Owning up to Trumpism, Getting Out of the Quagmire

Even though you didn’t vote Trump, and denounce his pro-business, anti-people (unless rich), and anti-earth policies, you still must take responsibility for his ascendance and election.

Why? Because collectively we allowed Trumpism to triumph, and flourish, in our country. We allowed inequality to skyrocket over the past four decades, even as we bemoaned it. We allowed towns across the heartland to become decimated as globalization flooded our homes with cheap goods. We used cheap fossil fuels to drive our cars and heat our homes, as our carbon emissions overheated the planet. We consume four times what our planet can sustainably provide, while billions around the world live in shanty towns without sufficient food, education, or health care.

Even as we protest Trump’s policies that stamp on human rights, transfer money from the poor to the rich, and kill the earth with carbon emissions, we have allowed these policies to unfold until they took over our country.

What could we have done differently? Everything. Here are the simple economic facts of life:  Countries choose their level of inequality. Countries choose their carbon emissions. Rich countries collectively choose global suffering. Economists and scientists have demonstrated the policies that structure markets to reduce inequality, carbon emissions, and global poverty. Yet we continue to push for free market policies that work against these social goals and produce the world we have today of enormous inequality, rising carbon emissions, and global suffering. We over-consume, over-work, and over-complain, as if there is nothing we can do create an economy that supports meaningful, worthy lives in a sustainable world with shared prosperity. Our scapegoats are right-wing politicians supported by big business. Yes the Koch brothers and their ilk have spent billions to push us to binge on the free market as we kill the earth. Our passive indulgence in the “good life” has allowed this to unfold while we were busy building our careers and big houses.

Trump is a master at keeping us confused by daily malicious tweets and disastrous policies, so we cannot focus on how to move forward to create an economy and society that we want. Ask yourself, “What is important to me?” Once we focus on what makes life meaningful, then we can demand the policies that provides social programs with child care, health care, education and a safety net; that allows us to spend time enjoying life with our families and friends; that moves us past fossil fuel to clean energy; that focuses on quality of life rather than consumption.

We know how to create a high quality of life, if we say “STOP  the Free Market and Trumpism”, if we stop over-consuming and begin living mindfully and caring about others.  We can become happier and healthier, and care for the planet. Then our children and grandchildren will have a chance.

Creating the World We Desire

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, confusion, and suffering. An aggressive, mean-spirited approach to live will cause pain, in spite of the fact that people want an economy that provides a prosperous meaningful life as we care for our planet.

Buddhist economics shows us the path for creating comfortable, worthwhile lives for all people and a healthy planet, and is based on three key ideas:

  • 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.

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

  • Humans dominate nature, which is used to increase consumption, and we don’t need to worry about destroying our ecosystems.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

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!

Needless Pain in Daily Life

Our lives have ups and downs, and daily activities can cause us pain—but we can stop the pain with practice. Being in Bhutan makes me constantly aware of appreciating the moment—the beauty and life around me. Also lots of archery, which is Bhutan’s national sport.

One of my favorite Buddhist teaching, “Two Arrows Sutra”, shows us how to respond to pain in a mindful way that prevents needless suffering.

An arrow hits us and causes us physical or mental pain. The arrow can be a nasty remark, or not buying something on sale, or not getting an outcome we want. When we react by becoming distraught and worry about it, we are hit by a second arrow, one of mental pain. The second arrow has been created by our own negative reaction, which causes us unnecessary pain. If our response to the first arrow is to remain patient and calm, and let the negative thoughts pass along, there will be no second arrow.

The great teacher Shantideva wrote (The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambala, 2008, p 16):

If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?
I’ll not fret about such things,
To do so only aggravates my trouble.

In Buddhist economics we gain nothing directly from suffering or from feeling guilty. Instead we can learn from our experiences and make amends if we have harmed someone, and then let the experience pass. We want to help others and relieve suffering whenever possible. This is the way to be happy.

We can apply the story of the two arrows to our national economy as well as to our daily lives. The first powerful arrow of maximizing profits in free markets is launched, and though it makes a few people rich, it harms many people and the environment. Then the second arrow hits people as they work hard to earn enough money to buy lots of stuff, only to find temporary happiness on a treadmill that won’t stop.

If we look closely at the first arrow, we can question the viability of an economy run by competition for profit without concerns for the environment or people’s well-being. We can stop shooting the second arrow by structuring markets that move us beyond the pursuit of income as our primary goal. Now the “pursuit of happiness” becomes creating meaningful comfortable lives for everyone within a healthy ecosystem. A Buddhist economy can improve the lives of all people, even the archers of the first arrows.

What Makes Us Happy?

I am on the way to Bhutan, the small Buddhist country who gave us “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) instead of Gross Domestic Product (income) to measure economic performance. Chapter 7 in Buddhist Economics: an enlightened approach to the dismal science explores these ideas and provides a path for moving forward on measuring quality of life.

Our human nature and what makes us happy is at the heart of GNH and Buddhist economics, where human nature is believed to be 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 (free market) 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.”

May you be happy!

Economic Exploitation, Racism and War Go Together

With the turmoil caused by Trump’s disrespect of a fallen soldier’s family, and the rampant racism, militarism and sexism in the news, I turn to Martin Luther King as I ponder living a moral life. King explained how “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism” are related, and urged us to combat these evils in our society in order for people to live together with peace and prosperity.

In today’s world, how do we recognize and combat evil both as a country and in our daily lives? Buddhist economics says that virtuous actions lead to benefit (good results) and evil actions lead to harm (bad results). When our beliefs are in contradiction to reality, they cause problems. Racism that treats one group of people as inferior to another causes great harm; economic exploitation where people consume fancy goods made by people living in poverty causes great harm; and militarism where a country bombs another country that kills mothers and children and destroys dwellings causes great harm. By these harmful results, we know these actions are evil. In Buddhist economics, people must not undertake actions that harm other people or beings or harm the planet. Instead people undertake virtuous actions that relieve suffering and bring benefit to all beings and earth. (Payutto, Buddhist Economics)

In the United States today, the Trump government is using a free market economic model that ignores evil and morality. Free market economics is based on the belief that people spend their money wisely and buy what is most pleasing to them. This outcome is viewed as optimal because we all know what is best for us. The free market model puts a high premium on individualism and self-centered freedom, and on consuming more and more. Any harm to others or to the planet that comes from our actions is ignored, and economic activities are not judged as either evil or virtuous.

Yet society can see the harm to the real world, and each of us can feel the harm by our uneasy sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness caused by separation from our Buddha nature of love and compassion. To combat evil, and to create peace and prosperity, people around the world must care about and care for each other, and care for Mother Earth. Each of us has the moral responsibility to recognize and combat evil in our daily activities, and demand that our countries stop any actions or policies that cause harm to people or to earth.

As Ven. Payutto writes (Buddhist Economics, ch 1):

“Our ethics—and the behavior that naturally flows from our ethics—contribute to the causes and conditions that determine who we are, the kind of society we live in and the condition of our environment.”

Enjoy Nature, Create a Meaningful Life

Enjoying nature is an important part of enjoying life, as we slow down to savor the moment and appreciate being alive. When we return from being at one with nature, we are energized to work to heal Mother Earth.

Human interdependence with our environment is an integral part of Buddhist economics. All activities by companies, governments, and people can be undertaken in a way that protects rather than exploits nature and our natural capital. We heal ourselves as we care for Mother Earth.

Yet many people do not take time to enjoy nature, and to decouple from the internet and worldly problems in order to recharge their energy and to remind themselves what is truly important to them. Then we become overwhelmed by the demands of our daily lives, and we become disconnected from Mother Earth and from the activities that make life worthwhile. Soon we are on the materialistic treadmill, and don’t have time to care for ourselves and others, and earth, because we are busy making money, going to school, running errands. Our to-do list again dominates our lives, and we become dissatisfied and restless.

Buddhist Economics shows us how we can heal ourselves as we care for Mother Earth, and provides a path for transitioning to an economy that supports a meaningful life for all people in a low-carbon world.

We have no time to lose, both for ourselves and for the planet. We cannot say,
“Let me finish all the things on my to-do list, and then I’ll work on creating a meaningful life and healing the planet.”

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.” Love Letter to the Earth, p 82.

Buddhist Economics on Living in Harmony with Nature

Everyone must live in harmony with Nature if we want to keep global warming under 2 degree C. Our carbon emissions are quickly approaching the maximum allowed by the 2 degree target, and people in rich countries must stop living beyond the earth’s resources. Rich countries need to reduce consumption to meet the goal set by the Paris Climate Accords of 2.1 tCO2e (tons of carbon) per person per year by 2050. The task for the United States with 16.4 tCO2 is much greater than for the European Union with 6.7 tCO2.

Living in harmony with Nature involves changing our daily habits, and caring about the environment. In particular, we must stop driving gasoline-powered car, stop eating beef and eat a mostly plant-based diet, use clean energy for our electricity to run our homes, and stop throwing anything into landfills (reuse, compost, recycle, buy less). These changes will be a large start in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and in becoming more in tune with our environment. We will stop focusing on materialistic lifestyle, and our lifestyles will focus on the relationships, creative activities, and experiences that are important to us.

As our governments provide clean energy for electricity and mandate electric vehicles, as cities increase the density of housing and land use to reduce commuting and driving, as restrictions on livestock reduce beef consumption, more natural options will become the new norms. Lavish consumption will seem as crazy as it is, as people become healthier and happier with natural living.

In our daily activities, people tend to “over clean”, using toxic chemicals to clean the house and laundry, using pesticides in the garden, using antibiotic soap that are harmful. Our homes should be clean, but not sterile. Our garden should support all types of creatures as well as native plants. We can have fun vacations without getting on airplanes. We carefully use water, and reuse water for washing and for watering.

Once we are living in harmony with nature, conserving resources and caring for the environment becomes a way of life. For example, we sleep our laptop when we take a break, pick up litter when we go for a walk, buy veggies at the local farmers market, take public transit or bike instead of driving, and grab a jacket or blanket when we are chilly rather than turning up the heat. Often these activities are a time for reflection and appreciating nature as well. Taking out “gray water” from the shower and the kitchen sink to water plants outside my door provides a time for me to enjoy the beauty around me and to connect to Mother Earth, who sustains us all.

In my daily life, Buddhist economics guides me to be mindful with the saying Don’t have a cow! This translates literally to Don’t eat beef (or lamb), and figuratively, Relax.

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.”

Divest Public Portfolios of Fossil Fuel Stocks

The financial risk of holding fossil fuel stocks in public (or private) portfolios has been skyrocketing. However their stock prices do not reflect this escalating risk because the companies are not transparent and do not correctly predict the losses associated with their stranded assets (assets that suffer premature write-downs) and with their potential legal liability as suits filed by communities suffering from climate change seek compensation from those deemed responsible.

A report by Lloyd’s of London Insurance Company and Oxford University urges the insurance industry to require companies that they insure to act on climate change to avoid stranded assets, and to report their climate-related activities.

We already know the math of stranded assets (the amount of fossil fuel reserves that must remain in the ground to stay within a specific limit, called “unburnable carbon”): in order to stay under 2°C rise in temperature limit set by the United Nations COP 21 (Paris 2015), we must keep 80% of known coal reserves, 50% of known oil reserves, and 33% of known gas reserves in the ground. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, published the first math calculations in the Rolling Stone, and began the movement called “Keep It In the Ground”.

Here are some facts from the Lloyd’s report:

  • Constraining the consumption of fossil-fuel reserves to the 2°C scenario will collectively cost upstream oil companies revenues of $20 trillion, gas companies $4 trillion, and coal companies $5 trillion.
  • The 2°C scenario allows an additional global “carbon budget” of 1,000 GtCO2. With oil providing about 40% of global emissions, the oil-specific carbon budget is 400 GtCO2, compared to current oil reserves that are 1.6 times this (up to 2050).
  • Under the 2°C scenario, 60-80% of listed companies’ fossil-fuel reserves would be “unburnable”. These firms had stock capitalizations of $4 trillion and corporate debt of $1.27 trillion in 2012.

Big Oil has not incorporated their already-known stranded reserves into their asset sheets. Any investments to develop potential reserves, or to find new reserves, are wasted money. Yet Big Oil continues exploration and development.

Legal liabilities are only beginning to take shape. New York sued Exxon for hiding their research that demonstrated that burning oil created CO2 emissions that heated the atmosphere and caused climate change, and thus Exxon did not inform shareholders about the related financial risk. Three California communities have filed lawsuits to recoup damages from the storms and floods they have experienced as a result of the extreme weather that is part of climate change.

These potential legal liabilities of the fossil fuel companies will skyrocket, as happened when people started suing the asbestos and tobacco industries for damages. Scientists have presented the methodology for calculating the damages caused by the coal, oil, and gas industries. Now the legal community has the basis for calculating the monetary damages and attributing it to activities of individual companies, which is essential in a lawsuit. The authors of the study published it in the journal Climatic Change. The authors write,

“[N]early 30% of the rise in global sea level between 1880 and 2010 resulted from emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers…More than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors.”

For these reasons, public pension funds (and all reasonable portfolio holders) should divest their fossil fuel companies because of their large and growing financial risks. Insurances companies face substantial legal defense fees and pay-outs unless they stop providing insurance to fossil fuel companies at costs substantially below their financial risk.

Now is the time to act, while the stock prices are not reflecting the known financial risks. Once the public refuses to hold fossil fuel stocks and insurance companies refuse to insure them, then these companies will either transform into clean energy companies, or go out of business.

We must Keep It In the Ground, or the planet will become uninhabitable for humans as we push the Sixth Extinction along.

References

https://business-humanrights.org/en/lloyds-oxford-univ-report-urges-insurance-industry-to-act-on-climate-change-to-avoid-stranded-assets

http://www.theactuary.com/news/2017/02/action-needed-to-avoid-climate-change-leaving-insurance-industry-with-stranded-assets/

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30709211

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30716664

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0115/070115-fossil-fuels

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/07/big-oil-must-pay-for-climate-change-here-is-how-to-calculate-how-much?CMP=share_btn_tw

Time to Heal Mother Earth is NOW!

Last week I visited Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation in Australia, where I spent two days snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and three days hiking in the Daintree rainforest. The magnificence of the coral reefs as they provided food and shelter to marine life was awe inspiring, yet the tragedy of the coral reefs dying, as they turn brown and then white, overwhelmed me. Trekking in the rainforest, I thanked the trees, ferns, and palms for absorbing carbon and providing clean air for us to breathe. Yet the rainforest lets us know that the carbon is harming it also.

This experience reminds me of my interdependence with nature, and of how our lifestyle based on fossil fuel energy, meat-based diets, and industrial agriculture is overheating Mother Earth. As our activities emit greenhouse gases and destroy the forests and soil, the GHG emissions end up melting the ice caps and glaciers, and warming and acidifying the oceans. We are killing species, including humans, as we change the climate and harm the planet’s ecosystems.

Enjoying nature is an important part of enjoying life, as we slow down to savor the moment and appreciate being alive. When we return from being at one with nature, we are energized to work to heal Mother Earth. Human interdependence with our environment is an integral part of Buddhist economics. All activities by companies, governments, and people can be undertaken in a way that protects rather than exploits nature and our natural capital. We heal ourselves as we care for Mother Earth.

Buddhist economics shows us a path for transitioning to a low-carbon world, and we heal ourselves as we care for Mother Earth. Previous blogs discussed how we can reduce our carbon footprint by not driving gas-guzzling vehicles and by including less meat and more plants in our meals. Here is a quick summary:

Ponder the problems you are causing with each gallon of gas, which is putting an average of 250 grams/mile of CO2 into the atmosphere in California (and even more in other states without California fuel standards). What vehicle you drive makes a big difference to how much you are polluting the air. If you drive the popular Honda CR-V with 27 mpg (miles per gallon), you are polluting 70% more than if you drive a hybrid Toyota Prius with 46 mpg. If you drive an electric Chevy Bolt with 119 MPGe, then you are polluting only 40% as much as with a Prius, and your emissions drop to zero if you use renewable electricity to charge your car. If you drive a pick-up truck or minivan with 22 mpg (or worse), you are polluting 20% more than the Honda SUV. Your vehicle is adding carbon to the atmosphere, and your choice about which vehicle to drive and how many miles to drive make a big difference. Your driving style also matters. Eliminating aggressive driving and speeding can improve fuel efficiency and reduce driving emissions by 10%.

If you eat meat, what kind of meat you eat makes a big difference. Beef creates more than double the emissions of pork, and close to four times the emissions of chicken. Lamb is even worse than beef. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts create less than one-third the emissions of chicken (and a twelfth of beef). So as a first step, drop beef and lamb from your diet and limit your daily consumption of meat to less than four ounces. This starts you on the way to a healthier diet for you and for the earth.

Future blogs will discuss other ways we can change our daily habits to support rather than kill nature. May we join together to heal Mother Earth as we heal ourselves, for the benefit of all.

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.” Love Letter to the Earth, p 82

Diet for a Sustainable World

Clair teams up with Pearl McLeod, who is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in sociology with a special interest in environmental justice and food systems.

“We are at a crucial crossroads where our survival and that of other species is at stake as a result of our own actions,” a group of Buddhist leaders said on the eve of the Paris climate talks. To meet the global climate crisis that is approaching, big changes in lifestyle are required of those of us who live in affluent countries. The good news is that our way of life can remain meaningful and worthy as our consumption becomes sustainable.

With right intention, there’s one step you can take right away to reduce harm to Mother Earth—eat less meat and move toward a plant-based diet.

This is one of the most effective things we can do because the food we now produce and consume is destroying the very ecosystems that we depend upon for survival. Here are some of the grim facts.

The US uses about one half of its land for agriculture. Unfortunately, the majority is used to raise livestock such as cattle, hogs, and poultry, or for crops consumed by livestock. For example, the US uses over 90 million acres of good agricultural land to produce corn, which is mostly fed to livestock. This is also true internationally. Much of the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest is for grazing and growing soybeans, of which 80% is used as livestock feed.

Besides its enormous carbon footprint, the meat industry employs other outmoded, unsustainable practices, including the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, monocultures, GMOs, and inhumane treatment of livestock. Industrial agriculture degrades the soil, water, and atmosphere on an unprecedented scale, while harming wildlife and humans.

Another major problem with the way we currently produce and consume food is that more that 30% of food is wasted. So-called “imperfect” produce is left in the field, or discarded on the way to market or at the store. Edible food is left to rot in our refrigerators. Much of it ends up in landfills where it emits greenhouse gases. We can all do our part to reduce waste by using left-overs and eating up the fresh produce we buy (hey, add saggy veggies to a soup).

With 7.6 billion people on earth, the demand for food is enormous and constantly on the rise. It’s easy to get caught up in the panic and feel we can’t make a difference. But we can change our diet and agricultural systems to heal the earth as we heal ourselves. We should not to dismiss the power of our voices and the choices we make.

Even one person—such as you—can make a big difference by eating less meat and moving toward a plant-based diet. Here are some of the contributions you’ll make to the health of the planet (as well as your own):

  • Compared with beans, beef requires 20 times more land and creates 20 times more greenhouse gases to produce the same amount of protein.
  • If you eat 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of meat every day, about one serving for most meat eaters, your diet puts out about 7.2 kg of carbon dioxide emissions (from farm to table). If you are vegetarian, your daily carbon emissions drop dramatically.
  • Replacing meat consumption with plants frees up valuable agricultural land to grow foods eaten by humans instead of livestock. It reduces hunger and helps feed the earth’s growing population with healthy, sustainable food.

If you do eat meat, what kind of meat you eat makes a big difference. Beef creates more than double the emissions of pork, and close to four times the emissions of chicken. Lamb is even worse than beef. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts create less than one-third the emissions of chicken (and a twelfth of beef).

So as a first step, drop beef and lamb from your diet and limit your daily consumption of meat to less than four ounces. This starts you on the way to a healthier diet for you and for the earth.

In addition to caring for the environment, caring about the people along the food production chain is an important aspect of deciding what to eat. Jobs in the animal agriculture industry are grueling and take a physical and psychological toll on workers. As corporations force high production rates, workers slaughter and process animals for hours on end with little time for breaks. US data shows that compared to the industry average, workers in the meat industry sustain higher rates of injury from “tasks associated with musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to chemicals and pathogens, and traumatic injuries from machines and tools.”

Recognizing how the food we eat is connected to other living beings helps us make more compassionate choices. By taking a stance with our buying choices, we help change our unsustainable food system and industry practices, because companies respond to demand. By eating mindfully, we support local, affordable agriculture and help people around the world enjoy more eco-friendly and nutritious foods.

Just as little things matter in your personal relationships, little things matter in your relationship with the earth. By paying attention to what foods you consume, you become more aware of your part in the food system. Start by reducing animal products in your diet, reading labels carefully, and buying food grown closer to your home.

Your choices create positive impacts that reverberate throughout the food system and inspire the people around you. When you change your diet to be more compassionate and sustainable, you become visible proof that changing our food habits is doable, healthy, and enjoyable.

By reducing your meat consumption and supporting sustainable agriculture, you can make a positive change in the world every day. When you pay attention to your impact, you are prioritizing compassion for yourself, for others, and for the environment.

“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.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth

 

Sources:

https://gbccc.org/buddhist-climate-change-statement-to-world-leaders-2015/

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/corn/background.aspx

http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/

http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676796.pdf)

Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2013), 82