Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
This past Tuesday, January 15th, I was privileged to participate in a “Pray-In for the Climate” held in Washington D.C. The gathering was organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), a coalition of people from different faiths united in the recognition that we need to act—and act promptly—to stop the warming of our planet. The pray-in was deliberately scheduled for the actual birthday—rather than the official birth celebration—of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. During his life Rev. King had been an outspoken critic of the “triple scourge” of racism, poverty , and militarism, and we all concurred that if he were alive today, he would have added climate change to this set.
The slow heating of the earth’s ecosystem not only threatens to unleash planetary disasters of unprecedented scale but also presents us with the most weighty ethical challenge we face today. The moral dimension of climate change emerges from the unbalanced distribution of its consequences between agents and victims. While the advanced industrial nations of the north, most notably the U.S. (and now China), bear primary responsibility for overloading the air and oceans with carbon emissions, the poor countries of the south pay the heaviest price. It’s East Africa and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean islands and Central America, that bear the brunt of the floods and droughts, the failed harvests and water shortages, that are driving their populations over the cliff of poverty and hunger. It’s the small island-nations of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific that must face rising seas, which are likely to swallow them whole and leave them no place to go. Though our sense of human solidarity should compel us to share their plight and take effective action, we normally just go about in the dull daze of complacency, absorbed in our personal affairs and pursuing “business as usual.”