Challenging ourselves (and one another) on our carbon footprints

Reducing carbon emissions is going to take profound changes in behavior – especially among those of us who live in wealthy, high emissions societies. On a per capita basis, we in the United States are the highest emitters of all. Public policy will help, but alone it cannot be enough. Each of us will need to make a personal effort to adapt. Which is where Buddhist mindfulness can have a powerful role……

Speaking for (and about) myself: I know that my carbon footprint is high, and know the actions that I could take to bring it down. These include: (i) cut back on eating meat; (ii) drive less, and take the subway to work; (iii) get my home energy audited, and then invest in energy saving actions; (iv) purchase carbon offsets to make my electricity consumption wind-based; (v) put time into advocating for climate change legislation; (vi) move out of the suburbs. But, even knowing this, my actual changes in behavior remain very modest. Why?

Mindfulness practice points to the places to look: (i) the quality of my intention, and (ii) the habits, desires and aversions that lead me not to act on my good intentions. But here’s the thing: It would be nice if the act of mindfulness were enough to produce changes in behavior. But my experience tells me that it is not – that we (or more precisely, speaking again for myself “I”) need to be challenged. There is a gap between good intention and wise action. I need to look beyond my asserted “lets address global warming” nice-sounding sentiment – and probe more deeply. Am I truly serious about the sentiment? Where is the disconnect? How to address it?

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. My sense of our WBPF conversations this past year on climate change is that, for all the intellectual stimulation that comes from talking about climate change, bringing mindfulness to the ‘single step’ of our own carbon footprints is the potentially unique contribution of a Buddhist perspective: Examining the intentions and habits that lie behind what we do, and do not do – and doing this collectively, challenging and sharing as we learn.

Sangha offers a superb platform for this mix of introspective search, challenge (of and by ourselves, and of and by others), and mutual reinforcement. Some of us who have been part of the Washington Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s climate change initiative over the past year met on Saturday, December 5 – and agreed that we would focus more of our time together, and our contributions to this blog, on practices of the kind outlined above.

May all beings bring mindfulness into our daily lives -- and, through that mindfulness, learn to cultivate wise action, for the benefit of ourselves, our communities, and our planet.