|Forest Sangha Newsletter||January 1992|
Caring for the Earth
Religion, as the principle that encourages the qualities of wisdom and compassion, has always played a part in establishing a balance between humanity and nature, although this aspect of its scope hasn't always come to the fore. Established religions easily become moral stamps for the self-seeking attitudes of the societies that support them. However, an authentic religious spirit dissolves the barriers of material self-interest and provides a common ground. Before we are fishermen, industrialists or housekeepers, we are humans whose bodies depend on the Earth, and who are endowed with love and intelligence.
The many social and environmental crises that face the world, together with the increasingly global nature of human consciousness, is helping to push established religions towards greater vision and interfaith co-operation. In 1986 the Network on Conservation and Religion was established by the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) at Assisi, through an interfaith gathering that included H.H. the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury and H.H. Pope John Paul II. It is now supported by eight major world religions. The function of the Network is to bring awareness of conservation to people in ways that relate it to people's religious faith, and to report on environmental projects that are supported by religions in different parts of the world. Apart from such 'practical' work, one of the features of the Network is that it does attempt to represent a quality of commitment that is not just based on human self-interest. That religions should take on environmental matters is a kind of healing of the split between matter and spirit that has allowed the material world to be used in a heedless and unethical manner. A major world religion can express the aspiration to live in fully human, wise and loving ways, at a level where it becomes politically significant. Governments seem remote and unresponsive, yet it should be remembered that they can be steered by popular opinion.
Notably in the past few years, pressure from environmental bodies brought into awareness the damage to the ozone layer of the atmosphere caused by CFCs (gases present in aerosols and refrigerant gas). When this layer is reduced, harmful quantities of solar radiation penetrate the earth's atmosphere. Increased awareness of this danger led to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which is an international agreement to reduce the use of these gases globally.
The general effect of all four speeches was to indicate a more total review of the global situation, including trade, debt, and population growth than is normally presented as of environmental concern.
On a broader front, three international bodies - IUCN (The World Conservation Union), UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and WWI (World-Wide Fund for Nature - have been working together for more than a decade to establish a World Conservation Strategy which would provide series of principles to guide more specific environmental action.
'The World Conservation Strategy was published in 1980. It emphasised that humanity, which exists as part of nature, has no future unless nature and natural resources are conserved. It asserted that conservation cannot be achieved without development to alleviate the poverty and misery of hundreds of millions of people. Stressing the interdependence of conservation and development, the World Conservation Strategy first gave currency to the term "sustainable development".' (Caring for the Earth)
Subsequent to the publication of their report in 1980, more than 50 countries have prepared conservation strategies based on it. The Strategy has been reviewed and revised recently to form a more comprehensive plan which takes into account sound economic and ecological factors.
The Caring for the Earth strategy is a follow-up to the previous work. At the London launch, H.R.H. Prince Philip (International President of WWF), Rev. John Hapgood the Archbishop of York, Sir Crispin Tickell of Green College Oxford, former Ambassador to the U.N., and Tony Baldry, Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, gave speeches on aspects of the strategy. Prince Philip pointed out that the situation was not one of 'conservation versus development' but one in which there was no way forward for humanity without conservation. The Archbishop of York brought up the point that 'conservation' was an unpalatable concept in the poor areas of the world if it meant retaining their current poverty. The onus, he felt was on the more affluent nations to provide funds, or improve economic relations with the poor, to make it unnecessary for them to further deplete their natural resources. The general effect of all four speeches was to indicate a more total review of the global situation, including trade, debt, and population growth than is normally presented as of environmental concern.
Broadly speaking the strategy is divided into three parts:|
1) Nine principles of sustainable society:
i) to respect and care for the community of life,
ii) to improve the Quality of human life.
iii) to conserve the Earth's vitality and diversity,
iv) to minimize the depletion of non-renewable resources,
v) to keep within the Earth's carrying capacity,
vi) to change personal attitudes and practices,
vii) to enable communities to care for their own environments,
viii) to provide a national framework for integrating development and conservation, and
ix) to forge a global alliance.
2) Actions that nations, businesses and individuals can undertake to reduce use of energy, create less pollution, and conserve, manage and increase forests.
3) Implementing the strategy through the use of existing political and economical structures. This section deals with the use of local, national and international environmental bodies, and funding. With reference to the last item, it is estimated that transferring a $47 billion from 199l's $900 billion global military budget would cover the cost of that year's environmental policy - and still leave a considerable sum available for military purposes.
Next year, in June, world leaders will meet at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in order to discuss a global policy for the environment. Many environmentalists consider this to be a crucial meeting as it represents a chance - while there is still the possibility of rectifying the ecological situation - of coming to an international agreement. This is important as it is only a global policy that will have a great enough effect to improve the situation.
Part of what the Caring for the Earth launch is about is to inform the general public and encourage it to make its wishes known to governmental bodies. It is felt that if there is large enough response it will help to move the wheels of power further along the road towards sustainable developments, in particular via the Rio de Janeiro conference. To encourage this process, WWF have published a small pledge* which can be obtained from Susanne Briggs, WWF-UK, Panda House, Weyside Park, Godalming, Surrey GU7 lXR [tel: (0483) 426444].
a window of opportunity
Further copies of the Caring For The Earth book or its Summary can be obtained from Ms. Cindy Craker, IUCN Publications, Avenue du Mont Blanc, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland. [Tel: (41) 22 649114]
Closer to home . . .
As is sometimes the case, the individual can feel irrelevant and helpless in the face of such global visions of vast problems and the huge resources needed to check them. However, the spiritual viewpoint is one in which each skilful action is of value, because of the innate value of mindfulness and wisdom. We cannot be certain about the future of the material world, but we do have the freedom to live in a sensitive and discerning way. Our actions vis-a-vis the environment are an aspect of the practice that we undertake to dismantle the egocentric values that the Buddha saw at the root of all suffering. In the forest monasteries referred to in this Newsletter and elsewhere, conservation projects are normal, as well as such measures as frugality and recycling. In Britain, the Sangha has been engaged in restoring and conserving the Hammer Wood in West Sussex for several years now, under the direction of Mike Holmes; there are, moreover, many other small things that we undertake as community practice that can be carried out by most families who wish to make a certain commitment for their own reflection and the welfare of others.
*The pledge Caring for the earth - a campaign for change
I pledge to care for the earth by doing everything I can to live with nature's limits. I will turn off lights in rooms not in use. I will replace light bulds with energy efficient ones. I will cut my car mileage by 25 % this year. I will lant ten trees and I will help organize recycling at work, school or wherever I live.
Our civilizations are at risk because we are misusing natural resources and disturbing natural systems. We are pressing the earth to the limits of its capacity. Since the industrial revolution, human numbers have grown eight-fold. Industrial production has risen by more than 100 times in the past 100 years.
This unprecedented increase in human numbers and activity has had major impacts on the environment. The capacity of the earth to support human and other life has been significantly diminished. In less than 200 years the planet has lost six million square kilometres of forest; water withdrawals have grown from 100 to 3600 cubic kilometres a year. Atmospheric systems have been disturbed, threatening the climate regime to which we and other forms of life have long been adapted. Pollution of air, soil, fresh waters and the oceans has become a serious and continuing threat to the health of humans and other species.
from the Caring For The Earth book
When people are caught up with wrong desires, overwhelmed by selfishness, obsessed with foolish ideas, the rainfall decreases. It is hard to get a mel. The crops are bad, afflicted with mildew and grown to mere stumps. Accordingly, many people perish.
Gradual Sayings (Vol.1) Threes; 6, 56