by John deJong
The average American has a strange concept of karma. We act as if the only consequence of our actions is guilt. And our society conveniently provides a hundred ways to deal with guilt—from rationalized denial through distraction to deliberate oblivion.
Most First World religions have, till recently, taken no account, or rather have encouraged their believers to take no account, of the natural world, other than to insure that it caters to human needs and desires. So the idea of a pollution karma, much less a carbon karma, is entirely foreign.
We are told that karma is produced through thoughts, words, actions we perform ourselves and actions we have others perform on our behalf. We produce negative karma because of lack of knowledge and clarity.
Things aren’t much different with carbon karma. If our thoughts about carbon are not informed with knowledge and clarity, our words will confuse others and ourselves and our actions will produce negative karma. The actions we take, in almost every aspect of our lives, affect our carbon karma. Where and how we live and travel, the purchases we make, the food we consume—all have effects on our carbon karma.
A crucial difference with carbon karma is that the negative karmic “benefit” of one’s actions (karm bandh) can accrue to others. Economists, mostly in the employ of those whose intention is anything but frugality or economy, call these “intangibles” or “externalities”—as in “they don’t appear on the bottom line.” The worst offenders among us, with multiple homes, private jets and what not, are generating carbon karm bandh at a rate thousands of times our average. First World nations on average generate carbon karm bandh at a rate hundreds of times that of Third and Fourth World countries.
The average American uses seven gallons of oil every day. That’s on top of the four tons of coal and the comparably small amounts of nuclear and renewable energy each of us consumes each year. Just think: In some sub-Saharan countries, seven gallons a day is a luxury water budget.
Along these lines, I would like to think of the death tax as a delayed pollution tax. Certainly anyone who dies with an estate larger than a couple million dollars has an incredible amount of carbon karm bandh on his ledger. Could someone make a religion of buying salvation if you could pay on the way to the grave? Sort of a carbon karmic cap-and-trade program. Would people live and die easier if they gave before they were gone?
I can see it now, The Church of Carbon Karma Recapture Inc., PLC, LS-MFT. Are we seeing the beginnings with Carbon Karma memorial groves? How many trees went into printing the certificates attesting to our carbon neutrality? And if the certificate is locked in an airtight vault, do we get credit for carbon sequestration? How many butterflies have to dance on the steam head of a coal-fired power plant to offset its carbon karma? The theological questions are myriad.
A major part of the problem with carbon karma is that of willful ignorance. What we don’t believe in, we can’t see; and if we don’t know about something, we can’t believe in it. That’s the reason the Bush administration stifled early prophets of the coming carbon karma crash like NASA’s James Hansen (not the Utah James Hansen). The practice of stifling truth-sayers by the Bush administration was so extensive that the term “Hansenized” was coined to describe the condition.
I’d be interested to know what religions that believe in karma call willful ignorance or keeping other people ignorant. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s up there with other types of anantarika karma —a heinous crime, which brings immediate disaster. The five standard types of anantarika karma are: patricide, matricide, killing an enlightened being, wounding of a buddha and creating a schism in the community.
Maybe the accrual of carbon karm bandh could be considered matricide.
Just how much carbon karm bandh are we talking about? Do you want the answer in short tons or cycles of samsara? When it comes to how much of our coal consumption we need to reduce, the answer is all. Earth is 0.8 degrees warmer than it was 100 years ago.
The bottom line is that we are in deep shit. Climate scientists have a more formal term: “dangerous anthropogenic interference (DAI).” The lower limit of DAI is the stability of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Sea levels are rising in the high range of predictive models. Yet most of the rise is due to thermal expansion of water and not the deteriorating ice sheets, which is just beginning to kick in. If we (the world) continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere at our current rate (which in spite of all the supposed concern is actually increasing, not decreasing, at a rate of 2% per year) the oceans may rise 30 feet in the next 100 years.
When James Hansen began talking about DAI in the early aughts he was told by the Bush administration to restrict his remarks because the Bush administration did not understand what “dangerous” meant. The precautionary principal would suggest that when dealing with something like the climatic stability of the planet, we interpret “dangerous” just as we all understand it by age three and start doing everything we can to cut down on our dependency on carbon.
How many revolutions of a carbon karma prayer wheel are needed to absolve one of the use of one short ton of coal? And, how many short tons of coal are needed to achieve that many revolutions?
The 384 ppm CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere is part of the sanchita, or accumulated karma, our society has accrued. Let’s face it. Most of us have an enormous carbon karm bandh cache, even before we factor in our share of Warren Buffet, Dick Cheney or some Saudi prince.
We’ve got plenty to undo.