Climate in your life
The Earth will no longer be as we know it and humanity may not survive if we collectively don’t make drastic changes in our perceptions, our behavior, and our lifestyle. We all know that climate crisis is real and drastically pressing: World temperatures are rising. Polar ice is rapidly melting. Sea levels are going up. Unprecedented storms, floods, droughts, and wild fires have become commonplace. Weather patterns are unpredictable and extreme. Less rain. Less snowfall. Our soil is eroded and poisoned. Our air, land, and oceans are polluted. Food and water are becoming scarce. These are affecting people living in locality and people with low income more than others. But they are affecting all of us.
You must already be doing many things to counter these challenges by reducing remission: recycling, composting, bringing bags for shopping, buying local foods, avoiding meat and bottled water, buying less, conserving energy, saving water, installing solar panels, divesting from fossil fuel companies, studying about issues, talking with friends, voting for environmentalists, meeting online, driving less, and flying less. Naturally, these things help. But beyond that, what works to respond to the global crisis? The climate issues can be so overwhelming and feel like they out of our hands. We feel powerless, so we try to forget it. But this is cynicism that leads us to do nothing further, which is suicidal.
Who to listen to?
The best thing to do next, I believe, is to listen to one of the most skilled experts in the field. Christiana Figueres from Costa Rica was the main architect of the United Nations’ historic Paris Agreement in 2015. In 2010, after the climate conference in Copenhagen had failed miserably, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Figueres to assume responsibility for the international climate negotiations. No one at that time thought any workable international climate agreement would be possible. Nevertheless, with her chief political strategist Tom Rivett-Cornac and with many people’s help, Figueres made a formidable effort. As a result, one hundred ninety-five nations unanimously adopted the most far-reaching agreement to guide their economics for the next four decades.
The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Cornac is to my mind a gospel for our common future. The authors say, ”Our collective responsibility is to ensure that a better future is not only possible but probable, and then not only probable but foreseeable.”“Every time you make an individual choice to be a responsible custodian of this beautiful Earth, you contribute toward major transformations.” (For more on their work, please see https://www.globaloptimism.com .)
The authors suggest three basic mindsets: The first is stubborn optimism. “We may be challenged beyond our currently visible capacities, but that only means that we are invited to rise to the next level of our abilities. And we can.”
The second is endless abundance. “The realization of abundance is not an illusory increase in physical resources, but rather an awareness of a broad array of ways to satisfy needs and wants so that everyone is content. In this way resources will be protected and replenished, and the relationships among us are enriched.”
The third mindset is radical regeneration: “We have to shift our action compass from self-centric to nature-aligned. We have to filter every action through a consequential stress test, and we have to be pretty radical about it. When considering an action, we have to ask: Does it actively contribute to humans and nature thriving together as one integrated system on this planet? If yes, green light. If not, red light. Period.”
This is fully in alignment with the concept of “green dharma.” To me “green dharma” means to learn the reality of the world while we are engaging in activities that help sustain humanity and the environment. So, let me share with you what I am learning at the moment.
By the way, Christiana Figueres is the daughter of José Figueres, who led a revolution in Costa Rica, became the head of the government, and abolished military forces in 1949. In my book in progress, Breakthrough Costa Rice: Lessons for the World, I declare: “The demilitarization of Costa Rica by José Figueres is the most inspiring event in human history.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Christiana Figueres in Santa Fe in July 2022. Prior to that, my Brazilian friends Fabio Rodrigues and Lia Beltrão asked me to give online advise to people interested in social actions. At one point I said to Fabio and Lia, “I am concerned about the vast and fast destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. How can I help?” Then, I asked them to find the most reputable and uncorrupted organization that was already successfully helping indigenous people to plant trees. After some research they recommended Amazon Reforest Alliance, a consortium of indigenous and non-indigenous people.
In early 2022, I asked the board members of the U.S. non-profit organization Inochi to initiate the project for planting trees in Amazon Rainforest. Inochi (meaning “life force” in Japanese) was founded by the painter Mayumi Oda in 1983. I have been volunteering for this organization since its founding as secretary and now as president. In the past we had sent our representative, Claire Greensfelder, to the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and the United Nations Conferences on Climate in Copenhagen in 2010 and in Paris in 2015. So, climate issues have been important for us. Thus, Inochi and Amazon Reforest Alliance formed a partnership. My job has been to ask friends around the world to contribute funds to the project and to spread the word. I want to share with you some things I have learned in my volunteer work in case you, too, would like to become engaged in this way.
You might dread fund raising. Dread asking friends for money, knowing that most of them will say no or ignore you. Yes, it can be humbling and sometimes discouraging. But half or more of peace and environmental work is to collect resources for powerful actions. And remember: People may say yes or no, but they certainly respect you. You are begging not for yourself but for a good cause that can benefit everybody and the world. Some of your friends may express delight and feel honored to be asked to participate, which in itself is rewarding and gives you courage to continue.
Inochi’s initial goal for the first year of the project was to ask the indigenous Puyanawa people to plant 5,000 trees of various kinds on their land in Acre Province, northwest of Brazil. It’s a humble objective compared with the wide-spread clearcuttings of the rainforest. But humble is good, humble is great. We need an infinite number of humble projects. What we can do or slightly beyond what we can do is the best thing in the world to do.
Planting trees in the Amazon Rainforest is a direct way to preserve and regenerate “flying rivers,” the massive water vapor that regulates the clouds, rainfalls, and temperatures of the globe. We are focused on establishing an outstanding prototype that can be replicated or modified by other individuals, organizations, and governments. That way we can multiply our effort exponentially.
It’s a lot of work sending thank-you notes and receipts to donors of $15 or $140 or applying for a $5,000 grant. We also need to update our progress report every month on the website (www.inochi-trees.org) and email an update to all donors and those who are involved in different ways every three months or so. But it is important to honor and treat equally benefactors of all amounts. To handle the public money, we need to be prompt and transparent. In working on a project like this though, you don’t have to do everything by yourself. It’s common to use 5% of the revenue for administration and communication. You can hire people or get volunteers.
Money counts, but more importantly, people need to feel ownership of the project and encourage their friends and their friends’ friends to join. Sending a check or giving a credit card number is admirable, but it’s still a passive participation. Asking friends to join is an active participation. And with this, networking grows. You may not be used to the idea of raising funds, but anyone can do it. And it is crucial.
The authors of The Future We Choose say, “In short, we could return the climate to how it was decades ago just by planting trees.” “Plant Trees. As many as you can.”“Finance others to plant more trees as a symbol of the fact that you still have some way to go. Trees are good, and the world needs more of them.”Yes! And yes! If each of us plants or helps plant one hundred or more trees in our community, our yard, or elsewhere, it can be a beginning of a great turning. If you can with others plant one thousand trees, why not?
According to the Flower Splendor Scripture, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, the wisdom being of practice, says:
It is also like planting a large tree of the Medicine King
in the Snow Mountains.
Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching it
all remove sicknesses.
All of us can be tree planters who plant trees of healing people, healing the planet.
Paul Hawken, an environmentalist and entrepreneur, working with 189 climate experts, in 2017 created the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. The plan continues to evolve online (https://drawdown.org). Hawken explains that global warming refers to the surface temperature of the earth, and climate change refers to the many changes that will occur with increases in temperature and greenhouse gas. Hawken and his colleagues add “drawdown” to give us a word for and way of thinking and believing in actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
The team has successfully summarized in clear language an enormous body of scientific papers on climate for a general audience. They propose eighty solutions in seven sectors—buildings and cities, energy, food, land use, materials, transport, empowering girls and women. For each solution the team presents a total tonnage of atmospheric CO2 reduction, along with its net cost and net savings. For example, managed grazing can reduce 16.34 gigatons of CO2, costs $50.48 billion, and saves $735.27 billion. This is epoch-making work for all of us, including policy makers, non-profit organization leaders, and corporate executives, that helps us to understand the overall issues and potential solutions on a gigantic scale.
In his later book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, Hawken says, “The only effective and timely way to reverse the climate crisis is the regeneration of life in all its manifestations, human and biological. It is also the most compelling, prosperous, and inclusive way.” “The climate crisis is not a science problem. It is a human problem. The ultimate power to change the world does not reside in technologies. It relies on reverence, respect and compassion—for ourselves, for all people, and for all life. This is regeneration.”
Hawken also clarifies the difference between an outcome and a purpose. “Reversing the climate crisis is an outcome. Regenerating human health, security and well-being, the living world, and justice is the purpose.” Well said, indeed. “Our concern is simple: most people in the world remain disengaged, and we need a way forward that engages the majority of humanity.” Then how do we do that? Hawken suggests things that can be categorized as Frameworks, Equity, Reduce, Protect, Sequester, Influence and Support. For “Support,” he suggests: “In virtually every area of climate, social justice, and the environment, there are organizations that are highly competent at what they do, that are ahead of the curve and embody knowledge and networks that make them the most effective change agent.” (The list of such organizations is found at www.regeneration.org.) We all have different interests and concerns. So, it’s good to have a wide option in what field and how we can be a climate angel.
An avalanche effect
In his highly acclaimed book Web of Meaning, Jeremy Lent says, “We can choose to live as an ecological self, as an integral part of the emerging human planetary consciousness as it finds its way to synergize with the multitude of other sacred, sentient beings comprising Gaia.”
Lent also refers to a couple of scientists who were studying how avalanches occur. They set up a big heap of rice, and one by one they added a grain to the top of the heap. As predicted, many grains seemed to have no effect, while an occasional single grain would arbitrarily set off an avalanche of rice. Lent made his own pile of rice, dropping grains and studying the change. He realized: “Unseen, the tiny impacts of the grains on top were resonating throughout the pile, causing innumerable other tiny reactions among adjacent grains, which in turn passed their movement on throughout the pile. It dawned on me then that each grain I dropped was contributing something unique to the eventual avalanche.” Then, he concluded: “With every strand we weave in the web of meaning, we become intertwined in Gaia’s future—an intimately embedded node within Indra’s Net, reflecting infinitely out into the mystery.” (For more on his work, please see https://www.jeremylent.com)
I had an opportunity to sit next to Jeremy Lent at a small social gathering. I said, “Your analogy of grains of rice is extremely helpful for general readers because we feel everyone’s contribution is equally important. But when you actually engage in activities, don’t you want to choose an action that can have a maximum impact? It could be like a pile of beans and you have a choice of dropping a soybean or a lima bean?” We laughed.
All of these writers and activists point us toward a future created by universal effort that begins with one person’s action. And then another. And another. They are experts in their fields and hold out hope for us.
In earlier work, I developed the “four commonplace truths,” a principle for social transformation, inspired by the Buddhist Four Noble Truths. They can be found in my book Painting Peace. I restate them here, hoping they perhaps might be a touchstone for some of you going forward.
1. No situation is impossible to change.
2. A communal vision, outstanding strategy, and sustained effort can bring forth positive changes.
3. Everyone can help make a difference.
4. No one is free of responsibility.
Yes, all of us have the power to help make a difference. Young, old, those living in scarcity, and plenty, the strong, the bedridden—all without exception. Thus, we each have a crucial obligation. So, think deeply and act effectively.
 Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Cornac. The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis,8.
 Ibid., 44.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 64.
 Ibid., 77.
 Ibid., 126.
 Ibid., 168.
 Ibid., 169.
 Flower Splendor Scripture,chapter 37. See p. xx.
 Paul Hawken, ed. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Xiii.
 Paul Hawken. Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, 9.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 13.
 Jeremy Lent. Web of Meaning, 380.
 Ibid., 381.
 Ibid., 382.
 Kazuaki Tanahashi. Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis, 156.
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