Buddhism and Climate Justice

What is Climate Justice?

Climate justice is where care for the earth, care for the poor, and social justice meet. It describes several things.

  • How climate change unfairly harms people who are poor and people who have been colonized.
  • How the people who are least responsible suffer the greatest consequences of climate change.
  • How climate emergency is connected to other systems of abuse of power, usually originating in the global North.

Only changes in laws and policies, in finance, and by industries can create climate justice. These changes are created by social movements. Only then will the root causes of climate change be fixed at the necessary scale and depth.


Buddhism and Climate Justice

We must renounce our culture of materialism marked by overconsumption and unlimited growth. This renunciation is at the core of our Buddhist faith and practice. We must for the sake of selflessness, modesty, equality, compassion, and the sacredness of all life.

A prayer for our earth is not enough. Calling for healing is not enough. Our spiritualities demand we seek peace with each other and with the planet. But it also demands that we work to end suffering and violence. This crisis affecting our very survival is the greatest violence humanity has ever committed. This is unprecedented suffering. Many already suffer the effects of extreme climate events.

Buddhism teaches us that there is a path to the end of suffering. It teaches us that on that path lies right action—the imperative to act with moral clarity in the face of injustice. We must have right speech – the imperative to speak truth. We must have right livelihood—the imperative to live simply, within the capacity of the earth. It teaches us that all living things are connected. How we treat other living things has a profound effect on our personal karma and path to enlightenment. And it has an effect on the enlightenment of our nations and our national and global karma.

If we are to take seriously our path as Buddhists, we must take seriously our responsibility to first do no harm. This means reducing our consumption and waste and helping others do the same. We need to learn to live simply. We have already gone beyond the carrying capacity of the earth. It will be necessary to do what we can to restore the earth and all life to health. We need clean air and water, enriched soils, reforestation and regeneration. We must hold fossil fuel companies, banks, and governments responsible for their direct contributions to this crisis. We must resist the easy choice to detach from these concerns. Instead, we must speak and act for the preservation of our planet and a more just society.

That is why we—as Buddhists, as seekers of peace and compassion—must demand an immediate end to any new oil, coal or gas projects, a phase out of existing fossil fuel projects, and a broad commitment to energy conservation at all levels of society supported by a rapid and just transition to a clean energy future. No bridge fuels, no temporary expansions of drilling, no delays. The end of fossil fuels and our addiction to consumerism and growth must begin now. We must understand how our consumption keeps the fossil fuel industry in business. Our teachings make it clear that true peace and happiness can only be found within, not in more things.

To do less falls short of our responsibility to reduce the suffering of all.


Commonly Used Sacred Texts Related to Climate Justice

The one who dwells in compassion would not have a conflictual volition;
The one who dwells in loving-kindness would always act most appropriately
Dhammapada, Taisho 4: 210

O noble-minded people, if you can help all sentient beings equally without discrimination, you will then consummate the full and perfect compassion, with which, if you accommodate sentient beings, you can then make all Tathagatas happy and satisfied. In this manner a Bodhisattva should accommodate and embrace all sentient beings.
Hua-yen Sutra

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths,
Outward and unbounded.
Metta Sutta, “Loving-Kindness”

When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising (uppada) of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation (nirodha) of this, that ceases.
Samyutta Nikaya 12.61