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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 13 Editorial: Munich to Kyoto WORLD-CHANGING HISTORICAL EVENTS don’t happen without warning. Take World War II. George Orwell said that the most politically sophisticated people knew in 1932 that a world war was coming. By 1936, less knowledgeable people understood war was unavoidable. And by 1938, everyone saw it coming. On the environmental question, I confess to being one of the mediocre middle group, at best. It took me too long to believe the evidence, understand the scope of the problem, and accept its inevitability. New to the environmental issue, having long concentrated on the field of war and peace, I don’t know whether to be hopeful or hopeless. And I certainly don’t know how to solve the problem. But as I read what thoughtful people have to say about it, people such as Stepha- nie Kaza, Pepper Trail, and Mark Coleman in this issue, I see a couple of basic principles that I think apply: That we pay now or pay later, but the earlier the better. That leadership and elections matter. That the problems of environmental degradation, war, and economic inequality are intimately connected. And that the best way to approach them all is this simple truth from a Buddhist liturgy: Generosity is the virtue that produces peace. It’s easy to fall into hopelessness. Most of the evi- dence we hear on the environment weighs on that side. I remember an interview I did with Jerry Brown in which I naively talked about changing the world. He noted somewhat disdainfully that human society is pretty big and very hard to affect. How much more difficult to reverse biological and life processes, if they can be reversed at all? I ask myself, can I and my family make a contribu- tion that has any meaning? I’m sure you ask yourself the same question. Yet my family struggles to lead a basic middle-class existence, and I don’t see a lot there to cut back on. Perhaps your situation feels the same. Yes, there is tremendous concentration of wealth in this world and massive military spending; there are hundreds of billions of dollars available there. That would help, but I suspect the onus still falls on the world’s middle class, people like you and me and the middle classes of China and India, who merely aspire to what we’ve already got. Can we all choose to lower our expectations and standards of living, pay higher taxes and fuel bills? That is the massive, world- changing act of generosity that could produce peace for ourselves and others. Maybe I’m speaking with the enthusiasm of a re- cent convert, but I think we can make the choice of generosity, of well-strategized sacrifice. Sooner or later we’re all going to be poorer—that’s what we’re really talking about here; that’s the truth even the environ- mentalists don’t want to utter. In a real way, the answer to the problem of consumption is to be poorer. We can choose to be somewhat poorer now or much poorer later, as a consequence of war, disease, environmental destruction, and the economic collapse they bring. I know I sound like a classic doomsayer (when I was a freshman in college I had a biology textbook entitled Global Famine 1980), but I don’t think disaster is inevi- table. I think we can still have significant impact on the course this century will take. Here in Canada, where the Shambhala Sun is based, the Green Party just took 24 percent of the vote in a parliamentary by-election, coming second, and the main opposition party has just elected a leader who is going to make the Kyoto Accord and the environment his party’s main plank in the next election. Of course, Canada isn’t a major player in the world, and people’s commitment will be tested when it’s time to pay, but this is a hopeful sign that environmentalists everywhere might reflect on. What does it take to convince people that the environment is today’s most important issue, as Canadians now seem to believe? Because if the votes are there, the leaders will respond. In 1938, the Second World War wasn’t really inevi- table. The German army was prepared to overthrow Hitler if Britain and France stood up to him; instead, Chamberlain caved in at Munich. Even by 1940, at somewhat greater cost, offensive action by the Brit- ish and French probably would have defeated Ger- many. At each opportunity, the leadership, as well as the populace, was unwilling to make the short-term sacrifice that would have prevented the much greater disaster that ensued. The situation we face today is analogous. Will Kyoto be our Munich? They failed to meet the challenge of their time. How will we respond to ours? ♦