Ministry in the Time of Climate Change
By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
From June 5 to June 6, I was privileged to participate in a conference convened by the Center for Earth Ethics at the Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan. The conference was organized by the director of the center, Karenna Gore, who is also the daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore. Al Gore himself attended the entire conference and gave the keynote address on the morning of June 6 and a panel presentation on the evening of June 6. A video of the panel discussion is now on YouTube.
I participated in the opening panel on “The Moral and Practical Dimensions of our Ecological Crisis.” Other speakers on this panel were Jacqui Patterson of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program; Asma Mahdi of Green Muslims, and Dwaine Perry, chief of the Ramapough-Lunaapa tribe. I gave a shortened version of my “Buddhist Diagnosis of the Climate Crisis,” which can be seen in the longer version (20 minutes) that I gave at the Buddhist gathering in Washington in 2015.
After lunch on June 5, a group of participants took a walk down to Riverside Park, about 15 minutes from the Seminary. Al Gore joined us, and while we were walking he came up to me, told me that he appreciated my presentation, and asked if he could get a copy of my outline. I told him I would send a copy to Karenna, which I have since done. During his own keynote lecture, when he came to a particular point that I had also touched on, he paused to say: “By the way, our Buddhist scholar here gave an excellent presentation yesterday.” In his lecture he announced that his new film, called An Inconvenient Sequel is scheduled for release on July 28, 2017. As the title suggests, the film will be a sequel to his famous 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth.
During my panel discussion, Karenna, who was the moderator, asked me about the work of Buddhist Global Relief and its connection to climate change. I spoke briefly about the origins of BGR and then explained how climate change and global hunger are integrally connected. On the one hand, over the next few decades climate change will diminish the world’s food supply; on the other hand, the dominant model of industrial agriculture is responsible for high carbon emissions and thus increases climate change. The solution to both sides of the problem, I said, is to transit to ecologically sustainable modes of food production that are climate resilient and that lower rather than increase emissions. These are the types of projects that BGR sponsors. I added that livestock cultivation is a major contributor to world hunger and climate change. Livestock consume vast quantities of grains and beans that could be used to feed people, and they also have a much high carbon footprint than cultivation of plant foods. Thus the adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet, or at least reducing the consumption of meat, would help to reduce carbon emissions and thereby contribute to the mitigation of climate change.