Buddhist Economics for Guidance During Turmoil

In a time of national turmoil, we can turn to Buddhist economics for guidance.

Trump’s free market economics and narcissistic tweets are causing turmoil and confusion. An aggressive, mean-spirited approach to live will cause suffering, while people want an economy that provides a prosperous meaningful life to people as we care for our planet.

Free market economics is based on three gravely harmful ways of thinking:

  1. Humans dominate nature, which is used to increase consumption, and we don’t need to worry about destroying our ecosystems.
  2. National well-being is based on average income growth, and increasing the incomes of companies and the very rich with reduced taxes and other perks is how we can make everyone better off.
  3. The United States does not have to care about the well-being of people in other countries, and an individual ego-centered free market economy will automatically make the US great again.

Buddhist economics shows us the path for creating comfortable, meaningful lives for all people and a healthy planet. The Buddhist economics is based on three effectively positive ways of thinking:

  • Humans are interdependent with nature, and our health depends on caring for all living creatures and healthy ecosystems. Violence and greed lead to misery.
  • Chasing more and more income does not make us happy. Living in harmony with each other and with nature, as we live with loving kindness to help others, makes us happy. As we transfer income from the wealthy to those in need, both at home and abroad, everyone is better off and our economies perform better.
  • The United States leadership in reducing global warming, in transferring income to relieve poverty and suffering globally, and in stopping wars and conflict, will make the country truly great as we all come together to live with peace and prosperity.

Buddhist economics reminds us that people are interconnected with each other and with Earth. Now is the time to connect with our sangha—our family and neighbors, our community—and mobilize to protest policies that can harm people and nature.

One mandate of Buddhist economics is to reduce suffering of all people. Now is the time to honor the basic goodness of all people, and join together in the fight to protect the rights and dignity of immigrants, LGBTs, Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims—everyone, and also to reach out to those who feel isolated and left behind and supported Trump in their confusion.

Buddhist economics looks to the basic goodness in all of us, our Buddha Nature, and reminds us that the suffering of one person causes suffering for everyone. Now is the time to reduce the painful anger of the Trump supporters, along with the pain of people around the world who are suffering from hunger and from climate change.

As we care for each other and for Earth, our love and compassion for one another and for our planet grows. As peace and harmony pervade the world, as hunger and physical deprivation end, as people live comfortable lives with dignity, and as Earth’s ecosystems are protected—then life is good, and meaningful.

The leap to Buddhist economics takes moral courage to act, to speak out, to mobilize with people around the world. Mobilization to stop harmful policies by the Trump Administration and to demand that our governments at the local, state, and national levels do the right thing to stop global warming and to care for all people must be our top priority.

We have no time to lose, and together we can accomplish much!

 

Humans Are Causing Sixth Extinction, and What You Can Do!

This week’s blog brings together several important studies about how human activity is killing species and overheating earth. If we don’t change the way we are living, even humans will not be able to live on planet Earth. Buddhist economics reminds us that we are connected to each other and earth. We must stop doing harm, and heal Mother Earth.

Let’s begin with humans destroying habitat for many species, and causing the sixth extinction.

Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn

A new paper describes the threatened mass extinction of thousands of animal species around the globe. The authors say that human activities are in large part…

The NY Times, July 11, 2107

Then let’s read about how we are hurting Emperor Penguins, a role model for both parents caring for the young. Human’s dependence on fossil fuel is overheating the planet. Buddhist economics reminds us to care for Nature as she has cared for us thru the ages!

Emperor penguins may disappear by the end of this century

New model suggests their numbers could climb until 2050—before falling off a cliff (Sciencemag.org)

Here is an important article on how global warming will make earth too hot for humans. This scary story has received lots of attention.

When Will the Planet Be Too Hot for Humans? Much, Much Sooner Than You Imagine.

Plague, famine, heat no human can survive. This is not science fiction but what scientists, when they’re not being cautious, fear could be our future. The author takes us on a tour of death from heat, famine, plagues, poisoned oceans, suffocating smog, wars, and economic collapse, by looking into these “high risk” outcomes from global warming. This is not the world we want to create, and not the way we want to die.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=s3&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t

What can you do?

A new study compares now much emissions are reduced from different things that people can do to change their lifestyles. Americans need to remind themselves that we emit an enormous 16.1 tons of carbon per person annually, which is eight times the 2050 goal of 2.1 tons set by the Paris Climate Accords. Buddhist economics reminds us that it is our ethical responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint to protect species and earth.

The four most effective actions to substantially reduce annual average personal emissions are familiar: have fewer children (58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emissions saved per year for rich country), live car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoid airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight), and eat a plant-based mostly vegetarian diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These are much more effective than simple daily acts of recycling, driving a more fuel efficient car, or changing lightbulbs. These actions require us to rethink our daily habits of getting around and eating, and even forming our families, we can use the transformation to think deeply about what is important to us, and how to live with more awareness and compassion to create meaningful lives.

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541

A Buddhist prayer for daily living:
“May we heal Mother Earth as we heal ourselves, for the benefit of all.”

(Image Credit: John Wessels/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

How Will This Affect ME…or WE?

Living more naturally and mindfully will change our lifestyle. That is the point: We must end our addiction to fossil fuels, meat, and shopping, so we may live happier, more fulfilling lives.

This is the core of Buddhist economics: happiness comes from caring for ourselves and others, from supporting Mother Earth, as we live mindfully with love and compassion. We know our true nature and develop our full potential, and use our talents and energy to help our family, community, and world.

Now we understand that driving gas guzzlers, overeating meat and wasting food, and tossing stuff into the landfill is hurting both ourselves and others, and destroying Mother Earth. We want to change our lifestyle to become happier and healthier, as individuals and as a global society.

Often when people are confronted with the climate crisis that is killing the earth for humans, they shrug it off, as in “this is how everyone is living, and how people like us have always lived”. Then they continue to destroy our planet with their wasteful lifestyle that pollutes the air and water and earth. We do not have the right to harm people and other species as we overheat the earth. Our entitlement is to clean air and water and nourishment, and not to our addictions to fossil fuel, meat, and wasteful consumption. Freedom is knowing yourself and developing your full potential, so you can pursue a life that is filled with meaning and happiness.

Remember Aristotle’s eudaimonic happiness, where happiness comes from self-realization and living a worthy and moral life. This is based on people developing their full potential and living a life in service to others and the community. Aristotle teaches us, “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” He also says, “The contemplative life is happiest.”[i]

The Dalai Lama teaches us that material gain is based on an erroneous assumption that what we buy “can by itself alone, provide us with all the satisfaction we require,” and wrote that “genuine happiness is characterized by inner peace and arises in the context of our relationships with others.”[ii]

Moving from a closetful to a mindful way of life is not hard to do, once you realize the benefits to yourself and the world. My book Buddhist Economics shows you the way, including working with environmental and political groups to demand that local to global governments restructure the economy to use clean energy, develop sustainable agriculture, redistribute resources from the rich to the needy, promote peace, and evaluate economic performance as quality of life.

Together our society can move from “me” to “we”, as we enjoy life and support Mother Earth. In a Buddhist economy that cares about the human spirit, we suffer less and enjoy life more.

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us, “The healing of our bodies and minds must go together with the healing of the Earth . . .Together, we can bring about real transformation for ourselves and for the world . . . We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”[iii]

[i] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Oxford edition. Book 10, p. 18, 193.

[ii] Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium (New York: Riverhead, 1999), 16, 99, 61.

[iii] Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2013), 240, 572, 627.

How Can We Live Meaningful, Happy Lives in Today’s World?

Buddhist economics guides individuals to live a meaningful, happy life connected to others with compassion, and also guides nations to use resources wisely to improve the well-being of all people while living in harmony with nature.

To embrace a Buddhist approach to economics, you don’t need to practice Buddhism. You need only to care about the human spirit and share the Dalai Lama’s belief that human nature is gentle and compassionate.[i] Buddhist economics embraces a holistic economic approach that goes beyond self-centered materialism and includes sustainability, shared prosperity, and quality of life.

Let us ask how to make Buddhist economics alive in our lives. The question becomes: what makes you happy? How do you really want to live? Our economic system is a powerful force that we want to encourage the best in us as individuals and to restrain aggressive behavior that harms people and the planet.

Buddhist economics is based on what we truly value, which is a reflection of our true nature. Economic inequality, with the rich showing off their wealth and superiority, is based on false beliefs about what makes us happy. There is no problem with who we truly are. Yet when we are ignorant about human nature, we do confused and unskillful things based on misguided social conventions.

Even though we are all interdependent, we have our individual personalities and styles and talents. We don’t have to give up our unique personality, which makes life fun and helps us to navigate and enjoy daily life. Being connected to each other and Nature does not mean uniformity of action, or conformity. We want be in touch with our true nature, so that we are not driven by our ego that plays and replays our daily habits of negative thoughts and actions. Our continual judgment of ourselves and others, our attachment to possessions and relationships with continual longing for more, our ignorance of the suffering we are causing other people and nature, all these make us unhappy. If we know ourselves and are aware of the people and world around us, then our regrets about the past and our worries about the future dissolve. Buddhist economics teaches us to stop grasping and chasing, and instead look inward for happiness that comes with knowing our true nature, practicing compassion, and feeling connected to all people rather than feeling separated by our ego.

An editorial in Lion’s Roar sees hope in the character and values of UC Berkeley college students. McLeod writes, “Many young people today envision a future of service. For them, life is not about material gain. In a society that too often celebrates selfishness, Buddhism can inspire and deepen their compassion and give them the tools of mindfulness and self-care to handle the challenges of serving others. Ultimately, ethics and service are about leading a meaningful life.”[ii]

Many people have found that practicing mindfulness sitting makes them happier. They feel less like a separate self and more interconnected with the world as they shift from “me to we,” and as they see how their beliefs do not represent true reality. Studies have shown that monks’ meditation practices have changed the way their brains function, as brain activity in the right insula and both sides of their anterior cingulate cortices has increased. Other studies have observed that neuroplasticity occurred, meaning that long-term Buddhist meditators have altered the structure as well as function of their brains.[iii]

Once people’s basic needs are satisfied, we evaluate our consumption in terms of how it enables us to live meaningful lives and fulfill our human potential. Our social and creative activities allow us to enjoy life, while the idea of using consumption to distinguish yourself is silly (and destructive). We practice compassion to ourselves as we stop unproductive self-criticism. When we have negative actions, such as getting angry at our partner and shouting unkind comments, we take a break to be in touch with our love and compassion for this person. Visually we can stamp out the demon of anger. We can apologize to our partner for our ugly words, and then let all memory of the event fade away.

When our work demands and family needs keep us glued to our to-do list, our minds keep up an endless chatter about what we need to do. We are lost in our thoughts instead of enjoying the present moment. Although we are lucky in our lives with good jobs and wonderful children and friends, we are stressed out and don’t have time to enjoy life. We are tired, we are overwhelmed, and we are frustrated. Our inner wealth may be inexhaustible, but we feel exhausted by life.

We are surrounded by many people who think that human nature is not basically good or compassionate, and their fears keep them apart from others. With this assumption about selfish, aggressive human nature, we fall back on the free market model where people maximize their income and care only about themselves. Buddhist economics, with the assumption of human nature being kind and altruistic, is pushed away.

This is why human nature matters: when people are interdependent, then human nature is altruistic and caring. Then Buddhist economics approach is correct. Social welfare increases when we transfer income from the rich to those in need, or use a eudaimonic happiness approach where helping others makes one happy. The interdependence of people with nature provides the foundation of sustainability in Buddhist economics.

To embrace and practice Buddhist economics, you need courage. Courage to change, courage to protect the environment, courage to promote justice, and courage to live with joy. At the personal level, you need courage to quit the rat race of overworking to make more money, courage to live mindfully as you help others, and courage to enjoy life off the treadmill.

At the national level, you need courage to demand that your government provide the infrastructure needed for an economy that protects the environment and reduces carbon emissions, one that defines economic growth as improved well-being rather than more income. We also need the political will and courage to take action for ourselves on behalf of all species and future generations.

You need the fearlessness and nonaggressiveness of the Shambala warrior. Chogyam Trungpa taught us that confidence in our basic goodness equips us to live ethically and uplift our personal existence and that of other people.[iv]

Yes, everyone can be happy and live meaningful lives—and leave selfish materialism behind!

[i] Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th anniversary ed, p. 54.

[ii] Lion’s Roar, July 2017, Melvin McLeod, “Ethics, Service, and a Meaningful Life”. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#search/lion’s+roar/15bb076bed3408ea?projector=1

[iii] Christof Koch, “Neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama Swap Insights on Meditation,” Scientific American, July 1, 2013. Richard J. Davidson and Antoine Lutz, “Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation,” NIH Public Access Author Manuscript, IEEE Signal Process Mag., September 23, 2010.

[iv] Trungpa, Chogyam. (1984) Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior (Shambala Press).

What is our true self?

Buddhist economics assumes that people are kind and altruistic; we want to help others and relieve their suffering without any specific gain to ourselves and while caring for the planet. This is an important contrast with the traditional economic model assumptions that human nature is self-interested and doesn’t care about others, and ignores environmental degradation. Understanding what is the true self is critical for ensuring that our economic system supports social welfare and improves the quality of life.

In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with each other and with earth. Human nature includes both self-regarding (egocentric and taking care of oneself) and other-regarding (altruistic and taking care of others) impulses, and the well-being of humans and nature are intertwined. Even when economists believe that humans are not only selfish, opinions abound as to what degree human nature is egocentric and to what degree altruistic; and economists mostly ignore environmental problems.

Economists begin with the assumption that everyone is egotistical, and then they look to see if perhaps caring for others is possible. Economists have observed in lab games that most people have some altruistic feelings, defined as unconditional caring about others with no ulterior motive. Even in an experiment on what people expected from dictators, the subjects expected the dictators to be fair and not behave selfishly. Generous behavior is not only observed in the lab, but also expected by subjects. These experiments have been important for economists to go beyond assuming that people are selfish and to incorporate other-regarding feelings into their models. Bowles and Gintis argue that humans developed cooperative instincts with moral sentiments over time to ensure group survival and growth. Now that the world is united by global warming, we have the opportunity to see how humans behave when existence is threatened in the short term, without time for evolution.

Buddhist economics complements the work of Bowles and Gintis. Yet rather than assuming basic human nature is selfish, and then asking what causes basically selfish people to become other-regarding, Buddhist economics sees human nature as being kind and loving, with self-interest (ego) something that we develop as we grow up in a greedy materialistic world. Then the question becomes “What creates materialistic self-interest (ego development), so people’s natural goodness becomes obscured by self-interest?” Certainly advertising creates endless desires; and inequality creates discontent as people compare themselves to the rich with their lavish lifestyles. Economic performance is measured by income growth, and society evaluates how well we are doing by how fast income is growing, while ignoring that the rich are getting most of the gain in income and our carbon emissions are overheating the planet and killing species.

Buddhist economics begins with the belief that our true nature is kind and altruistic, but then our ego obscures our true nature with delusions that lead to suffering from greed, hatred, and ignorance (the three mental poisons). The goal of life is to go beyond these delusions to be in touch with our Buddha nature, using contemplation and meditation along with our teachers and community of friends (sangha). Ignorance of our basic nature is the root cause of many of our personal, societal, and political problems, and failure to realize our own basic goodness or Buddha nature creates suffering.

We don’t have to agree to what extent humans act out of ego or altruism. What matters is that we agree that people have the desire, and responsibility, to take care of both themselves and others. Then the Buddhist economic system that redistributes income from the rich to the poor and caring about reducing suffering increases social welfare. We can make a living, even prosper, but not at the expense of others or the planet.
Audiences ask me about the violence and aggression promulgated by religions throughout history. Yet this observed violence and aggression is the result of confusion about who we are and how to attain eudaimonic happiness and relieve suffering. Violent behavior is never acceptable in Buddhist economics except to defend oneself and others in order to stop violence. Our mandate is to do no harm to sentient beings or to Mother Earth.

Without practicing Buddhism or any spiritual practice, one can adopt a pragmatic approach that accepts the interdependence among people and with nature, especially with global warming. In 1971, a founder of modern ecology, Barry Commoner, expressed this interdependence as one of the four laws of ecology: “Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.”

Then when nature is degraded, and when people are harmed, all life suffers.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

Image (under creative commons) from https://results.searchlock.com/search/?tbm=isch&q=buddha%20nature&slr=1&tsrc=a&sr=omniredir-ask&chnm=7bc02420-4653-4d94-b27a-19a3ca1f8d0c

What makes people happy?

This question takes us to the heart of the difference between free market economics and Buddhist economics: our human nature and what makes us happy.

According to Buddhist economics, human nature is generous and altruistic, even as we also care about ourselves. Buddha taught that all people suffer from their own mental states, with feelings of discontent that come from desiring more and more. The Dalai Lama tells us that the feeling of not having enough and wanting more does not arise from the inherent desirability of the objects we are seeking, but from our own mental illusions. Buddha taught us how to end suffering by changing our states of mind, which translates into finding happiness through living a meaningful life.

In contrast to Buddhist economics, traditional economics holds that human nature is self-centered and that people care only about themselves as they push ahead to maximize their incomes and fancy lifestyles. According to this approach, buying and consuming—shopping for new shoes or playing a new video game—will make you happy. But soon you grow tired of the shoes, become disappointed with the game, and are off shopping again. In this endless cycle of desire, we are continuously left wanting more without ever finding lasting satisfaction.

Economics based on hedonic happiness, or personal pleasure with the avoidance of pain, focuses on pursuing money and buying things that make you feel good, at least in the moment. This short-lived happiness fits in well with our materialistic, goal-oriented economy. We chase our dreams of large wealth or great power or awesome sex or a major championship in the belief that they will bring us lasting happiness. Our purchase, or promotion, or love affair gives us a high. Yet that high soon wears off, and we are off chasing the next high.

Buddhist economics rests upon Aristotle’s eudaimonic happiness, where happiness comes from self-realization, and living a worthy and moral life in service to others and the community. Aristotle teaches us, “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” He also says, “The contemplative life is happiest.”

The Dalai Lama warned that material gain is based on an erroneous assumption that what we buy “can by itself alone, provide us with all the satisfaction we require.” He teaches us that “genuine happiness is characterized by inner peace and arises in the context of our relationships with others.” In Buddhist economics, people strive to act ethically, which includes not harming others, even not ruining others’ experiences or happiness. For example, you cause harm when your words or actions anger others, or make them (and yourself) feel desire or attachment, hatred or aggression, delusion, pride, and envy, or other mental poisons (called kleshas in Buddhism).

Finding inner happiness is one of the goals of Buddhist economics. Buddhism holds that we attain true freedom and peace only when we quit our mental habits of reacting with cravings for external stimuli (“I’ve got to own that!” “Win this game!”) and reacting with aversion to external forces (“I can’t stand that!” “Defeat it!”). Instead, Buddhism says to quiet your mind: notice the beauty as you go for a walk, enjoy your food as you eat, connect more intimately with your friends.

Economists have demonstrated that people care about fairness, and want to be part of an organization or society that they consider just and fair. When psychologists study what makes people happy, they find that being kind to others makes people happier. People only need moments of compassion to build upon, because there is a positive feedback loop: when you do a kind deed (take your mom to lunch), you become happier, which makes it more likely you will do another kind act (help your neighbor carry in groceries). Kindness makes you happier, and happier people engage in more acts of kindness.

Positive psychology demonstrates how well-being comes from experiencing a life that has meaning beyond merely feeling happy, which complements Buddhist economics. For example, positive psychologist Seligman teaches exercises to promote well-being based on engagement, good relationships, accomplishment and purpose.

In Buddhist economics, we discriminate between real happiness built upon a fully developed mindful life, and temporary happiness built around money and never-ending desires. In Buddhist economics, people do not aim to maximize their own income, because we want to ensure the happiness and well-being of all people.

Buddhist economics provides guidance both for restructuring the economy to place concerns about inequality, sustainability, and the human spirit at its center, and for leading meaningful, happy lives. “Practice compassion to be happy” replaces “More is better.” “Maximize your own position” becomes “Everyone’s well-being is connected.”

What We Can Do to Save the Planet

At last weekend’s stimulating Bay Area Book Festival, at sessions focused on global warming the audience asked me (and other authors), “What can I do in this time of crisis, especially as Trump withdraws from the Paris climate agreement?”

The answer to the question, “What can I do?” combines working actively with environmental and political groups to ensure just and effective government policies to create a low-carbon economy, and to personally do less damage to the environment by eating less meat, wasting less food, and using much less petroleum-powered transportation.

With the Trump administration abdicating its global responsibilities, action at the individual, state and local government, and company levels will decide the U.S. carbon emissions. People’s daily habits in two areas are especially important in determining our ecological footprint: diet and transportation. Out impact on earth is dramatically reduced if we eat little or no meat and if we do not waste food by eating left-overs and composting scraps. The U.S. is a nation of meat eaters, and averages 271 pounds of animal protein yearly—twelve ounces of meat each day for each person (without excluding vegetarians). This is an enormous amount of meat, and carbon emissions, from our meat diet alone. Only the people of Luxembourg eat more meat.

The other big driver of people’s carbon emissions is their vehicle fuel efficiency and miles driven. If you drive a hybrid or electric vehicle, use public transit, and walk or bike, your carbon emissions are very low. Yet Californians continue to buy gas guzzlers, especially SUVs and pickup trucks. In the San Francisco Bay Area, 130 million miles are traveled each day, or 14.5 miles per person. You can quickly see that fuel efficiency matters—drivers are using 5.2 million gallons of gas daily if cars average 25 miles per gallon, and are using 2.6 million gallons if cars average 50 miles per gallon. Accordingly carbon emissions drop by half. The goal is to use electric vehicles and public transit combined with walking and biking, and to use no gasoline.

We know that individuals alone cannot solve the global warming problem, and together Californians can do much. Fortunately California is moving rapidly ahead with policies to create a prosperous, just, and sustainable low-carbon economy by 2050. Working with our engaged environmental and political groups, we can make sure our local and state governments implement the wide range of clean energy and sustainable agriculture policies to reach the state’s goals.

Californians will provide global leadership on creating a sustainable, prosperous economy that works for everyone. We will not let Trump stand in our way.

Commentary: Responding to Trump’s Separation from the World

My commentary that was posted also on Lion’s Roar on June 4, 2017

Yesterday was a dark day for Americans, as we listened to our president withdraw from the Paris 2015 climate agreement. For me, deep sadness was followed by anger.

I turned to others’ wisdom about our duty to care for each other and the planet.

From Buddhist leaders:

Together, humanity must act on the root causes of this environmental crisis, which is driven by our use of fossil fuels, unsustainable consumption patterns, lack of awareness, and lack of concern about the consequences of our actions.

We are united by our concern to phase out fossil fuels, to reduce our consumption patterns, and the ethical imperative to act against both the causes and the impacts of climate change, especially on the world’s poorest.

The time to act is now.

From Pope Francis:

Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.

We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.

From Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Love Letters to the Earth:

“Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches us about the fragility of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayan glaciers, called the Third Pole. Temperatures are rising three times faster than the global average at the Third Pole, which contains 40 percent of the world’s fresh water and feeds seven major rivers running throughout South Asia. His Holiness tells us, “Relying on prayer to God or Buddha seems illogical, because humans created the problem and humans must solve the problem to avert disaster.”

One person alone cannot solve the problem, but together we can do much.

With the Trump administration abdicating its global responsibilities, individual behavior and actions will make an even bigger difference. Our daily habits in two areas are especially important in determining our ecological footprint: diet and transportation. Our impact on earth is dramatically reduced if we eat little or no meat and if we do not waste food, which we can alleviate by eating leftovers and composting our scraps. Our carbon emissions are dramatically reduced if we drive hybrid or electric vehicles, use public transit, and walk or bike. A meat-heavy diet, wasting food, and driving gas guzzlers are killing people and earth, and are unacceptable Buddhist practice.

One person alone cannot solve the problem, but together we can do much. Working with our sangha and engaged environmental groups, we can work with our local and state governments to move ahead in creating low carbon and just economies. At the national level, we can resist Trump’s rollback of clean-energy programs by supporting legal actions and by pushing our representative and senators to support clean energy and sustainable agriculture programs, as well as financing the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable developing countries prepare for climate impacts and transition toward low-carbon economies. Both lawsuits and town hall meetings make a difference.

As a Buddhist economist, I draw strength from knowing that we can create an economy that creates comfortable, meaningful lives for all people and cares for the earth. Together we can move forward, and not let Trump stand in our way.

Every second of every day, may we care for each other and Mother Earth, and may we enjoy life!

Image of Earth via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Love for Mothers Everywhere!

A guest blog from my son,Jason Katz-Brown: Happy Mother’s Day to every mother — keep inspiring the next generation to be compassionate to all and caring of the earth.

“When my mom first described the tenets of her new project Buddhist Economics to me it seemed, well, too obvious to be book material. That a country should optimize for total happiness of its people seemed obvious. That a business should optimize for the prosperity and sustainability of its employees and those who use its products seemed obvious. That we should keep our personal impact on the community and Earth top of mind seemed obvious.”

“Today on Mother’s Day I realized that these Buddhist economic tenets seem obvious to me because of the parents I grew up with. And that my mom had been living these values her whole life and instilling them in me over my whole life.”

“My favorite chapter of the book its last: “Leap to Buddhist Economics”. Even if Buddhist economics seems like a no-brainer, it’s far from obvious how we can get to a world that embodies Buddhist economic principles. Any one person is lilliputian compared to the magnitude of inequality and the trajectory of climate change. The systemic problems can seem to big too tackle; the impact of one person too small to matter.”

“But I look to my mother as an inspiration. As the first woman on the University of California, Berkeley Economics Faculty, she has already been demonstrated that individual determination is worthwhile and sweeping institutional change is possible. Today mom tackles far-reaching projects aimed at systemic problems, writing Buddhist Economics and promoting it to governments and economists around the world, and projects in the local community, coordinating local climate activism with 350.org.”

“Even after I joined Airbnb in 2011 as a software engineer, she was ahead of me in realizing Airbnb’s potential. I didn’t think there would be many travelers to Richmond, California, but my mom and dad became Superhosts, hosting Airbnb guests more than 100 times. She would always implore me to encourage Airbnb to encourage and highlight green hosts, and as the Airbnb host community has grown, I have realized the immense value in Airbnb hosts exemplifying sustainability and acceptance.”

“Happy Mother’s Day to every mother — keep inspiring the next generation to be compassionate to all and caring of the earth.”

Americans Happiness Will Plummet with Repeal of Obama’s Affordable Care Act

The Republican’s push to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will result in millions of Americans being cut off from basic medical care, both physical and mental. This will cause suffering and illnesses, and even deaths that would have been prevented with basic health care, especially for those most in need. We know from the 2017 World Health Report what contributes to our happiness, and our misery—an important factor is our health, both physical and mental, and this is true as we age.
Mental illness causes misery. In a study of U.S., Australia, and Britain, mental illness is more important than poverty, unemployment, or low education in explaining misery. The most powerful policy to reduce misery is to eliminate depression and anxiety disorders, our major forms of mental illness.

Without the ACA, pregnant women, homeless people, and many others in need of critical health care will find their access to health care has disappeared, and local health clinics will not have the funds to stay open. Already the homeless and working poor families are having a hard time getting the health care they need. Mental health care for depressions and anxiety are almost nonexistent. Now the line of Americans not seeing doctors will become vastly longer. Health problems will dwarf people’s happiness, and misery will skyrocket.
Repealing the ACA also hands out billions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich. Too bad this will not make rich people happier, because higher income doesn’t increase your happiness once your income has reached a certain point (around $80,000). The United States will end up with sick kids and adults needing medical care, while the rich have more money for fancier yachts and exotic vacations. This action is immoral. We must let our Congress members know that they will be defeated in the next election if they don’t provide decent, affordable health care for all Americans.

Surely Americans want “Health care for all!” and not “More money for the rich!” Together we can move from a “closetful economy” to a “mindful economy” that provide a comfortable meaningful and healthy life for everyone.