January 25, 2013
Thich Nhat Hanh, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Bernie Sanders on Climate Change
by Robert Kropp
The Vermont Senator says he will introduce legislation that includes a price on carbon, but despite
President Obama's statement of commitment to climate change a White House spokesperson says the
administration has no plans to propose a tax on carbon.
In an interview published in The Guardian this week, Thich Nhat Hanh applied the tenets of
Buddhism to inaction on climate change. The Zen monk said, "They cannot confront the truth. It is
not that they don't know what is going to happen. They just don't want to think about it."
"We have to accept that the worst can happen," he continued, "that most of us will die as a
species and many other species will die."
Observing that our planet is capable of
healing itself even after climate change has destroyed the human race, he observed, "Maybe Mother
Earth will produce a great being sometime in the next decade."
Desperate times call for
desperate measures, although overwhelming scientific consensus as well as the growing proliferation
of extreme weather events would seem to preclude such a necessity as the appearance of a great
being. Environmental groups and sustainable investors have been pressuring corporations and
policymakers on the crisis for decades. Yet global emissions continue to increase and business as
usual scenarios paint a dire portrait of a near future in which our environment will be
unrecognizable, and quite likely deadly.
The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville
wrote in his great work Democracy in America, "As one digs deeper into the national character of
the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the
answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?" And in today's Congress we have
elected officials who, their campaigns funded by fossil fuel industries, persist in denying
scientific consensus. They continue to award fossil fuel industries massive subsidies that defy
common sense. They prevented the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill, despite its modest ambitions and
analysis that concluded that its passage would actually increase revenues, from becoming law.
However, de Tocqueville also wrote, "The greatness of America lies not in being more
enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced this week that he will introduce legislation that
includes a price on carbon and sizeable investments in sustainable energy. Sanders has also called
for ending subsidies for fossil fuel industries.
However, a White House spokesperson said,
"We have not proposed and have no intention of proposing a carbon tax," despite an inaugural
address by Obama in which he spoke forcefully on the urgent need to address climate change. "It is
a priority. But it is not a singular priority," the spokesperson continued.
insiders say the White House will dribble out executive actions and federal rules over the next
four years – the same low-key, bureaucratic approach the administration has taken since 2009," the
stated stated. However, "The president has got to do everything he can," Sanders told Politico
during an interview. Referring to a bill providing relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy, Sanders
said, "If we don't get our act together, we can expect to be voting on bills like this every single
As reported at SocialFunds.com this week, the first challenge to Obama's commitment
to action on climate change will be the State Department's decision on whether to approve
construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the oil sands of
Alberta, Canada—described as "the most destructive project on Earth"—to refineries on the Gulf of
If the Obama administration approves construction of the pipeline, "It would be a
terrible message," Sanders said. "You cannot say that we have to transform the energy system, that
we have to cut back on carbon and that we’re going to approve the Keystone pipeline."