Climate Change and Human Suffering

The words and concepts we use when discussing the negative effects of climate change―warmer weather, more intense storms, drought, sea-level rise—often mask the deeper reality of what these words entail. Especially when discussing the science—the statistics, numbers, graphs, and charts—we lose track of the deeper experience of what this all means. For, in every case, in every statistic and graph, there lies immense and unprecedented suffering for the human species and all sentient life.

Last night, we watched two news reports. The first was a BBC report about air pollution in Mongolia, the other was a follow-up report on Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Both videos are apocalyptic in scale. And both are harbingers of what is to come.

In his important book, Peace Is Every Step, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh lists what he calls The 14 Precepts of Inter-Being. Number four speaks most directly to how we should relate to this suffering:

Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, and sound. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Erbarme dich

Though individual weather events are not the same as climate change, tropical storms are likely to become more deadly as the climate changes. Cyclone Idai is the worst storm ever in the Southern Hemisphere.