After the short Earth Day post I made yesterday, I came across this essay, which tracks some of the history of Earth Day and the all too easy slide it has made into "green consumerism" as world savior approach. This isn't a happy piece of writing, but let's face it, neither is it a happy thing what we've collectively been doing to the planet.
Here is a particularly provocative paragraph to chew on:
Today, right-wing pundits depict environmentalism as an elite hobby that threatens jobs, while many progressive environmentalists cite the potential for “green jobs” to help reignite economic growth. Both views are sorely missing a central element of what has made environmentalism such a compelling counter-hegemonic worldview ever since the 1970s: the promise that reorienting societies toward a renewed harmony with nature can help spur a revolutionary transformation of our world.
I've long found the argument that technology will save us a tired, doomed to failure view. No amount of wind turbines, "green fuels," or "flex" vehicles will make a major dent in the damage being done. Certainly, some of this stuff provides some benefit, but without a completely different individual and collective mindset shift, it all amounts to whipped cream covering a decidedly bad tasting cake.
This morning, I ran across this commentary by Nella Lou over at Smiling Buddha Cabaret that addresses some of the deep structures that need to change in order for radical environmental action to truly occur. I'm not sure I agree with every last point Nella Lou makes, but I think much of what she says is pointing in the right direction.
Here's an introduction to what she addresses in her post:
Thanks to openbuddha on Twitter, this link to an essay by Leo Babauta called society, reimagined came to my attention. Another person Everett Bogue: Putting Leo Babauta’s ‘Society, Reimagine’ Into Practice has taken up the thought as well.
Leo Babauta has given some provocative and interesting ideas for what society “could” be if we were to start from scratch or reimagine a few things.
I’d like to take up his thoughts and add a few of my own. Leo takes a few areas and outlines a little bit about them. Everett Bogue, a person on a minimalist mission of sorts, adds a couple more.
* The car, junked
* Schools, erased
* Sharing vs consumerism
* A digital world
* Health Care, reimagined, in practice.
* Agriculture, reimagined, in practice.
To these I would like to add such meta-categories as:
* Political structures
* Economic systems and structures
* Relational or marriage structures
* Religious structures
* Ecological considerations and nature
If we are going to reimagine society it needs to be at a structural level. Merely shifting around a few things and essentially maintaining much of the status quo will engender the same kinds of problems that now appear but in different arenas. And deep societal structure are intimately tied together.
So, what do I want to say? I guess I'm interested in the way people who call themselves "Buddhists" address, or don't address, these issues. What I find curious is how often people who are dedicated to examining how their minds work, and how their actions impact their relationships and the world around them, often shut down completely when it comes to social concerns like the environment. Or how they sit in dharma centers day after day, year after year, hearing lectures about interconnectedness and how we aren't isolated, solitary selves, and yet when it comes to social issues, it's every man or woman for themselves. "Green consumerism" seems to be enough for many people who say they are Buddhist. In fact, some argue that it's all any one of us can do, and politics and/or social action are no place for spiritual involvement or application. In other words, spiritual practice is separate from social engagement.
I've written about this a lot in the past. Probably have pontificated enough on it in fact. But it continues to baffle me how easy it is for people to minimize, deny, and blame others (to reference Foucault)for problems which they, by the very fact of being human, are complicit in to some degree.
This isn't to say that everything happening on Earth is a result of human misbehavior. Even though Global Warming deniers tend to go to hysterical lengths to make arguments that are basically designed to defend the greedy, sloth-like lifestyles that many of us have developed over the past 100 years or so, they still are right to point out that the planet is much more than the sum total of human action or inaction. One of the things I have learned from socially engaged Buddhist leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh is that those who you would hold as "enemies" also have truth in their stories. It might be deeply, deeply buried, but it's there, somewhere, and being open to finding it together is a road to peace.
At the same time, from a Buddhist perspective, it's beyond foolish to assume that human behavior has either no impact, or a minimal impact on the planet. The few times I've met or spoken with people who say they are Buddhist, and also view things like Global Warming as complete lies, I've found myself at a loss. One could say these people aren't Buddhists, or have no idea what Buddha really taught, and that might be true. But it's too easy of a dismissal, and doesn't help much in terms of addressing the much broader issues that come from the population of dharma folks that see their practice as an individual effort, and who think "going organic" is going to save the planet.
When you get down to it, a large part of the problem probably is tied to the idea of "saving the planet" itself. This mantra, the often unconsciously driving force behind "Green" activities, assumes a separation. It's like the misreading of the Bodhisattva vow to "Liberate all beings," where one thinks there are countless beings they must go out and free. The planet is a completely interdependent, dynamically functioning life of which we are embedded in. There's no way to step outside of it, at least at this point, in order to "do something" to "save" it. Why? Because "it" is always changing, always evolving, and thus any efforts we make to benefit "it" as a whole must be also in accord with what the earth is today, and not what we think it is.
Maybe all of this is terribly depressing. It might even sound like I'm suggesting that efforts are futile, like grains of sand running through your hands. Well, that's not my intent. In fact, it's not even my intent to suggest that activities such as recycling, building wind turbines, and eating organic food should be abandoned. They have their place in all of this. What I am suggesting is that Buddha's teachings are repeatedly pointing us back to those deep structures that lay behind our collective behaviors as humans, and by failing to address these structures both individually, and collectively, we are simply trying to put the cart before the horse.