Friday, May 31, 2013

The Heart is Noble: Changing the World From the Inside Out

Book Review: The Heart is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje (Shambhala 2013)

This very good book is transcribed from teachings the young Karmapa gave to a group of American college students when they met with him over a period of a few weeks. He gives them some excellent advice that is especially applicable to young people. Building a foundation from which to work from is emphasized. Indeed, for a man of age 25, he seems quite a skillful thinker. This book is mainly not about how to change the world but about how to orient oneself so that one can best be able to change the world in a logical and positive manner.

Karmapa first says we all have a noble heart deep within, something we all share. Another thing we all share is the planet we inhabit. He also notes that this book is from a secular, rather than a Buddhist perspective. His attempt here is too share the wisdom of his own experience. He also says we should strive to learn from one another and to share both our aspirations and our experiences.

Karmapa explores the Buddhist concepts of ‘interdependence’ and ‘emptiness’ in order to demonstrate that life is endowed with infinite possibilities. The concept of emptiness means that nothing exists independently of the constantly shifting conditions and contexts within which they are embedded. Interdependence acknowledges that:

“Every person, place, and thing is entirely dependent on others – other people and other things – as a necessary condition for its existence.”

He also refers to interdependence as a state of “profound connectedness.” He insists on the practicality of these principles of emptiness and interdependence. We depend on others. We are responsible for others. We affect others and they affect us. He notes that impermanence is a fact of existence and that we can relate skillfully to this reality of constant change. Interdependence, he says, is also a fact of life and love can lead us to embrace our connectedness to others. Our happiness is tied to the happiness of others.

He also stresses the importance of taking a limitless view of things. He recounts his own unfulfilled wishes due to his life decisions being made for him as a specially chosen and trained spiritual leader. Meaningfulness need not be tied only to the fulfilling of one’s wishes:

“The trick is to strike the right balance between what you want for yourself and what you want for others.”

He mentions the Three Kinds of Aims: a self-interested aim which will usually backfire, an aim in which our interests are joined with others, noting our interdependence, and an aim solely for others, which is a noble but difficult form of altruism.

In examining one’s adoption of a meaningful livelihood he asserts that it is not what one does that really matters but how one does it. He mentions working from within one’s job to make the jobs better for everyone. He also warns against defining oneself by one’s job or career, saying that we are much more and that we are better defined by our positive qualities.

He examines healthy relationships by emphasizing how we orient ourselves to others. He talks about expanding ourselves to encompass whatever we are connected to – perhaps easier said than done. The idea is to think in terms of the goals of others rather than just our own goals. Habitual patterns pervade our relationships. Comfort and familiarity influence our habitual patterns. He talks about two forms of “I” – our innate or instinctual “I” and our fabricated “I”. The fabricated “I” refers to our habitual self that is learned through our culture and societal norms. The innate “I” is more subtle and tends to come to the fore when we are threatened. The fabricated “I” is what concerns us in relationships. The problem, he says, is grasping at “me” and “mine”, restricting our view of ourselves, and affecting how we relate to others. He contrasts unfeeling detachment and simple nonattachment. He suggests that our habit of looking for faults outside of ourselves results in our inability to recognize our own attachments. He also notes that attachment is based in self-interest. Love is concern for other’s happiness. Attachment is concern overly for oneself. Karmapa says that we should make love, or concern for others’ happiness, our practice. We do this by working on ourselves to be mindful of the happiness of others. The goal is to cultivate love that is unconditional. He notes the obstacles to ‘loving well’ as self-centered habits, attachment, aversion, and expectations. He talks about the death of loved ones, grief, the end of relationships, and impermanence. He notes that impermanence can be a positive, such as when we enjoy the changing of the seasons. He also notes that it is OK to give love without expecting love in return.

Karmapa points out that we fabricate identities not only for ourselves, but for others too. We project images and attributes onto them and this can erect barriers between people. He suggests learning to recognize and give up the unhealthy projections. Healthy relationships are based on acceptance and patience. Even our anger at someone usually involves projecting attributes to the other person. He suggests learning to distinguish the person from their actions, perhaps seeing them as a victim of their own emotions. Working with, or parting with faults, is another aspect of developing healthy relationships, which involves training in patience and forgiveness. He also mentions the practice of confession – not the religious-type guilt-infused confession of Christians and Buddhists, but more a general self-honesty. Such confession is simply acknowledgement of one’s faults and undesirable behavior along with generating a sincere wish to not repeat such behavior. Beware of guilt in this process, he says. Self-forgiveness here is important and can help one forgive others.

“Confession is the separation of the past from the future. You confess and then let go, so you can move on without repeating the mistake.”

Continuing on with the notions of projections and fabricated identities, Karmapa next examines socially-derived gender identities. He reminds us that gender roles are a product of our mind rather than “truths”. We should all develop our feminine and masculine qualities. Traditionally, in Buddhist terms the feminine is associated with wisdom and the masculine with skillful means. Depictions of tantric deities in sexual union symbolize this as a balance of these qualities. He says we should try to strike a balance of these qualities within ourselves. Yin and Yang and Mother Earth/Father Sky may be other examples of balanced gender. He notes too that gender identities change with the times. We are no longer hunter-gatherers.

“This should be a more “feminine” era – an era when women make more contributions to society. “…. these [feminine virtues] are precisely the virtues that the world needs most now.”

He notes that woman’s rights are human rights, that women face particular sufferings, and that mistreatment of women (as objects) is a serious problem in many parts of the world. Women face dangers in many places. Rape is simply unacceptable. Legislation does not seem to work. Changing habitual thinking and outlooks is needed. Karmapa also supports fully ordained nuns in Tibetan Buddhism. He warns against looking to Buddhist societies for good models of healthy gender constructs and practices – as there is yet much change needed. Gender ideals can harm men as well. He notes that he comes from an area of Tibet where men are supposed to be aggressive and hardened. There are, of course, biological differences between men and women that need to be acknowledged. He notes that in modern times the image of the body has been overly emphasized. When we associate happiness with how our body appears there can be devastating effects such as anorexia, cosmetic surgery, and excessive covering up of aging. He suggests working to find one’s value within. One’s noble aspirations can be a beautiful part of a person. Base your sense of worth on your own inner goodness, he says, and drop unrealistic expectations. Do not allow yourself to be defined by external qualities and the expectations of society. Here he notes the difficulty in fulfilling his own role as a revered spiritual teacher.

Consumerism and greed are problems that threaten to damage our society and environment. The way we relate to material goods is important. He suggests trying to cultivate contentment rather than falling into the pattern of collecting material goods. People, rather than governments, need to be the agents of change, regarding consumption. He suggests that to reduce greed in oneself in whatever little ways we can is to become a hero for the world. We should be mindful of the allure of goods and not be gullible to every advertisement. We need to see the ridiculousness of believing material goods will make us happy. He suggests a contemplation of ‘buying as connecting’ which means to contemplate the chains of interconnectedness of each part of something we buy and expressing gratitude to those who made it possible. We should also contemplate the usefulness, durability, and environmental cost of each product we buy. We should be wary of trends and of defining ourselves by imitating others. Being defined by one’s job or possessions can be problematic. In the end, he says, the greatest wealth is simply being content with what is available.

In evaluating social action Karmapa notes that we should not only identify what we would like to change but also what we would like to manifest in place of the old. He says that he does not really have anything tangible to give others since he is a Buddhist monk but he tries his best to offer sincere wishes for happiness to all those he encounters. His advice to social activists is to listen so that we can remain attentive to the well-being of others rather than simply imposing our views. Karmapa notes the simple sustenance contentment of growing up in a nomadic community in Tibet and wonders whether our modern civilized consumption society is really better off. He laments changing basic needs such as health care, nutritional food, and shelter into commodities only for people who can afford them. He says that seeing one another in terms of business tends to separate us from cultivating caring. He also touts diversity without division. Labels, stereotypes, and prejudice all tend to separate people. Groups are not homogeneous. Diversity should be welcomed and seen as valuable. He notes immigration as a test of a country’s commitment to compassion and equality. He talks quite a bit about immigration. He is an immigrant to India, having escaped from Tibet. He also notes America as a country that is in a position to lead. All Americans were at one time immigrants. Immigrants often fill the lowest rungs of labor. He points out that we should show gratitude for those who are willing to do things we are not and that we benefit from their cheap labor. We have a universal responsibility to care for others in our global society.

Environmental protection is another way to care for beings. He talks about cultivating loving emotions toward the earth. He notes that we (not they) are damaging our environment through demand for commodities. He notes that compassion is central to environmental protection. He offers a Buddhist aspiration:

May I be like the earth,
providing the air, the ground, water
and everything she provides
that is our sacred source of life.

Indigenous and traditional peoples often have a necessary respect for the environment. It is often superstitious but also admirable. Such cultures continue to disappear into modernity.

Karmapa offers an interesting section on fearlessness. Fearlessness in harming others, he says, is not true fearlessness. Even fanatics and cruel people can be fearless in harming others. He advocates fearlessness based on wise compassion, rather than on mere pity which enhances differences. Compassion, he says, is what we feel when we focus on the sufferer, rather than the suffering. Compassion may lead to courage and determination. Compassion and attachment can be confused. Attachment is rooted in self-interest while compassion is rooted in the interests of others. Attachment and greed are obstacles to compassion. He suggests a balance of compassion and intelligence in our quest to heal the earth with compassion seen like the king and intelligence his minister.

Karmapa advocates vegetarianism as an available means to practice compassion and help to heal the planet. Raising animals for meat has huge ecological and carbon footprints. He notes that it was a documentary about the meat industry that led to his giving up meat. This is what it took to move the compassion of not consuming animals from his head to his heart. He suggests that emotional stimuli are often more stable than ideas. He was surprised that his advocacy of vegetarianism, as simply a way to save lives, has had such an impact on Tibetans and the monasteries and practitioners. He offers a whole chapter on ‘Food Justice’ including vegetarianism, humane treatment of animals, and fair treatment of food workers. Changing our consumption patterns through awareness of the history of the food we buy is one method. The simple fact that people around the world suffer from starvation and malnutrition is evidence that our global food system is dysfunctional. Political situations and corruption aside, it is difficult to understand why people still starve in our world of technological wonders. Perhaps we should aspire to feed the hungry every time we eat. The benefits of giving up meat far outweigh any discomforts as can be quite logically shown:

“The reasons to be vegetarian are realistic and sensible, and based on long-term thinking. When we think seriously about the impact our food practices have on our body, on the environment, and on the animals themselves, it is clear that logic supports abstaining from meat.”

He warns against coercing people to give up meat but rather suggests sharing simple logic and easily available information as above to be the best means to encourage it. One should make one’s own choices. People like meat out of desire (for the taste) and habit. Other components of food justice are examined such as choosing organic, choosing gmo-free, choosing locally-grown, and avoiding overly processed foods. Here he suggests making a trip to the supermarket a mindfulness meditation where one contemplates and studies all one can about the origin and conditions of the food one chooses. It is our responsibility to be informed, aware, and to support or boycott with our purchasing power. Every little bit helps. Karmapa says we underestimate the value of small acts.

Conflict resolution is the next topic:

“ … it is helpful to acknowledge that conflicts are the logical outcome of the combination of self-interest and interdependence.” “[They are]… nothing to feel shocked or offended by.”

He says that conflict and harmony are both results of interdependence, the former imbued with self-interest, the latter with consideration of others. He examines the dangers of anger, particularly to the person experiencing it. Anger is disconcerting. It clouds our judgment. It is disturbing. It is toxic. It is hard to hold our center when angry. He says it is a temporary mental illness. He suggests trying to be cause-oriented rather than results-oriented by focusing on the causes that bring about conflict resolution.

“Once we recognize the connections between cause and effect, and self and others, we can learn how to direct ourselves toward causes that will bring the results we desire, and away from causes that bring the results we do not want.”

He mentions that diversity of opinions need not lead to conflict:

“We need to find ways to interact productively with people who are unable or unwilling to broaden their thinking in order to take in others’ perspectives. In such cases, it is up to us to find a healthy way to relate to their vantage point.”

Karmapa suggests that we could let go of righteousness and strive to see things from others’ perspective. The more close-minded those we encounter, the more open-minded we need to be.

“When faced with people who are inflexible in their views, that is the time for you to be at your most flexible and accommodating, and to bring all your wisdom and compassion to bear.”

We tend to cling to our anger and our problems, probably due to habit. Another source of conflict, especially for young people, is getting unwanted advice. He says we should encourage children to think and feel for themselves rather than bombard them with advice. “The best advice we give is given to ourselves, not to others.” Intervening constructively in the disputes of others may take considerable skill. The same principles may apply in global conflicts. Sincere motivation, sensitivity, and skill are needed to resolve most conflicts. He gives the example of America as mediator in many world conflicts but also notes that the influence of business and political interests may betray ulterior motives in some situations and these may be counterproductive. Regarding facing challenges, he notes the Buddhist saying (which I believe comes from Shantideva): “If you can do something to change the circumstances, why be upset about it? And if you cannot do anything to change the circumstances, why be upset about it?” After conflict resolution comes rebuilding of trust so merely coming to an agreement is just the beginning. From his own experience he warns against seeing trust as a bargain or exchange. Offering trust freely is better, he says. Trust is better based on one’s affection for the other person/party rather than contingent on their behavior. We can trust without conditions in another’s fundamental goodness, or noble heart. Trust can be akin to aspirations for the well-being of the other person or party.

In discussing spiritual paths he notes that what he is outlining in this book is a kind of humanist spirituality, but often based in the Buddhism in which he was trained. His own beginnings in Tibet were spiritual rather than religious. He sees himself as a follower of the Buddha – who used his own intelligence to discover the meaning of life - rather than as a Buddhist. I think what he means is that one’s spirituality should be rooted in one’s own experience more than in the tradition. He does say that science and religion/spirituality are both important to human needs. A simple analogy is that science is outer knowledge while spirituality is inner wisdom. Both need to be explored for a balance to develop. We can learn spiritual teachings from people, books, nature, etc. Examination (of the teacher) and mutual trust are important in learning from a teacher. He recommends keeping things simple. Doubting, especially for beginners, can be helpful. He talks of two types of doubt in Buddhist teachings: dismissive doubt which is not very useful, and inquisitive doubt, which is more receptive. Mindfulness and a flexible non-forceful sincerity can be key to happiness.

“One aspect of a spiritual life is to live consciously. For that, we need to be as fully aware as possible.”

Cultivating equanimity can be a major part of one’s practice. One aspect of this can be to remember not to take things too seriously. Skillful use of playfulness can diffuse tense situations.

We are all human. When we cling too tightly to our labels, especially our religious identities, we become alienated from those of different orientations. His analysis of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas is exemplary:

“From a certain perspective within Islam, these statues were offensive instruments of idol worship, while to Buddhists they were reminders of sacred principles and the very best of our innate human potential. Basically, we Buddhists use physical images in our spiritual practice, while Muslims worship without images. Clinging to either position was creating a wall between people. But they are just statues. Allowing ourselves to be pitted against each other over a statue – now that is really clinging to biases.”

Diversity is opportunity to practice tolerance. Ethics of various religions and ideas generally do not vary drastically enough to warrant conflict and aggression.

He says that sustainable compassion is a noble aspiration, that we should be mindful of it as much as we can. When one cannot directly benefit others one can always aspire to be able to do so in the future. A bodhisattva – one who dedicates oneself to removing the suffering of all beings – is an example, an ideal, of sustainable compassion. At first, our compassionate activity depends on our inclinations and abilities but eventually it can become more spontaneous. He suggests that caring for oneself and caring for others need not be in conflict. Inwardly directed compassion can be akin to renunciation (of attachment). This is a way of caring for ourselves. Challenging aspects of cultivating compassion include being equally concerned for victims and abusers and trying to distinguish between a person and their afflicting emotions. Enthusiasm can be a support for compassion. Developing a sense of responsibility for the happiness of others through contemplation and habits of kindness can bring about a sense of readiness. Joyfulness seems to be a result of compassionate practice as well.

All the ideas in this book, he says, are related, or interdependent: conflict resolution, the environment, food justice, consumerism and greed, healthy relationships, gender divisions, etc. Each issue affects the others.

“… the main point is to bring your noblest aspirations to all that you do.”

He says that knowledge is what one learns from others and wisdom is what one discovers from within. Keeping a light heart is recommended for dealing with the difficulties of life. A sense of humor may help with this.

Interdependence is a key theme of this book:

“Interdependence means that your happiness and mine are connected.”






Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tantric Thelema & The Invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit in the manner of the Buddhist Mahayoga Tantras

Book Review: Tantric Thelema: & The Invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit in the manner of the Buddhist Mahayoga Tantras by Sam Webster (Concrescent Press, 2010)

This is an interesting and unusual book that combines two very important world-view systems. It is a synthesis, a syncretistic mix of the philosophy and culture of Thelema and that of Vajrayana Buddhism, which is considered to be a form of Mahayana Buddhism. The author is also a scholar and practitioner of modern paganism and seems to identify as a pagan. I am rather ambivalent about the mixture as sometimes it seems brilliant and other times not so much. In any case, I think it is a good comparison and I think that both systems are very workable and useful to the world.

The cover of the book is endowed with a commissioned painting painted by Kat Lunoe and is called the All-Beneficent Ra-Hoor-Khuit. He is depicted in the Tantric Buddhist style with elements of Egyptian and Indian culture. It is a very nice painting. In the text, Ra-Hoor-Khuit is depicted as a wrathful deity in accord with his war god mode in the Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis) but the painting depicts this form of Horus in the manner of a peaceful deity, seated cross-legged with hands down. Liber AL has been described as a revelatory text but the author also sees it as following the format of a text known as a tantra and builds on this similarity to develop his model.

Webster notes in the preface that practitioners of Thelema are quite diverse in their overall worldviews and I would tend to agree. There are certainly other hybrid Thelema syncretisms – the Gnostic Voudon current, Chaos Magick variants, earlier attempts to Thelematize other groups, etc. The author is also the founder of the Open-Source Order of the Golden Dawn and calls himself a priest of Hermes. As far as his own preferences for identity I noticed he refers to pagans often as “us”, to Tibetan Buddhists as “them” and to thelemites sometimes as us and sometimes as them. He dedicates the work to his wife who passed away before it was finished. It is written as an epistle to her and contains dialogue that indicates him teaching it to her, often addressing her as “dear one”. “beloved”, or “my love”. I must admit this is a slight bit annoying at times but does not really detract from the work.

The author cites his sources for connecting these two systems. One was Stephen Beyer’s “The Cult of Tara” which is a detailed account of Tibetan ritual that is compared to Renaissance and 19th century magical systems. Another is Crowley himself who studied Buddhism quite a bit but he was not known to study the Vajrayana system. Some parallels he makes are that of deity yoga in the tantric systems and invocation of the godform in Golden Dawn and Thelema. Another is the word “law” in the Book of the Law and the dharma as law. Law in some ways connotes “worldview” or rules of behavior based on worldview. Both of these systems in my opinion have some built-in flexibility and minimal amounts of strict dogma which is strengthening as well as practical. Another interesting parallel he makes is that of Nuit, as the Mother of Space, Crowleys altered/enhanced form of the Egyptian night-sky goddess Nut, and the Buddhist notion of “void” or “emptiness” (shunyata) sometimes represented by the goddess Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom). Another interesting parallel is that of Hadit as Buddha nature, which is also referred to as one’s capacity or potential to become awakened. This Buddha nature is considered the basis of the tantric system in Buddhism – although not for so-called Hindu tantra. Ra-Hoor-Khuit then becomes the Yidam deity, or the deity one works with in frequent practice in order to awaken. He sees this relationship in the Book of the Law in the following:

Nu is my refuge
as Hadit my light
and Ra-Hoor-Khu
is the strength, force,
vigor of my arms

Here the refuge is emptiness, the light is that of possibility, and the force is that of the willed work.

Webster laments the pagan traditions generally not invoking lofty intentions such as the Mahayana aspiration to benefit all beings. The goal of Buddhism is seen as enlightenment and while the classical pagan traditions may have such aspirations they are not emphasized. The Vajrayana is a special case where the so-called delusions like desire and anger are applied in the quest for enlightenment. Modern paganism seems to resonate with such methods to a certain extent. He compares the pagan movement to the tantric movement in India as depicted by Miranda Shaw in Passionate Enlightenment, where there was a strong female element.

The author introduces the traditional Buddhist practices of ‘going for refuge’ and ‘dedicating merit’. Going for refuge is simply acknowledging one’s generally deluded state and asking for help, initially from the legendary enlightened beings and current ‘masters’, secondly, from the ‘Ground of Being’, the metaphorical source from which all things arise, and thirdly, from our own enlightened nature that is temporarily obscured. Magickally he gives the refuge practice by reciting three Ahs, one each for ‘asking for help’, ‘receiving help’, and ‘sharing help.’ He also gives Aleister Crowley’s Buddhist refuge blurb from Chapter XII form his “Science and Buddhism” which gives the traditional refuges as Buddha (one who found the Way), Dhamma (the Law that shows the Way), and Sangha (those who have gone before along the Way). Taking refuge is traditionally done as the beginning of any practice.

At the end of any practice there is dedication and distribution of merit accrued from the practice. This is a way of sharing any benefits with others and developing a habit of doing so. Actively working to decrease one’s delusions is considered to generate merit that is transferable. This is a feature of the Mahayana and likely derives from earlier traditions of Indian and Vedic asceticism, though it is not the same.

He introduces another practice, indeed the key to Mahayana, which is the cultivation of the ‘mind of enlightenment’ called bodhicitta. This has also been referred to as the altruistic aspiration. The three features: refuge, bodhicitta, and dedication of merit, have been called Good at the Beginning, Good in the Middle, and Good at the End. He mentions a form of bodhicitta practiced in the Dzogchen tradition that emphasizes the already enlightened nature of all beings and the inherent purity of all things. He sees this form as suitable for pagans but does not explain why. I don’t think I agree as Dzogchen is said to be suitable for exemplary types who have previously removed much delusion and merely one’s magico-religious leanings do not dispose one to be exemplary in this way.

Tantric practice often involves specific visualization and supposition or contrivance of a pure universe composed of deific forces. Thus, one’s teacher is seen as the Buddha, or at least as the official representation of Buddha Nature. Ultimately, the guru is our own Buddha Nature, which can be compared favorably to the Holy Guardian Angel, Daemon, or Bornless One, in the Western Esoteric Systems. In Tantric ritual there is initially the ‘empowerment’, or initiation, where power is officially magically transferred from guru and enlightened beings to the practitioner(s). In this practice, Hadit, represented by the Winged Globe, is seen as Buddha Nature, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit is seen as the deity figure to be practiced in the ensuing deity yoga, so empowerment comes from these two ‘forms’.

Next he examines the Two Accumulations of the Mahayana path: Merit, or good karma, and Wisdom, which is said to be non-conceptual understanding of emptiness. He describes these as ‘powers’.  He also goes through the “Four Immeasurables”: cultivating for all beings sincere wishes for happiness, freedom from suffering, joy, and equanimity. Again he ties these to the syllable “Ah” for ritual purposes.

He again discusses the concept of ground/pleroma/void/vacuum in terms of philosophy, religion, and science. This is equated with Prajnaparamita as the Goddess of Wisdom and the Mother of Buddhas. He also equates it with Nuit as Goddess of Infinite Space. He also notes Buddhist scholar Herbert Guenther describing shunyata (emptiness) as “an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” as well as a similar quotes from St. Bonaventure (1221-74) and Blaise Pascal (1670). Nuit is described in Liber AL in the same manner, her center being Hadit. I should also note that there is a paradoxical concept in astrophysics described in a similar way – that every place is effectively the center of the universe. He also describes the Dzogchen notion of self-liberation of all encountered phenomena but his explanation is not easy to follow.

As seed syllables for the chakras (a visualization practice in tantra) Webster offers AL, NU, RE (ray), HAD, and Ah. This is a practice in empowerment as well as subsequent deity yoga. He explains deity yoga as parallel with godform invocation in the Western magick sense – though I think there can be significant differences. He seems to see both in more the Western esoteric sense of deity being entity. Devotion to deity is practiced in Buddhist Tantra but it is the qualities of the deity that one is devoted to rather than the deity itself. The theistic situation is feigned in a sense but the subsequent devotion is said to create a resonance that affects the practitioner. There are other reasons for the format as well having to do with karma, form, and rebirth, but this is not discussed. In terms of deity, I think the Buddhist Tantric approach and the Western esoteric approach have significant differences and I think he approaches it from a predominantly Western esoteric orientation. But I also think this is fine as long as one does not become too theistic with it. Deity yoga in Buddhist Tantra is a technique rather than union with a deity being a goal in itself. The same may or may not be true with mages and pagans as there is much diversity in their degrees of theism. He compares the stages of deity yoga with some methods given in the Corpus Hermeticum. He gives several steps and half-steps such as ‘generation in front’, ‘arising as’, and ‘fulfillment’ but most tantric texts refer to the two stages: generation and completion, the developing and perfecting stages. One is generation as the deity. The other is the dissolution of the deity into emptiness. Much of the rest of the book is a description of this “rite” of deity yoga of Ra-Hoor-Khuit. There are interesting parts of it with Thelemic phrases and symbols and Tantric methods intertwining. The syllables appear as symbols: HAD – white winged globe; RE – red solar disk; NU – blue Nu pot (an Egyptian hieroglyph); and AL – a golden Aleph-Lamed (here the two Hebrew Letters entwined representing AL – a key of the Book of the Law proclaimed by Frater Achad).

He goes into considerable detail with the method and stages. Much of this seems rather lengthy to me. I realize some Tantric rituals are lengthy but there are concise ones as well and much of tantric practice can involve repeating one’s rite several times a day so that a concise one is better in that sense. Another aspect is the repeating of a mantra during the context of the ritual. He uses an interesting method here called “calling the khu” from the Golden Dawn which refers to the Egyptian idea of the hawk as representing the essence of the deity. The khu, or akh, is called with the chant composed by Crowley from an interpretation of the Stele of Revealing. It is called the Aka Dua chant and is a standard thelemic mantra:

Aka dua / tuf ur biu / bi ache fu / dudu nur af / an nuteru

He gives some interesting information about a magick word of the Aeon of Horus; Abrahadabra. He calls it the Word of Manifestation or Action and equates the eleven letters with the descending lightning bolt path down through the Sephira of the Tree of Life. He notes two different pronunciations: the seven-fold – A-ba-ra-ha-da-ba-ra, which can correspond to the planetary forces, and the five-fold – Ab-ra-had-ab-ra, which can correspond to the elemental forces. Abrahadabra is also given as a mantra to be recited/repeated during the main rite.

In the rite, he exchanges the adoration of the Five Buddha Families for the four faces of the sun of Egyptian lore. To this he adds Heru-Ra-Ha to make five. Curiously, he does not use the same configuration as Liber Resh vel Helios or the Golden Dawn system, but notes that Kephra was associated with dawn rather than midnight, Ra with noon, Atum with sunset (as in Liber Resh), and Het-Hoor with midnight - in ancient Egypt.

He goes through a few different invocations of Horus, from Crowley and Rose, and one adapted form Crowley’s works. He also gives descriptions for Ra-Hoor-Khuit of “Vivid Appearance” and “Recollection of Purity” – which are methods of describing the deity and the deity’s qualities that are common to Vajrayana deity yoga sadhanas. 

Dissolution of the deity is done in the traditional manner with first dissolving into seed syllable, in this case the AL. Then one re-arises as oneself but also as the deity, in the “Body of Innate Union”. At this point he suggests some fitting words from Liber AL. As a closing he gives a Thelemic blessing as well as the traditional Buddhist dedication of merit.

Next, he goes through the tantric format of “arising as the deity”. He distinguishes this from “generation in front” where the deity is visualized in front of one. Often in tantric practice these stages are concurrent. Though he does not mention this – the external deity is called the wisdom being (jnanasattva) and the internal deity (sometimes arising as) is called the commitment being (samayasattva). Later he does suggest the wisdom being as being the “khu”. Here again, in place of the five Buddha families empowering one with light from the visualization, he utilizes the Egyptian solar gods of the course of the sun. The fitting recitation for this is the adoration in Liber AL beginning with “Appear on the throne of Ra…”. The Egyptian subtle body components, ie. khu, ka, khabs, would seem to be conducive to providing light for visualization. As Ra-Hoor-Khu  there is also khu in the name. As before in this stage, there is mantra and finally the dissolution of the deity.

The fulfillment phase of mahayoga tantra is said to occur after one has mastered and memorized the rites and completed vast amounts of mantra. In typical sadhanas, this would occur after on has dissolved the deity and rests in the meditative equipoise of emptiness. He does not talk too much about it as it is said to require significant meditative ability. There are also various yogic practices involving winds, drops, and channels, that are undertaken. He notes that one may use the chakras or the sephira of Qabala as points of the inner body. Incidentally, he notes that the original source of Qabala is likely to be Mesopotamia.

The section on initiation/empowerment involves the creation of an initiation ritual as an introduction to the practice of the deity yoga. He makes an interesting comparison or correspondence between the four bodies of Buddha and the four worlds of Qabala – perhaps a bit far-reaching trying to parallel everything. I think the better comparison is to the four realms that each Buddha-body manifests within rather than the bodies, or kayas themselves. Empowerments, as is this one, are often similar to the deity yoga practice in many ways but also have differences. Consecration of implements and transfer of so-called “blessing-energy” – usually from a long-practiced lineage of meditators, is passed on. In the case of this empowerment there is no such lineage and one must rely on sincere desire to tap the potential energy of the deity-form and what it represents, in this case the Lord of Will and Action. He suggests that at some point people will have done this and be able to pass on the energy. The initiation given is rather lengthy but he does mention much flexibility in composing such a rite. My own preference would be for something far simpler and quicker as too much ceremony is not often practical for me.

Next, he gives a possible “yab-yum” rite, where a couple ceremonially engages in sexual tantra. Here, he also reiterates that Ra-Hoor-Khuit, may be experienced in a male form – Ra-Hoor-Khuit, or a female form, Ra-Hoor-Khut. A female would appear as Ra-Hoor-Khut, the daughter of Nuit. So here the couple unites as invoked godforms. I should note that in Buddhist tantra the idea is that since everyone has the potential to become awakened, to rediscover their original awakened nature, then it is permissible to be deific through sustained mindful aspiration that one is the actual deity, the actual awakened one in the pure land. This capacity to be awakened, the Buddha Nature, is the basis of the whole tantric system according to Buddhist lore. It is part aspiration and part knowingly contrived.

Next he offers a Thelemic Ganachakra. A ganachakra is a feast gathering of a group of tantric initiates. In the lore, the group would get together, sing realization songs, and ritually feast, which might also include the usual tantric social taboos, meat, alcohol/drugs, and sex. He divides this into Source and Armature. The Source is a basic outline of the rite and its nature. In this thelema case, it is women invoking Ra-Hoor-Khut as the Scarlet Woman and the men invoking Ra-Hoor-Khuit as the Beast. The Armature is a rite in the form of a mass with a eucharist. Here the celebrants make up the deities of a mandala. Eucharistic tantric feasts are fairly common among both Buddhists and Hindus and maybe Jains as well. The substances to be imbibed are consecrated. The fluids of sexual union are such a substance, whether real, or symbolic as is now mostly the case. Here there are clear parallels to Crowley’s Gnostic Mass. Aeon 131 has written an interesting comparison of the Gnostic Mass to a Hindu Tantric Puja.

The last chapter is a Thelemic Powa. Powa is a yogic method of transferring consciousness out through the top of one’s head. It is predominantly a death practice but is also used in offering practices such as Chod. The rite is usually meant to propel one through the syllable ‘hri’ to the pure land of Buddha Amitabha where one can most easily attain enlightenment but here it is associated with the syllables HAD, RE, and NU (in a different configuration than the previous rite). Webster notes that he was asked to compose this rite for his own healing from depression. He also incorporates the first verses from Crowley’s “Book of the Heart Girt with a Serpent.” This is some profound symbolic poetry that offers some fascinating syncretistic analysis of the awakening/dying/rebirthing/initiation/transmutation process. Kundalini, the slain and risen Osiris, the sprouting of seed, the blossoming of a flower, the change from form to formlessness, and encountering the great depths of time and the unknown, are all involved. Webster offers some interesting commentary on these 20 lines. Powa, like kundalini, is the fostering of an upward force. In terms of the internal “pranas” I have read or heard one time that the force involved is similar to the fierce and uncontrollable upward force of vomiting

The full rite for the mahayoga invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit is given in an appendix. This is followed by a bibliography.

Overall, this is an interesting book, breeching unusual territory in the comparative and syncretistic sense. Sometimes he seems to hit the mark and at other times off so I seem to be rather ambivalent about its overall practicality. Perhaps if a concise form was developed I would find it more practical. With so many methods, doctrines, and styles it can be said that we live in an age of synthesis or fusion. Even so, I think such fusion can backfire at times. He does a fair job of presenting Buddhist tantra as a subdivision of Mahayana but doing something in a tantric style with a few references to Mahayana ideals may not root the practice in the Mahayana. So the question would be: Is it a Vajrayana (Buddhist Mahayana Tantric) practice or is it a Thelemic practice in the Vajrayana style? Either way is fine I would guess but I think maybe it might be better to work that out ahead of time. In any case, I think that the exquisite view of the Mahayana, the subtly powerful technology of tantra, and the magickal emphasis on love and will in Thelema – are all three powerful systems of theory and practice that can be allied in various ways.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity   by James Hansen (Kindle Ed. Dec. 2010)

Hansen is a brilliant scientist. His conviction in the dire power of climate change is very strong and he has been called an alarmist, as the title of the book suggests. Nevertheless, he presents a very good case with great detail and scientific rigor. This is definitely the most detailed book on climate change that I have found, by a scientist who has devoted his work to the study of climate. I do not agree with everything he suggests, particularly some of his policy recommendations, but his ideas are sound and should be considered.

I have recently read that he retired from his long career at NASA and is planning the life of an activist-of-sorts, providing scientific testimony for litigation, and opposing the dirtiest and most disruptive of fossil fuel extraction techniques, such as mountaintop removal for coal and tar sands oil extraction.

Hansen gives rather detailed accounts of his meetings with government officials at very high levels, mainly the White House and Congressional Climate policy groups – from the 2nd Bush administration on. He also talks about meetings with scientific groups and his foray into giving public talks focusing on the immediate dangers of climate change.

He notes throughout the book the influence of “special interests” – mainly fossil fuel lobbies, and government “greenwashing” – ie. making “business-as-usual sound as green as can be. These, he says, lead to a public that is not well informed. In my opinion, the two most important qualities a citizen should develop in regard to these issues are to be well informed and not overly biased in view. To become well-informed means to look at the issues from multiple perspectives. To be generally unbiased is to seriously consider the benefits of each perspective. Hansen has a lot of supporting data for his view. He does admit that there are still some uncertainties. His view, along with that of his friend Bill McKibben (author and founder), could be considered the most alarmist of the plausible viewpoints on climate change. Even so, he may well be correct. 350 is the number in parts per million that Hansen thinks we need to return to in order to keep the negative feed-backing mechanisms from getting out of control. Less than a decade ago he had considered 450 to be more of a tipping point (more in line with IPCC numbers) but recent data such as the increase in summer and overall melting of the Greenland ice sheets and knowledge of the slowness of the ocean to warm up (which means more effects of past greenhouse gas increases have yet to be seen) have led him to revise down to 350. The latest measure is around 395 ppm so we are well past 350 and still climbing worldwide.

Hansen suggests a kind of “disconnect” between scientists, most of which are seriously concerned with global warming and its potential impacts based on their own data, and politicians, especially in light of the special interests which inform them. He thinks the public is not getting a clear picture of the urgency of the situation. I think one problem is that humans are not habituated to projecting so far into the future at long-term goals, even if necessary, especially in such a situation where many sacrifices will need to be made.

One of he and Bill McKibben’s conclusions is that most or all fossil fuels need to be left in the ground – the sooner the better. Unfortunately, there is no clear alternative here that could pick up the slack in any reasonable manner anytime soon. Hansen suggests that so-called next-generation nuclear power as a viable alternative but many people and scientists would very strongly disagree. Curiously, in their policy suggestions there is little grading of fossil fuels in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing coal-burning power plants with natural gas has already resulted in significant reductions in the U.S. with the capacity for much more. China is the fastest growing greenhouse gas emitter and has been building coal-burning power plants en masse. So too has Europe since nuclear power plants have been retired in the wake of the Fukishima Daiko disaster – which happened a few months after this book was published. China has many natural gas resources which could take the place of coal at half the emissions. Instead of suggesting things such as this in the short-term, he tends to lump all fossil fuels together – citing recent thoroughly debunked studies linking shale gas extraction through “fracking” with contaminated water and excessive methane leakage. He does think getting to 350 is possible but not with special interests and greenwashing in the way. The first thing to do, he says, is to phase out coal emissions, either through not burning them or capturing the carbon – capturing the carbon would make burning coal much more expensive. It should also be noted that capturing ghg emissions from a natural gas power plant would cheaper and faster than doing so for coal – so practically speaking – he means phasing out the burning of coal. Coal has double the ghg emissions as gas and way more pollutants and particulates.

Hansen gives the definition of ‘climate forcing’ as “an imposed perturbation on the planet’s energy balance that tends to alter global temperature.” This is measured in watts per square meter. An example would be a brighter sun increases temp or as we now know more CO2 in the atmosphere increases temp. This warming can increase droughts and forest fires. A warmer atmosphere also means more moisture in the atmosphere which can lead to stronger storms and flooding events.

“How much climate responds to a specified forcing – specifically, how much global temperature will change – is called “climate sensitivity.”

He gives an excellent graph of comparisons of the magnitudes of known climate forcings given in positive or negative watts per meter squared from a zero point. A few examples of negative forcings (those that decrease temp) are aerosol effects which can be droplets due to particulate pollution, volcanic eruptions, or cloud changes. Land cover can also be a negative forcing. Many of the positive forcings are partially man-made: CO2, N2O, CFCs, methane, black carbon aerosols (ie. soot), other man-made gases, volcanic eruptions, the sun’s radiation, and ozone.

The global warming situation became dire for Hansen in the late 1980’s. He also felt that politicians muted his warnings and gave them too much uncertainty. He met Al Gore in 1989 and found someone willing to listen and we know Gore’s influence on the subject. After that Hansen went back to science until meeting with Dick Cheney and others around 2001. 

Hansen gives an account of his early career where he studied the atmosphere of Venus, where, strangely enough, early atmospheric compositional changes led by CO2 feedbacked out of control to render the atmosphere poisonous to life even though it was too hot for life as we know it anyway.

He gives an account of his meetings with the Bush-Cheney administration’s Climate Task Force. Here he gives the details of what he reported to the group. One thing I find interesting and compelling about Hansen’s data and presentation is that he gives the various climate forcings and their uncertainties, but he confines the various uncertainties into ranges to show the extent of their effects. While other researchers have sought to point out the uncertainties as a reason to delay action, Hansen shows that most of the uncertainties fall within a definable range that also suggest a range of total climate sensitivity. The biggest uncertainty is probably aerosols, particularly those associated with clouds – as some scientists point out as proof of uncertainty of the models, but more will be revealed about these effects as time goes on and as more data is gathered and interpreted. This effect is also sometimes called “global dimming”.  He does point out that CO2 is the largest single climate forcing known thus far and anthropogenic CO2 has significantly added to that.

In his next meeting before that Climate Task Force he was invited along with climate change contrarian Richard Lindzen, a Harvard and MIT scientist that has been described by many as a formidable opponent. Lindzen thinks climate sensitivity is much less due to the effects of clouds and that temperature rise over the coming decades will be much less. I hope he is right but I suspect he is not. Most climate scientists disagree with his “iris theory’ and some think he tends to tell other contrarians what they want to hear. He and a few others think that scientists in general have been coerced by politics into accepting the more alarmist climate change predictions. Hansen questions his approach to the scientific method. Lindzen is probably quite convenient for politicians seeking to debunk prevailing climate science. Hansen debated Lindzen in 1998 and provides some points from the debate in an appendix. He makes some important criticisms of Lindzen’s data, motives, and tendency toward contrarianism.

Hansen details his presentations to the Bush administration and how they were handled. He noted one his papers where he emphasized other greenhouse gases such as methane, CFCs, black soot, and smog-creating compounds, which combined are nearly as dangerous as CO2. Apparently, the White House science folk used this to de-emphasize the importance of CO2 as a greenhouse gas as some environmentalists warned. This was the time when the US actively opposed the Kyoto Protocol and Hansen does note problems with the protocol so he seems understanding of that hesitation. He goes into some detail of these politics referring to some books about them: Censoring Science and It’s My Party Too.

Climate sensitivity and paleoclimate, he says, are two things everyone should endeavor to understand. He notes that in natural climate oscillations temperature change precedes CO2 change. Most scientists agree and that is actually bad news since as temps continue to rise, according to the models, more CO2 will be released due to warmer oceans and partly their subsequent decreased solubility. He seems immeasurably confident that another ice age is not possible as long as we are around to force climate:

“ – even though we hear geoscientists talk as if ice ages will occur again, it won’t happen – unless humans go extinct. Forces instigating ice ages, as we shall see, are so small and slow that a single chlorofluorocarbon factory would be more than sufficient to overcome any natural tendency toward an ice age. Ice sheets will not descend over North America and Europe again as long as we are around to stop them.”

While he may well be correct, that is a pretty damn bold statement that assumes no hidden variables or uncertainties, considering the fact that around 90% of the last 400,000 years have been ice age conditions. One can only hope that if we can stave off an ice age so easily that we can also stave off a global warming catastrophe with some sort of climate engineering, but thus far, an answer has not emerged.

Close examination of ice core data shows that it takes several centuries before CO2 levels rise as a result of temperature rises and this is thought to be due to the slowness of ocean circulation in heating up the oceans. He refers to this as global warming “in the pipeline.” Sea level rise is also a clear result of CO2 and temperature rises in the paleoclimate record.

Forcings cause climate change and feedbacks determine the magnitude of climate changes. Feedbacks may amplify or diminish temperature. Ice, water (oceans), and water vapor are the three biggest feedbacks – water vapor, a greenhouse gas, being the largest. Less certain feedbacks are clouds, dust, and other aerosols such as dimethyl sulfur (emitted by algae). Feedbacks have different speeds – water vapor reacts quickly to temperature while ice sheets respond more slowly (decades/centuries?).

One of Hansen’s key points is that climate models, though useful, will always have uncertainties (which can also be exploited by contrarians). He points out that the paleoclimate record strongly suggests climate sensitivity based on different speeds of feedbacks. He mentions Jule Charney’s fast-feedback sensitivity. Charney determined that climate sensitivity in a non-feedback earth in energy balance was 0.3 deg Celsius for each watt of forcing – this is based on Planck’s Law, where radiation of energy by a body is a function of temperature. Charney determined that doubling CO2 with all other variables constant would reduce Earth’s heat radiation to space by 4 watts due to the trapping of heat in the greenhouse effect. This would raise temp by 1.5-4.5 deg Celsius. (Earth in energy balance would change it 4 x 0.3 deg Celsius or 1.2 deg Celsius [from Planck’s law]). Hansen notes that slow feedbacks are recently being seen as faster than previously thought which is one reason for his urgency. Times of sea level stability indicate an Earth in energy balance. Hansen finds example from the paleclimate record that indicate a climate forcing of 4 watts would raise temps about 3 deg Celsius – just in the mid-range Charney predicted. So based on these examples he sees climate sensitivity as 3 deg Celsius for doubling CO2 (4 watts forcing) or 0.75 deg per watt of climate forcing.

“… restoring Earth’s energy balance is the fundamental requirement for stabilizing our climate.”

The key driver for climate sensitivity changes is solar insolation. This is caused by two effects. The first is cyclical changes in the tilt of the Earth’s axis over a 41,000 year period where it goes from 22.1 deg to 24.5 deg. This slight axial wobble is due to gravitational effects from the other planets, especially Jupiter and Saturn. The second insolation effect has to do with the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit which varies by about 6%. This effect is more complicated. Both of these effects currently suggest an impending ice age but Hansen notes that just the opposite is happening – ice is melting – and this is because human activities have taken over climate forcing. By this logic, the burning of fossil fuels has staved off the impending ice age but now the problem is a runaway greenhouse effect.

Hansen talks about problems among scientists with confronting orthodoxy or contradicting authority. An example is a question asked to him – if we don’t know the total effects of aerosols why are we not studying them? Thermal and terrestrial radiation can be measured by an instrument called IRIS (Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer). Small particles – aerosols or cloud droplets scatter the light emitted by the sun and polarize it. This effect can be measured and gives much information about the particles’ size, shape, and index of refraction. Instruments can also determine aerosol composition. Another instrument called a polarimeter measures this reflected sunlight. Hansen failed to get these instruments on a satellite to measure long-term climate change effects of aerosols and how they change through time. He credits his own lack of tact for this failure to get the importance through the “reticence” of the scientists and politicians planning the satellite. He talks much about this “scientific reticence” and suggests that the importance of objective skepticism and caution in science may be working against us in this case:

“… a preference for immediate, over delayed, rewards may contribute to irrational reticence even among rational scientists.”

Along with climate feedbacks there is also climate inertia, which refers to slower feedbacks. Ocean surface temp heats up in response to greenhouse gases in a few decades but the full heating of the ocean will take several centuries. Ice sheets are slow to heat up and begin melting but once they do, they can accelerate. Ice sheet collapse and sea level rise of tens of feet is likely, says Hansen, if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates. Paleoclimate evidence shows that sea level rose over 3ft every 20-25 years about 14,000 years ago when the ice sheets were melting strongly. This continued for several centuries. Hansen notes that amplifying feedbacks often occur on shorter time scales than diminishing feedbacks so in a sense the accelerator is in a hurry and the braking is slow. This is one reason why Hansen sees more urgency than the IPCC. Melting ice and shifting of climatic zones is occurring more rapidly than anticipated. Hansen thinks IPCC data does not take into account the acceleration of ice sheet disintegration. Hansen notes that about 90% of Earth’s energy imbalance ends up in the ocean some of which later goes to help melt ice sheets. IPCC models predict that global warming causes increased winter snowfall which offsets melting but Hansen says the warming ocean is not taken into account. Hansen claims that ice sheet melting dynamics, including, ice streams, increased ice bergs, and other processes, were not factored into IPCC models. Human-made black soot aerosols (some possibly from Western U.S. forest fires as well so I hear) deposited by weather on the Greenland Ice Sheet – causing heat absorption due to their color were also not factored in. These are definite amplifying feedbacks. The paleoclimate graphs show change from glacial to inter-glacial conditions proceeding faster than the reverse which strongly suggests the influence of amplifying feedbacks on ice sheet disintegration.

Regarding net climate forcing, it should be noted that Hansen thinks aerosols offset global warming by about one third. Particulate pollution is a main source of aerosols so if some of that is cleaned up as is needed for health, the corresponding offsetting effect will go away leading to another slight increase in warming. But there is significant uncertainty in the overall cooling effect of aerosols. Whatever the overall effect, it could still be more global warming “in the pipeline”.

Since most of Earth’s energy imbalance ends up in the ocean, Hansen argues, the most important measurements are those of ocean temperature. There are issues with instrumentation bias in recording and resolving ocean temps which are different at different depths and where warm and cool waters mix so it may not be easy to get beyond a certain margin of error. He notes that Earth’s energy imbalance can only be pinpointed somewhere between 0.25 and 0.75 watts. His own models came to 0.75 watt and he thinks that increased aerosols may have skewed his own modeling since he assumed a stable aerosol model. Current increases in coal pollution in China would suggest that he is right since they have far less pollution control than those in the US. In light of this, he suggests that the energy imbalance of Earth may be about 0.5 watts per square meter.

Solar irradiance is another significant climate forcing and has been precisely monitored since the 1970’s. Apparently there are some uncertainties in solar variability and solar cycles but Hansen explains them and confines the forcing effects in a range from 0.2 to 0.4 watts – significantly less than anthropogenic CO2. He has done much work with comparing efficacies of various climate forcings and again he comes to the conclusion that human-made climate forcing far outweighs natural climate forcing. Humans alter the carbon cycle in two ways” burning of fossil fuels and deforestation – both of which have been increasing for some time. Coal use in China has increased the rate quickly after it slowed for a few decades. CO2 emission data from fossil fuel burning are probably accurate to within 10%, he says. If this is compared to measured CO2 in the atmosphere, one can calculate the change in carbon uptake by carbon sinks such as forested land masses.

Hansen next gets into the quagmire of policy – though he would have preferred to stay a scientist and has thought much of this decision even if warned against it by scientists, politicians, and special interests. He does think it is possible to stave off catastrophic global warming if we can stabilize CO2 emissions by the first quarter of this century and then begin dropping them. This would require implementation of energy infrastructure changes within the decade. Hansen mentions author and environmentalist Bill McKibben bugging him for a target number for CO2 emissions. He was thinking of calling it While IPCC climate models predict this would be fine, Hansen gives a good argument that the target should be much lower – ie. 350 parts per million. His main concern is that ice sheets will disintegrate much faster than previously thought due to feedbacks.

Climatic zones are shifting northward as are plant and animal species – due to temperature rise. These species migrations have the potential to upset delicately balanced ecosystems. Rates have been suggested at 35 miles per decade southward. Hansen points out that the 5 mass extinctions known have all been associated with changes in atmospheric composition and climate. The event at the end of the Permian is thought to have exterminated 90% of all terrestrial and marine species. Volcanoes likely initiated this event, with noxious gases, and finally global warming finishing it off. The global warming may have been precipitated by release of methane hydrates, from frozen arctic tundra and ocean continental shelves. This would further amplify global warming and is a potential problem now with loss of tundra and ice sheets. He goes through the other mass extinctions: the end of the Cretaceous (the one that wiped out the dinosaurs) and especially the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) which occurred 55 million years ago. This one is considered minor, with half of deep marine foraminifera species expiring but few terrestrial species, but there were vast species migrations poleward and big changes in body sizes of species. PETM warming is thought to be about the same as may occur next century but it occurred over several millennia as opposed to a few centuries.

Next he goes into ocean floor cores and how they give very good data for temperature conditions far beyond the times of ice cores as the age of the ice is limited. Oxygen isotope ratios in foraminifera yield this data. He goes into great detail about the implications of this data, showing for one that the sun is not that big of a climate forcing – due to earth cooling consistently over millions of years while the sun’s energy was increasing. The cooling trend in the Cenozoic was initiated by India colliding into Asia and building up the Himalaya mountains. This caused massive new rock to be exposed to weathering which acts as a carbon sink, thus decreasing CO2 and then temperature. He uses all this data to show that a CO2 level of 450 ppm would be exceedingly dangerous, lead to unstoppable ice sheet collapse, and sea level rise as much as 250 ft – though time scales are not known. He demonstrates that this natural climate forcing of India colliding with Asia was about 10,000 times less powerful than that of anthropogenic CO2. Oxygen isotopes in the sea cores indicate that a massive increase in light carbon (about 3000 gigatons) occurred in 2 bursts, each less than 1000 years in duration. The likely source was methane hydrates. The question is whether the release of these hydrates had an external trigger or was the result of a climate feedback. Other PETM-like events show similar light carbon releases thought to be methane hydrates and it is strongly suggested that climate feedback is the mechanism. Most of these methane hydrates likely came from the continental shelves due to temp increase and this is what could occur with current global warming. The cooling since the Cenozoic has loaded up methane hydrates in ice. They can release quickly though it takes many millennia fro them to reload. An interesting and sobering observation is that the natural recovery time from the excess carbon in the air and ocean from the PETM event was about 100,000 years. Carbon cycle models predict a similar recovery time. In comparing other greenhouse gases to CO2, he notes that it is CO2 that is the main ingredient, and mitigating other gases instead of CO2 would only help minimally in the short term. For instance, methane is a potent greenhouse gas for about a decade but then will oxidize to CO2 (not sure of volume comparisons here) and continue to warm things.

Hansen gives five reasons why atmospheric CO2 needs to get down to 350 ppm: 1) arctic sea ice has been melting faster than the models predicted; 2) mountain glaciers are disappearing all over the world; 3) the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are losing vast amounts of mass each year and sea level is rising 3cm per decade. This suggests that current atmospheric CO2 is too high; 4) subtropical regions have expanded poleward by 4 deg latitude on avg. This too has been faster than predicted by the models. Expanded dry regions and greater fire frequency is another result; 5) Coral reefs are highly stressed, being affected by ocean acidification and increased temps due to increased CO2. Hansen sees a big gap between public perception of the climate situation and the scientific reality. He suggests that contrarians are given a big voice by the media, since the media likes to provide two sides to a story. He also suggests that contrarians are media savvy and aided by politicians and special interests.

Hansen thinks that with a phase-out of coal emissions we could peak at 425 ppm CO2 before mid-century and fall to 350 by the end of the century. Unfortunately, this is not happening around the world. The U.S. has retired many of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants with plans to close more. This has been due as much to low natural gas prices as to pollution abatement. Germany is building coal-burning power plants to make up for phasing out nuclear power. He gives some info on carbon capture and storage (CCS) also known as carbon sequestration. This certainly has potential to mitigate carbon emissions but it is expensive and there are geological constraints to the effectiveness of storage reservoirs. Hansen also criticizes the carbon offsets touted by the Kyoto protocol as being ineffective at reducing emissions as well as the Kyoto targets as being largely ignored. He says the Kyoto protocol has basically been a failure.

One issue that I disagree with is where Hansen (as well as the IPCC I think) says that only conventional oil and gas reserves should be developed, with unconventional reserves left in the ground. While I can agree that tar sands should be left alone, unconventional shale gas and oil can be extracted more efficiently and inexpensively than much of the conventional reserves and can be a boon to moving away from coal in the short-term. He notes that if coal emissions are stabilized and then dropped out, we may even be able to get to 350 ppm by mid century. This is one way to help get there. Greater efficiency, more renewables, less usage, and possibly an energy consumption tax, would also help. He notes the California system where the utility companies make more money by encouraging efficiency rather than by selling power. This may be a good model for the future where people are rewarded for saving energy rather than the utilities trying to sell as much power as they can.

China and India are taking over from the US as the highest emitters. Both rely predominantly on coal for electricity. Wind and solar are not yet up to the task, he acknowledges. And this is likely to be the case for quite some time.

Next he goes in detail through the possible benefits of developing “fast-breeder” nuclear reactors for carbon free energy. These would utilize most of the uranium, using less of it, and would produce less waste than current nuclear power. However, it is unclear whether the technology is even feasible. He suggests that nuclear power is much safer than the public perceives it to be though many would disagree. He references a 2008 book by Tom Brees called Prescription for a Small Planet in support of nuclear power. He does suggest that these 3rd-generation nuclear power plants are ready to go now. He suggests that 4th generation nuclear plants could deal with the waste from 3rd generation nuclear plants. I have read other things that contradict this so I am not sure of the feasibility and the safety would be questioned. He tries to explain that it is much safer than coal, as pollution from coal may be directly responsible for hundreds of thousands or even millions of premature deaths per year. Hansen thinks we should at least develop a demo plant of 4th generation nuclear power – one that does not require much uranium and can use it efficiently. He strongly criticizes the anti-nukes movement. Without fossil fuels, baseload power capacity would have to be made by renewables (not feasible) or nuclear. He suggests baseload as a tossup between coal and nuclear but again does not mention natural gas which has the ability to replace coal now. There are even very recent applications that combine solar with natural gas power plants.

Hansen’s plan for a global phaseout of fossil fuel emissions involves a price on carbon, a tax at the mine, the wellhead, or port of entry. His idea is that of a tax and dividend structure. The dividend is meant to encourage saving energy and to stem rampant consumerism. Improved efficiency assurances and standards would increase due to further cost incentives. Fuel efficiency standards, appliance efficiency standards, and building efficiency standards will all be necessary. He does point out the limitations of “cap-and-trade” vs. “fee-and-dividend”. He also notes the obvious, that a rising carbon price would make efficiency measures work better. He does make a good argument for the overall failure of the cap-and-trade approach. One problem with the carbon tax approach is that it would be best if different countries, ie. the biggest polluters, agree on a price. Otherwise, this ends up giving an economic disadvantage to those that adopt it vs. those that don’t. This is problematic also in terms of per capita pollution as well as historical pollution, in which the U.S has been the leader. The key, he says, to first implementation of a carbon tax is for the US and China to come to agreement about their fair “shares” of a tax. India and other countries should also follow and those that do not do enough may end up subject to export fees and such sanctions. This valuation and agreement between countries would likely be no easy task but is probably feasible in some way. He does note that both China and India have reason to be worried about global warming, especially sea level rise, since both countries have hundreds of millions of people living on vulnerable coasts.  

He does touch on population as a significant factor in energy demand and also notes the strong correlation between decreased fertility rates and education and women’s rights. Indeed, promotion and enforcement of women’s rights around the world may do quite a lot to reduce population growth.

Next, he examines the “Venus Syndrome” which is thought to be the runaway greenhouse effect that made a once water-rich Venus too hot. He suggests this could happen on Earth with an imbalance of 10-20 watts per square meter. He also examines the scenario of a “snowball Earth” where ice would continue to grow and again suggests that humans are in control of climate and could easily stop such a situation. He briefly discusses geo-engineering as a way to mitigate global warming, but concludes that cost would far exceed reducing emissions.

Hansen also compares scenarios of the Cenozoic and PETM warmings and atmospheric CO2 quantities, suggesting they were less than previously thought. His conclusion here is that climate sensitivity increases as the atmosphere warms – which strongly suggests the dominance of positive feedback mechanisms.

In his work with policy and inspiring younger folk he came up with his “Declaration of Stewardship” which suggests that young people work to” 1) phase out coal emissions, 2) promote a gradually rising price on carbon emissions, and 3) improve energy efficiencies by making them pay even better than they do now. He also mentions some of his own forays into civil disobedience regarding mountaintop removal for coal and some other cases where others protested. I personally think such things need to be carefully chosen as all polluting and ghg-emitting sources are not equivalent.

Storms may get more intense and more chaotic as the atmosphere continues to warm and take on more moisture. This makes more available “fuel” for storms. There is no doubt that storms can cause massive damage, especially with ocean flooding and winds from hurricanes, tornadoes, and superstorms.

He notes that the ocean, the ice sheets, and the methane hydrates, all provide inertia to the rapid increase of anthropogenic CO2 and subsequent heat. Once this inertia is overcome and these can feedback, we may be doomed. The question is how much can the system stand before it does so – at what ghg concentration will we be safe from these effects? Hansen is betting on 350 ppm. We are currently at about 396 ppm.

He says that three quantities that need to be watched are: 1) mass balance of West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets including their ice shelves, 2) percentage of fossil fuel CO2 emissions that remain in the air (this has been at 56% for decades due to the ability of carbon sinks to keep it level), 3) changes in atmospheric methane which may indicate release of methane hydrates.

There are some great appendices in this book as well including a point by point comparison and rebuttal of Richard Linzen’s points in debate, a great chart of climate forcings, and a Q & A with Bill McKibben. Hansen notes in the interview that the IPCC considers ice sheet collapse to be a linear process in their models but Hansen believes such a system in collapse could accelerate rapidly.

The bottom line, he notes, is that we have a responsibility to future generations to deal with this problem now as best we can, so that it does not get out of hand. The data suggest that the tipping points are very near. The challenge is to get the government and special interests at a minimum to endorse and implement the strategies requested by a majority of scientists (ie. the IPCC) and preferably to do the same for Hansen’s scenario which has much empirical evidence to support it.