Dr. Phe Bach/Dr. Khanh T. Tran: ENGAGED BUDDHISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT – A Solution to Slow down Global Warming

According to the majority of researchers, the state of global warming or climate change is very real and is gradually and severely growing in both size and danger they pose. The main reason of this is the excessive increase in the emission of carbon dioxide within the past 30 years due to the burning of fossil fuels (Cox, P.M., et al., 2000), as well as other chemical components that are not organic (Hansen, J., et al., 2000), and also because of the living necessities of human beings; from the release of toxic wastes, smoke and polluted air in industrial facilities of all scales, to automobiles, to deforestation, to livestock farms, to waste materials coming from hydroelectric dams, coal plants, nuclear power wastes, etc.

Lorenzoni, I., & Pidgeon, N. F. (2006), have pointed out that, “The effects of humanity, if left unchecked, on the climate system could create dangerous changes harmful to other aspects that are directly interconnected to the survival of other species on this entire Earth”.

Venerable Thich Nguyen Hiep in his ‘The Ethics of Buddhism and the Environmental Dilemma’, also wrote:

“The human world always has to face natural-born disasters such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami waves… these are the problems they often have to deal with throughout the span of their history of development. And today, the severity of those events are gradually becoming worse due to many negative factors created by humans. Aside from the usually seen natural disasters, the pollution of the air, the decline of underground water sources, spoiled lands, desertification, the change of climate and the disappearances of natural biomes, are the horrifying catastrophes that we, the human race, are facing as well. Those disasters are happening everywhere, everyone saw them, but the needs of living standards and economic development are causing humans to mistreat them, neglecting all the catastrophic risks that they will one day be exposed to.”

Take Vietnam as an example, this Southeast nation also has to take responsibility in this decaying state of global climate change. According to the World Population Review (2015), the population of Vietnam had reached 94.5 million people, taking the 14th highest position in the world, accounting for 1.33% of the human population on Earth. Vietnamese people are becoming more and more numerous, but our resources are deteriorating day by day. There are no longer “golden forests, silver seas” like in the old time when we went to the village school. The pollution dilemma is serious, stemming from the technological development, the abuses of authority, the lack of systematic consciousness, and the absence of environmental protection policies, etc. At this moment, in Vietnam, the gaps between the rich and the poor are growing, and the extravagant lifestyle of the rich (the 1%) has been worsening the entire environment in Vietnam.

Therefore, we must be mindful of the problems regarding the environment, even in the smallest of things, such as public hygiene, to larger complications like manufacturing technologies that contribute to climate change, because what we do will affect many generations to come.

Venerable Tam Phap in ‘Buddhism and the Environment’, the Buddha Enlightenment selection, various authors, mentioned in Part III: “The Buddha came to be and became enlightened for nothing other than the sympathy towards the common folks who suffered from the ravaging Three Poisons of ignorance, aversion, and attachment. Because of the greed to fulfill material needs, humans must suffer from catastrophic pain. To end the suffering, humans must live in accordance to the path of enlightenment, which is to live by the laws of nature or the law of causes and effects. By this law, humans, floras, and faunas co-exist in a mutual and correlative relationship. Nature shall provide the environment for humans and animals to live in. In return, human beings must have the consciousness to protect nature to maintain a healthy and balanced ecological environment.”

More than ever, every single one of us must bear the responsibility and duty for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations, especially when we were born Vietnamese. Our love and concern for our country are the responsibilities and duties of every child of Vietnam. So, we must not only care deeply for what happens within ourselves, but also around us. From the view of a nation’s people, it can be said, in another way, that we must be aware of what happened within our country and in our neighboring counterparts. Nowadays, the People government of China has built many large dams alongside many hydroelectric facilities on the great Mekong River, destroying the habitats and causing negative effects in nations downstream.

In our presentations about the Mekong River (the Nine Dragon River in Vietnamese) at the UN’s Vesak Summit from the 27th to the 30th of May, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand, we indicated the origin of the Mekong from the Tibet Highland, running across six nations including China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, stretching 4500 km long, which is the 12th longest river in the world. Within the past twenty years, there has been a hydroelectric exploitation program on the Mekong (Richard Cronin, 2010; Scott Pearse-Smith, 2012). By 2014, there were 26 hydroelectric dams on the main river, and 14 more on the Lancang River (the name of the Mekong’s upstream in Yunnan, China). The barricades of the natural flow all have tremendous negative impacts on the natural habitats and have affected all 6 nations, especially downstream ones such as Cambodia and Vietnam. We claimed that the hydroelectric dams were causing economic consequences, affecting the livelihood of millions of people living in the downstream nations. The flood of Mekong happens annually from June to October with hundreds of deaths. The majority of the flood victims have been drowning children who lacked the supervision of their family’s adults. In the Bangkok Declaration of the UN’s Vesak Summit, the Mekong dilemma was referred and a request was made to the countries in the ASEAN community and neighboring nations to join hands to solve the emergent situation of the Mekong River as well as the ecological system.

Furthermore, aside from the large hydroelectric dams that China had built, the authorities also constructed nuclear power plants situated close to Vietnam, e.g. the Fangchengang near the Quanzhou city in Guangxi, only 45 km (30 miles) away from Vietnam’s border, and another nuclear power plant, Changjiang, West of Hainan Island. Although the nuclear power plants have not caused the state of global warming, they cause serious concerns of safety, security, and vulnerability matters to the nation of Vietnam. For if an incident was to happen in these Chinese plants near the Northern Vietnamese borders, there would not only be a disaster for the small common folks of China, but also the innocent people of Vietnam would be affected heavily as well. We carried out researches and concluded in the ‘Effects of Chinese Nuclear Power Plants to the Safety of Homeland’, that:

“(…) in summary, for the welfare of many people and many generations, we must be clearly aware of the danger[s] of the nuclear power source. And we must learn ways to prepare, prevent and provide for our families, communities and country, should unfortunate events manifest. The aforementioned Chinese nuclear plants, in particular, must be kept with a regular watchful eye to be ready to tackle and reduce the lethal as well as economic damages that would be dealt with by our people.”

In this writing, our viewpoint was made clear that Vietnam was not ready to build and monitor nuclear power plants. We recommended, instead of nuclear or hydroelectric plants, that:

A viable and stable alternative to power dams would be the sun and wind. Renewable technologies were proposed as possible strategies to develop the economy. The nations and peoples living along the Mekong River are mostly Buddhists, the monasteries can play an important role in influencing the government’s policies, and educate the people about the environmental costs and effects of these dams and the benefits of clean and renewable energy. These efforts can lower the conflicts in the future, economic and environment disasters and this great Buddhist River would not face a horrifying death”.

Therefore, we must be aware that if the environmental dilemmas and global warming become worse, we and our children will be faced with unimaginable consequences.

To a child of Buddhism, Engaged Buddhism is especially a starting point. Engaged Buddhism was founded back in the 1960s in the Vietnam War by The Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh to kick-start the application of Buddhist knowledge into specific actions, bringing meditation and Buddhism into the common life to ease agonizing situations; from social to political, and from economic to environmental, for human beings and society.

According to two researchers, Queen, Chris and King, Sallie (1996), Engaged Buddhism has grown and developed and become quite popular in the West. We should bring the message of knowledge and love (empathy and wisdom) to relieve life from suffering. Mahayana entered life through positive efforts, (self-development, communal development; self-enlightenment, communal enlightenment). Buddhism chose the path of Middle Way. Poverty and illiteracy mean unhappiness, and unfulfilled basic needs mean difficulties in development. We need true “eradication of hunger, reduction of poverty” and to improve the people’s literacy as well as civil freedom, democracy, humanity, etc., so that our society can thrive, and we must have the awareness to protect and preserve our habitat in order to slow global warming, to conserve Mother Earth.

Generally, every human has basic needs. Everywhere, people want or try to have a joyful and happy life. We want a life of harmony, good health, and contentment- where we are not too worried, and can always care for future generations. Everyone knows that life is a temporary plane, and we only have one Mother Earth, home to 7 billion people living together. What remains is what we ought to do to savor this situation. So, we can do specific things in the time being in order to improve our life and the lives of the others.The Solutions that can change the Carbon footprint:

  1. For individuals and families:
  2. Live a life of wisdom and moderation, and avoid excessive desires (frugal living).
  3. Pick at least one day per week to practice vegetarianism/veganism.
  4. Eat less meat or none at all (Meatless Monday).
  5. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
  6. Bring yourself to make your living, working, and entertainment environment green, clean, and beautiful.
  1. For the community/state:
  2. Create policies/rules/programs to improve the eco-system.
  3. Use eco-friendly or renewable energy.
  4. Support healthy movements such as Living Green, Earth Day, etc.
  5. Encourage and participate in healthy and socially helpful organizations.
  6. Grow gardens of vegetables, fruits for the community, Farm-to-Fork programs, etc.

III.       For the Commonwealth/Nation

  1. Accept International conventions made to reduce carbon footprint and to use renewable energy.
  2. Developed countries should remove or reduce nuclear plants, avoid nuclear/chemical/biological warfare, etc.
  3. Balance the distribution of food and wealth.
  4. Eradicate dictatorial domination, and understand the mutual and correlative relationships in the universe
  5. For developing/undeveloped countries – for now, there should be no existence of nuclear plants because of the lack of morality, ability, and experiences.

Finally, this is the responsibility and duty belonging to all of us in order to protect the only planet that humans are inhabiting. Moreover, every individual citizen of this world, especially the leaders, educators, politicians, etc., must consider this an ethical and moral responsibility to preserve Mother Earth. Therefore, we ought to start a new journey, striving to change life for ourselves, and for all those around us, into becoming better; and to leave a legacy of a clean, prosperous Earth for our descendants to inherit, including our own children.

Dr. Phe Bach, Mira Loma High, SJUSD, Sacramento, CA.
Dr. Khanh T. Tran, AMI Environmental, USA.


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