What does Buddhism have to offer in terms of Deep Adaptation to catastrophic climate change and ecological extinction? Can Buddhist practice work for us as a source of resilience required for Deep Adaptation?
Going forward with Engage! I will focus on what is without question the over-riding existential crisis of the 21st century: catastrophic climate change and ecological extinction, and concomitantly, the possibility of Deep Adaptation. This is an existential crisis, personal, communal and global. Deep Adaptation is what I am calling a range of responses to these conditions that human beings will make instinctively, whether wise or not, that will enable us to survive this crisis. Mass migration of human and animal populations is most certainly one means of Deep Adaptation, one that we must be prepared to either undertake or accept as a fact of life in these conditions. Mass starvation, disease and displacement are all possibilities that loom on the horizon. If we are going to face this grave situation with any wisdom, we must consider seriously whether our Buddhist dharma or practice gives us the resilience required to face these monumental consequences.
I am not assuming that it does, and I question not just whether Buddhism provides this resilience, but what kinds of dharma or wise practice does provide the kind of resilience required for Deep Adaptation? This is an ongoing question and investigation for me as well as for my readers. I welcome your thoughts and contributions in the comments section. I appreciate longer comments from readers that could be an article on its own terms. I really want to open up the discussion to readers who take this ecological crisis seriously.
Human connection will be vital during deep adaptation. How can Buddhism empower people to better connect with others and even more toward mutual aid?
Hi Richard: thanks for your comments. (Sorry for the late response, I’ve been busy). I really like the social and relational approach that you suggest. Yes, survival and adaptation will take an extraordinary degree of cooperation and mutual aid.
One thing I’m doing here in Central Massachusetts is working with a large coalition of community groups on climate justice issues. There are a dozen or more groups all working together to ‘declare a climate emergency’ across the State and coordinate the Climate Strike in September. But we need to go further with Deep Adaptation. We need to seriously look at how we are living our lives. If we actually did what the climate scientists said we need to do—which is to end all burning of fossil fuels within ten years—then we need to seriously rethink the way we obtain food, the way we travel, heat our homes, and obtain the basic necessities of life, like shelter and medicine. Most of the people who I work with on these issues still drive cars–they don’t even consider the possibility of taking the bus.
What Buddhism has to offer is a vision of the interconnectedness of life at every scale, from the household level to the local to the global; from microbes to mushrooms and forests, from wolves to humans. And the ethics of karma and compassion; that everything we do affects all other living beings, that we must have compassion for the suffering caused by climate change affecting all beings (including ourselves), karma and compassion that requires us to take action to relieve and prevent more suffering.
I’ve been working with Extinction Rebellion for six months. They do a ‘talk’ called ‘Heading for Extinction,’ as a way to inform people about the climate crisis. I prefer to talk about Deep Adaptation, which includes our reckoning with the reality of extinction for many life forms, and the possibility of extinction of human beings. Certainly it includes the real probability of the failure and collapse of human civilizations throughout the world. But Deep Adaptation also carries a sense that there is something we can do to survive this, but it requires a deep restructuring of our economies, our cultures and our collective lives.
Yes to everything you expressed. And as humans, we can delve into Buddhist explorations of consciousness to explore our capacity for attention. Too often, we simply aren’t paying attention to the world.