On March 14, local faith leaders participated in a discussion organized by FACT – Faith Action Climate Team, a King County Interfaith Group working on climate issues. We began by acknowledging that climate change is undeniable. Scientists have near unanimous agreement on this, though “merchants of doubt” representing the profiteers of fossil fuel corporations have cynically manufactured controversy by sowing misinformation that has effectively blocked a full scale climate response.
The challenges of discussing climate change – whether with family, neighbors, co-workers or within a faith community – can seem overwhelming, bringing up deep personal fears of the future or an aversion for what may seem too depressing or “political” in the highly charged news cycle that seems at times to constantly batters us with negative information.
The consequences of climate change to humanity, and all life are already severe, and the science emphatically shows that it will get worse before it gets better, if it isn’t already past an ecological tipping point of runaway global warming. Although the United States is the largest contributor, per person, to global carbon levels and climate change, the near term effects of climate change (and fossil fuel production) are not nearly as dire as in third world countries, or in economically disadvantaged communities within the United States.
Climate change intersects with every other major issue of suffering in our communities – racism, poverty, immigration and refugee migrations, indigenous survival, to name a few. Where to begin?
In small groups each of us reflected on a number of different questions for reflection, then took turns speaking uninterrupted on those questions which resonated with our hearts:
*What role do you think faith communities should play in addressing and acting on climate change?
*What are the challenges in talking about this within my congregation/sangha? What has been successful or gone well in dealing with the issue of climate change?
*Do I have to know all the facts to discuss the morality of climate change?
*How does climate change intersect with other issues my faith historically and currently has focused on like poverty, racism, inequality, and social justice?
*What is the role of hope in addressing climate change?
*What does my faith have to say to despair, to grief, to evil?
*What does our faith tell us to do in the face of fear?
*How can faith prepare us for change, collective action and for acting courageously?
*What do I feel called to speak out about or give witness to?
I began by sharing that within Buddhism, there is an understanding of impermanence, of worlds coming into existence, going out of existence, and the beginning-less nature of mind. As a Buddhist, when I can begin to connect with these deep trans-personal truths, not merely intellectually, but within a non-dualistic meditative state, I can be more skillful at letting go of any shadows of fear that linger in my mind, thereby inspiring others to act with courage, hope, and a sense of meaning, easing their fears.
At the same time, these deep truths aren’t a convenient excuse to renounce the problems of the world and seek personal liberation while ignoring the plight of others. Given the widespread suffering in the world today, which will only worsen due to climate change, it is our moral duty to strive to alleviate suffering and injustice wherever it exists, and to work towards societal solutions to the problem of climate change. The happiness of each and every sentient being is intimately interconnected.
Some local actions which were discussed:
Standing and praying/meditating in solidarity with indigenous communities such as the Puyallup tribe in Tacoma, who are fighting the unauthorized appropriation of their land for the construction of an LNG (liquid natural gas) holding tank.
Bringing awareness through non-violent direct action to Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) failure to adopt a 20 year plan which meaningfully addresses the need to transition from fossil fuel based energy sources to renewable sources. (This article to be updated soon with additional information on upcoming actions).
Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy Climate Action Policy Proposal (Washington State voter initiative to implement a carbon tax that brings together the broadest possible group of stakeholders).
Drawing upon the precedent set by churches speaking out against the Vietnam War (and not speaking out during the rise of Hitler in Europe), we know that faith communities have an important role in influencing the societal conversations around issues of widespread suffering. Initiating discussions, planning events, and delivering talks/sermons to congregations/sanghas that help break the ice on the issue of climate change were acknowledged as an important way to shift the conversation on climate change.