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Bringing Wise MInd to “Mine-golia” May 30, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, Copper, environmental justice, mineral resources, Mongolia, slow violence.
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This piece is cross-posted on Shambhala SunSpace.

How shall we bring the Buddhist “perfections of the heart,” such as generosity, patience, equanimity, truthfulness, renunciation, and wisdom, to the ways we interact with the earth? I sometimes find myself adopting what might be considered a generous stance of sharing equally what Earth offers. But then I realize that I’m reacting to a feeling of needing more than what I already have.

In “The Bodhisattva Path,” the eighth-century monk, scholar and poet Shantideva wrote:

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute.
May I turn into all things they could need,
And may these be placed close beside them….

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

I reflected on these verses, and having listened recently to Sylvia Boorstein’s talk “The Paramitas as the Path” and a four-part series on National Public Radio about resource development in the Central Asian nation of Mongolia, I wondered how we human beings might apply Wise Mind to the issue of extraction of Mongolian mineral resources.

As reported in the NPR series, the sparsely populated nation of Mongolia is in the midst of a mining boom that has the potential to reduce widespread poverty there. The country is rich in copper and gold, among other metals, particularly in the Gobi region where nomadic herders have traditionally depended on water for sustenance. But water will be used in vast quantities at the copper mega-mine being developed at Oyu Tolgoi(“Turquoise Hill”) about 50 miles north of the Chinese border. Mining operations willlower the water table and threaten the livelihood of herders who constitute as much as 40% of the population.

Humans have used copper for thousands of years. King Solomon mined it at Timna to help build the temple in Jerusalem. It’s a critical resource for most of humanity, but it is also easily recycled. According to the International Copper Association, 80% of the copper ever mined is in use today. So something doesn’t feel right about unearthing more copper to lift a portion of a nation’s people out of poverty while sacrificing compatriots who will suffer from groundwater depletion.

And yet, as Sylvia says (a phrase that is heard nearly every day in my household) when she teaches about the paramis (the fully cultivated mind and heart qualities of a fully awakened being), to practice generosity and equanimity is to be wise. That is, Sylvia teaches that wisdom is an anomalous parami because we can’t wake up in the morning and say “Today I am going to be wise.” Instead one can treat simply nine of the paramis as aspects of one: wisdom.

Is it generous to endorse the actions of Rio Tinto, a massive Australian mining company, so that the financial wealth that accrues from copper mining trickles down to the people of Mongolia? Or is that simply plundering the earth? Perhaps as Sylvia teaches, giving up destructive habits such as surface and underground mining on massive scales is truly the manifestation of generosity.

Sylvia also teaches that suffering is caused by the imperative in the mind that things be different. The truth of Mongolia is that it is a landlocked nation with little arable land. Does it make sense to struggle with this reality, to pry from the earth more of what we think we need? In my view, creation of a vast mine in a remote region for the extraction of a recyclable mineral resource seems to be the result of confused rather than clear, wise minds.

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After Earth Day, Active Hope April 30, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in "Eaarth", book review, Buddhist concepts, climate change, earth community, earth system science, environmentalism, geologic time, Joanna Macy, mineral resources, science.
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This piece is cross-posted on Shambhala Sunspace and truthout.org


With its numbered teachings, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy (2012)a new book by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, pays tribute to its Buddhist roots. However, instead of the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path, the five hindrances, and the four brahmaviharas, readers of Active Hope get three stories of our time, five signs of the great unraveling, four stations of the work that reconnects, and three dimensions of the great turning. In their book, Macy and Johnstone update the repertoire of teachings that will enhance our abilities to acknowledge disturbing ecological truths and respond with creativity and resilience.

According to Macy and Johnstone, Active Hope is a practice—we do it rather than have it—with three key steps: obtaining a clear view of reality, identifying the values and directions we hope for, and taking steps to move our situation along that path. In their view, since it requires no optimism, but simply intention, we can apply it even in seemingly hopeless arenas.

Good thing. Macy and Johnstone name resource depletion, mass extinction of species, climate change, economic decline, and social division and war as five signs of the great unraveling, but the signs also bear striking resemblance to the Book of Revelation’s four horsemen of the apocalypse: Famine, Death, Pestilence, and War. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but Macy and Johnstone say it themselves:

“We can no longer take it for granted that the resources we’re dependent on—food, fuel, and drinkable water—will be available. We can no longer take it for granted even that our civilization will survive or that conditions on our planet will remain hospitable for complex forms of life.”

Scientists’ take on Earth’s vital signs suggest such an imminent reality.

The author of numerous books, Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. Hers is a deservedly respected voice for peace, justice and the environment, honed over fifty years of activism. In this clear and practical book, physician Chris Johnstone joins her to articulate her approach to activism and empowerment, which she calls The Work That Reconnects.

I first learned of Macy in 2007 when I googled “deep time” and “Buddhism” in a search for a meditation teacher who might help me integrate my preoccupation with contemplative practice and geologic time.  Reading Active Hope gave me a window into Macy’s Work that Reconnects and fueled my inclination towards it. Here’s why.

Other recent books on global change focus on dire, dispiriting problems and offer sweeping seeming-solutions. Macy and Johnstone’s manual strives to equip us with a “transformational mindset.” Conceptualized as a journey, the book takes readers along a stream of thinking that, in the authors’ words, flows toward a way of life that enriches rather than depletes the Earth. Chapters in the book guided me through the four stages of the spiral of the Work that Reconnects: Coming from Gratitude, Honoring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth. I could tell you more but I’d rather you read the book.

What I will say is that this book offers poetically scientific and accurate renderings of feedback loops and geologic time that will, I think, be helpful as we work little by little toward radically reconfiguring life on Earth. I love that Macy and Johnstone devote a chapter to helping readers develop that critical “larger view of time.” I think the book will refresh environmentally-minded Buddhists who suffer from what I’ve come unfortunately to think of as environmental change fatigue. In Active Hope, Macy and Johnstone teach us how to focus on our intention and strengthen our ability to respond happily to the vexing global crisis in which we live.

This entry was created by Jill S. Schneiderman, posted on April 30, 2012 at 10:19 pm and tagged. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

Falling in Love with “Other” Earth February 27, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, Buddhist practice, environmentalism, mineral resources, science, Thich Nhat Hanh.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.

Photo by Don Farber

In his recent interview with Guardian editor Jo Confino, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanhsuggested that a spiritual revolution is needed so that we might avoid living in a future world torn asunder by societal stresses related to climate change. He characterized such a spiritual revolution as one in which we fall back in love with the planet and see the connection between the Earth and ourselves. In doing so, he says, we will heal the planet.

I had just heard Christian Parenti, contributing editor at The Nation and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011) speak about the “catastrophic convergence” of climate change and increased social and political violence, and as a result felt convinced that Thich Nhat Hanh’s radical prescription for repair is precisely what we need. But how does one fall back in love with the Earth?

For me, learning about this remarkable planet is an important means to that end. And though I’ve studied the earth for three decades, I continue to understand it in new ways that inspire my devotion. For example, currently I am enamored of a new and unusual framework within which to think about the Earth’s minerals.

In 2008, geoscientist Robert Hazen with collaborating colleagues proposed a radical revision to the way we think about minerals. In the past, mineralogy was considered an ahistorical subject, one in which formation of minerals was viewed as unlinked to the twists and turns of history. In this view, the quartz of today is the quartz of yesteryear, relatively unaffected by the moment in time when the mineral grew.

But Hazen and his colleagues suggested that minerals have evolved over time along with the Earth. Why? As we know from studying meteorites, only about 60 different minerals existed in the materials that came together to form planets and asteroids in Earth’s solar system. Hazen’s group pointed out that today we count more than four thousand minerals on Earth. Through processes such as the formation of oceanic and continental crust, melting, and volcanism, mineral diversity has increased over geological time.

At first, the notion that minerals have evolved in concert with life seems surprising. Since nearly one hundred elements make up the periodic table you might think that an almost infinite number of crystalline compounds might form from the get-go. But different minerals develop only under very particular conditions of pressure, temperature, and concentrations of specific elements.

After initial accretion, the numerically small array of Earth’s minerals were affected by rapidly changing internal temperatures and pressures and external fluctuations in the chemistry of surface waters and atmospheric gases. Thus, according to these researchers, the first minerals combined to birth new mineral species.

Then when life originated on the planet, even more possibilities arose for the evolution of new mineral species because even the simplest organisms– colonies of microbes– metabolized minerals. As life evolved, organisms directly made minerals that served good purposes like shells, bones and teeth. And by the time that photosynthesizing plants caused the atmosphere to have an overabundance of oxygen, indirectly they were responsible for the formation of a multitude of new oxide minerals at the surface of the Earth.

If Hazen and others are right, then minerals evolve along a linear arrow of time; there is no going back to bygone Eons of a limited number of mineral types.  Minerals diversify in irreversible manner just as organisms do and I’m excited to think in this new way about these mostly inorganic substances!

What’s more, although reports from the Kepler mission to survey near realms of the Milky Way galaxy and find Earth-size planets around other stars have inspired dreams of finding an Earth-like planet, it seems unlikely that any such planets would look like our blue-green home.

As reported in a recent issue of Nature Geoscience, an array of research contends that ostensibly original environmental features of the Earth in fact appeared late in the planet’s history and were brought about by evolution in the three domains of life with unpredictable contingencies.

These recent developments in the way we think about both minerals and life have caused me to fall in love again with this planet, as Thich Nhat Hanh has urged.

But though I agree with this beloved teacher that we must develop that “insight of inter-being” which concedes the connection between the Earth and ourselves, I differ with this teacher whom I respect and admire, when he refers to our planet as “Mother Earth.”

I believe that harm may come from referring to our planet as “Mother Earth.” Instead, I think it is critical to acknowledge that well into the 21st century we have rendered the planet Other Earth, a system separate and apart from ourselves. In academic parlance, we have “Othered” the Earth–made it into an object rather than a beloved subject. Such acknowledgement is part of the “real awakening, enlightenment, to change our way of thinking and seeing things” which Thich Nhat Hanh advises.

We have distanced ourselves from the Earth. But as Thich Nhat Hanh says, we are the Earth. And,

When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of (M)other Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born. We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love, to be at one. When you love someone you want to say I need you, I take refuge in you. You do anything for the benefit of the Earth and the Earth will do anything for your wellbeing.

The complex interactions between minerals, life, and landscapes of our host planet have enabled our wellbeing. It is up to us to love it in return.

Geological Reserves in Afghanistan February 2, 2010

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Afghanistan, mineral resources.
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Did you know that the U.S. Geological Survey is working in Afghanistan? According to the USGS, the program in natural resources and hazards assessment for Afghanistan is part of the “Afghanistan Reconstruction Program.” The initial activities include coal, mineral and water resources assessments and earthquake hazard assessment as well as geospatial infrastructure development and institution capacity building. (USGS Projects in Afghanistan).

President Hamid Karzai recently pointed out that the forthcoming results of the USGS resource survey of the country will show that the value of geological materials in Afghanistan ranks in the trillions of dollars (Afghan ‘Geological Reserves Worth a Trillion Dollars.’) Though not renowned as a resource-rich country, significant amounts of copper, iron ore, gold, and chromite, as well as natural gas, oil, and precious and semi-precious stones occur in the country.