discuss climate change at all during their pre-election debates.

This is just one sign of the increasing marginalization of what is perhaps the single most important issue facing our world — in fact, PBS’s Frontline this week devoted their whole episode to studying those inside the climate “countermovement” of denial, and how they have effected “a massive shift” in public opinion.

However, this powerful campaign of disinformation is up against a reality that is rapidly becoming more tangible with each passing day: a recent study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that, after this past summer’s record high temperatures, around three-quarters of Americans now feel that they can see climate change in the weather they experience. Indeed, even the hitherto silent American Meteorological Society marked the end of this summer with a forceful statement on the reality of climate change and the role of mankind in that change:

Warming of the climate system now is unequivocal, according to many different kinds of evidence. Observations show increases in globally averaged air and ocean temperatures, as well as widespread melting of snow and ice and rising globally averaged sea level… Due to natural variability, not every year is warmer than the preceding year globally. Nevertheless, all of the 10 warmest years in the global temperature records up to 2011 have occurred  since 1997, with 2005 and 2010 being the warmest two years in more than a century of global records.

The AMS now joins every single national academy of science in every major country in the world, the National Academies of Science for the G8 + 5 Nations, every major scientific society in the world in fields related to the study of global warming, and nearly 100% of all actively publishing climate researchers in acknowledging the reality of anthropogenic global warming.

And if one needs an opinion from those outside of the scientific community, Munich Re, one of the two largest reinsurance companies in the world, has stated clearly, “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.”

It was the overwhelming scientific consensus and the frighteningly effective campaign of obfuscation by those with a vested interest in not reducing carbon emissions that brought me to Burlingame to learn from Vice  President Gore and his colleagues. Climate change is real. Human beings are causing it. It demands our immediate attention and action.

Among other things, climate change is already playing a role in driving conflict and genocide, furthering the oppression of women, and undoing work to lift people in the developing world out of poverty. And the science of climate change portends worse still. Indeed, the vital first step in halting some of the worst problems in our world — war, hunger, inequality — will be coming together to address climate change.

As a certified Climate Leader, I’m charged to go forth and present on climate change to various groups and communities. I’ve decided that I would like to make Buddhist communities a special focus of mine in this regard.

Among the worlds’ religions, it seems to me that quite a few Buddhists have been among the leaders in some important ways on environmental issues. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to) His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom Grist has named one of the “15 Top Green Religious Leaders”; Thai social critic and engaged Buddhist icon Sulak Sivaraksa who has spent much of his life promoting greater ecological consciousness and sustainable development; Beat poet, American Zen figurehead, and environmental studies professor Gary Snyder; the phra nak anuraksa, monastics who have ordained trees in protest of deforestation and environmental degradation in Thailand; the Venerable Thupten Ngodup, Chief Oracle of Tibet, who has been speaking publicly about climate change and personal responsibility; Dr. A.T. Ariryaratne and the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, which actively promotes and encourages “education, training, in the practice of ecology, environmental management and sustainable development”; Zen Mountain Monastery, which is home to the Zen Environmental Studies Institute; Thailand’s Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, a Buddhist temple northeast of Bangkok that is building many of the structures on its grounds out of discarded bottles; His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, who has authored a text on environmental guidelines for Karma Kagyu Buddhist centers and launched a website on environmental protection; David Loy, John Stanley, and Gyurme Dorje, who authored A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency; and Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, who, with Loy and Stanley, authored “A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change” (which I was a signatory on). (More examples can be found in the books Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist EnvironmentalismDharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology, Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds, and elsewhere.)

At the same time, though, all of us (not just the most prominent teachers) need to be involved — however we can. The climate reality calls for all hands on deck — each in our way with our own unique abilities. As a Climate Leader, it is my hope that I might help others get started and discern their best way of getting involved by offering presentations with the best and most up-to-date information on the climate reality.

So here’s my pitch: If you live in the Los Angeles area and you’d like me to come talk to your sangha/community/organization about climate change, request a presentation at my page on Climate Reality’s site and I’ll come talk to you. When I’m traveling and available to give presentations in other places that I find myself, I’ll also let you know that. (I’d also certainly consider coming to you wherever you are, but that will depend on my availability and you will have to cover my travel expenses.)

As it says in the Dhammapada, “Should a person do good, let him do it again and again. Let him find pleasure therein, for blissful is the accumulation of good.” Working together to address the climate reality is doing good. Let’s practice together.


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