Unlearning Consumerism: Toward a Mindful Society Rochester Zen Center Symposium Dr. Stephanie Kaza, University of Vermont May 1, 2010
Dedication of the Merit Gratitude and Dedication to • Kobun Chino Otogawa • John Daido Loori “These mountains and rivers, the great Earth and its boundless oceans are continually manifesting the words of the ancient teachers, continually expressing the truth of the universe.” --Daido Loori
What future for our world? Context • Global environmental crisis: species and habitat loss • Exponential growth in human population • Increasing scope and impact of toxic chemicals • Rapid rise of consumerist economies in China, India, SE Asia • Carbon-based energy dependence with limited resources • Widespread ecological impacts of climate change • Financial meltdown impeding progress toward sustainability My own work • Teaching young people to think about these things • Writing about the complexities we face in common • Translating Buddhist philosophy into environmental practice
What future for our world? Is there a role for Buddhism?
A Century of Human Impact In the 20th century: • Population quadrupled • World economic output increased 20x • Energy use increased 16x • Enormous gains in health, education, standard of living but at great cost to environmental health • New risks from chemical and nuclear industries, hazardous waste, pesticides • Grave loss to world’s natural resource base • 1/3 to 1/2 of world’s forests are now gone • 75% marine fisheries fished to capacity or overfished • 1/4 of all bird species are extinct, 12% threatened • 1/4 mammal, reptile and fish species threatened
Multiple Crises: the Brewing Storm Water • 1/5 of world’s people lack clean drinking water • 40% lack sanitation and sewage services Food • Shrinking world grain reserves; food hoarding and speculation • Increasing energy demands for food production • Concentration of agribusiness in powerful global corporations Toxins and Disease • Warming conditions invite disease transmission • Accumulating pesticides and hormone disrupters in food chain Economy • Credit collapse hinders funding for new initiatives • National priorities shift to basic social support Climate • Global carbon emissions continue to rise despite reduction efforts • Political agreements fall short of reduction requirements • Extreme weather events tax infrastructure capacities
Multiple Impacts: Global Climate Change • Changing climate: how will we respond? • Rising levels of greenhouse gases • Overall warming trend both days and nights • Increase in extreme weather events • Thawing of northern permafrost • Longer growing seasons • Retreating glaciers, melting land ice • Rising sea level, island flooding • Systems level amplifying feedback • How will this affect the home geography and cultures of Buddhism?
Multiple Impacts: Global Climate Change Greater Himalaya region -- the Third Pole (BlueWords.comII)
Why is this so difficult to address? Much suffering • Hard to grasp the full scale of human impact • Global forces shaping future for all local systems • Fear, hope, anxiety add to physical hardships • Difficult to discuss and find appropriate action A tangled web • Economic, social, environmental systems intertwined • Conflicting values, religions, governance structures • Consequences of past choices are still unfolding Need for a global ethic • Environmental attitudes shaped by culture, geography, experience • Cooperation in spite of differences and disagreements • Engaging financial crises through planning for sustainability Understanding consumption offers a starting point on the green practice path.
Understanding Consumption Ecological Footprint = the load imposed by a given population on nature or the land area necessary to sustain current levels of consumption and waste discharge Ecological shadow = the hidden ecological, economic, and moral costs to the environment of a policy, product, or pattern of consumption Who is doing the consuming? 75% of Earth’s biocapacity is used by China, India, Europe, Japan, U.S. footprint per person share of global biocapacity China 1.6 hectares 18% India 0.8 7% Europe 4.7 19% Japan 4.8 5% United States 9.7 25%
Understanding Consumption How much earth is there? 28 billion bio-productive acres divided by 6.3 billion people Living Planet Report, 2003 Data Graphics by Jim Merkel
Understanding Consumption Our personal planetoid: We each get 4.4 acres… excluding the needs of the estimated 25 million other species
Understanding Consumption Radical disparity? Wealthiest Billion $70 per day Poorest Billion $0.25 per day Global Gap is 250:1 and growing
Understanding Consumption What size footprint will we have? Graphics by Jim Merkel
Who consumes how much? Stuff In the 20th century, as the U.S. population tripled in size, our consumption multiplied 17 times. • Americans consume their average body weight every day in extracted and processed materials. • America’s 102 million households contain more stuff than all other households throughout history, put together. • Americans spend more for trash bags than 90 of the world’s 210 countries spend for everything. Americans, with 5% of the world population, consume 25% of the world’s resources.
Who consumes how much? The “property list”: one college student’s clothing 9 belts 20 pairs earrings 3 scarves 4 watches 4 pairs gloves 9 bracelets 8 hats 16 rings 25 skirts 12 necklaces 20 pairs of socks 3 wigs 50 T shirts 8 prom dresses 30 long-sleeve shirts 7 fleece jackets 10 sweatshirts 5 bathing suits 32 sweaters 2 down vests 32 dress shirts 55 pairs underwear 12 bras 55 pairs shoes 35 pants 15 shorts
Who consumes how much? Meat 1961 7 million tons consumed globally • 284 million tons Americans eat 15% of world total or 200 lbs of meat, poultry, fish per person/year which is 10 billion animals/year
Who consumes how much? Solid and Hazardous Waste • Uncollected trash in mega-cities • Plastics debris gyre in North Pacific • Explosion in volume of e-waste • Unregulated nuclear waste in places • Plastics pollution proliferating Energy • U.S. the highest per capita user in world • Surging demand in China and India • World’s richest people use 25x more energy than the poorest
Who consumes how much? If all the world’s people lived as Americans we would need five planets.
Our Common Challenge Eight Transitions to Sustainability (From Red Sky at Morning, Gus Speth, 2004,chapter 8) “the megatrends we need for global environmental protection and sustainability” -- Gus Speth 1) Stable or smaller world population 2) Elimination of mass poverty 3) Environmentally benign technologies 4) Environmentally full-cost pricing 5) Sustainable consumption 6) Green knowledge and learning 7) Global environmental governance and cooperation 8) Transformation of consciousness
Our Common Challenge Transformation of consciousness • A practice path approach • Actualizing the new paradigm • Sustaining the shift Sustainability -- Our common challenge • Environmental • Economic • Social
Our Common Challenge How can Buddhism help? 1) Issues to engage Shopaholism Mindful eating Treatment of animals Climate concerns (what else?) 2) Practices on the Path Non-harming Non-dualistic mind Equanimity Taking the long view (much more)
The Green Practice Path 1) Setting intention Responding to the call • What is needed? What can I actually do? • What is effective action? • What is meaningful? Ecosattva vow • Making a commitment to the practice • Asking the green question more often Rethinking priorities • Choosing where to invest time, energy, money, relationships • Personal assessment, strategic choices • Self-reflection: what is really important?
The Green Practice Path: Unlearning Consumerism 2) Study Desire as Suffering Desire = grasping or craving after something, identifying with the craving, being “hooked” by addictive needs Ex. shopaholism, needing to shop to avoid facing difficult emotions Shenpa = “that sticky feeling” (Pema Chodron) that makes us insecure, uncomfortable, wanting to get out of a world that’s always changing, the urge for relief from uneasiness, for things that will bring us comfort -- food, sex, alcohol, drugs, sugar, shopping Shenlok = refraining from acting on that urge, turn shenpa upside down, break open the self-limiting pattern Self awareness of desire as engaged, continuous, transformative, a foundation for ethical behavior
The Green Practice Path: Unlearning Consumerism Causes of Desire The Twelve Links, an endless self-perpetuating chain or wheel ignorance conditioning consciousness name and form six sense fields contact feeling states craving grasping becoming birth death
The Green Practice Path: Unlearning Consumerism Paying Attention Apply mindfulness to: • acts of consuming • objects of consuming • feelings of consuming • consequences of consuming Try this: • Eat a single raisin very slowly • Make a property list of everything you own • Study your own addictions
The Green Practice Path:Unlearning Consumerism Engage the Twelve Links Use rational thinking, knowledge, and logic to: • Challenge habitual responses • Change your conditioning through learning • Feel less trapped by the links of consuming Try this: • Keep a food energy log • Check cosmetic labels for ingredients • Read food biographies
The Green Practice Path:Unlearning Consumerism Choose Well-Being and Contentment Contentment = state of being not dissatisfied, the absence of craving • Recognize indicators of contentment • Practice “just enough” • Support infrastructures of well-being Try this: • Take up a technology fast • Fully appreciate your knives • Eat third world portions
The Green Practice Path: Building a Mindful Society 3) Cultivate Relational Thinking Embracing the deep view • Thinking from a systems perspective • Indra’s Net in motion • Flux-balance, flowing ch’i Understanding self more clearly • Self-sufficiency as myth • Mutual limbic regulation • Ecological self, “interbeing” • Self as agent in web of life
The Green Practice Path:Building a Mindful Society 4) Drawing Support from Community Green path as lifeway = fusion of everyday practice and culture, supported by the whole community over time Ethics, spirituality, social norms, a deeply tested way of doing things Examples: • Northwest Earth Institute, community work groups • Center for Whole Communities, “Whole Thinking Retreats” • Interfaith Power and Light
The Green Practice Path:Building a Mindful Society 5) Seeking green wisdom sources • From green mentors, trees, places, animal and plant beings • Finding guidance and support, strengthening intention • Receiving the teachings of the insentient • Practicing wild mind
The Green Practice Path:Building a Mindful Society Taking up “the Real Work” of • Building a mindful society • Following the green practice path • Becoming real human beings “The real work is what we really do. And what our lives are. And if we can live the work we have to do, knowing that we are real, and it’s real, and that the world is realm, then it becomes right. And that’s the real work: to make the world as real as it is, and to find ourselves as real as we are within it.” --Gary Snyder, poet
Unlearning Consumerism: Resources for the Path Starter Books Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking, Stephanie Kaza Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, ed. Stephanie Kaza Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Michael Brower and Warren Leon State of the World 2004 and 2010, Worldwatch Institute Mindfulness in the Marketplace, ed. Alan Hunt-Badiner Ready, Set, Green, Graham Hill and Meaghan O’Neill The Environment Equation, Alex Shino-Barry Starter Websites www.ecologicalfootprint.org,Footprint Network www.newdream.org,Center for a New American Dream www.usucs.org,Union of Concerned Scientists www.ewg.org Product Awareness