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Friday, June 6, 2014

Climate Change and Death

I wrote this essay about two years ago, when I was thinking of getting it published in Beams and Struts, which has unfortunately since ceased ongoing publication...

Here it is now, with a few edits.


Climate Change and Death

Thinking about global warming and climate change.
Thinking about how I want to think about global warming and climate change.

What can I say that has not already been said? What can I write that hasn’t been elsewhere better articulated?

I grew up in urban Singapore; for me, it is important to see that human habitation and the Natural are not two separate things… Sustainability is possible not (only) from “returning” to some more “natural” (read: near subsistence-level) way of life, but also about investing in good urban infrastructure; where we can deliver resources to more people, more effectively.

But it is one thing to be motivated by contentment in the pursuit of "sustainability" in our current ways of living and being, as a species... It is another to be motivated, at this moment in global history, primarily by the avoidance of the seemingly inevitable calamity and catastrophe of anthropogenic climate change (indeed, already calamitous and catastrophic for many Pacific Islander people)…

I am curious about the fear of dramatic, human-induced climate change, the global warming that now threatens the very survival of our species. On “either side” of the debate around climate-change deniers and those who recognise the reality of climate change, I am interested in considering, from a civilizational perspective, the very real possibility of death of the human species.

I think this is one big, unanswered issue, climate-change or otherwise. 

My bias, clearly, in this article, is in an orientation toward viewing the world and the phenomena of human suffering through a Buddhist-lens. 

For the Buddha, it was not the avoidance of old age, sickness, and death, that led to his Enlightenment, but the full confrontation with the inevitability of aging, sickness, and death of the individual. What too, of our global collective, as a species?

Civilizationally, I am not convinced that even the most ardently engaged climate-change philosophers have fully accounted for the possibility that we are encountering, in our Way-of-Life, a civilizational Old Age, a civilizational Sickness, and civilizational Death.

One fear I have about bringing this up is that this train of thought has racist and classist implications. A disproportionately large number of deaths and calamities resulting from our ongoing global climate crisis happen to people from relatively impoverished countries, who may not have the political infrastructure nor the capital to avoid this calamity… “Making peace” with “their” death is hardly the sort of equanimity I am advocating.

This, of course, begs a larger question about the relationship between Buddhist equanimity and global justice... What does liberation from suffering look like? Whose old age, sickness and death is most tended to?
What would it mean to account for all of this? The death of our people, inclusive of and as indicated by the death of our globe’s poorest, the death of our most dispossessed. As an individual, I exist in a precarious bubble of geographic and class privilege, here in Melbourne Australia, and I am not convinced that it is enough to keep organising around climate change as if it is to avoid some impending disaster, when the disaster has already arrived, it is already here

As a species, people have already been displaced from their/our homes, from their/our livelihoods. 
Perhaps, as a species, we are already sick.
Perhaps, we are already dying.

What lessons might we learn from apprehending the phenomenon of global climate change in this way?

What is the morality that arises from assuming the inevitability of our extinction?
Need it be nihilistic?
Might it be Buddhistic?

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