Is Capitalism Responsible for the Climate Crisis?

Here’s a new talk! This time I take on the role of capitalism in relation to the climate crisis.

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Such an important subject! Thanks.
I’ve got a suggestion, if I may, for an upcoming talk:

To recycle, or better not?

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My pleasure!

Good question!

Honestly, I think it’s better to not recycle plastics. It’s a con, designed by the oil companies to make you feel good about consuming plastic. Just be honest about it. I mean, this is obviously a generalization, there are some types of plastics in some cases that can be recycled to some degree. But on the whole, recycling is not an effective way to manage plastic waste.

Glass and aluminum are okay.

When I was young, they had the slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Not sure if it’s still used today! But the problem is that recycling is far and away the least effective of these measures, yet it is the one where the most effort goes.

I think it should go like this:

  • reduce as much as you can
  • reuse what you can’t reduce
  • recycle what you can’t reuse, where it makes sense
  • rubbish what can’t be recycled

We need to acknowledge that rubbish is just as much a part of our environmental management as the other things. Putting things in landfill is not always worse than recycling.

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Today we’d add to that: "Share, repair and replace "
and Margaret Bates adds to that:

The fundamental problem is that people buy stuff they don’t need.
If you don’t need it, it’s not environmentally friendly.

Australian Rebecca Prince-Ruiz is an extraordinary person
who is raising awareness of plastic waste worldwide.

It is counterintuitive but very true!
Because we can’t go on exporting our waste to Malaysia.

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This cannot be overstated enough. I worked in polymer and plastics manufacturing for several years and recycling single use plastics is a scam. The most common ones, like PETG, cannot be effectively recycled at all.

For the polymers that can be recycled, there’s only a limited number of times they can be run through a feedstock processing system. Every time you recycle a polymer you break it into it’s constituent monomers and re chaining them together. Eventually these monomers will no longer be able to chain, and whatever you are trying to make will just dissolve into a puddle of primordial petrochemical goo. And then what do you do with it?

And I am not going to go into the toxicity and environmental impact of dye pellets used in the polymer extrusion process. Holy crap that stuff is bad.

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Right! There’s no such thing as a “green” or “environmentally friendly” product. All products harm the environment, it’s just a matter of degree.

Hey, thanks for the corroboration! I’m no expert, so I just rely on what I see and read, and my conversations with people in the field.

TBH, after I wrote that I worried that it was too strong, especially considering the work of all the people who in good faith developed and maintain recycling projects. But then I remembered when I have spoken with folks who worked in the area, like environmental management at local councils, they were saying basically the same thing.

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Bhante, is there any chance you can post these recordings as audio files so that I can download them and get depressed about the world back in my kuti?

I wanted to click the little heart button on @MattStL 's reply. But the heart is just not the feels I have here. :cry:

I am the monastery’s ‘rubbish nerd’ and have tried my best to recycle as much as possible but over the past few years have grown more and more disillusioned by the whole recycling thing, to the point where I really didn’t even think there was a point in putting recycling bins out at Kathina (greasy plastic plates and peoples tissues… but it makes people feel better!). From looking at what gets put in our recycling bins at Kathina, I don’t even think the general public have any idea about what is recyclable and what contaminates recyclables. This leads to think that everything we diligently clean and send curbside just goes to landfill. :frowning: Then there are the single serve tetrapaks which are oh so convenient to take back to one’s kuti and relinquish if not consumed… my other rubbish nerd name is ‘Oscar the grouch’. Back when I was a student (20yrs ago) a paper company rep told me that tetrapaks were the best cardboard for recycling because the food stuffs never dirties the cardboard and the foil can just be melted off. But do we have even one facility in Australia which processes them in 2022? Nope!

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Lol, I will try to be of service! maybe i can put the audio on Internet Archive and link here?

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You are very welcome! It is completely true, though. There are 2 major problems with plastics recycling, the first we have already covered, the second is the extremely low margin and cost inefficiencies of recycling itself. A significant portion of recyclable polymers are component products, meaning they form a part of something else. In order to recycle them, you have to separate them from their non-recyclable components, which entails a ton of cost and labor. That’s not great for a product that retails at pennies on the pound to begin with.

Biodegradable polymers that can match the endurance of non bio’s that don’t cause health or environmental problems when they start decaying is a holy grail that has yet to be discovered.

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I think most people don’t really comprehend how complex plastics are. They’re just there, cheap and nasty.

And there we have it. Slap a 500% tax on all plastics, it’d be a start. In an ethical economy, we would be directly paying for externalities.

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It’s a crazy world

in which grapes are better cared for than refugees

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I listened to this talk today at the end of a workday. A great talk, on many levels. A deep discussion of political and economics issues that surround both climate change and societal differences as a whole. Some personal reflections that were nice to hear as well. Bhante reflected on his life and work, and remarked that it has been a life well lived. This was so good to hear, because it’s true. I also think of people like Vens. Brahmali, Brahm, Vimala, and how their lives and contributions to the Dhamma have been exemplary. It’s always my hope that they, too, feel this sense of a life well lived, an extraordinary life in the service of the Buddha, and that others might be inspired to see a monastic life lived at such a high and successful level might be something to aspire to. A life that has made the Path of the Buddhist life for so many others richer and more satisfying.

A talk deserving of a much broader audience, IMO.

And, in a suitable color for the monastic transportation pool :slight_smile: :

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Thank you Bhante Sujato for your thoughts and views on climate change. You answered a question I had regarding mindset of people involved in the siege of the Ambassador Bridge here in Windsor Ontario Canada and also of the occupation of my nation’s capital, Ottawa Ontario. The protest began with anti-vaxxers and wanting vaccine mandates removed. It has attracted the extreme right, and white supremacists. I believe you are right, the people who joined the protests/occupation are bored, and need meaning and value in their life.
We need to do away with excess materialism and learn to live with much less, that is to live below ones means. And Canada needs to abandon the Trans-Canada pipeline and shut down oil and gas production. There will be cries of outrage especially from Alberta, but it is the right thing to do to accomplish the reduction of carbon emissions here.

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Socialism and communism are also guilty if capitalism is seen as guilty. However, capitalism can be a solution. I have my own beliefs about climate change. Regardless of our beliefs it is still important to show concern for the environment by living a lifestyle with less pollution to the earth and atmosphere.
With capitalism we can see a change. We can see transport changing where more and more vehicles are battery operated. Capitalism is coming up with the alternatives for energy sources where fossil fuels are replaced with renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power.

Battery operated vehicles are terrible for the environment. They are marginally less bad than petrol vehicles, but the real solution is to drastically cut down or eliminate cars, and build dense, walkable cities with efficient public transport.

It’s far from clear to what extent this is happening on a global scale. Here’s one study:

The paper provides evidence for the substitution effect in solar PV and hydropower, but not in wind power sources.

It’s complicated. The amount of renewables is increasing, but so is the total amount of energy consumed. The proportion of renewables is meaningless as far as global atmospheric CO2 is concerned: what matters is that fossil fuels are not extracted and burned. And there is not really much progress there.

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Thanks for the link. Really agreed with her at:

people like me want other people to respond to what they’re actually saying and not what discourses of power they perceive me to be speaking in to

I guess we all just want to be heard, huh?

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Any discussion on climate change on the internet is bound by one hard rule: the discussion is hijacked and the actual topic is lost in repetition of the same, unutterably tedious denialism.

Meanwhile, in the real world over the last few days.

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I think something we may not always be mindful of is that all beings modify their environments to suit their cravings, aversions, and desires. An environment that is craved by or is pleasant to one being or one kind of organism will not always be pleasant to another being or organism. In that sense, there is no “perfect” environment, with the “idealness” of the environment being relative to each individual being’s likes and dislikes.

Everything from the smallest phytoplankton or bacteria to the smartest terrestrial mammal (humans) modify their environments to the detriment and benefit of themselves and others. In plants, this process is called allelopathy, which is a term for complex and subtle chemical interaction between plants, when plants (in contact with other plants/animals) release chemicals which alter their environments, leading to the deaths ofthose other plants/insects/etc. Animals do this too. When a beaver makes a dam, this leads to certain animals struggling to survive and find food, while aiding other species to find food.

If dung beetles had the intelligence or capabilities of humans, and had the desire to live and be everywhere, they’d certainly wish for the planet to turn to desert, warm up and work towards that goal/end. They’d see the rising global temperatures or modifications to the environment that cause that as being helpful.

Whereas penguins would prefer the whole Earth to freeze over. They’d see the rising global temperatures or modifications to the environment that cause that as harmful.

Similar to Bhante Sujato, that’s why terms like “environmentally friendly” or “green” don’t make sense, but I’d add “environmentally harmful” only makes sense when that harm is measured relative to human desires, cravings, and preferences, which we know, are not universals. What is “environmentally harmful” to us may be environmentally helpful (or harmful) to other species/individuals.

Take plastic pollution. What is very harmful to turtles and fish is helpful to insect striders or other creatures that use the plastic for nesting/housing.

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Indeed. I always remember something Ken Wilbur said, to the effect that when we speak of evolution in technological, social and cultural terms, it doesn’t mean that we get “better”, it means that we have a greater capacity for either good or evil. Our choices matter more.

Normally one creature might benefit by it being drier, another by it being wetter, but over time they balance each other out, and the diversity is what gives the system resilience and adaptability. We’ve proven ourselves exceptionally “fit” in evolutionary terms, to the point that we are single-handedly overturning this dynamic balance.

The ecosphere is resilient, but like any system, it has its limits.