Living the Answers

Life is full of questions – “what ifs,” “whys” and “how comes”.

Why is life filled with transience, uncertainty, and suffering? How can I make my life problem-free and fulfilling? What if climate change results in catastrophe?

How we approach such questions charts the journey of our lives. Conventional wisdom (also known as the status quo) tells us to go for the easy, in fact the easiest side of easy. Yet, deep within us, we know that anything worth answering isn’t easy.

The awareness that humans can alter the Earth’s climate has dawned slowly on our consciousness. World governments continue haggling about the correct responses to this problem.

In my columns, I have always attempted to help the reader see the climate change issue as it is, rather than as we might wish or believe it to be. I have offered explanations to the problem of global warming and what we can do about it.

My foundation has always been that global warming is real and not an opinion. Meaningful action to reverse the saturation of our atmosphere with carbon dioxide must involve us all. It is not enough to ask only the motivated to act.

It matters less what each of us does to personally cut emissions; what is more important is that we ensure that everyone on the planet does what we do. We need to insist that governments and businesses stop dickering with the lives of future generations and drive the scale of change necessary at the speed required.

Last week the Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Congress – a climate change conference held in March where 1,400 scientific presentations were made to 2,500 participants from 80 countries – was presented to Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen.

The conclusion of the report is blunt – inaction is inexcusable. “The scientific evidence today overwhelmingly indicates that allowing the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities to continue unchecked constitutes a significant threat to the well-being and continued development of contemporary society,” it states.

Such news is daunting and challenging, but humanity has lived in a sustainable world before – during most of our grandparents’ time.

Last Saturday I attended the Yasodhara Ashram’s annual strawberry social and I saw sustainability in action. The retreat centre on Kootenay Lake has a solar photovoltaic system to heat water and uses geothermal heating to warm buildings. It has retrofitted, reinsulated, weather-stripped, improved lighting and replaced windows. It uses vinegar, borax, washing soda, and non-chlorine bleach as cleaning agents.

Currently 25 percent of all fruits and vegetables used in the Ashram kitchen are grown in its own orchards and gardens and a large amount is preserved for winter. It is working with neighbouring growers to get even more of its food locally.

Last October, FortisBC presented the Ashram with its PowerSense Conservation Excellence Award for outstanding achievement in energy efficiency. The Ashram has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2013, the year of its 50th anniversary.

When Swami Radhananda recently accepted the 2009 Tourism BC Environmentally Responsible Tourism Award for the Ashram’s decade of efforts, she said: “We at the Ashram take sustainability personally and seriously. Living in BC, we are privileged to have beauty all around us. We feel that maintaining it is our first responsibility to our guests.”

The Ashram realizes that environmental action to reduce CO2 emissions involves social responsibility and ecological integrity. It has examined the nature of the problem, what it is and where it comes from, and then it has got down to basics and acted.

The Ashram’s community is learning by doing that everything matters. It has – as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote – learned to “love the questions” and is living the answers.