SuttaCentral

Buddhist Climate Action Kit


#21

Okay, so here’s the thing. Let’s look at what the Climate Change Action Kit (CCAK) says.

How the climate is changing: Scientific observations from NASA and the IPCC
Globally-averaged sea level has risen over 20 cm since the late 19th century, with about one third of this rise due to ocean warming and the rest from melting land ice and changes in the amount of water stored on the land.

The fact of this sea level rise is undisputed. The cause of the rise is not stated here. Nevertheless, in a document on AGM, the context implies that the cause, or a major contributer, is human activity, especially carbon emissions.

Now, this is a document produced by a tiny team of volunteers, whose purpose is to encourage and support Buddhist communities to take a more proactive interest in addressing the problem. As such, it is unreasonable to expect that they undertake an independent review of the science. The best they can do is to provide information from the best sources, and to accurately represent those sources.

There is no question that NASA and IPCC are authoritative sources on this. So the question that remains is, does the CCAK accurately represent those sources? Unfortunately, there is no direct citation for this detail, so let’s look at what some public documents say.

###IPCC

First, the IPCC Summary for Policymakers of 2014. Section 1 is titled Observed Changes and their Causes, with the summary:

Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.

The first subsection of this is titled Observed changes in the climate system, which gives a number of examples, including the following:

Over the period 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m Figure SPM.1b). The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence)

Here, it is not talking about the cause, but solely about the observed changes in the climate. Nonetheless the context obviously implies that human causes are relevant. This is essentially identical with the presentation in the CCAK. Note that this same section also says this:

Since the beginning of the industrial era, oceanic uptake of CO 2 has resulted in acidification of the ocean; the pH of ocean surface water has decreased by 0.1 (high confidence), corresponding to a 26% increase in acidity, measured as hydrogen ion concentration.

So not just the sea level, but acidification has increased since the 19th century.

In any case, the presentation of the CCAK is a fair representation of the IPCC.

###NASA

Unlike some of the EPA documents I tried to access today, the Trump administration has not yet removed all of the data on climate change from the NASA site. The summary on sea level is here:

Sea level rise is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting land ice and the expansion of sea water as it warms. The first chart tracks the change in sea level since 1993 as observed by satellites.

The second chart, derived from coastal tide gauge data, shows how much sea level changed from about 1870 to 2000.

Like the IPCC, NASA cites the 20cm sea level rise since the 19th century in the context of climate change, but without definitively attributing it to human activity.

So the CCAK also accurately represents the position of NASA.


As to reasons why the causality is not stated explicitly here, I have not come across a discussion of this issue. My guess is that it’s because cause is always harder to establish than observations. So in the case of early and primitive records, any attempt to establish causality is going to be much less certain. Nevertheless, it is clearly the case that human industrial activity had made a measurable difference in CO2 levels even by the late 19th century. Since acidification also increased since that period, it is not unreasonable to suppose that this was the cause, or a contributing factor, in the sea level rise. Given the uncertainty, it is also not unreasonable to refrain from stating this outright.

What is unreasonable is to baselessly smear the work of volunteers who are simply trying to help the planet, to impugn their motives, and to compare them with a noxious fool like Trump. On the contrary, they have relied on the most authoritative sources, and have fairly represented what those sources say.

If you have genuine problems with the science, take it up with scientists. There’s a regular discussion called Unforced Variations, at http://realclimate.org/ where actual climate scientists discuss the issues.

There is a process by which scientific knowledge advances, and it is not by attacking volunteers on a Buddhist forum.


#22

I bow to you sir. I am sitting here in gratitude for your measured response. The issue is very politically charged and our egos get so easily involved. In some ways this is strong practice for those who are ready for it.

The politicization of this issue and a few others has spawned fields of academic inquiry – from anthropologist, to social psychologies, science and technology studies or the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research @ http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/

What is unreasonable is to baselessly smear the work of volunteers who are simply trying to help the planet , to impugn their motives

I put it to you that I too am trying to help the planet. And yet I hope we can agree I was not treated with the respect you are asking be extended to these volunteers.

What did I say that causes you to believe that I impugned their motives?

I did question the skillfulness of one part of their practice.
Which is why I strongly urge Buddhists to develop a set of principles and guidelines for the noble path of engaged action.

One of major principles I recommend would be to look to the model of the Buddha who studied a diversity of practices and thus gained a broad, I would call it a trans-partisan, perspective which he used to good effect in his teaching. For the current case that means seeking out the critical comments and involvement of people with the ability to act as “devils advocates”. Even better, the best critics would be the so-called skeptics or lukewarmers – the ones that are often cruelly labeled deniers. The difference is often more one of certainty and urgency but many lukewarmers support a carbon tax for instance.

, and to compare them with a noxious fool like Trump.

Ok, I’m dropping that attempt now. It’s a very difficult practice to look at the ways we might be doing unskillful things similar to what people we despise also do. It would have been wiser to deal with one challenge at a time.

There is a cross-party minority of us who are waking up to a realization that in some ways we might have contributed to some of the causes and conditions that led to the election of President Trump. That by the way is how deep I think a mature Buddhist engaged action needs to go. But we don’t have to do it all at once!

On the contrary, they have relied on the most authoritative sources, and have fairly represented what those sources say.

Science and the dharma to some degree are not big on proof by authority. The ultimate authority is what is and what can be known. I would caution you that what NASA says in public statements and to the press is too often differs in some aspect from what their serious scientific papers say.

I have to go now. More later.


#23

Hello everyone,

Hello @Feynman, and welcome to Discourse @ Sutta Central!

Please rest assure this is not the traditional welcoming people receive when they come to SuttaCentral at first.

But there’s nothing we can do to change the past, albeit we can all try to learn something from it [1].

Generally speaking I think we can all debate about details, however if we are to agree on saving the planet, may be we should try to keep it simple (higher level).

Here’s my take on this task: we all have an impact on the earth [ / water / fire / air], from which we have come, that feeds us and to which we will return, and we can all work on reducing it along with our ego and bad habits (in body, speech and mind).

If the Buddhist Climate Action Kit is not perfect, lets not spoil the party because of that. It should be good enough for the purpose, but I also have no doubt that it’ll be improved over time, albeit not necessarily towards turning it into an authoritative document on scientific facts about Climate Change.

With much loving kindness and compassion,
Sukha
/\

[1] I feel better about trying to maintain wise attention, thanks to this discussion, because I could see the cause of suffering arising whilst reading and reacting (in mind) but I was able to recognize it for what it was (after some suffering had already arisen to be fully honest), which is something fairly new to me!


#24

@Feynman, I think you might help moderate the tone of the conversation if you gave us a bit more background on who you are, what your scientific credentials are, and what interests or expertise you possess in the field of climate research.

People who have spent any time discussing climate science around the web know that they often have to deal with the presence of fossil fuel industry lobbyists and PR flaks spreading confusion and disinformation, or with denialists who pose as reasonable moderates and devil’s advocates. Some of these people are quite unscrupulous, and thus might even pose as fellow members of the community they are communicating with - Christian evangelicals if it is an evangelical forum, Buddhists if it is a Buddhist forum, LGBT persons if it is an LGBT forum etc. These unfortunate realities might account for the suspicion with which your intervention has been greeted, especially since you are entirely new to this forum.

Your initial charge that the bullet point in question is similar to fake news seems unfair. Yes, the inclusion of the bullet point in a package of information for climate change activists does imply that the authors of the package regard the unusual sea level rise since the late 19th century to be anthropogenic. The scientific case for regarding it as such is obviously not presented in the bullet point itself. But even if the information supporting the clear implication of that bullet point is not there in the package, it is appropriate to use that point in a kit for activists if the scientific consensus is there to support it. From the information that has been presented so far, it appears to me that the scientific consensus is that anthropogenic influence on sea levels is indeed the most likely cause of the sea level rise that does not continue the pattern established by the earlier mean rate.


#25

Mostly, it’s unclear to me what you’re going on about. What is clear is that you feel strongly about something with regards to the CCAK, but beyond some merely potentially barely meaningful insinuation regarding the 98% estimate in the section attached above, it’s unclear whether your let’s generously call it “critique” has any merit.

You say you have several examples, perhaps you would be so magnanimous as to move on to another so-called example of misleading science reporting if you so accept nothing more to complain about with regards to the section so far discussed (ie pg. 20).


#26

DKervick,
I am not:

  • A lobbyist

  • A PR flak

  • A denialist

  • A fake Buddhist

  • Getting paid for writing this

  • I am a real person with a real Buddhist practice, have taken precepts, and belong to a sanga.

  • I do support a source neutral carbon tax such as the one proposed by Jim Hansen for instance.

I am part of a growing group that believe that the mainstream climate campaigns have adopted strategies that are not effective or are even counter-productive. The Buddhist campaigns I’ve looked at don’t seem to do much better. On that line I recommend to you:

Your initial charge that the bullet point in question is similar to fake news seems unfair.

I think your are right so I’ve withdrawn it. One reason being that the words “fake new” means different things to different people. For more comments on this see Buddhist Climate Action Kit

Yes, the inclusion of the bullet point in a package of information for climate change activists does imply that the authors of the package regard the unusual sea level rise since the late 19th century to be anthropogenic. The scientific case for regarding it as such is obviously not presented in the bullet point itself.

Yes I think we agree on the anthropogenic implication.
I don’t understand why you think the idea of unusual sea level rise is implied. I also wouldn’t say that the implication is “clear” because implications can be weasily things.

Yet, to be clear, the bullet point on it’s own does not hint that the cause is anthropogenic or natural or the act of a mischievous being from another relm. :imp:

But more than implying what the authors of the package believe as you put it, on my first read I thought the bullet point wanted to say that somehow just the facts given means that the current rate of sea level rise is anthropogenic and, to follow your lead, the rate is unusual. I don’t think that representing the position of NASA or the IPCC reports with subtle implications is a good way to go.

But going back to my original post I think those comments hold up to examination:

I suggest this statement misleads as much as it helps our understanding.
… Correctly understood this information suggests that a lot of sea level rise is not due to fossil fuels / CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Yet I’d bet that many readers would not come away with that conclusion.
– From my original post


#28

pg. 20


Surely your experience with publications finds lack. Let’s simplify this shall we?

Let’s take the assumption that water volume is a linear function of temperature, ie V = f(T), where f is not a curve and V increases with T.

If the temperature increase is dT and the water volume increase is dV, then the agent that increased the temperature by dT is responsible for dV, yes?


#29

Let me tell you a tale.

A women travels to a new city. She is greeted by a mob that proclaims that among other things they hate lesbians. They say “we beat up 'dem queers to an inch of their lives. But we leaves them alive and sends them back home so their sangas have to take care of them. Serves them both right!”.

Later some person comes up to the women and demands:
“Answer yes or no, are you a lesbian?”

Now dear listener to this tale. How, in your wisdom and compassion, would you advise this traveler to respond?

Likewise I put it to you. Given the high level of reaction seem on this discussion alone do you think it’s wise and safe for me to publicly come out of the closet as it were?


#30

Sujato, when you write of “attacking volunteers on a Buddhist forum” I hope you include in that thought your own initial response to me. None of us may come away from this with completely clean hands.

There is a real challenge and opportunity to become more skillful in offering critiques especially around such charged topics.

Your comment about “a process by which scientific knowledge advances” strikes me as odd and ironic on several levels but that is a topic for another day. It’s a fascinating (to me at least :blush:) and important field that often parallels dharma wisdom. For instance see:

How scientists fool themselves – and how they can stop

  • “even an honest person is a master of self-deception. … our talent for jumping to conclusions makes it all too easy to find false patterns in randomness, to ignore alternative explanations for a result or to accept ‘reasonable’ outcomes without question — that is, to ceaselessly lead ourselves astray without realizing it.

A Perspective on what to say about 'the Science’
As to what I’ve called the science reporting. I would strongly recommend something that may seem surprising but I think the notion is well supported by such experts as there are in the field.
The recommendation is: de-emphasize reporting on the physical basis of climate change. If you don’t have the resources to do it well get out of the business.
Consider:

  • There are plenty of other public web sites doing it.

  • For most citizens and most scientists we have to accept the summaries of others.

  • There is a key role for citizens - a role that scientists are no better equipped for than non-scientists. That is deciding what to do about it. In some circles this is known as “public policy” or other variations on the word “policy”.

  • For a significant portion of those policy questions the causes of climate change may be largely irrelevant.

  • For many policy questions climate change is only one aspect of the overall challenge. (Malaria wouldn’t go away even if the climate cooled. In California water would be still be an issue if climate wasn’t changing. The state has had several mega-droughts in the last 1,200 years, the worst lasting over 120 years.)

  • There is a close relationship to how people respond to the issue and the type of options they think they have. (Hint: giving people more options opens them up to accepting more bad news)

  • US public opinion on climate change has been relatively stable (with ups and downs) over three different presidencies, 5 IPCC reports, many extreme weather events, and a a lot of campaigning and advocacy. At this point continued efforts to debate the politics via science simply serve to reinforce the current public opinion.

  • The myth of the linear model of science and decision making. Related to the point above. For more See: http://www.shapingsciencepolicy.com/2011/05/linear-model-science-to-policy.html


#31

Hi everyone,

I couldn’t help but come back to this thread to see how it develloped.

And what sprung to mind was “storm in a teacup”.

And sadly for you Mr @Feynman, it looks like an instance of what was discussed here: Dealing with trolling behaviour - good old classic internet trolling.

And gosh you have done a great job at it, even if unwittingly (which I still hope for).

:frowning:

/\


#32

I really don’t think it is helpful to describe Mr. Feynman’s contribution as “trolling.”


#33

Hi @DKervick,

I don’t necessarily mean that he did this intentionally… but if you go back to the various references about what trolling his, I’ll argue back that it could be unfortunately seen as such…

May be I wasn’t clear enough.

So, no personal offense was meant.

And I’m sorry if it diluted my other (main) point: it seems to be an awful lot of talk for what should be regarded as a tiny bullet point in a large document filled with good intentions.


#34

Yes, if there are things in the package that can be improved, a short and helpful suggestion about improved wording would be a better start.


#35

DKervick,
Thanks for the intervention with sukha over trolling. It seems to work much better if a 3rd party does that. IMO terms like that should not be used without a specific definition.

There are a couple things I commend the Action Kit for:

  • It does partly acknowledge “land use change” as a driver of warming. (But only one aspect of it’s impact). It thus partly avoids the error of characterizing human-induced climate change as due to a single cause.
  • It mostly avoids the “worse catastrophe ever to face human kind” trope. (The trope reminds me why the Buddha declined to address certain metaphysical questions. The IPCC WG2 report specifically addresses why the report does not use such adjectives.)
  • It’s tone is more equanimous than some other guides.

I would add that there are more scientific errors in the document including one that forms the basis for a question that is used to evaluate climate change knowledge in scientific research. http://www.culturalcognition.net.
After some reflection I think it best if the readers of the document looked for them as an exercise. It’s an old teaching technique: have people read something, ask them if they find any errors in it, then point out several that they missed.

Inconvenient Truths
The kit recommends seeing one of several documentaries. I’ll comment on Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. I would recommend viewing that film along with reading the U.K. judge’s final ruling from Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The judgement ruled on the guidance notes that had to accompany the film when it was shown in English state schools.

The existence of the case and the ruling on what must be included in the guidance notes to teachers are quite salutary for understanding the social context of climate change.

Poverty

  • Climate change policy invites us to fall into ethnocentric traps.

  • I think it’s morally questionable to talk about the impact on the poor without at least mentioning that a) compassion for the poor implies doing more than working on climate change b) a powerful way to reduce the vulnerability of the poor is to raise them out of it. Over a broad spectrum poverty can be argued to be one of the most serious threats to the world’s poorest people.

Moral Error
I think it’s most often is a moral error to restrict and tie our moral obligation to a single, specific course of action or policy. Avoid unnecessary dualities.

For instance: “In international negotiations, Australia should set emissions reduction targets of at least 40 per cent by 2020 below the levels of 1990, and advocate for a binding agreement to keep global warming at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. … we have a moral obligation to do so.”

There is difference between a good idea and saying that it’s the only good idea. Among other things it puts one in the silly position of having to say that a 40 % reduction over 1991 levels means we haven’t met our moral obligation.

Ouch! but point taken.


#36

If find it fairly disgraceful that a bunch of anonymous people behind computers would criticize and disparage the strenuous and difficult work the unpaid volunteers went through to compile this work.

If you do indeed care so much about these things, complaining about them here is going to do absolutely nothing except irritate the good participants of this forum.

Perhaps instead you could volunteer your time and knowledge to helping Buddhist organizations compose better climate action kits, or go outside and actually work with your local (faith-based) climate action group to start working on effective solutions to this problem.

I’m sure the composers of this kit were aware there were going to be errors, and I’m sure there’s even more than you have apparently ‘found’. But the point of this kit was just to be a conversation starter, a beginning point for individuals and groups to take meaningful climate action. Obviously, you’ve missed it.

P.S. Climate ‘action’ is actually doing stuff, not just whinging about the issues with it on forums.


#37

It is a fair dinkum lot of work. I look at the weeks and years of unpaid work I’ve put into educating myself so I could volunteer my experience, expertise, knowledge and insight towards helping to compose a better action kit.

:wink: Ok, I promise not to abuse my limited knowledge of strine on you anymore.


#38

From your comments I judge that you put a lot of weight on your ability to make accurate attributions of other peoples intentions. My response was also a post " filled with good intentions" as you say. So what happened?

I chose that one bullet point because the logic of my point was mostly self contained within the bullet point itself. I structured my original comment and then explained my reasoning so that you didn’t have to know much about climate science to understand my thinking. Yet I’m thinking that it’s self-evident from the responses that people went off in a lot of directions.

I propose to you that the concern that I was a shill, troll or whatever complicated things, invoked defensive reasoning and diminished understanding. (I admit that you might find some irony if you read my initial response to the bullet point in light of my last sentence!)

In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors .

I put it to you that attribution bias may cause more problems on blogs than do trolls. Making attributions about others, whether about their motives, their competence, etc is sort of like have a troll in our own heads!

Further I put it that if you think all the talk was just about that one bullet point then you might learn alot if you re-read the thread with different eyes. A lot of salient ground was covered that relates to the entire document and how it might be used. You can lead a horse to water …

Regarding intentions. For me, and I believe also so in early Buddhism, both intentions and consequences matter.


  • The monk laughed and then replied brightly “oh yes, the little politician in my head … I recently renamed him Donald you know! That guy sometimes wants to be president of me. Yes, it’s true! I am grateful when diligence and mindfulness of the three poisons helps me to vote another way.” – anon.

#39

I think you have a sincere concern about the issue of how climate change activists can most effectively communicate with the public, and do so without using claims that later prove to be overstated, thus discrediting the activists.

But as a newcomer to this forum, you should probably have thought more about how to apply those concerns about communication to your own case, and avoided “fake news” and “sounds like Trump” broadsides directed at well-meaning people who might not have stated a factual point with as much context as they could have.


#40

I agree, especially since most buddhist in the west are part of the 13% progressive minority and this forum in particular leans strongly in that direction. It even had a black banned put on top of the forum when Trump won the presidency. Imagine if you went to a christian forum where most people are part of the 11% fundamentalist section of republicans. You would speak in a certain way, aware of how you will be perceived in such an environment no matter how moderate the opinion.

At first, the natural feeling when encountering such situations is revolt. A feeling that “it’s not ok to be called a troll just because of questioning progresive orthodoxism”. But if you would be on a christian forum, you would also be called a troll for contradicting the orthodoxism over there. Be pragmatic and aware that such topics are highly politically charged.

There was a good post recently about how people react when issues are politically charged: The Backfire Effect
Even when speaking softly, there might still be strong reactions.


#41

The monk laughed and then replied brightly “oh yes, the little politician in my head … I recently renamed him Donald you know! That guy sometimes wants to be president of me. Yes, it’s true! I am grateful when diligence and mindfulness of the three poisons helps me to vote another way.” – anon.


I concede the point about skillful communication again.

Buddhism has both a consequentialist and a intentionalist (e.g. Virtue) ethical view. That is the dharma teaches a two fold (or more) attention to our actions.

  • To attend to our intentions.

  • To attend to the consequences of our actions, that is, the perspective of karma.

In the purely consequential analysis it doesn’t matter what your merit, virtues or intentions were or are.
I took the mostly consequential view of things rather than the more skillful, dialectically balanced one. That is, just as you suggest, I wasn’t considering the intentions and viewpoints of themselves of the listeners. Your comments have caused me to reflect more deeply than I would have on my own.

I … uh … intend to do better in the future.