Finding Earth Religion in the Trash
Let’s Make 2019 the Peak of Our Carbon Emissions
On some level we crave innovation. At the same time we are made to feel so powerless and so ashamed, that we often seem to prefer inaction rather than engagement with the innovation we encounter. Trash is personal like that. When approached as an art form, it’s the most intimate medium I know. Even when you go to very physical arts involving the body or our sexualities, culture, food, fashion—we’re still consciously curating something the whole way through. We’re in an intentional conversation with our parents, religion, society, our oppressors, whoever.
With trash, we are rarely in this sort of dialogue. We are discarding. We are burying. We are throwing away. Trash is a record of all that we consume. Trash tells us everything about the most un-acknowledged parts of ourselves. In this context, I think we attach a lot of shame to it.
The Buddha Fields in Our Backyard
“The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just hit its highest level in 800,000 years, and scientists predict deadly consequences.”
You may feel like you just read that at the start of this week when it was discovered that humanity has reached a new high in carbon emissions. But actually that’s the headline from a Business Insider article published eleven months ago in 2018. And it’s one possible future we’ll see again in 2020 if we don’t do something about it.
Making Earth Day Every Day
At the beginning of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha is seated before a large assembly of his followers. Some are arhats and kings. Others are yoga masters. There are gods and dragons, and animals, ghosts, and beings of hell all there too. This ray of light emerges from the white tuft of hair in the center of his forehead, and through it, everyone there is able to see all these thousands of worlds existing simultaneously to their own. In all of these Buddha fields, there are other Buddhas arising, instructing in the dharma, and then passing away. From their presence, still more Buddhas arise, thousands begin awakening, and this holds true across every species in each of these worlds.
Engaging With An Impermanent Earth
In 2018, the United States’ national Earth Overshoot Day occurred on March 15th. This means that if the entire globe consumed natural resources at the rate of the United States, humanity would surpass Earth’s capacity to sustain us halfway through March, the third month of the year. Only five other countries preceded the US: Qatar (February 9th), Luxembourg (February 19th), the United Arab Emigrates (March 4th), Mongolia (March 6th), and Bahrain (March 12th). Thanks to countries consuming less than us, humanity’s overall Earth Overshoot Day wasn’t until August 1st last year—still the earliest on record.
Facing Ecological Grief Together
There’s a fundamental quality to life—Buddhists call it anicca, or, impermanence. Essentially, things are always arising and disappearing. Nothing is permanent. These changes arise and disappear according to karma, or, the idea of cause and effect, but we should be careful about applying a lens of morality or punishment around them because that’s not necessarily the context these ideas come from.
Especially in the West where we haven’t been taught to perceive things as intrinsically impermanent, we can hold a lot of baggage around change. These sorts of moral discussions around whether a given change is good or bad can be exciting and interesting, but they aren’t what I’m writing about today. Instead, I just want to start with a recognition that all of life is in a constant state of change. This idea has profound meaning for how we perceive climate change, and how we choose to engage with the social and ecological injustices of the world.
The catastrophe colloquially called ‘climate change’ is matched in immensity by the breadth of human emotional responses to it. From denial to numbness to anger and everything else, we are intimately feeling our planet’s health. But the more I write about this, the more I realize that identifying the problem isn’t really the answer we need most right now.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a definite time to write educational pieces, alarming pieces, and articles that confront the scale of our situation to keep us humble, informed, and ready to take action. But that’s the key: don’t we need to spend this precious time doing something about our environmental problems, rather than just talking about them?