In each of our deliberations, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.
— Ancient Iroquois Philosophy*
The Mind and Life Institute hosted a live meeting and discussion between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and environmental activist Greta Thunberg on January 10, 2021, along with leading climate scientists Susan Natali and William Moomaw, on the topic of rising temperatures Earth, awareness of feedback loops that accelerate global warming. Susan Bauer-Wu, director of the Mind and Life Institute since 2015, has since written a new book, A future we can love: how to reverse the climate crisis with the power of our hearts and minds. This volume is both an invaluable companion to the climate conversation and a self-contained collection of expert contributions from leading climate scientists, personal anecdotes, Buddhist philosophy and even Buddhist practices, the lojong to mourning meditations, and, notably, words of encouragement to tone down hard facts, all delivered in a wonderfully unexpected family approach to scientific prose.
Susan weaves together elements of the aforementioned meeting with other in-depth information and statistics from people in her sphere – from primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention. on climate change, Don Perovich, an engineering professor at Dartmouth College who studies the geography of sea ice, and philosopher and ecologist Vandana Shiva.
I was thrilled and honored to be able to ask Susan a few questions about her book and her journey to becoming more environmentally responsible.
BDG: As you embark on a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, what have been some of your challenges, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you like to be able to give to younger people?
Susan Bauer-Wu: In retrospect, while I thought I was a good global citizen, my much younger self was pretty clueless. When it came to driving, the younger me was more interested in comfort and buying a car that was spacious and with as much horsepower as I could afford. I applied a similar logic to the use of utilities in the home. I remember living in an apartment where the utilities were included (paid by the owner). Since cost (for me) was not an issue, I would set the heating and cooling thermostat to be fairly warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I took long hot showers. Again, I thought about my comfort first and didn't make the connection to how indiscriminate use of utilities at home contributes to fossil fuel consumption and global warming. The same goes for my love of travel and taking as many vacations as possible to faraway places.
My advice to my younger self, knowing what I know now, would be to be aware and remember that my daily habits and personal luxuries matter in the bigger picture of climate change. It is essential not only to think about my comforts and pleasures, but rather to remember that I share a limited natural atmosphere and resources as part of an interconnected web of all life on this planet.
BDG: How would you advise someone to make a meaningful difference through their diet and purchasing choices?
SBW: Plant-based diets are not only healthier for us, they also have a significantly lower carbon footprint than eating meat and dairy. Livestock, especially cattle, contribute about 14,5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Cows not only need a huge amount of energy to feed and farm, but they also release methane and other gases when they belch in response to the way they process feed. Reducing meat consumption and following a vegetarian – and ideally vegan – diet can make a significant difference in reducing global warming.
Buying local food and produce also makes a difference, as does reusing clothing and household items, as it reduces all fossil fuels needed for transportation and manufacturing. I'm also a fan of the “sharing economy,” where neighbors choose to share common household items. Additionally, it helps to minimize purchases of single-use plastics and refill containers with liquids when possible. Remember that it takes up to a thousand years for plastic to decompose, not to mention the dangerous effects of phthalates and BPAs in plastics on our health as well as the health of other animals.
BDG: If there was one thing you would like your readers to take away from your new book, what would it be?
SBW: Have conversations with others about climate-related issues. Talk about the science of feedback loops, connectedness, emotions such as anxiety and grief, and what you can do individually and collectively. The more we talk about it, we learn, we feel numb and scared to feel more connected to each other and the natural world, and we are more motivated and able to take action.
BDG: And last, but certainly not least, what inspired you to write this book?
SBW: The catalyst for this book was an online event with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Greta Thunberg, and climate scientists that my organization, the Mind & Life Institute, hosted in January 2021. People around the world were very moved by the meeting of the Dalai Lama and Greta, perhaps because there are generations and cultures apart – a wise spiritual leader and a young activist, who, despite their differences, are deeply aligned on this issue, the most important of human history.
I have been asked to write a book based on this historic encounter. However, once I considered it with input from other thought partners, we realized there was a much fuller narrative about the climate crisis that needed to be shared. Ultimately, I was compelled to write the book because I am deeply concerned about the state of the planet and the unsustainable consumer lifestyles of modern society. I want to do everything I can to literally ensure a future we can love for our grandchildren and all living beings, because now there is a critical window that requires each of us to wake up and come forward.