We are living in a time of mass murder and almost infinite exploitation. No, I’m not talking about school shootings, toxic masculinity or white supremacy, though those issues are threaded throughout our culture. I’m talking about the unfettered outgrowth, the manifestation of all that is unwholesome in human beings: that is, greed, hatred and delusion. Those we’re murdering are all other living beings with whom we share this planet. Whether we kill other living beings by hunting them for sport, killing them to eat them, or destroying their habitat for economic gain, we’re exacting a toll on life never before seen on this planet, excepting, of course, a giant asteroid blowing up the whole thing. But that’s not happening. We’re happening.
Living in New York City, or any urban environment, for that matter, it’s easy to go day by day, indeed, an entire lifetime, without thinking about the billions of other living beings who share this planet with us. Here we have pigeons, rats, cats and maybe a red hawk sighting that makes a stir in the daily tabloids. Other than that, it’s out of sight, out of mind for any other living creatures besides us. No wonder, then, that those who value the rights of other living beings consider urban dwellers species-centric to a fault. That is, we think, dream, love, understand and care about only one species, homo sapiens, the rest be damned. Think of it–we’re so captured by what we see in front of us every day that practically nothing else exists, not even the massive ecocide we are pertetrating against the world.
Compassion Demands Action
Enter Extinction Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion is an organization that addresses the systemic underpinnings that have allowed the decimation of the planet to flourish. Extinction Rebellion does not candy coat the climate crisis, nor does it mince words with reality. As they say, “we are facing an unprecedented global emergency, the planet is in crisis and we are in the midst of a mass extinction bigger and faster than the one that killed the dinosaurs.” And while the naysayers may dismiss the organization on charges of extremism, Extinction Rebellion is merely shedding light on the truth known by scientists for decades–our time to do anything to mitigate outright ecological disaster is running out, fast.
How fast, you ask? According to the World Wildlife Federation, the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. We’re even killing our own evolutionary cousins. With the exception of homo sapiens, all other great apes are staring down the barrel of oblivion. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, “The current extinction has its own novel cause; not an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption, but ‘one weedy species.’ That weedy species is us, and it is we, you and me, who are doing the killing. “It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world,” says Kolbert. But we can’t change the world by the old playbook. Marches, signing petitions, sending out emails–these just won’t cut it anymore.
Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion says that what makes this movement different is the way it engages the issue of the climate crisis–mass participation civil disobedience. This means, thousands of people coming together with a single cause in mind, peacefully breaking the law, to make sure that change actually happens. This is the civil resistance model, which requires five key elements:
- Large amounts of people, massing together for a cause.
- Convergence on capital cities–that’s where the government and media are.
- Break the law–nonviolent legal resistance gets the message out.
- Rinse and Repeat–one and done doesn’t work. This is an ongoing struggle. Think the Orange Revolution, Arab Spring, etc.
- Fun! While the facts of extinction and environmental devastation are depressing, the Extinction Rebellion events are not–think, block party, or, blocking the street party!
S’all Good, Man . . .
But still, you might wonder, “How am I, a Buddhist, in New York City, responsible for the extinction of the Orcas in our oceans, or the white rhinos in Africa? That has nothing to do with me.” This denialism is just another example of the delusion that blinds us from the harm of our everyday actions, such as eating meat or taking plastic bags from the grocery instead of bringing our own reusable bags. As Buddhists, we know that all actions, no matter how small, have effects. This is the definition of karma, after all. So what actions will we take? Those fueled by greed, hatred and delusion? Or those nourished by lovingkindness, generosity and wisdom?
Monday, April 22nd, is World Earth Day, and Extinction Rebellion has events you can participate in to show support of the Earth and all the inhabitants who share it with us. Be sure to check their calendar for details on upcoming actions. All engaged Buddhists are encouraged to remember the words of the Buddha:
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn’t, that isn’t.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
~Samyutta Nikaya 12.2
“When this is, that is.” Where there is greed, and the environment is seen as a thing to use to extract money, environmental violence will occur. Where there is loving kindness and compassion and compassionate action, and the environment is seen as a living organism deserving of care and protection, environmental violence will cease. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh helped us understand how we’re all connected, how none of us is a separate being. We live not as individual beings, separate and apart, but as billions of organisms together, of interbeing. When one is harmed, we are all hurt. Join us to stop the hurting and start the healing.
Non-violent Direct Action Training, 1-4pm
Contact email@example.com for more details
Mass Memorial for Extinct Species, 2-4pm
Prospect Park, between ballfields and Prospect Park Southwest
For more information: sixesholdem.com
XR NYC Rebellion Day, 9a-4p
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details
About the Authors