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Climate Change : The Audacity of Altruism (part 1)

By Matthieu Ricard on May 30, 2017

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Our era is confronted with many challenges. One of our main problems consists of reconciling the demands of the economy, the search for happiness, and respect for the environment. These imperatives correspond to three time scales β€” short, middle, and long term β€” on which three types of interests are superimposed: ours, the interests of those close to us, and those of all sentient beings.

The economy and finance are evolving at an ever-faster pace. Stock markets soar and crash from one day to the next. Those who live in ease are often reluctant to alter their lifestyle for the good of those less fortunate and for the benefit of generations to come, while those who live in need aspire legitimately to more wealth, but also to enter a consumer society that encourages acquiring not only what is needed to live a decent life, but to keep on chasing after superfluous things.

Satisfaction with life is measured in terms of a life plan, a career, a family, and a generation. It is also measured according to the quality of each passing instant, the joys and sufferings that color our existence, and our relationships to others; it is also given or denied by the nature of external conditions and by the way in which our mind translates these conditions into happiness or misery.

As for the environment, until recently, its evolution has been measured in terms of geological, biological, and climatic eras, over dozens of millennia or millions of years, except for global catastrophes from giant asteroids or volcanic eruptions. In our day, the rhythm of change keeps accelerating because of ecological upheavals provoked by human activities. In particular, the swift changes that have occurred since 1950 have defined a new era for our planet, the Anthropocene (literally the β€œera of humans.”) This is the first era in the history of the world when human activities are profoundly modifying (and, at present, degrading) the entire system that maintains life on earth. This is a completely new challenge that has taken us by surprise.