Earth Day this year was really inspiring for me. I spent the day at our woodland playgroup with my two children, watching them run among the trees, watching their imaginations grow, watching them create fantastical worlds with sticks and dirt. And in cyberspace, images of our stunning planet whirled past my computer screen and smart phone, reminding me about the sacredness and unparalleled beauty of our Earthen home.
On Earth Day we were all INSPIRED. But in the days after Earth Day, we have gone back to our lives, our work, our busy-ness. We have gone back to doing what we always do. This is only natural. In my previous post, I shared a video of Prince Ea’s ‘Apology to Future Generations’. I was inspired and I was not alone. Literally millions of people have viewed that video over the last few days, and most of those millions would probably consider themselves, like me, to be people who care about the environment.
What worries me isn’t the climate change deniers, but the fact that most people I know are genuinely trying to do their best. They are recycling, composting, dutifully turning off lights when they leave the room. Many of us are changing to energy companies which include renewables. We are trying to buy organic (when we can afford it). Meanwhile we are reassured we can make a difference, that every little bit counts. But every year things just seem to get worse, we pump more and more carbon into the atmosphere, we pollute more rivers and streams, the glaciers in the Arctic melt further and climate scientists give more doomsday reports.
At the end of Prince Ea’s video, he urges us that we can make a difference…and then, as is so typical these days, gives us a charity (Stand for Trees) which will take our money and assuage our guilt. Quite honestly, it leaves me feeling flat because, as I already knew in my heart before others started to critique Prince Ea’s ‘Apology’, we can’t make everything better with a quick donation (check out the Earth Statement made by leading scientists this year for Earth Day).
All this has left me thinking — what is it really going to take for us to change, to turn things around, to stop the destruction of our amazing planet?
Yoga and Buddhism might have something to offer here that can take us further than our current efforts. Both Yoga philosophy and Buddhist teachings claim that ‘the Path’ includes 3 separate aspects (often referred to as the Three Trainings): Lifestyle, Intention and Wisdom. When we also apply this to our search for wisdom in terms of our relationship to our Planet Earth, something new (at least to me) becomes clear.
Of course we should always consider our lifestyle–where we can cut back on driving, on flying…whether we can increase the amount of electricity we get from renewable energy sources..whether we can buy more organic. And we should of course keep up our motivation and good intentions by informing ourselves on environmental issues.
But in order to really change, we need to go to the source of the problem…which is not actually carbon emissions or pollution…
We need to look at the deeper value system that drives these practices. All the way back in the ’70s, an economist and environmentalist E.F. Schumacher wrote an article called ‘Buddhist Economics’ in his book Small is Beautiful. In this article as well as others, Schumacher points out the essence of our current worldview which sees people as labourers (on the one hand) and consumers (on the other), and views the environment as simply a bunch of raw materials for our consumption.
In reality, we live in a society that says prosperity = happiness. We live in a society that tells us the insufficiency we feel can be filled by acquiring things. We spend every day under a barrage of advertising and marketing which has the sole purpose of PRODUCING INSATIABLE DESIRE. And because in this world our wants will always grow faster than our ability to meet them, we find ourselves on a never-ending conveyor belt of consumption. New boots, new clothes, new home decorations, new makeup, new gadgets and widgets and wotsits…and then I’ll feel GREAT!
Schumacher writers that we are “used to measuring the “standard of living” by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is “better off” than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.
The real source of environmental destruction is our over-consumption on every level and that problem is rooted in our minds. As long as we crave this amount of stuff, and as long as deep down most of us make a direct link between stuff and happiness, we will (accidentally) continue to destroy our Earth.
Or, we can take a different path. We can step back and take a bigger view. We can consider training in Wisdom.