Sydney Buddhist Centre Divests from Fossil Fuels

One way to think about the “global” nature of Buddhism is to consider not just the spread of Buddhist practitioners and institutions across the globe but also how they imagine and address global issues.  The most literally global issue of our time is anthropogenic climate change. Recently, the Sydney Buddhist Centre announced that it would divest from all fossil fuels, claiming that it is the first Buddhist organisation in the world to do so. Seeing the media release, I was immediately interested whether and how the move was justified in Buddhist terms. Indeed one of the Centre’s members, Ratnajyoti, explains that:

As Buddhists we are actively trying to transform our consciousness so we appreciate the absolute interconnection between all things. We want to increase our awareness of the impacts of our way of life and take responsibility for them wherever we can. The catastrophe of climate change has such serious impacts for all living beings we really want to start to step up to the challenge. Although this decision to shift our money or buy green energy are small gestures we will be seeking to build on them.

While I’m very sympathetic to this position, I wonder how other Buddhists view this issue. I could imagine there is a range of positions on the appropriate response towards climate change. Any thoughts?

Here is the full text of the Centre’s media release:

Sydney Buddhist Centre first in world to dump coal, oil, and gas investments

The Sydney Buddhist Centre has become the first Buddhist organisation in the world to shift its investments from coal, oil, and gas, making the ethical decision in light of the increasing impacts of climate change being felt around the world.

Globally, more than 520 organisations have divested from fossil fuels – including governments, religious, and educational institutions.

One member of the Sydney Buddhist Centre Management Committee, Ratnajyoti said it made sense for his centre to shift their investments away from fossil fuels.

“We know that the extraction and burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – is the main driver of climate change,” Ratnajyoti said. “The decision to remove our investments away from banks that invest in fossil fuels was an ethical one we took after seeing the damage that unchecked fossil fuel burning is doing to our climate – and how these impacts are felt by those least able to afford it”.

“As Buddhists we are actively trying to transform our consciousness so we appreciate the absolute interconnection between all things. We want to increase our awareness of the impacts of our way of life and take responsibility for them wherever we can. The catastrophe of climate change has such serious impacts for all living beings we really want to start to step up to the challenge. Although this decision to shift our money or buy green energy are small gestures we will be seeking to build on them.”

Gillian Reffell who attends the Centre said she is proud it is leading the way and called on other Buddhist centres across the globe to follow

“I think it is great that the Sydney Buddhist Centre is following its ethics and taking action on climate change. I hope other Buddhist Centres and other spiritual groups will do the same,” Ms Reffell said.

The move makes the Sydney Buddhist Centre just the latest of a growing number of institutions to become part of a grassroots campaign that is spreading around the world and is modelled on the 1980s divestment movement to end apartheid in South Africa.

More information on fossil fuel divestment can be found here.

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About Jovan Maud

I'm a lecturer in the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany. Interests include: transnational religious networks, popular religion in Thailand, religious tourism and commodification, and digital anthropology.
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7 Responses to Sydney Buddhist Centre Divests from Fossil Fuels

  1. “Climate change” is a socially acceptable substitute, for cheating people who start to feel that our civilization is self-destruction. I wonder why people talk about “climate change” but not about killing thousands of people abroad that their “democratic country” orchestrates in order to have more profits; not about wasting billions of hours, for earning and then buying shiny pieces of shit that nobody really needs, and only buy because of being brainwashed by advertisement.

  2. Jovan Maud says:

    Thank you for your comment. I think you’re setting up a false opposition though. People do talk about all those issues, and being concerned about one doesn’t mean you’re not concerned about the others. Also, a critique of excessive consumption is often part and parcel of anxieties about climate change, not a separate issue.

    In any case, my question was more directed at how people as Buddhists reflect upon climate change and the question of what should be done.

    • > I think you’re setting up a false opposition though. People do talk about all those issues, and being concerned about one doesn’t mean you’re not concerned about the others.
      THEORETICALLY, yes, that’s “a false opposition”. THEORETICALLY, “being concerned about one doesn’t mean you’re not concerned about the others”.
      But practically, I come to Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s web site, and I see there talks about “climate change” and “black lives matter”. Theoretically, those guys might be “concerned about others”.
      But in practice? When I say that NATO countries do horrible things, you guys avoid protesting – you prefer to express your concerns about *climate change*.
      So where is the false opposition?
      A false opposition is in your minds, when you protest about what might touch you personally, and don’t give a shit about what your governments do in other countries.
      Did you ever protest against attacking Libya?
      Against incessant killing people in Ukraine?
      All that was created by your own governments, but you let these fascists go on as if nothing happens.
      Where is the false opposition, eh?

      What should be done is pretty obvious.
      The main problem is being brainwashed – in wider sense, caught by ignorance.
      Liberation from that is so much more important than using wood for fire, that I don’t bother much about the latter. Where is the false opposition?

      BTW, a technical description of our mind and its liberation from my POV as Buddhist:
      http://zen-do.ru/texts/154-the-root-problem

  3. Jovan Maud says:

    Yes, and you could criticise me about all the thousands of other problems in the world that I didn’t mention. Whataboutery is a very easy way to derail a discussion.

    • Jovan, sorry if I was not clear enough and let you think I want to derail a discussion.
      What I actually tried to say is that there is a root problem.
      And that typical Buddhist activists – as long as I can see in media – let themselves be derailed by minor issues, insignificant in the whole context.
      That’s my answer on “how I as Buddhist see the problem and what I advise to do”.
      Well if for you it was derailing, OK, that only proves I was right about brainwashing and escapism.
      Good luck on your way.

  4. Thank you, also for this article – a great starting point to see how deeply social conditioning affects our thinking. Even our choice of topics for thinking!

    This socially conditioned thinking is exactly the cause of climate change.

    We as Buddhists should realize that there are countless samsaric problems, and people waste all their lives in trying to deal with them, in countless cycles, so the only meaningful way is to open wider perspective and work over the root problem – outside of the standard horizon of social conditioning.

    Then people might not understand us so readily as when we are “in a media trend”, but eventually we can persevere, with compassion and wisdom, and help people to get to the root.

    Is there any other way?

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