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Caring for Our Earth Mother
Listen to this talk:
Caring for Our Earth Mother (42 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Julie Ryan
April 27, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

I come to you to bring you a message that is very close to my heart. It has to do with our earth mother. I wanted to bring this photo from when man first set foot on the planet, and this image was sent back from the Apollo capsule, and we got to see for the first time what earth looks like when you're not here, when you're out in space. And if you look closely, you can even see North America. You can see part of India. If you would like to look at it, please do.

I would like to speak with you about the suffering of Mother Earth today, which is also our suffering, because we are totally dependent on our mother. And also about the power of the dharma for any problem, even the problems that seem impossible for humanity to correct. And I hope the joy and hopefulness of this message outweighs the seriousness, because together, we can deal with any situation.

I would like to begin by talking about just for a frame of reference the Four Noble Truths, which many of you know very, very well. Would anybody like to tell us the first one?

Bobbie: There is suffering.

Julie: There is suffering. Nobody is totally happy all the time. None of us escapes basic pain, illness, death, separation. However, there are also causes of suffering. So when there is a problem that causes pain, we look to see exactly what it is. The scientific community has been in the process for at least 40 years of determining what is going on with our planet, and they have a conclusive 99% sure reckoning right now. But once we know the causes, it is possible to find ways for the cessation of suffering, the way out. And then of course, you can call it the ending of suffering or you can call it happiness. And that is the eightfold path that we follow.

So, for a moment I would like to talk with you about one more principle, which is interbeing, because it is very important the way our planet operates and our life here. For example, where does our air come from? It does not just arrive. There's a whole process, right? The plants give us oxygen, and they take our CO2, and this started millions and millions of years ago when there were no true plants. There is just blue-green algae floating in a soup, and a lot of minerals and rocks, and over I don't know how long, the algae developed oxygen, and that was one of the first elements for life as we know it.

So, short version, compressed the millennia since then, everything that has evolved here has been in delicate balance where the sun shining gives energy to the plants, who are somehow able to convert sunlight into food for themselves and for us. We are actually eating the sun's energy, and then it obviously passes through us, and it gets recycled into nutrients that get reused again. And even in a little area, like the grounds around the apartment building where I live, I can see so many little organisms that are like the earthworms at work, and the next level of organisms, and the birds, and the caterpillars. Everything is interdependent.

Well, as you know if you've been following the news, the balance has gotten way out of whack. We are in a drought that is prevalent in all but 2% of the state of Texas. It wiped out a lot of the crops in the West. It has been so devastating in some of the developing world—for example, in India or many areas in Africa, where many people are doing subsistence farming, living from one crop to the next, that when the monsoons go away and their rainy season stopped, there is no way to make a crop. So the food supply is threatened, and I could go on. England was flooded. Six hundred people died last year, and it is all revolving around the scientific fact we call climate change.

So, I'm just going to give you a few simple numbers about that to kind of make it concrete, and I got these from reading and studying over the past 5 years. I'm a landscape person and an earth person, and people like me and farmers and other people that are involved in plants and animals get really anxious when things begin to go a way they have never gone before. So here is why. This is the short version.

Well, it is from a NASA scientist—it is from 2 different people. There is a whole international community of scientists who report through a group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is a scientific community related to the United Nations, and they have been informing international body because they have been meeting for 20 years now having climate summits.

And there is one thing they can all agree on: In 2008, they said, "The temperature is going up. Right now, the average temperature worldwide has gone up 1C." I'm not too good with metrics, but I think that is 1.6F. It doesn't sound like a lot, because it is an average, but how this played out in Texas is we have had 10 of our hottest years in record in the last 14 years. Every year is a record breaker.

So the scientists got to work, and when the world delegates to this conference met, they said, "We cannot allow the temperature of the planet to go above 2C because many, many systems start breaking down, and there is no reversing it in less than thousands of years." The climate conditions that we are in now, we're going to have, even if we really rein in. We just need to stop short of going further, but at this point they are saying it can be a tipping point where—I hate to say this, but disaster is an everyday thing. You know, the Philippines have already had massive flooding in 2011, and many people got wiped out, and it happened again last year. We are somewhat insulated being a wealthy nation and also this part of the country, being in the middle of the country.

So this is where we want to stop, and to do that another set of numbers comes into play. There's the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, the same interchange that we do with the plants, and a lot of this stuff is getting up into the atmosphere. See, this is from a satellite, and you can see this band. I don't know the number of miles deep our atmosphere is, but you can see here is outer space, and here is our blanket of protection from interstellar radiation. This is where our protective blanket is.

So what they are saying is the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. A month ago, we went up to 440. It is largely caused by about four factors, mostly related to carbon-based fuels. Energy production using coal, using natural gas, transportation and the petroleum we burn, deforestation because every tree taken out of the system removes one more entity that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere. So it is their oxygen. So when you lose the tree, you not only lose what they call carbon sequestration, taking it out, but then the tree dies, and all the carbon in its tissues gradually deteriorates into the soil and is released again as gas. And then another factor is eating meat because the commercial beef and livestock industry produces so many animals who are releasing methane into the atmosphere. And there are some other greenhouse gases. They are all problematic.

Basically, our lifestyle has got to change. This announcement just came about the 440 ppm. So we know a lot about the causes. We need to look at how to stop. Yes?

Male: What is it about eating meat that causes it? I missed the connection.

Julie: Because a lot of carbon is consumed, eating grains and so forth. It is two things: the crops that are produced to feed the cattle and then the methane that their bodies with the waste products of the cattle. This is something that Tashi told us about last week that I did not know that much about, but evidently eating higher on the food chain like that contributes to it as well.

Female: Tremendous water consumption, too.

Julie: Yeah. Enormous water consumption.

Female: Absolutely. And the electricity and energy that is required to process all that meat and everything.

Julie: Yeah.

Female: You know, plus it is not the way nature designed animals to be. There's supposed to be out in nature grazing—

Julie: And their waste getting recycled.

Female: Yeah.

Julie: Exactly.

Female: Plus it causes illness and disease, cancerous tissues to grow—

Julie: Right. Right. So this is all pretty scary. So for just a minute before we go any further with it, I would like to add on from all of this and look at what we have on our side. I don't mean money and things like that. I mean some of the benefits of our practice. One of them is the awareness of interbeing that we all are interconnected, because that means that none of us have to face this alone.

One thing I have not even mentioned yet is non-harming, and that is the first precept that the Buddha elucidated. Non-killing, non-harming any sentient being. But Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of this lineage of Buddhism and a reformer in Vietnamese Buddhism, his community coined the phrase "engaged Buddhism" during the 1970s. They were monastics in a small village in Vietnam, and bombs were falling all around them because of the U.S.-Vietnam War, and they made the decision that rather than just isolate in their community and maintain their practice, they would engage with the people suffering around them to help tend to the ill, bandaged the wounded, bring food, and actively be involved in helping the situation. So, that is one of our principles.

We already talked about interbeing. There are four brahmaviharas, the divine abodes, meaning the qualities that make clear that we are right now in heaven, and they are fruits of our practice that just develop naturally as we come together like this and sit and continue to grow in our practice. One of course—this is the Pali, I think—karuna, compassion, the wish to relieve others' suffering. And another is upeksha, or equanimity, regarding caring for all, deserving and the non-deserving. And there are two more. There is maitri and metta. Help me. I can never remember what maitri is.

Male: Friendship.

Female: Friendship.

Julie: Friendship. Lovingkindness. Yeah. And metta is generosity. So, this world situation could and has gotten me very angry and distraught at times, but like I said, I understand that I have a duty to help in whatever way I can to stop the harming. We are all in this together, so we do not rely only on ourselves. Feeling compassion for the world and people in it gives us energy to face what is going on because it is not just about, oh, I can't run my air conditioning long enough to make up for the climate, you know?

And then equanimity is very important I think. If we begin to commit to actually make a stand in the world about this issue, there is a lot of animosity back and forth because this situation stirs up very deep feelings, and it threatens very vested interests. So by having equanimity, then I can accept that a person who has a different view of this than me has a right to their view. And the person on the same side as me who wants to go about it differently, that is another contribution to the whole effort. So, there are some powers that be in this situation that trouble me, and I just have to look at them with equanimity and accept that everyone is where they are, and that some people may suffer for ignoring the suffering of others, and have compassion even for the people that I disagree with.

So, it these to me are some aspects of Buddhist values that can help us address climate change, and I would like to talk to you about some specific things we can do. Yes?

Male: You mentioned about the brahmaviharas.

Julie: Uh-huh.

Male: How is it that you tie this in? Or is it the result of following this that you get [inaudible…]

Julie: Well, I'm kind of lumping a lot of things together, but the brahmaviharas are described as the fruits of the meditation practice. So as I get calmer, more centered, more aware of my own mistaken ideas and afflicted emotions and able to separate from them a little bit, then these blessings, in another term, come to me. I care about other people as well as myself, I am happy when they are happy, I want to help them, and I feel generosity toward them. And then I have equanimity, not being thrown into cursing people on the freeway because they are messing with my drive, you know? That kind of thing. Just those everyday things make a difference. And dealing with people who oppose me, that is a big one. So equanimity is a great gift in order to hold one's grounds, give respect, and not respond with aversion to that person.

Anyone else have any questions about what we talked about so far? Okay. So, here is some hope. There are good sources of information, and I'm going to give you a handout. I heard this from a very experienced journalist who said, "If you want to learn about an issue, be critical about your news sources. Look for new sources that present both sides of the issue, that are involved more with imparting information than with aggravating negative emotions and creating drama."

Female: Look at where they get their funding from.

Julie: Exactly. Where does their money come from? Because there's a lot of money being channeled into misinformation right now, and also what is the information source of what is being said? If it is a reliable source, they are going to say, "This is from James Hansen of NASA," not, "This is from Joe Blow in a cellar in Topeka." Or, "This is a great book with no credentials on the person." So number one is to be informed and check your sources.

Here are some sources that I have found to be helpful. One is the worldwide organization called 350.org, that number that I put up there. I'm sorry. I covered it up. The number for safe climate for CO2 concentration was—

Male: They took their name from—

Julie: Exactly. So there is an organization that was started in New Hampshire a few years ago by a leading climate environmental writer, Bill McKibben. Bill and his students at New Hampshire College decided they needed to start an action network, and that is what 350.org is. There are millions of members now. All you have to do is get on 350.org on the Internet, and you can find out what is going on. They and several organizations have participated this week in a five-day demonstration on the Washington Mall making a public presence because a critical decision in the climate battle is going to happen now. I won't go into detail because I'm already really out of time, right?

Bobbie: You have at least 10 more minutes.

Julie: Oh, great. Has anybody heard of the Keystone XL pipeline? Okay. So, long story short, in Canada, the Keystone Corporation has excavated I don't know how many square miles of Alberta forest, getting down to this tarry petroleum substance that they want to send down a pressurized pipeline across the Canadian border to Houston. And because crossing an international boundary requires State Department permission, Secretary Kerry and President Obama have say so.

Obama has deferred the decision now for three years. This last period since February was supposed to be the public opinion period. He got 2 1/2 million communications saying, "Do not approve this pipeline," because of one more set of figures I need to give you. Here is the deal. If we are going to stay at three—I'm sorry this isn't better. I will just start a new one. If we're going to stay at no more than 2C and therefore going to get back to 350 ppm of CO2, science started working to find out how much more petroleum can we use before we go over this limit? And it was something like 550 gigatons. So you have to put 1 billion, 550 billion tons we can use to drive and generate electricity. Guess how much is in oil reserves already? Four times that already been taken out of the earth—or not taken out of the earth, but in accessible reserves that oil companies have ownership of. So we can't even use what is already in the ground, boys and girls.

Female: What do you mean?

Julie: What Exxon and Chevron, what all those companies have in petroleum reserves, we can only use this much. We have this much.

Female: So you're saying they don't have to go up there don't need to do the pipeline.

Julie: We don't need the pipeline. In fact, we need to leave 80% of this where it is.

Female: Right.

Female: It is not even the most feasible source of fuel.

Julie: No. It is stinky, stinky stuff. From what I've heard, it is very viscous, and even in order to get it here, they have to heat it and pressurize it to make it move down the pipeline. They have finished the Texas portion to Oklahoma. They are about to start pushing it just east of us, 30 miles east of us in Kaufman County. They are taking a pipeline that was used to bring oil from Oklahoma to Houston, where they're going to reverse the flow. No. It was the other way. They're bringing it from Houston to Oklahoma to sell. They're going to reverse the flow on a 75-year-old pipeline and put high-pressure heated tar sands in it and hope it does not leak. Yeah.

It already leaked in Arkansas. A community called Mayflower got inundated by a pipeline leak. It was not even tar sands. None of the oil companies have a good record of keeping this in the pipes they put it in. So, number one, just like somebody said, we don't even need this, and if we did, we would not want that kind.

Female: Yeah. And they're also worried about, especially these older pipes, ground shifts. There are fault lines everywhere, so the ground shifts. There are thousands of cracks in these pipes already, and if they push something really high-powered through it, it is going to basically just come out. So it is not good.

Julie: It is not a good thing.

Female: Yeah. It is not a good idea.

Female: I saw on the news how if they did, it would cross the biggest aquifer for the United States.

Julie: The Ogallala aquifer.

Female: If that gets polluted, the whole aquifer—

Julie: Right.

Female: Are we going to trust the same people that gave us British Petroleum in the Gulf?

Julie: Right.

Female: And it is not going to create jobs. It is only going to create 35 jobs maximum, and the risks are just so severe.

Julie: Yeah. So, here's the deal. 350.org and a group called Bold Nebraska, who are in the trajectory of two proposed pipeline routes, and a lot of other related groups—Greenpeace—convened this event that started Tuesday, and today is the last day, called "Reject and Protect." And at least two of the Native American populations in that part of Nebraska came as a caravan from Nebraska to Washington on their horses with their teepees, and they are encamped. I think they are probably taking down the teepees about now on the Washington Mall. They made a formal presentation ceremony. Those tribal peoples have spoken really powerfully about saving our sacred lands and our sacred waters, and the ranchers and the Indians are like this on it because they both know what it means. So it is a ceremonial events, but it generates a lot of visibility for this issue, and the people doing it have so much credibility because of their background. So, that is happened.

Now the president is waffling again on taking a stand. The conjecture is this is to wait after the 2016 election. 350.org and the other group would like him to get on the issue, but we don't have control except to keep pushing. So what you can do if you are interested is you can go to 350.org or Greenpeace. There is also a group—and I will give this to you on this sheet of paper—called Tar Sands Blockade. They held off the Texas portion being completed for some months by physically standing as barriers to the heavy equipment. And some of them got arrested, and they finally ran out of legal funds.

So they slowed it down, but one of the ranchers, Julia Trigg, whose land was taken—they're doing eminent domain, which is basically, "We want your land, and here's what we will give you, and the trucks will be here Monday." It's not that fast, but she filed suit because eminent domain is not being exercised according to the law. It is supposed to be a common carrier, like a pipeline that can carry product from different users, and it is for the public good. This is not for domestic use. It's going to be shipped overseas. It is just being processed here, and it is not a common carrier.

So that is in the works, and the other pressure the public has is just numbers and big mouths. I'm telling you. You can go to 350.org, as I was saying, Tar Sands Blockade, Sierra Club, and they all have campaigns, even to take 10 minutes to read something and forward it to your friends or to sign a petition, that makes a difference. In our own personal lives, this is a topic for lot more study, but there are things that all of us can do to reduce our own petroleum use to cool our environment, like by planting trees. There are lots of ways to sequester carbon.

And your vehicle choices and your energy company choice and your cell phone choice—a really powerful tool is not investing in companies that support the petroleum industry. It is not that petroleum is or was bad. It is at this point, they're not recognizing that the times have changed, and we need alternative technology. So probably the most powerful recourse that 350.org is advocating is voting with our pocketbooks and not investing in fossil fuel companies. And if we are associated with a university or with another entity that does invest, to encourage them to divest.

This is what broke apartheid in South Africa, one of the things. And our country helped put pressure to divest in companies that operated profiting from apartheid in South Africa. Now, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Episcopal Bishop of South Africa it was so involved in the—

Bobbie: Reconciliation.

Julie: Yeah. The reconciliation is helping with the campaign. But for us to divest from petroleum the same way we helped them divest from those industries. You know, I am in the garden design business. A lot of the products that are conventionally used on lawns are petroleum based, so that is another reason to shift to organic. A lot of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides are petroleum based.

Female: You mean composting and things like that?

Julie: Yes. Composting.

Female: Certain fertilizers?

Julie: You kind of need to read the label. I hope we can find a website that tells. In fact, I'm going to look into that this week. I met somebody at EPA, and I want to find out which ones are petroleum based and which ones aren't.

Female: Scotts is connected to Monsanto, so you want to watch out for that.

Julie: Right. Yeah. Exactly. Reusing and recycling, which we already knew to do, but a gallon of petroleum is used to make 22 plastic shopping bags, so when you go to Target and you come out with those bags, 22 of them is as much is a gallon of gas. That helps. And like I said, there are divestment campaigns, and there are also public actions. Everybody has to make their own decision whether they want to stand on the street corner with a sign, but I have done it, and it is really powerful to assemble with other people in a public place where people notice because otherwise, life just seems to be rolling by as usual, and it is not.

The most recent statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that we have 15 years left to get back down to 350, and if we don't, the consequences are really not imaginable. The countries that are low lying and major capitals of the world that are low lying will be inundated by several meters of water. The food supply will be disrupted first in impoverished countries and then in others, more developed countries.

And sadly, the peoples who have created the least carbon because they did not have all the development that we did that generates all these emissions, will suffer the most and first. And some beautiful places. This is the Maldives. Here is the one area where people live. They just have to dip their toes in the beautiful water, and they're making pleas to the world community—let me show you this city—to help them. It is kind of like the whole nation is the size of Galveston Island, and there are other islands, and they are low to the water.

So, we don't want this to happen, and it doesn't have to happen. A few million people doing a little bit—

Female: There is another big problem, which is the birth rate. We can do everything else, but we cannot control the population explosion. That is what is going to do us in.

Julie: They are all interrelated, but we could control population, and it would not stop the atmosphere's worsening. Did you have another question?

Male: No. I just have another stat that may be interesting. In the Pacific Ocean, I believe there is garbage or plastic that is the size of the country of New Zealand that is floating around there.

Female: My mother's home is in Mississippi, and it is right there by the water, and it has been underwater for years. Like, you cannot go visit it, and it's that way every year. Her house is all the way down in the water.

Julie: Wow. Well, I just want to leave time for sharing, and I would like to close by giving you a blessing. I would like to bless us all to kiss the earth with every footfall, to remember that we have a home that we did not make. It was given to us. And to invite the strength of all of living beings to enable us to care for the gifts we have been given and to make a source of inspiration to others to protect Mother Earth.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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