Caring for the Quality of All Life

Excerpts from "The Future Doesn't Hurt. Yet," by Matthiew Ricard, The New York Times, June 23, 2011:

The debate about climate change is mostly conducted by people who live in cities, where everything is artificial. They don’t actually experience the changes that are taking place in the real world. The vast majority of Tibetans, Nepalese and Bhutanese who live on both sides of the Himalayas have never heard of global warming, as they have little or no access to the news media. Yet they all say that the ice is not forming as thickly as before on lakes and rivers, that winter temperatures are getting warmer and the spring blossoms are coming earlier. What they may not know is that these are symptoms of far greater dangers.

...Imagine a ship that is sinking and needs all the available power to run the pumps to drain out the rising waters. The first class passengers refuse to cooperate because they feel hot and want to use the air-conditioner and other electrical appliances. The second-class passengers spend all their time trying to be upgraded to first-class status. The boat sinks and the passengers all drown. That is where the present approach to climate change is leading.

Whether people realize it or not, their actions can have disastrous effects — as the environmental changes in the Himalayas, the Arctic circle and many other places are showing us. The unbridled consumerism of our planet’s richest 5 percent is the greatest contributor to the climate change that will bring the greatest suffering to the most destitute 25 percent, who will face the worst consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, on average an Afghan produces 0.02 tons of CO2 per year, a Nepalese and a Tanzanian 0.1, a Briton 10 tons, an American 19 and a Qatari 51 tons, which is 2,500 times more than an Afghan.

Unchecked consumerism operates on the premise that others are only instruments to be used and that the environment is a commodity. This attitude fosters unhappiness, selfishness and contempt upon other living beings and upon our environment. People are rarely motivated to change on behalf of something for their future and that of the next generation. They imagine, “Well, we’ll deal with that when it comes.” They resist the idea of giving up what they enjoy just for the sake of avoiding disastrous long-term effects. The future doesn’t hurt — yet.

An altruistic society is one in which we do not care only for ourselves and our close relatives, but for the quality of life of all present members of society, while being mindfully concerned as well by the fate of coming generations.

Read the entire essay...