What is Compassion in Action for Climate Resilience?
Originally posted on the UC Irvine Sustainability website on July 6, 2015
The Dalai Lama arrives on our campus this morning. He will open the day with a public talk on “Compassionate Planet: a panel on the effects of climate change and taking action to resolve this global issue.” The effects of the changing climate are increasingly well established. How do we take action to resolve it? And what does a compassionate planet look like?
We’re hosting a Community Action Picnic immediately following His Holiness’ talk. The picnic celebrates compassion in action for climate resilience. When I talk about resilience, I draw upon the frameworks laid out in the Kresge Foundation’s recent Pathways to Resilience project. For climate resilience, we aren’t talking about bouncing back, we are talking about bouncing forward. Bouncing forward means transforming our existing systems and cultures of the industrial-growth society and creating new systems and cultures of a life-sustaining society. It means mitigation, adaptation, and deep democracy. Deep democracy sounds really good, but how do we do it? When we have Ferguson and Charleston that we can barely talk about, how can we imagine enabling anything that could approximate deep democracy in our climate mitigation and adaptation strategies?
We experiment with these questions in our approach to community-engaged sustainability scholarship. We don’t have the answers, but we are listening for them. Our nascent programs create bridges between scholars and communities on the front lines of the changing climate. They are based on reciprocity and an asset-based understanding that the communities experiencing the challenges hold the answers needed.
We also train young people in the skills of transformational leadership. In the classroom, our students learn the stark realities of the effects of climate change. Our programs outside the classroom allow these realities to sink in. We give young people tools to tap and move through what they often experience as anger, sadness, fear, and emptiness. On the other side, equanimity is possible, and from there, action. In so doing, we train them to deepen their understanding of the interdependence of all life and to develop a critical lens on local-global solidarity. The luckiest of our students are trained with and by youth counterparts in Central America. When they return to the States, they in turn ignite this spark with high school students in the communities in which our faculty-led community engaged scholarship is taking place, often in rural or otherwise under-resourced places.
In this way, we are partnering both with the structural leadership of these communities and also their youth. What we find is that when the youth lead, the intersectionality of issues, otherwise so seemingly impenetrable, becomes clear. The places of intersection become the key areas in which real work for climate resilience can happen. It’s like the youth lay it bare, and the grown ups can see what they’ve been missing: that climate resilience takes everyone, everywhere, with no one left behind.
Our Community Action Picnic following the Dalai Lama’s public talk on climate today explores these themes. Our community partner SERES is offering a climate action training and dialogue. Play for Peace is offering drop in activities for adults and children to use cooperative play to create laughter, compassion, and peace. They are also offering a Play for Peace facilitators training. At the picnic, we’re hosting a Climate Ribbon, a public art project where ordinary people add their own reflections on what they love and hope never to lose to climate change, to be forwarded with other climate ribbons from around the world to the climate talks in Paris. And a dozen community groups are on hand to share what they do for climate resilience. To top it off, LA’s best food trucks will be on hand, serving up delicious, conscious, socially just food. A picnic doesn’t get us there, but it is our offering to our community to start to explore these themes together. Over the last month, our extended community has mobilized to enable over 500 people from low-income communities and communities of color to attend His Holiness’ talk on climate this morning. And we have worked together to enable this morning’s public talk to be preceded by a welcoming presentation to the Dalai Lama by members of the Acjachemen and Tongva tribal communities, upon whose traditional homelands these events take place. The picnic following allows us to connect across our many communities.
Compassion is often thought of as a combination of understanding and love. In Buddhist teachings, when both are truly present, action arises to end suffering. We understand more and more the effects of climate change on the earth system, on the living planet, and on its peoples. We’ve got understanding. And we are acknowledging more and more what we love on this earth and wish never to lose to climate change. We’ve got love. What is it then that enables action to arise? In our work, building the bigger “we” enables it. We build relationships, share stories, and stand where it is uncomfortable. We use access and privilege to open up space for people to be at the table who are not otherwise invited. We listen deeply to each other and the earth. These practices strengthen a sense of collective belonging. It’s from there that the “right action” of compassion becomes possible.
For many, XIV Dalai Lama is a living reincarnation of Avalokitishvara, the boddhisatva of compassion. Avalokitishvara took on the job of ending the suffering of all beings and is often depicted with a thousand arms and many heads. When I think about the countless ways communities around the world are taking action to address the changing climate, I think of this image. I think of us making a thousand different movements, on every level, in every imaginable way. I think of the thought leadership emerging from many quarters at once, ultimately sourced from the same heart, ultimately fed by the same lifeblood of earth.
This is what we call compassion in action for climate resilience. Offered with one open palm, and one hand touching the earth.