On paper, Buddhism looks pretty good. It has a philosophical subtlety married to a stated devotion to tolerance that makes it stand out amongst the world religions as uniquely not awful. We in the 21st century have largely sensed something a bit depressing about Buddhism, but nothing more sinister than that. It is a result of viewing Buddhist belief as being a single homogeneous belief system. But if we start looking a bit closer, it is possible to discover that some versions of Buddhist belief in practice are corrupted (there have been attempts to control it via a false panchen lama as well), there is a lurking darkness there, quietly stated and eloquently crafted. This is not a single Buddhist tradition but a drift that has occurred across several different traditions. neo-Buddhists refer to these traditions collectively as QB. See if you can spot the differences.
For nine years, Dale DeBakcsy worked as a science and maths teacher at a small private Buddhist school in the United States. And it was a wonderful job working with largely wonderful people. The administration, monks, and students knew that I was an atheist and had absolutely no problem with it as long as I didn’t actively proselytize (try and find a Catholic school that would hire a moderate agnostic, let alone a fully out-of-the-closet atheist). The students were incredibly sensitive and community-conscious individuals, and are his dear friends to this day.
However, Dale had no doubt that Buddhist religious belief, as it was practiced at this particular school, did a great deal of harm. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the ramifications of the perverting the belief in karma. At first glance, karma is a lovely idea which encourages people to be good even when nobody is watching for the sake of happiness in a future life. It’s a bit carrot-and-stickish, but so are a lot of the ways in which we get people to not routinely beat us up and take our stuff. Where it gets insidious is in the pall that it casts over our failures in this life. I remember one student who was having problems memorizing material for tests. Distraught, she went to the monks who explained to her that she was having such trouble now because, in a past life, she was a murderous dictator who burned books, and so now, in this life, she is doomed to forever be learning challenged.
Not, “Oh, let’s look at changing your study habits”, but rather, “Oh, well, that’s because you have the soul of a book-burning murderer.”
To our ears, this sounds so over the top that it is almost amusing, but to a kid who earnestly believes that these monks have hidden knowledge of the karmic cycle, it is devastating. She was convinced that her soul was polluted and irretrievably flawed, and that nothing she could do would allow her to ever learn like the people around her. And this is the dark side of karma – instead of misfortunes in life being bad things that happen to you, they are manifestations of a deep and fundamental wrongness within you. Children have a hard enough time keeping up their self-esteem as it is with every botched homework being a sign of lurking inner evil.
This conception is to assume that people have no choice about what is within themselves. If this little girl was actually Hitler in a previous life, should she live this one without any consequence? If that were to occur, then what was overcome? Why would there be any reason to be a better person or overcome hardship?
If Christianity allows anyone into heaven for repenting on their deathbed, why should anyone follow christian rules for their whole lives, when they only need to for the last 10min before they die?
Why would Buddhism allow terrible people to start a new life without any negative consequence? Karma is a result of an individuals choices, not their inner nature. Even inner nature can be changed, but only though choice. It is possible that this book-burning murderer needs to live life as one of the people they condemned to death. So that the experience becomes so ingrained that they do not do it again.
However the vast majority of karma is not a result of past lives. It is a result of your choices in this life. If you do good things in the face of adversity, that has helped not only yourself but others as well. Once it becomes a virtuous cycle then eventually there will not be any negative karma remaining. Culture of a civilization can only evolve when it goes beyond the individual level and is adopted by the society though it’s laws and traditions. The better the society the better the individual, the worse the society the worse the individual. That is karma. It’s not all about you or any individual, it is about everyone.
As crippling as the weight of one’s past lives can be, however, it is nothing compared to the horrors of the here and now. Some people belive Buddhism’s inheritance from Hinduism is the notion of existence as a painful continuous failure to negate itself. This conception only exists for those who do not understand the nature of desire. What is desire but discontent over not having something? It is a sort of hunger on the emotional level. Is hunger pain? If you think it is not, then try starving for a while. So it is for many emotions, this is not good or bad, it is just the nature of being. The only way to overcome this pain is enlightenment, and the first step on that path is contentment. Once you realize that contentment is the first step to overcoming emotional pain, you will understand both pain and the shadow of enlightenment. A hint about the 2nd step, it has to do with attachment.
The wheel of reincarnation rumbles ruthlessly over us all, forcing us to live again and again in a horrid world until we get it right and learn to coexist. Even if it takes yet another mass extinction.
Now, there are legitimate philosophical reasons for holding to this view. Viewed from a certain perspective, the destruction of everything you’ve ever cared about is inevitable, and when it’s being experienced, the pain of loss does not seem recompensed by the joy of attachment that preceded it for those who do not practice contentment. And that yawning stretch of impermanence outside, so the argument goes, is mirrored by the fundamental non-existence of the self inside.
Meditation, properly done, allows you to strip away, one by one, all of your merely personal traits and achieve insight into the basic nothingness, the attribute-less nature of your existence. Those are all interesting philosophical and psychological insights, and good can come of them. Being hyper-sensitive to suffering and injustice is a good gateway to being helpful to your fellow man and in general making the world a better place.
There are two central claims here: that our own fundamental essence is non-existence, and that the nature of the outer world is impermanence.
One way to interpret this is the idea of the void-essence of self is one arrived at through meditation, through exercises in reflection dictated by centuries of tradition. That’s enough to give us pause right there – it’s not really a process of self-discovery if you’re told the method, the steps, and the only acceptable conclusion before you’ve even begun.
This is the primary method by which Buddhism has been undermined. Increasingly strict rules and just-so methodology which are designed to morph Buddhism into something more akin to Hinduism for the purposes of justifying something akin to a caste system. Replete with a gatekeepers to enlightenment, or at least profit.
In neo-Buddhism which is a revival of ancient Indian Buddhism, meditation has no such restrictions on mediation. Neo-Buddhism is the Buddhism of the Laughing Buddha, Walking Buddha, Laying Buddha. These are references that one can meditate like the Buddha when walking, laying or even laughing. Mediation is a state of mind, not a state of body.
If the buddhism that you are taught limits the freedom of inquiry as much as it does the meditative posture. Or a rigidity of method has infected the structure of belief, ossifying potential explanations of existence into dogmatic assertions mechanically arrived at. Then sorry, you have been exposed to what neo-Buddhist call Q-Buddhism, status-quo Buddhism. It is Buddhism with Confucian characteristics.
In neo-Buddhism, the void-essence of self is a perspective of the self from outside the body, it is inherently empty because it is detached from the self but attached to everything else. This is the nature of the void-essence, which can be translated to mean spacetime. It is a sort of 3rd person perspective without the person.
The impermanence of the outer world seems solidly founded. Five billion years from now, I’m pretty sure that this novelty cup next to me is not going to exist in any sort of recognizable novelty cup form. Nothing in this room will functionally persist as long as you only admit my Use Perspective as the only relevant lens of observation. The matter and energy will both still exist, but they won’t exist in the configuration which I am accustomed to. The conclusions that Buddhism draws from an impermanence theory of the external world supposes that I cannot hold in my mind at the same time both an appreciation and attachment to an object or a person as they stand in front of me right now AND a recognition that my use of a particular configuration of matter and energy at the moment doesn’t determine how it will exist for all time.
Some people feel Buddhism’s approach to use-based impermanence attempts to force us into a false binarism where we must either be the slaves of attachment or the cold observers of transience. This is because they are viewing concepts such as contentment or detachment as occurring separately and not at the same time.
Buddhism says that desire is suffering, in the same way as unrequited love, and even if you gain your desires, the impermanence of the world ensures it will eventually be lost. Some may view this through the lens that the only way to overcome that suffering is to not be attached at all, which is wrong. Detachment is about letting go of things instead of being stuck forever in the state of unrequited love, by fully grasping the fundamental nature of impermanence instead of trying to place blame for the loss. It’s about being happy when you can be, and not getting stuck in the “trap of wanting” which is known as “Hedonic treadmill” in the west.
At the end of the day, it’s still true that Buddhism is not a single belief system, but has many traditions which are not typically incorporated into the name of the practice. Unfortunately quite a few of those traditions are being corrupted to create complacency and inaction because that supports a status quo and keeps Buddhists uninvolved in party politics. QB (Q-Buddism) has the drive to infect individuals with an inability to appreciate life except through a filter of regret and self-blame is perhaps even more dangerous for being so very much more subtle. As for Dale DeBakcsy’s experience with the student who had a learning disability, it exemplifies the difference between QB and neo-Buddhism. While in both cases it is true that she will have a learning disability for her whole life, QB tells her that it is the status quo and she has no one but herself to blame. In neo-Buddhism they would empower her with technology and techniques to work around her limitations and change study habits.
Today’s sermon is a guest post from Todd Freeman, I am approving it not necessarily because it is a part of the neo-Buddhist belief system, if asked in a court room setting I would say it is not. But as a part of our series on critical thinking skills, you have to watch it to see the biases that Chris hedges succumbs to despite over an hour of cogent and well thought out arguments. Ultimately it is a result of his experience as a journalist of revolutionary movements instead of as a participant.
Because of his historical attachment to the more romanticized aspects of revolutionary struggle, mostly due it’s history of successes, he finds the idea of investing with integrity. to be something akin to something the neoliberal elite would embrace. So his casual and slightly arrogent dismissal of it, primarily because he feels like it would be a capitulation instead of revolution, seems to me at least, to be a result of conflating strategy with tactics. There are significant and large differences between them. Before I get too far into this I just want to put a disclaimer up front. This was written at 3am because I felt the incredible urge to let the world know that chris hedges is wrong about something, after eating a whole lot of High Fructose CornSyrup (HFCS) which is not normal for me.
So back to ChrisH here. The most astounding part, to me, about the timing of this, is that earlier, almost at the beginning of his talk he mentions some very poinginet observations about previous successful revolutions vs ones that failed. He mentions that in successful revolutions a large portion of the ruling class has to “defect”, before that however, significant portions of the “private interests” lets call them, of the upper echelon of society has to “defect”. I will explain what I mean by defect, but first I want to explain what makes the difference that exists in this seeming homogeneous group referred to as the 1%. CH does refer to this but does not come out and say it. That this group is selected for because of their predatory nature which is promoted in a hyper-competitive ideology which is social Darwinism made up in the image of markets. 2 broad strategies typically are able to rise to the top, one which trump does not actually represent, but his “real” supporters do. Trump himself is of the 2nd variety, he is an opportunist that is willing to get his hands dirty. So a narcissistic opportunist. Which is fortunate because they have limits. The people who empower him however, are on the antisocial narcissist variety. When confronted with something like decades in prison or the loss of their fortunes, one group will be likely to defect to save their own ass, so they are willing to lose major portions of their fortunes to avoid prison. The other side will fight to the death, by which I mean sending younger men to wars to distract and disrupt those attempts. Because loss of their fortune is all they have because the materialism has replaced their humanity, they have placed the value of property over the value of people, and to loose it is worse than loosing their own life because in their mind it represents the loss of their own life and prison is just the coffin. “All is fair in love and war” they tell themselves, because they never had a realistic concept of love in the first place.
Anyway, I am ranting now, see what too much HFCS at 3am does ?
While reading the rest of this listen to:
and just replace the word blood with lead.
We’ll never get free
Lamb to the slaughter
What you gon’ do
When there’s lead in the water
The price of your greed
Is your son and your daughter
What you gon’ do
When there’s lead in the water
So yes, back to why CH is WRONG! that’s right kids, someone is wrong on the internet! Serious business. He seems to think that the defectors are going to start meeting in pubs or someshit ? Like really guy ? c’mon. That is some romanticized shit. Sure sure, say I am just a debbie downer and its just the depression talking, My problem is that I wasn’t hugged enough as a child. We can’t win without blind optimism or someshit. Go … tell it to your dog.
They won’t defect to a guillotine. You have to give them something they can use to rally behind and slowly become comfortable even with the idea. So get out of here with that vanguardist bullshit.
Sure green washing has felt like a raw deal in the face of what climate change has wrought, but you think for a second that a hard “brexit” for the US, isn’t exactly what authoritarians that started this shit in the first place want ? IT’S THE METHOD BY WHICH THEY SEIZE POWER. Like seriously. This is the part where I laugh about how little people actually understand russian history from the 90’s to now, always some part of their distant past. How did putin get to where he is ? From where I see it, what is happening in the US, is just a replay.
So the PROPER way to “do the hard work” which at least CH refers to, is by creating those spaces and alliances where actions speak louder than words. Which, and it’s ok to laugh at this, is in a large part a branding issue. So what I am saying is, “ethical capitalism” is actually a required first step of “The hard work”. Ok now, finally, what does he mean by “defect”. Well you may have noticed, with globalization and all, that supply chains are quite complex. And the way the system is now. Unless you are on enough drugs to think that somehow you can take on the armed forces, or that it would be a good idea and not potentially lead accidentally to what we will refer to as “live operation of the missile defense shield” you have to recognize that you need resources which are organized, into non-violent struggle of sustained civil disobedience. Which CH himself says IS REQUIRED. So these thing still need resources, and in the world today, that is still obtained with money. Not blind rage, that only leads to the wrong path, which history is shown that the means create the ends, the ends do not justify the means. No matter what ends you aim for, if you choose the wrong means, the ends will change. I call it “The invisible hand of fascism” The the flip side of the coin, to other’s it is the true face of late stage capitalism. You have to give the defectors and off-ramp and you will only be able to differentiate between the defectors and fake defectors, aka wolves in sheep’s clothing, by their actions. So for a little while this place may start to look a bit like Russia. But so long as people understand the differences between strategy and tactics, which is that strategy thinks LONG TERM and encompasses the whole battlefield (Would a battle field earth joke be funny here or too much ?) where as tactics are of limited range and scope, they only work for small or short term objectives, such as rallying or signaling, but without an overarching strategy, it’s like an octopus on roller skates, you don’t know if it’s making progress or just flailing around until it runs out of energy (is this a reference to peak oil, or climate change ? You decide! it’s like a choose your own adventure. Isn’t that exciting ? Karen laughed.)
So therefore and in conclusion, it’s a multi stage process and sorry you can’t just jump to the end.
Building coalitions takes time, and a lot more acceptance to a diversity of tactics than arrogance that because capitalism cause these problems, that it somehow means you cannot dismantle the masters house with the masters tools. I am a repairman, and that saying never made sense to me, you totally can. That’s what is causing it to self destruct in the first place. So while he feels that many acts of philanthropy are meaningless, it’s because, as the title of this article says, he doesn’t have a solid grasp of the difference between strategy and tactics, and feels he would loose credibility if he was seen to be capitulating in any way to capitalism, instead of trying to make appeals for resources. I can understand that, and this is why we embrace a diversity of tactics on the left. It’s not like this one thing will suddenly cause me to dismiss him and his ideas wholly. And (I started with an and to piss of the grammar nazi’s, must be all this talk of revolution, so I can’t resist rustlin some jimmies) his response to this article if he ever sees it, is probably not going to be a condemnation of me or my ideas, well maybe some because this wouldn’t really be the left if there wasn’t any disagreement, those places where everyone conforms to a demagogue don’t work the way you want. That is the difference between lenninism and stalinism, BECAUSE LIKE NONE SEEMS TO KNOW THE DAMN DIFFERENCE, some jackasses like to pretend like Russia is still communist, (I am looking at you, 16th CPC, too obvious ) so the distinction would be lost on them. He encapsulates this well at 1:23 when he says “Vasily Grossman quoted in ‘life and fate’: ““This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.””
That is why we are on the same side, because the dalai lama said it might be necessary.
Without quite realizing it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.
The difference is this: A market economy is a tool for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It is a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.
This cold “Logic” has caused police to focus on ticketing and jailing, there is no longer any incentive to solve violent crimes. Rapes go un-punished while focus is given to 20year minimum sentences for having an illegal plant.
The privatization of our schools has left us with an educational system that is ranked 25th of the worlds top 50. With only 75% of students graduating high school. Rampant cheating to reach meaningless metrics while de-funding those most in need.
Our political systems have reached crisis levels as well, with congress entertaining far right conspiracy theories as national business while ignoring catastrophic issues such as climate change, illegitimate wars and the erosion of our freedoms to justify the cost of an immense national security apparatus which serves only to control through fear and feed a prison industrial complex. Which has enslaved more humans than the rest of the world combined, in a race to achieve the lowest cost of labor. A direct contravention of purported beliefs in freedom, dignity and the pursuit of happiness. Which are used to erect an apocryphal
platform of self-righteous exceptionalism which seemingly serves to hasten the self-destruction of civilization for temporary shareholder value.
In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1987, the New York Times headlined an editorial “Ban Greed? No: Harness It,” It continued: “Perhaps the most important idea here is the need to distinguish between motive and consequence. Derivative securities attract the greedy the way raw meat attracts piranhas. But so what? Private greed can lead to public good. The sensible goal for securities regulation is to channel selfish behavior, not thwart it.”
The Times, surely unwittingly, was channeling the 18th century philosopher David Hume: “Political writers have established it as a maxim, that in contriving any system of government . . . every man ought to be supposed to be a knave and to have no other end, in all his actions, than his private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, cooperate to public good.”
The idea that base motives could be harnessed for the public good is what I term economic alchemy. And in Hume’s time it was definitely a new way of thinking about how society could be governed.
During the Middle Ages, avarice had been considered to be among the most mortal of the seven deadly sins, a view that became more widespread with the expansion of commercial activity after the twelfth century. So it is surprising that self-interest would eventually be accepted a respectable motive, and even more surprising that this change owed little to the rise of economics, at least at first.
How this came about, you will see, is a remarkable story, one that is finally running its course in light of mounting evidence not only that people are not really all that knavish, but also that treating citizens as if they were knaves may lead them to act is if they really were knaves! But I am getting ahead of the story.
It all began in the sixteenth century with Niccolò Machiavelli. “Anyone who would found a republic and order its laws” he wrote in his Discourses, “must assume that all men are wicked [and] . . . never act well except through necessity . . . It is said that hunger and poverty make them industrious, laws make them good.” Hume, it seems was channeling Machiavelli!
It was the shadow of war and disorder that made self-interest an acceptable basis of good government. During the seventeenth century, wars accounted for a larger share of European mortality than in any century for which we have records, including what Raymond Aron called “the century of total war,” which happily is now finished.
Writing after a decade of warfare between English parliamentarians and royalists, Hobbes (in 1651) sought to determine “the Passions that encline men to Peace” and found them in “Feare of Death; Desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them.” Knaves might be preferable to saints or at least likely to be more harmless.
The year before Adam Smith wrote in his Wealth of Nations (1776) about how the self-interest of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker would put our dinner on the table, James Boswell’s Dr. Johnson gave Homo economicus a different endorsement: “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”
Adam Smith showed how a constitution for knaves might actually work at least as far as the economy is concerned. The economic actor, he wrote “intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” By which he was referring to as diety leading the errant man along a path of his lords plan despite his own intention. This particular wrinkle is covered more here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-burklo/the-invisible-hand-of-god_b_7184112.html
This is hardly making the case for laissez faire that later generations have attributed to Smith. But it is a milestone in the emerging view that motives other than self-interest could be pernicious. The sentence following one of Smith’s rare references to the invisible hand makes this point: “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” Which obviously cannot be maintained given the levels of inequality that we witness today.
The result, remarked John Maynard Keynes in a 1926 pamphlet, The End of Laissez Faire, was that “The political philosopher, could retire in favor of the business man – for the latter could attain the philosopher’s summum bonum [greatest good] by just pursing his own private profit.” Which also kicked off the decline of philosophy as a practice in the west. Where the transformation from a market economy to a market society began.
Less than century after Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Lewis Carroll’s Alice had taken the economists’ message to heart. When the Duchess exclaimed, “Oh, ’tis love, ’tis love that makes the world go round,” Alice countered, if only in a whisper: “Somebody said that it’s done by everyone minding their own business.”
From there, it was a short step to thinking that while ethical reasoning and concern for others should inform one’s actions as a family member or friend; the same did not go for shopping or making a living and eventually political life as a whole. True philosophical morality was replaced with economic conservatism for leadership and that is when the transformation to a market society was complete.
And so it came about that since the late eighteenth century, economists, political theorists, and constitutional thinkers have embraced Hume’s maxim and have taken Homo economicus as their working assumption about behavior. Partly for this reason, competitive markets, well-defined property rights, and efficient and (since the twentieth century) democratically accountable, at least in appearance, states are seen as the critical ingredients of governance. Good institutions displaced good citizens as the sine qua non of good government.
In the economy, prices would do the work of morals.
Neither Hume, nor Smith – author also of The Theory of Moral Sentiments — nor any of the other great classical economists had imagined that people really were knaves in fact. Hume, in the sentence following the passage quoted at the outset added: “it appears somewhat strange, that a maxim should be true in politics, which is false in fact.”
John Stuart Mill played a leading role in restricting what was still called political economy to the study of “such phenomena . . . as take place in consequence of the pursuit of wealth. It makes entire abstraction of every other human passion or motive.” But he immediately termed this “an arbitrary definition of man.”
Unmitigated self interest was always just a handy simplification, one that in the late 20th century greatly simplified the eventual rendering of much of economics in mathematical form. But Homo economicus is now in retreat.
“ Samuel Bowles explains why economists have come to have second thoughts about Homo economicus.
Smith’s invisible hand has always needed the helping hand of both public policy and personal morality. Smith’s economy was not the stateless world of sociopaths that so many students of economics encounter in their intro courses. Smith’s insistence that self interest be constrained by elementary morality now resonates in unlikely places.
As the housing bubble burst in 2008 and the financial crisis unfolded, many U.S. homeowners found that their property was worth less than their mortgage obligation to the bank. Some of these “underwater owners” did the math and strategically defaulted on their loans, giving the bank the keys and walking away. The banks knew this would happen, they knew they were giving out bad loans. But they did not care. Why ? They had a “bet” against the loans they gave out failing, in the form of insurance that the home buying purchased and paid for as a part of the mortgage contract. So the selfish interest of the banks led directly to giving out bad loans. To the advatange of society ? Can you really belive that ?
The greatest challenges now facing the world—including controlling the spread of epidemics and managing climate change and governing the knowledge-based economy–arise from global social interactions that cannot adequately be governed by channeling entirely self-interested citizens to do the right thing by means of incentives and sanctions, whether provided by private contract or by government fiat. With economic inequality increasing in the world’s major economies helped along in many cases by flagrant abuse of legal and moral standards, one may also now doubt Dr. Johnson’s reassurance that “there are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”
The novel 18th century idea that economic self interest might under the right institutions sometimes be mobilized for social purposes remains essential to tackling these problems. Markets remain an essential and vast arena of human cooperation (albeit unintended). But the idea of an economy of avaricious knaves waiting to be harnessed for the public good by a discredited economic alchemy now appears to be anything but harmless.
- Beyond surface appearances, everything is fundamentally one.
- Although many seemingly separate things exist, they all are part of the same whole.
- At the most basic level of reality, everything is one.
- The separation among individual things is an illusion. A particle is just the segent of a wave that is detected, it isn’t the whole wave. Time is continuous, it is the measurement we use that is not. Do not mistake the measuring stick for the object being measured; in reality everything is one.
- Everything is composed of the same basic substance, whether one thinks of it as spirit, consciousness, quantum processes. In neo-Buddhism this is reffered to as Information or quantum information, that which differentiates an up quark from a down quark.
- The same basic essence permeates everything that exists.
We all get angry from time to time. Even the most enlightened of us would be lying if they said they didn’t. Anger is often a natural response to horrific situations. For example: the only moral response to innocent people getting bombed, whether by military action or terrorist action, is anger.
The question is this: is your anger controlling you (lizard brain), or are you controlling it (evolved mind)? Are you merely a puppet to the emotion of your anger, or are you able to turn the tables and become the puppeteer? Are you a victim of your emotions or a hero with emotional intelligence?
Most of us act the way we feel. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. We do have a choice. With enough discipline we can feel the way we act.
For example: we can “feel” afraid but “act” courageously. Similarly, we can “feel” road rage but “act” calmly. With enough practice we can eventually feel the way we act, even in response to something as extreme as terrorism.
Through such emotional alchemy, transforming anger into a higher emotion really is a choice. The key (as with the following five ways) is practice, discipline, and making emotional intelligence a habit.
As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
“In almost every bad situation, there is the possibility of a transformation by which the undesirable may be changed into the desirable.” ~ Nyanaponika Thera
Anger can give you profound strength: in mind, body, and soul. It’s your responsibility to focus your anger enough to harness this strength. Focused anger becomes sacred anger. But this first requires honoring the anger for what it is, and for where it stems.
We too often suppress our anger, or avoid it, or pretend we’re not mad. But such suppression festers and all too often leads to a blowup farther down the road. In order to avoid such a blowup it behooves you to put your anger into focus.
Put it under the microscope of your emotional intelligence. Analyze it. There is passion in anger. And where there is passion, there is love. And where there is love, there is strength.
So when it comes to anger, choose diligent effort over uncomfortable depression, or even comfortable suppression. Negotiate with your anger in order to transform the passion at its center into strength. Embrace it. Accept it. Wrestle with it, gently. Dance with the fire. Then waltz it into something worthwhile. If it burns you up, rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Life is too short to live it second-guessing your passion. Be fierce. Work persistently despite the anger that seeks to burn you. There’s almost always strength hidden there.
Like Deepak Chopra said, “The secrets of alchemy exist to transform mortals from a state of suffering and ignorance to a state of enlightenment and bliss.”
That passion at the center of anger can also be transformed into powerful energy: Qi, Prana, Pneuma, Mana. Use it in the park, in the arena, in the field of play. Twain said anger is an acid? So be it.
Transform that acid into fuel. Use that fuel for the fire of becoming a better version of yourself. Use it in your kung fu. Use it in the gym. Use it playing sports. Burn it out of you so that it doesn’t burn you out.
Whatever you do, don’t keep the acid of your anger bottled up. You are a sacred vessel and acid erodes even sacred vessels. Put it in your vessel’s fuel tank instead, and then burn baby burn!
Spar with it. Shadow box it out. Better yet, shadow box with your inner shadow. Now that is some meta-catharsis, right there.
“Facit indignatio versus: My anger creates my verses.” ~ Latin poet, Quintilianus
Again, the key to alchemizing anger, is harnessing the passion at its center. This most definitely applies to transforming anger into art. Anybody who has ever read poetry by Sylvia Plath can attest to that. Or almost any philosophy written by Friedrich Nietzsche, for that matter.
Or just gaze upon Picasso’s Guernica and tell me he didn’t paint that with a focused rage against the ignorance of war. Or take Banksy’s political art for example, charged with righteous anger against tyrannical oppression.
Transforming anger into art is a kind of rage enlightenment: a self-actualized creativity discovered through the channelling of anger into a heightened state of awareness, where rage becomes a fire that cooks things rather than burns them.
With just the right amount of focus, at just the right temperature, the passion at the center of anger can, and often does, get turned into some amazing art. And there’s absolutely no reason why you cannot do the same. Forget talent. Forget genius or giftedness or skill.
So what if others can do it better? Nobody even has to see it. Create art with all of your passion. Channel your deepest anger into art, and watch in amazement as it alchemizes into soulful poetry.
Like Nietzsche powerfully said, “Of all writings I love only that which is written with blood. Write with blood: and you will discover that blood is spirit.”
“Love does not imply pacifism.” ~ Derrick Jensen
Use your focused anger like a surgeon’s scalpel slicing open the Achilles Heel of the violent and immoral system that has been propped up over you without your consideration. Use your focused anger like Jesus flogging bankers in the New Testament.
Jesus saw an immoral system unfolding before him, so he dug deep, tapped into his righteous anger, and practiced civil disobedience despite the orthodoxy of the time. There’s no reason why you cannot do the same.
As Howard Zinn said, “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.”
Deep, focused anger can be a boon of sacred energy if we learn to use it wisely and courageously. This kind of sacred anger lifts us up and compels us to empower the powerless despite the powers that be, or to inspire the poor despite the overindulgent rich.
The type of focused anger that would rather live a life of uncomfortable freedom than a life of comfortable slavery. Such anger is sacred precisely because it instils in us an unstoppable courage.
The kind of courage that declares to the overreaching powers that be, “I will not stand idly by while you decide who lives and who dies. I am unstoppable; another world is possible. And I will do everything in my power to build it, whether you approve of it or not.”
“Smile though your heart is aching.” ~ Charlie Chaplain
When it comes down to it, anger is a silly emotion. It’s a base emotion, like jealousy, fear, or sadness. In the grand scheme of things, anger is petty. It’s crude and primitive. Unless, of course, we are able to use it as a tool for our more advanced mind.
And the best way to achieve an emotional state malleable and flexible enough to be able to use anger as a transformative tool, is to practice and to cultivate a good sense of humor.
A good sense of humor flips all scripts. It transforms “the jokes on me” into “so what, it’s funny.” Powerful stuff. In fact, a good sense of humor is so powerful that it is the only thing more powerful than power itself. I mean, a good sense of humor is immune to power constructs. It subsumes them.
It transcends power precisely because it is able to laugh at power and not take things too seriously. A good sense of humor takes nothing too seriously, especially not power. And when the passion at the heart of anger is effectively transformed into a good sense of humor, the person cultivating it is truly a force to be reckoned with.
No power in existence can stand in the way of a person with a good sense of humor. No authority. No king. No queen. No government. No army. No God. Not even death. Because a good sense of humor laughs it all away. It’s all water off a ducks back, and you’re the duck! Such sacred laughter puts all things into proper perspective. It’s all an illusion. It’s all a game.
But, and here’s the rub, it’s a sacred illusion. It’s a sacred game. And you are the infinite player interdependently playing it all out. The cosmic joke becomes self-actualized. You’re no longer the butt-end, nor will you ever be again, for you have attained the almighty rank of The One Who Laughs.
Like Alan Watts said, “Life is a matter of oscillation. Life is vibration. The question is: how are you going to interpret that. Is it tremble, tremble, tremble; or is it laugh, laugh, laugh?”
By: Gary Z McGee
This weeks sermon comes from the Dalai Lama himself.
I am extremely delighted to attend this inter faith seminar on the Preservation of Religious Harmony, Coexistence and Universal Peace organised by the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), Ladakh group. Thank you very much for the detailed explanation of the association’s history, activities, objectives and their relevance in the present century. I have nothing to add on what the speakers said earlier. But I would like to say a few things.
We are now in the twenty first century. The quality of research on both the inner and physical world has reached quite high levels, thanks to the tremendous stride in technological advancement and human intelligence. However, as some of the speakers said before, the world is also facing a lot of new problems, most of which are man-made. The root cause of these man-made problems is the inability of human beings to control their agitated minds. How to control such a state of mind is taught by the various religions of this world.
I am a religious practitioner, who follows Buddhism. More than a thousand years have passed since the great religions of the world flourished, including Buddhism. During those years, the world had witnessed a lot of conflicts, in which followers of different religions were also involved. As a religious practitioner, I acknowledge the fact that different religions of the world have provided many solutions about how to control an agitated mind. In spite of this, I still feel we have not been able to realise our full potential.
I always say that every person on this earth has the freedom to practice or not practice religion. It is all right to do either. But once you accept religion, it is extremely important to be able to focus your mind on it and sincerely practice the teachings in your daily life. All of us can see that we tend to indulge in religious favouritism by saying, “I belong to this or that religion”, rather than making effort to control our agitated minds. This misuse of religion, due to our disturbed minds, also sometimes creates problems.
I know a physicist from Chile who told me that it is not appropriate for a scientist to be biased towards science because of his love and passion for it. I am a Buddhist practitioner and have a lot of faith and respect in the teachings of the Buddha. However, if I mix up my love for and attachment to Buddhism, then my mind shall be biased towards it. A biased mind, which never sees the complete picture, cannot grasp the reality. And any action that results from such a state of mind will not be in tune with reality. As such it causes a lot of problems.
According to Buddhist philosophy, happiness is the result of an enlightened mind whereas suffering is caused by a distorted mind. This is very important. A distorted mind, in contrast to an enlightened mind, is one that is not in tune with reality.
Any issue, including political, economic and religious activities human beings pursue in this world, should be fully understood before we pass our judgement. Therefore, it is very important to know the causes. Whatever the issue, we should be able to see the complete picture. This will enable us to comprehend the whole story. The teachings offered in Buddhism are based on rationality, and I think are very fruitful.
Today, a lot of people from different religious backgrounds are present here. In every religion, there are transcendent things that are beyond the grasp of our mind and speech. For example, the concept of God in Christianity and Islam and that of wisdom truth body in Buddhism are metaphysical, which is not possible for an ordinary person like us to realise. This is a common difficulty faced by every religion. It is taught in every religion, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, that the ultimate truth is driven by faith.
I want to emphasise that it is extremely important for practitioners to sincerely believe in their respective religions. Usually, I say that it is very important to distinguish between “belief in one religion” and “belief in many religions”. The former directly contradicts the latter. Therefore, we should resolutely resolve these contradictions. This is possible only by thinking in contextual terms. A contradiction in one context might not be the same in the other. In the context of one person, a single truth is closely associated with a single source of refuge. This is of extreme necessity. However, in the context of society or more than one person it is necessary to have different sources of refuge, religions and truths.
In the past it was not a major problem because nations remained aloof from each other with their own distinct religion. However, in today’s close and inter-connected world there are so many differences amongst various religions. We must obviously resolve these problems. For example, there have been a lot of religions in India for the past thousand years. Some of them were imported from outside whereas some have grown in India itself. Despite this, the fact is that these religions have been able to coexist with each other, and the principle of Ahimsa has really flourished in this country. Even today, this principle has a strong bearing on every religion. This is very precious and India should really take pride in it.
Ladakh has been a predominantly Buddhist area ‘for so many centuries. But other religions such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism have also flourished here. Although it is natural for the people of Ladakh to have attachment to and love for their own religions, yet this place has a very peaceful environment with no major problems of religious intolerance. During my maiden visit to Ladakh, I heard elderly Muslims using the phrase “community of sangha” in their speeches. Although such phrases are not found in Islam, yet a reference of this kind invokes a lot of trust amongst the Buddhists. Therefore, people from different religious background in Ladakh are very close to each other and live in harmony.
As far as the Muslims are concerned it is appropriate for them to have complete devotion to Allah while praying in the mosques. This is also the same with Buddhists who are completely devoted to the Buddha when they pray in Buddhist temples. A society, which has many religions should also have many prophets and sources of refuge. In such a society it is very important to have harmony and respect amongst the different religions and their practitioners. We must distinguish between belief and respect. Belief refers to total faith, which you must have in your own religion. At the same time you should have respect for all other religions. This tradition of believing in one’s own religion and having respect for others is in existence in Ladakh since your forefathers. Therefore you do not have to invent it. The most important thing at the moment is to preserve and promote this tradition. I would like to thank all of you for working hard regarding this and request you to continue to do so in the future.
If a harmonious relationship is established amongst societies and religious beliefs in today’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural world, then it will surely set a very good example for others. However, if all the sides become careless, then there is a danger of imminent problems. In a multiethnic society the biggest problem is that of between the majority and the minority. For instance, in the capital Leh, Buddhists constitute the majority of the population whereas Muslims belong to the minority community. The majority must consider the minority as their invited guests. The minority, on the other hand, should be able to sensitise with the majority. In other words, both sides should live in harmony. In order to sustain this harmony, both sides should not take lightly the sensitive issues between themselves. Indeed, the majority should pay attention to and appreciate the views and opinion of the minority. Both sides should discuss and clearly express what they think about the other’s view and opinion. The minority, on the other hand, should be careful about where the sensitive issues of the majority lies and express whatever doubts they have in their minds. If problems are resolved in such a friendly manner; then both sides will gain. Suspicion of each other will only harm both communities. Therefore, it is very important to live in harmony and analyse where the opinion of the other lies. The best way to do this is to engage in dialogue, dialogue and dialogue.
This originally appeared on His holiness’s website.
It is rare to hear a religious leader mention quantum mechanics as much as this one, and his emphasis and explanations were surprisingly in depth without requiring previous knowledge of Buddhist literature. This is the most down-to-earth Q&A session I have heard from a religious leader at least decade. The topics ranged from old age, sickness and death, technology and conflict. Issues that seem to dominate some areas of life. There is a constant process of relating current scientific knowledge to ancient Buddhist ideas that are at the core of the religion, which keeps the teachings relevant to current specifics, which sort of puts it in the cutting edge of religious development. A large part of that process is clarifying some of the more vaguely defined aspects of Buddhism with what he calls “Critical reasoning” which appears to be a combination of critical thinking skills with the overlay of compassion in all aspects of life. His approach to religious and ethical beliefs emphasize the ways people are the same is vastly more important than the small beliefs that make them different. He answers practical questions such as the meaning of life while first emphasizing that no matter what we do, it will have a limit. Lifespans may be measured in hundreds or even thousands of years if the technology expressed is developed, however we should have no illusions that there is not a limit. With this in mind, it is important to have many perspectives which are firmly rooted in critical thinking skills, which are biased for compassion above all else, when deciding how to treat others. This is how to live life regardless of religious belief. While not expounded on very much, it appears that knowing that there is an end means there will also be new beginnings. Those new beginnings are in some ways, in essence, the reincarnations of the process that creates life. Which he does touch on, as being evolution. So we should show compassion, not just on the personal scale but also on the global scale. At one point he does make a interesting point that, even suppose people lived for a thousand years, who would want to live on a planet ravaged by climate change? Turned into a desert or something else. There are in fact several references to climate change and has integrated it into Buddhist ethics while crediting ancient origins of Buddhism in India. Along with the pervasive message that dealing with climate change is a part of our responsibility to each other, and amid an rise in very tragic human rights violations. He remarks that all major religions, even some Buddhists in Burma, and calls out Aung San Suu Kyi by name. For not condemning and violence. He also mentions that religious strife is a huge problem. People need to live in harmony, he makes several references to humans as “social animals” and so we should act pro-socially, especially towards people of different beliefs. There is even a point where he mentions demilitarization. This summary really doesn’t do it justice. It was one of the most engrossing talks and meshing between secular approaches to self-development and re-prioritization of certain ethical values over others to deal with a myriad of issues facing people the world over today. He touched on purpose not being static, but something that grows out of analysis of out problems with critical thinking skills. By applying compassion to interactions with others and dedicating you life to something greater than yourself, which helps others, will lead you to a path of fulfilment and everyone’s path is different. A lot of surprisingly practical advise and quite a few questions were religious in nature from his panellist Selma Boulmalf who is of muslim faith, Which allowed for several direct questions which demonstrated the deeper differences between Abrahamic religions and Buddhism and a few other eastern religions. It was a rare occasion because he described the belief in heaven as “Useful” to give hope for people who do not understand the complexities of Buddhism. He only tangentially referred to the difference in motivation being that, for those who believe in an afterlife that is somewhere beyond earth, their earthly goals are about reaching that destination and whatever hoops are required to do that. The difference being that in the belief system of reincarnation, the individual can expect to end up right back on earth. Thus the spiritual motivation is to make earth a better place, because the individual benefits from that when they are re-incarnated, and the circumstances of reincarnation are wide and varied which is why compassion is so important, because it’s hard to know if you are dealing with a soul you were attached to in a past life. In a way, both Buddhism and Abrahamic religions are believing that souls return to earth. The primary difference being that in Buddhism, Karma takes effect on earth and not in the afterlife, though sometimes it happens in the next life. He did so in a way that simultaneously emphasized several times the importance of religious harmony. Several times he used India as an example of religious harmony in a melting post. Many of the other panellists did not self-identify, but offered highly secular views. There were also some representatives from Singularity U whom brought up technology and ethics. One thing that was interesting is that he also emphasized religious harmony towards atheists as well, as there’s is simply a different belief system, That is all in just the first session.
See the first session here:
The seconds session starts with a panel with Richard Greer who representing the International Campaign for Tibet. They cover several of the issues facing tibet specifically. He is also careful to highlight issues that face both India and china related to climate change, and that is something they can see mutual benefit for. Then he proceeds to give a talk on why compassion is necessary in our troubled world. Which covers many topics related to compassion.
A little while after that talk ends, there is another one given by Thupten Jinpa, who is often seen translating for the Dalai Lama, which he has done for the last 30yrs. He offers some of his insights into compassion in his own words. He provides insight into how he is able to take the teachings of the Dalai Lama into his everyday life of a father of 2 living a modern life, including things like social media. He coverts many topics, including his work with stanford on training compassion cultivation. He does spend time covering the difference and importance of intention (dentological philosphy) on motivation. While still using that philosophy within a consequentialist framework. to ensure aspects of both are practiced. Which is followed by a engrossing Q&A session.
There are still more sessions planned, as this is only the beginning of his european tour. The version of buddhism practied by the Dalai Lama, tibeten buddhism shares many of the aspects of applying secular concepts to buddhism that neo-Buddhism does. In many ways it is sort of the upstream version of neo-Buddhism, the primary difference being that neo-buddhism seeks to emphasize intigratation future states of technology and how those will change individual relationships to the world.
Sometimes the most vicious fights occur over the smallest differences. Brutal battles have pitted Catholics that kneel in prayer against Protestant sects that stood before the same God. There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story from the U.S. House of Representatives about a senior politician explaining that internal conflict between Congressional chambers was more important than fights between Republicans and Democrats. “Republicans aren’t the enemy,” the Democratic old timer says in one version of the story. “Republicans are the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.”
The scientists and activists working to reverse climate change are no different. The infighting can be savage.
It may be a tautology, but “at the most basic level, anyone interested in addressing climate change knows we have to limit greenhouse gas emissions,” said Noah Kaufman, an economist at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. The problem is, those who share that goal disagree about the best way to pursue it.
The roughest head-knocking has been between the energy wonks who think we should use whatever power sources necessary to eliminate emissions — nuclear, biofuels, carbon-capture — and those who think renewable energy is the only answer.
The science historian Naomi Oreskes accused James Hansen, the well-known NASA climate scientist, of engaging in “a new form of climate denialism” for saying the world needs nuclear power. Tisha Schuller, an environmentalist who came to think fracking could help reduce emissions, received regular death threats. Activists even distributed pictures of her children. The fights rage on social media, and recently they spilled into the courts.
In November, Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford researcher, renewable-energy champion, and a 2016 Grist 50 member, sued a group of scientists for publishing a critique of an influential paper he had written laying out a path for the United States to run purely on renewables. (He later dropped the suit.)
“People tend to either agree on the goals, or on the means — if you want to get something dramatic done you have to agree on both,” said Jane Long, a senior consulting scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and one of the researchers who critiqued Jacobson’s paper. “I think the kind of changes we contemplate isn’t the kind we can accomplish without alignment of both goals and means.”
Amid all this rancour, it’s easy to forget that all these people are on one side of a climate fight; they agree about more than they disagree.
“Even though [the debate] consumes a lot of my time and other people’s time, it’s sort of beside the point,” Jacobson told Grist. “I’d say there’s no disagreement on 90 percent of our plans.”
So where’s the common ground among all these scientists, academics, and advocates who care about climate change? What are the things that we’re going to need no matter what path we take? Here’s a rundown of broad areas of agreement. Consider it a checklist — or rather, a to-do list — for climate hawks.
How much do you have to pay to use the atmosphere as a dump for greenhouse gases? For most people and businesses, it’s totally free. Make polluting expensive, and it would cut the amount of greenhouse gases people spew.
“We should all be able to get behind tech-neutral policies to reduce greenhouse gases,” Kaufman said. You could do that by putting a price on carbon — as some 40 countries from Denmark to China have done — or by regulating pollution, punishing companies for releasing methane into the atmosphere. Either one encourages the development of better technologies without causing a fight over exactly which technologies should win.
It’s a pattern that runs throughout history. People assume they can pollute for free until the pollution builds up and becomes a serious problem. Then — under duress — they start paying for the trouble. Consider regular old trash. When neighbors live far apart from each other, they can toss garbage out the window without worrying about the consequences. But it’s a different story in cities.
In 1866, New York City told residents they needed to stop the “throwing of dead animals, garbage or ashes into the streets.” Soon, New Yorkers started paying to get their waste picked up. Without a free pass to pollute, the carriage operators who had been leaving dead horses in the streets were at a disadvantage when a new technology came along that didn’t produce piles of manure and leave carcasses behind. At the time, nobody worried that this new horseless carriage would dump carbon into the air. But today that carbon is piling up.
Putting a price on carbon emissions is the same as charging people for the dead animals and ashes they toss into the road. A tax or a regulation curbing emissions would have the same result, Kaufman said. Both would raise the cost of polluting and also raise the rewards for any modern-day Henry Fords developing revolutionary technologies.
For the better part of human history, creating light often meant tons of work and environmental damage. In the past, people managed to get their light by burning beef fat, storm petrels (a fatty seabird), and sperm whale oil. These were really crappy, inefficient, polluting ways of getting illumination. (It would have taken me at least 10 storm petrels to write this piece, I’m guessing.) Modern LED lights, by contrast, require a tiny trickle of electricity.
It wastes a lot of energy — not to mention birds — if you have teams of workers slaughtering storm petrels, drying them, sticking wicks down their throats, and delivering them to markets. Improving efficiency means cutting out that wasted time and money.
The United States wastes 70 percent of the energy that powers it every day. That’s a massive amount of energy just waiting to be tapped. A more efficient way would use more energy without emitting more carbon.
“I don’t think anyone disagrees that efficiency will help,” Jacobson said.
The most obvious example is gas mileage. Back in 1950, the average car could travel 15 miles on a gallon of gas. By 2010, it could travel more than 23 miles on that same gallon. Cars could get a lot more efficient, still — for every 20 gallons you put in the tank, only five gallons turn into the kinetic energy moving the car; the rest gets wasted as heat. Other obvious steps: replace incandescent light bulbs, insulate homes, get low-gas-mileage cars off the roads. And much else.
“Radical efficiency improvements make it easier to address the climate problem,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway. On this, Peters mused, “I suspect we all agree.”
In 1977, solar photovoltaic panels were for wild-haired inventors and eccentric millionaires. Back then, the cost of buying a one-watt solar panel was $77; today the cost has fallen to 30 cents. Year after year, the price of solar has cratered faster than the experts predicted. The same is true, to a lesser degree, with wind energy. In many places, wind and solar are simply the low-cost option, which means that building more can save money and also reduce emissions.
There was general agreement among all the climate researchers I talked to that it makes sense to switch to renewables when it’s the cheapest carbon-free option. The fierce disagreement comes when they talk about paying for renewables when they’re more expensive than, say, nuclear power. Jacobson and a few other scientists think that going 100 percent renewable is the cheapest option. But the majority of researchers think that it would get very expensive to build enough renewables to power the entire country through the darkest days of winter.
“I’ve heard people arguing for 50, 60, 80, and 100 percent renewable,” said Melanie Nakagawa, who worked on climate policy in the Obama administration and now heads up climate strategy for a growth equity fund for climate-related technology at the investment firm Princeville Global. “At some point that percentage matters from a policy perspective,” she explained, but worldwide we’re not close enough to any of those percentages to chill the renewables market. Renewables — mainly hydropower and biofuels — currently account for 10 percent of the country’s energy needs.
Back when President Obama was in the White House, it was Kaufman’s job to go through the various climate plans and scenarios coming from different parts of the executive branch and make sure everyone in the administration was up to speed. He noticed that all the plans to reduce emissions advised plugging a lot more of the country into electricity.
Electricity currently powers a quarter of the U.S. economy. The other three quarters are cars and trucks using gasoline, factories using quadrillions of British thermal units to forge metals and refine petroleum, and buildings heated by gas or propane.
Switching more of these cars and furnaces to run on electricity would allow us to tap into low-carbon energy from renewables and nuclear plants. A little over 1 percent of cars on the road run on electricity right now. To have a shot at keeping global warming under 2 degrees C — the goal set in the Paris Agreement — 10 percent of cars on the road would need to be electric by 2030, according to one scenario plotted by the International Energy Agency.
It’s part of a two-step recipe for eliminating emissions that has become almost a cliche among energy wonks. Step one: Add more low-carbon electricity (solar, nuclear, hydro, wind) to the grid. Step two: Electrify everything.
“There’s broad agreement that we need to dramatically expand electricity to transportation and industry,” said Trevor Houser, climate and energy expert at the research firm, the Rhodium Group. There are some debates around the edges about just how much electrification is practical — maybe not everything — but the consensus is mighty broad.
Electricity has no shelf life. Unlike a can of tuna that can spend years in hiding, electricity needs to be bought the moment it’s made. Make more electricity than people want at any particular moment, and you can cause fires. Make too little, and you can cause brownouts. That’s why big batteries are so appealing. But even the giant batteries that Tesla is buildinglook tiny if you consider the amount of storage we need to keep the lights on when the sun goes down.
People are trying all kinds of crazy ideas to store energy. They’re forcing air into underground caverns then using the breeze to power turbines when it comes gushing out. They’re using excess electricity to drive trains full of rocks up a mountain, then recapturing some of that energy when they come back down.
If someone figures out a way to extend the shelf life of electricity on the cheap, it will help in every carbon-cutting scenario, whether it’s 100 percent renewable or 100 percent nuclear.
The other way to handle the mismatch between electric supply and demand is to send electricity farther afield. If it gets really windy in Wyoming, and the turbines there start producing too much juice, the state could send that extra electricity to big cities in California.
Well, it could if a major power line connected the two states.
“The transmission system we have today wasn’t built to get to zero carbon,” said Dan Kammen, Director of Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “Those power lines don’t go to the best wind areas in the mountain states, they don’t go to the best solar areas in the Southwest.”
Most clean-energy scenarios rely on new transmission wires to connect the places with too much electricity to the places with too little, balancing things out.
Everyone I talked to agreed that the government should be spending more money researching the most challenging problems that stand in the way of weaning ourselves off carbon. It might help to think of climate change as a national security issue, many of them say.
A few years ago, Constantine Samaras, who studies solutions for climate change at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog that the government budget doesn’t treat climate change like a true threat. “In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the R&D budget for counterterrorism grew to almost $2.7 billion in 2003,” he wrote, more than a 500 percent increase in two years. The research and development budget for energy technology and climate change was flat. “We correctly reacted to counterterrorism with enhanced R&D after 2001,” Samaras wrote. “Yet on energy and climate change we’re effectively just muddling through.”
Where should research money go? There’s widespread agreement that we should look into a low-carbon solution for air travel and trucks making long-distance hauls. That appears to be where the agreement stops. When I asked what else deserves funding, I heard a long list of options including advanced nuclear reactors, fusion, and turning air into liquid fuel. The consensus fractured.
Ideally, climate and energy experts could sit down and hash out a consensus on a master plan that would, say, allow us to build only the power plants we really need. But experimentation, failure, politics, and infighting seem to be inescapable elements of any ambitious human endeavor. Success is forged in the crucible of conflict, I guess.
But if we get too wrapped up in these captivating fights — all over how we produce electric power — we’ll miss some big opportunities. “We’d be better off if we took some of the creative energy expended on that debate in the power sector and applied it to other sectors — which, by the way produce 75 percent of the emissions,” the Rhodium Group’s Houser said.
That’s exactly the issue: These disagreements concern just a quarter of the pollution problem that’s driving climate change. The sooner we can agree on a way forward, the quicker we can move on to the rest of the problem. And there’s so much agreement among these experts already: They all are trying to cut greenhouse gases, and would like to put a price — or a penalty — on emissions. They’re all for efficiency, electrification, storage, and better power lines. They support renewables that bring down prices. They all want more money to start working on the next generation of innovations.
So … Kumbaya, right?
Not quite. We can’t simply bury the divisive debates. But maybe we can make those debates more fruitful. The EDF’s Long thinks it would help if we stopped talking so much about specific technologies — 100 percent renewable versus nuclear reactors — and started talking more about the things we need those technologies to do: generating heat, supplying inexpensive energy, delivering electricity that can surge on and off to in fill the gaps.
“If we do that, people will be able to see better that there are problems with every choice,” Long said. “So what poison do you pick?”
And like that, sidestepping one debate plunges us into another one, just as crucial and inescapable. Still, the people on all sides told me that, as they debate their choice of poisons, they’d rather not choose poisonous rhetoric.