Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Buddhist Approach To Protect The Environment In Perspective Of Green Buddhism

Buddhist Approach To Protect The Environment In Perspective Of Green Buddhism


The Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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Buddhist Approach To Protect The Environment In Perspective Of Green Buddhism

Environmental pollution poses a threat to our health in the form of climate change and global warming phenomenon at present. The awareness of protecting life and living environment has been more focused in recent years. However, in Buddhism, this is one of the main basic laws which were set out by the Buddha some 25 centuries ago for his disciples to follow. For thousand years, the Buddhist forest monasteries have manifested a harmonious living with nature, being established in the mountains, in the forests. Tranquil life in the forest helped Buddhist practitioners to improve their inner mind, and at the same time, they also worked for the protection of animals living in the area. With loving and tolerant heart, the Buddhists live with natural vegetation, wild animals in the forest in harmony and for mutual survival. Men used oxygen partly discharged by trees, live by their shadows, and in return, men looked after the trees. Wild animals may come to eat crops planted by the temple without running the risk to be killed. The harmonious living of Buddhism is completely different from the competitive, opposing living and fighting against the nature as seen in the West and also in an increasing number of countries in the East, which tend to destruction for selfish gains.

Statement of the problem
 For over 30 years, scientists have predicted increased greenhouse gasses will cause unnatural changes
 By 2000: Antarctic sea ice break-ups, Antarctic Peninsula warming, Arctic sea ice melting, Faster Arctic warming (11°F), Melting of small glaciers and ice caps and rise of sea level.

Relationship of Buddhist Philosophy and Environmental Health
Buddhism represents the way of compassion. The Buddha manifested a complete compassion and is respectfully seen as the compassionate protector of all beings. He taught that for those who wish to follow his Path should practice loving-kindness, not to harm the life of all beings - not only to protect mankind, but also to protect animals and vegetation. With his perfect wisdom, He saw all beings in the universe were equal in nature, and in this phenomenal world, lives of all human and animals were inter-related, mutually developing and inseparable.

However, men have seen themselves as the smartest species of all beings. They have misused and abused their power and selfishly destroyed these species of animals, those forests and mountains, natural resources and finally reaping the results of destroyed living environment of their own. All those damages and destructions to the ecology up to an alarming level are originated from the unwholesome and greedy mind of mankind. While the animals are seen as low-level beings, however fearsome as tigers and wolves may be, they never destroy the nature as badly as done by human. Only human can cause the most devastating destruction in this Earth.

Though climate change also affects our health, but unfortunately, the impact of climate change on human health is often not recognized by an individual in his day to day life. The fact that human-made changes in climate affect human health needs to be disseminated among our communities, especially the youth who hold in their hands, the power to change the future.

Concept of Climate Change
Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activity. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.

The Greenhouse Effect
 Sun’s energy gets trapped in the troposphere
 Some radiation that reaches Earth’s surface is absorbed. Some energy is reflected.
 Reflected heat might get trapped by carbon dioxide, water vapor, or other gases.
 Trapped heat makes atmosphere warmer. Warm atmosphere reflects heat to Earth’s surface again.
 No greenhouse effect would mean colder than average temps.
 Too much, however, can cause a rise in average temps.
 Let sunlight in short wavelengths
 Earth heats up and radiates heat in longer wavelengths
 Greenhouse gases (GHGs) do not let Earth’s heat out

The significant increase in energy consumption and hence CO2 emissions by the household sector from the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s was due to the rapid spread of domestic appliances such as air conditioners that consume daily large amounts of electricity, the propagation of domestic electrical goods with a standby function, & the rapid development of large scale domestic electrical appliances during this period. Significant increase in CO2 emissions within transportation sector during the same period was due to transition to large-size cars, the continuing spread of recreation vehicles (RVs), by which the decrease of the average fuel-efficiency of vehicles was caused.
Distribution of solar radiation entering the atmosphere
 20% reflected by the atmosphere
 20% absorbed by the atmosphere
 51% is absorbed by the earth
 9% is reflected by the earth and dust

Distribution of emitted infrared radiation
 17% escapes atmosphere
 83% is held and re-emitted
 Maintains atmospheric temperature
But Increased concentrations of CO2, CH4 and other gases increase amounts of infrared radiation that is trapped and re-emitted and thus increases atmospheric temperature.

Concept of Global Warming and its Evidence
Since 1860, CO2 concentration in atmosphere has increased by 24%, CH4 concentration in atmosphere has doubled, mean global temperature has increased by 2oF, ten hottest days on record have occurred since 1980, average temperature will increase by 2 to 6oF in next century, an increase in extreme weather events, droughts, floods etc., concern for insurance industry, sea levels will increase 0.5 to 3 feet, threaten coastal resources, wetlands, and islands and saline water will pollute water supplies of coastal cities.

Increased range of diseases associated with tropical climates with higher incidence of malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever occurring at higher latitudes, heat stress and death of humans and animals, particularly a concern in elderly, increases air conditioning needs, rapidly reproducing species of weeds, rodents, insects, bacteria and viruses may occur at higher latitudes, crop may be susceptible to new insect and disease problems and reduced forest health and changes in tree species.

Causes of Global Warming
 Probable cause CO2: carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere from Burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). Burning of fossil fuels yields CO2 as combustion product. CO2 is Product of Biological Metabolism which is increase in Traffic load in Metropolitan Cities. Consumption of energy does not fall at all in response to a price hike, i.e., the price elasticity is nearly zero.
 Industrial Pollutions
 Atomic bomb explosion: The mushroom cloud that was seen billowing up 20,000 feet over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945 and over Nagasaki on August 10, 1945. They were due to a nuclear weapon of the "Fat Man" type, the plutonium implosion type detonated over Nagasaki. 60 inches in diameter and 128 inches long, the weapon weighed about 10,000 pounds and had a yield approximating 21,000 tons of high explosives and another nuclear weapon of the "Little Boy" type, the uranium gun-type detonated over Hiroshima. It is 28 inches in diameter and 120 inches long. "Little Boy" weighed about 9,000 pounds and had a yield approximating 15,000 tons of high explosives.
 Indiscriminate Use of Plastics
 Deforestation
 Increase in demand for Oil & Natural Gas

Effects of Global Warming: Signs that global warming is underway
 Sea level rise by thermal expansion and ice melt
 Sea ice melting (Arctic and Antarctic)
 Glaciers melting worldwide
 Arctic and Antarctic Peninsula heating up fastest
 Melting on ice sheets is accelerating
 More severe weather (droughts, floods, storms, heat waves, hard freezes, etc.)
 Bottom line: These changes do not fit the natural patterns unless we add the effects of increased GHGs
 Some aspects of climate have not changed: Tornadoes, Dust-storms, Hail, Lightning, Antarctic sea ice.

Predicted changes of human climate change
 For over 30 years, scientists have predicted increased greenhouse gasses will cause unnatural changes
 By 2000: Antarctic sea ice break-ups, Antarctic Peninsula warming, Arctic sea ice melting, Faster Arctic warming (11°F), Melting of small glaciers and ice caps and rise of sea level.

The Arctic Oscillation (a winter phenomenon): This is the pattern of opposing atmospheric pressure in Northern middle & high latitudes. Its Positive phase is marked by mid-latitude high pressure moves storms farther north. This results in wetter weather for Alaska and Scandinavia, drier for Western U.S. and Mediterranean and colder weather for Greenland and Newfoundland, eastern U.S. warmer. Its Negative phase is marked by high pressure in polar region, low pressure in mid-latitudes. Since the 1970s, the AO has leaned towards the positive phase more frequently, leading to lower Arctic pressure and higher temperatures in Northern America and Eurasia.

Axial Title of Earth’s Axis – Obliquity: Earth's tilt relative to the Sun changes between 21.5° to 24.5° and back again on 41,000 year cycle, earth's axis today is tilted 23.5° relative to the normal to the plane of the ecliptic, when the tilt increases to 24.5°, winters are colder and summers are warmer than at 22.1 degrees, when winters are milder and summers are cooler and precession of equinoxes is change in direction of Earth's axis of rotation relative to the Sun at time of perihelion (closest to sun) and aphelion (furthest to sun).

Protecting Health from Climate Change: What can we do to prevent global warming?
(a) Respect the Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol introduced an international system of emissions trading, joint implementation and clean development mechanism, the common name of which is the Kyoto Mechanism. The Kyoto Protocol requires Annex I countries to reduce the average GHG emissions for the period from 2008 to 2012 on the whole at least by 5% compared to the total emissions in 1990. The assigned reduction rates were differentiated among countries: 8%for the EU countries, 7% for the USA, 6% for Japan, and 0% for Russia and other East European countries.

(b) Bring global warming down to earth; make it manageable
 Shift scientists from proving global warming to explaining global warming.
 Explain causes as man-made, stress agency.
 Explain causes before consequences.
 Relate causes and consequences in systems thinking.
 Put humans in the center of the system – ecosystems include humans.
 Reduce the timeline – 20 years not 2000.

(c) Give Solutions a High Priority
 “Understanding the solution” and “understanding the problem” go together.
 Demonstrate the existence and efficacy of short-term solutions.
 Highlight technological solutions and the policies that advance them.
 Avoid consumer sacrifice or behavior change.
 It is by no means impossible to reduce the annual GHG emissions during the period from 2008 to 2012 by 6% compared to those in 1990.
 As long as the appropriate measures are implemented without delay, the goal set out in the Kyoto Protocol might be attainable, only through domestic policies such as carbon taxation, but also through promotion of the clean development mechanism (CDM). An appropriate combination of domestic policies and the CDM will enable us to achieve the greatest effect at the lowest cost. Economic measures should be given priority; for instance, carbon taxation, making purchase and possession taxation on vehicles proportional to their fuel efficiency, and so on so force. The recent trend of market liberalization and internationalization should be taken into consideration when we consider about preference among the three.

(d) Stop Indiscriminate Use of Plastics

(e) The Energy Conservation Law needs to be enforced: The law enforces companies that manufacture electrical appliances and cars to improve energy efficiency to the level assigned by the government appliance by appliance. If one supposes that IT innovations will decrease energy consumption, the expected CO2 emissions reduction must be adequately predicted and counted in the BAU (Business-As-Usual) forecast. There is a trend of reduction in the share of energy consumption in intensive heavy and chemical manufacturing sectors, including steel, nonferrous metals, ceramics, and metal goods in recent years. Such changes in the industrial structure could well cause a gradual decrease in CO2 emissions per unit of the GDP.

(f) Use Fuel-Efficient Cars
 The Kyoto Protocol offers an opportunity for the world-wide reorganization of the car industry.
 The merger of Daimler-Benz with Chrysler in 1998 can be seen as a forerunner to the reorganization of the car industry triggered by the Kyoto Protocol. Fierce competition in research and development of fuel-efficient cars has already begun.
 Differences in macro-economic effects between developed and developing countries (Carbon Taxation): Scandinavian three countries, Holland, and Denmark introduced carbon taxation in the early 1990`s. Germany introduced somewhat irregular carbon taxation in 1999; Britain a climate change levy in April 2001. In principle, these countries are keeping what we call revenue neutral: reducing income taxation or the burden of social security to compensate the burden additionally imposed by carbon taxation.

Concept of Green Buddhism to Prevent Climate Change
Religion can have the most powerful influence on views, values, attitudes, motivations and decision-making capacities of human beings that can change the behavior of individuals, groups & society. It defines the place of humans in nature including how they should act toward non-human beings and other phenomenon. David Kinley identified that the appropriate relationship between humans and nature should be reciprocal, i.e., human beings, not only should recognize interdependence, but also promote mutually beneficial interactions with nature. Harmony or balance between humans and the rest of the nature must be maintained and promoted and in case it is upset, then it should be immediately restored. Since 1970’s there has been a growing movement in many parts of the world what is popularly known as Buddhist ecology, Buddhist Environmentalism, Eco-Buddhism or Green Buddhism. This movement applies to concepts and principles from Buddhism for dealing with particular environmental issues in order to relieve the suffering of all living beings.

“Green” – Signifies the middle of visible seven color spectrum which relates to nature, trees and plants. It also signifies the aesthetic beauty of nature and environment. Buddhism is often referred to as the “most green or environment-friendly religion”. Concept of “Green” is the way to reach the Buddha’s goal to enjoy everything indifferently. Nature belongs to the best perfection to approach the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eight Fold Path. “Green” also denotes youthful, vigor and activity.
In the canonical story of the Buddha, there are many references to nature, especially trees. In fact, the chief events in the life of the Buddha too took place in the open air and amidst the nature. Prince Siddhartha was born in a park at the foot of a tree in Kapilavastu; after abandoning the throne, he had spent many years wandering in the forests and mountains of India in pursuit of spiritual understanding. His enlightenment experience took place at the foot of Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya. He inaugurated his missionary activity in the open air in the sala grove of the Malas in Pava, and for many years he had preached his doctrines to his disciples in shaded groves. The Buddha's constant advice to his disciples was to resort to natural habitats such as forest groves and glades, where they could zealously engage themselves in meditation undisturbed by human activity. As documented in “Thera Gatha” and “Theri Gatha”, the Buddha and his disciples regarded natural beauty as a source of great joy and aesthetic satisfaction. The monks, who purged themselves of sensuous worldly pleasures, had responded to admire the natural beauty with a detached sense of appreciation. It was perceived that attachment to nature might provoke greed in human mind and pose threat to natural flora and fauna in an attempt to acquire them for self possession and consumption. “Nature” was more descriptive in “Thera Gatha” than in “Theri Gatha”. However, “Theri Gatha” highlighted the wrong way to view nature by human beings and provided the right way to appreciate natural beauty without causing any harm to anything living or non-living.

Buddhist Concept of Compassion to Prevent Climate Change
The external environment is seriously polluted because the internal environment in the mind is seriously damaged. The bottomless greed has pushed mankind to satisfy excessive and unnecessary demands, and take them into endless competitions, leading to self-destruction and environmental damage. Contrasting to the unwholesome and greedy mind is the spirit of simple living and contentment by those who practice the Buddha's teaching.

Living in contentment does not mean the elimination of desire of knowledge and truth, but to live in harmony with all beings and with nature. On that basis, those who understand the Buddha's teaching will limit their selfishness, to live in harmony with nature, without harming the environment. They will see what should be explored and to what level, what should be protected for future use by the next generations and other beings. Excessive greed to possess everything for themselves, or for their own group, has make men becoming blind. They are prepared to fight, make war, causing deaths, disease, starvation, destruction of life of all species, gradually worsening the living environment. By all means, they try to maximize their profits, without being concerned of the negative impact of unplanned exploitation leading to depletion of natural resources, discharge toxics into the air, water, earth, leading to environmental pollution, destroying the ecological balance.

We need to realize that environmental pollution cannot be dealt with any the short term strategy based on any magic potion or cosmetic basis or by tackling symptoms. All measures should be targeted towards dealing with basic causes. Long term, permanent strategies, determined largely by our values, priorities, and choices, need to be adopted. Buddhism teaches that mind is the forerunner of all things and mind is supreme and offers man a simple moderate lifestyle eschewing both extremes of self-deprivation and self-indulgence. Satisfaction of basic human necessities, reduction of wants to the minimum, frugality, and contentment are its important characteristics. Each man has to order his life on normal principles, exercise self-control in the enjoyment of the senses, discharge his duties in his various social roles, and conduct himself with wisdom and self-awareness in all activities.

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