The Philosophy of Climate Change

Associate Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Binghamton, Charles A. Goodman addressed the consequences climate change on Monday, Nov. 14 in his lecture, “Buddhism, Selflessness, and Climate Change.”

“I first learned about Buddhism from my father and my aunt,” Goodman said. “When I began to meditate, I learned things about my mind that I had never imagined before, and I discovered the valuable benefits to be gained from letting the mind rest and relax.” ‘

From his personal meditation practices and study of Buddhist thought in his career, Goodman said that Buddhist philosophy might be the key to addressing climate change.

“Buddhism teaches that all forms of life are interdependent in complex ways,” Goodman said. “As humans, we recklessly cause environmental damage through our own greed and fear.”

While basic versions of ethics (both virtue and Kantian) are not well equipped to handle climate change, Buddhists are in a position to make a contribution to the “global conversation of ethics,” Goodman said.

Goodman said that in order to develop healthier ways of treating the environment, denying the benefits of technological civilization is not among the list of requirements; instead, he said the world needs to become conscious of the effects of humanity’s actions on other beings while learning to live in harmony.

“We can develop ecological consciousness in a variety of ways,” Goodman said.

He continued to explain that Buddhism, a philosophy governed by the “Doctrine of No- Self,” maintains that one’s body and mind – which he said are both of a continuously changing nature – are not one’s true self. He said the true self is forever unchanging and permanent. Goodman said the philosophy argues that suffering is optional and exists only in one’s own mind, and that humanity is afflicted with three root poisons hindering progression to harmony: attraction, aversion, and indifference.

Goodman’s book “Consequences of Compassion: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics,” explores the relationship between Buddhist and Western ethical theories.

“My hope is that by bringing together the insights of many world cultures, we can develop a global ethic that will lead to a wise response to the severe moral challenges of our time,” Goodman said.

According to Goodman, the focus of this ethic must be “preventing harm and suffering to all sentient beings” as well as the development of characteristically sound qualities appropriate for creating harmony.

He suggested what people can do individually to help prevent climate change: stop eating meat, call one’s congressman, study the “Doctrine of No-Self,” and try some Buddhist meditation practices.

“One very effective way to develop care for the environment is to cultivate loving kindness and compassion through traditional Buddhist meditation practices,” Goodman said. “I find that the more I sit in Zen, the more I want to hug trees.”