Today a report was published in the journal Bioscience, signed by 11,000 scientists from around the world, declaring “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” Today was also the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, where scientists “agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act.” Despite 40 years of warnings from scientists, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising rapidly, and the current report concludes, “An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.”
Forty years we’ve been ignoring the warnings about climate change… and still I find myself saying things like, “I believe we’re in a climate emergency.” Because we all check out the evidence and make up our minds, right? At some point we feel the evidence is strong enough and we become convinced. But then other people express skepticism, and point out past predictions that didn’t come true. Once upon a time, back in the seventies or so, experts were worried the world’s population would keep increasing exponentially and all hell would break loose with mass starvation and whatnot. However, although our global population has increased steadily, in many areas of the world, fertility rates have declined below replacement rates. If the scientists were so wrong about catastrophic overpopulation, they’re probably wrong about this, too. Right?
A couple days ago, I sent an email to a list I belong to for Zen priests and teachers. I asked if people were finding ways to address the ecological and climate crisis as Zen teachers – particularly whether anyone had found skillful ways to motivate their Sanghas – congregations – to take action. I suggested interested folks might get together for an online video discussion about this topic at some point. A good fifteen people or so responded that they were interested in further conversation.
But someone, a Zen teacher I don’t know, responded with one, short line: “The climate crisis is an illusion.”
My one-line response to him was, “I hope so. I really do.”
Oh, how I want to believe this is all an illusion, that 11,000 scientists are wrong and just jumping on some crazy bandwagon. How I would love to return to my life-as-usual, content to write about Zen and love my Sangha members and dogs, and grow native plants in my backyard. How I hope future generations look back and chuckle at our mass hysteria.
I haven’t been quick to come around to concern about climate change, let alone develop a sense of urgency about it. I never even watched All Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth when it came out in 2006. I’ve been gradually converted by an unrelenting stream of awful news about the state of our biosphere. Occasionally I still think, “Maybe the scientists are wrong. Maybe it’s not all that bad.” But what if it is?