Council of Elders for Protecting the Earth

Sister Jewel's Dharma talk, "The Burning Pit of Climate Change: Protecting the Earth with the Four Nutriments," includes a link to the following statement. Sister Jewel explains: "After 9/11, Thay suggested the formation of a Council of Sages to begin sessions of deep listening to hear the suffering in the country and the suffering of those in the Middle East, similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa. Perhaps we need a Council of wise, respected elders who can listen to the suffering of climate change and help guide a mass movement to respond to it. I think it is important to look at this as a Sangha."

Climate change is an increasingly urgent reality and each one of us can do something to contribute to rescuing our beautiful, blue planet. Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation in upstate New York, has suggested that we need a global Council of Elders, a group of wise, trusted leaders who can offer ethical, clear direction for mass, grassroots action to preserve the planet.

Throughout history civilizations and cultures from around the world have sought guidance and wisdom from elders. Sadly, this tradition has been largely forgotten in western society. At a time when calm, rational and independent leadership is needed—perhaps now more than ever before—who better to turn to than our elders?

“The ransacking of the world is making the top 1% of the population very, very rich. As the writer Daniel Quinn points out, the rich are like people who live in a fancy penthouse at the top of a hundred-story building, and every day they send workers down to take some bricks out of the foundation to increase the size of the penthouse. The building has lots of bricks, so this seems harmless enough. But there will come a time when they will have introduced so many holes in the foundation that the building will collapse, and their position at the top of the tower will not save them.” –from an interview with Kathleen Dean Moore in Sun Magazine.

The building is already beginning to collapse. But if we act now we can stop the destruction and preserve our planet. In recent years, we have seen breaking records for greenhouse-gas emissions, the worst fire seasons in history, the coldest winters in decades, flooding, typhoons, hurricanes, massive die-off of forests and bees. There is a 95% consensus among scientists that these disturbances are caused by humans.

Let us come together to form this Council of Elders, religious and spiritual leaders of all faiths and traditions. Let us find a place and way for them to gather regularly, with funding and media coverage to support their work. They can lead us in a grassroots boycott of the petrochemical companies who are the most significant force behind climate change, they can guide us in nonviolent civil disobedience, divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and demanding government investment in and subsidies for renewable energy. In April 2014, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for a South African-style boycott of fossil fuel companies, in the Guardian. Former head of the Anglican Church of England, Rowan Williams, also encouraged his community to divest from oil. Catholic groups are currently asking Pope Francis to propose a global Catholic boycott of fossil fuels.

With their integrity and wisdom, and with our support, these elders can harness the power of the global religions, the climate-change movement, and anyone who cares about the world their children will inherit, to inspire a collective awakening.

We are in the process of reaching out to some of these leaders already, and several have already expressed their support.

Elders already supporting:
Satish Kumar, Schumacher College
Richard E. Pates, Catholic Bishop of Des Moines, Iowa

Here are some of the religious and spiritual leaders we are inviting:
Pope Francis
Archbishop Bishop Desmond Tutu
The Dalai Lama
Thich Nhat Hanh
Joan Chittester
Oren Lyons
Marianne Williamson
Pema Chodron
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Jack Kornfield
Sharon Salzburg
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Pir Zia Inayat-Khan
Indigenous elders from Maori, Aboriginal, Papua New Guinea, and Native American peoples (please help suggest names)
Roshi Joan Halifax
Rev. Michael Beckwith
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of the Church of England
Grandmothers for Peace
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Angeles Arrien
Ven. Dr. Pannavati

Other political and environmental leaders who might support the council as Advisors:
President Jimmy Carter
President Mary Robinson, Ireland
Vice President Al Gore
Former UN Secretary Kofi Annan
Joanna Macy
Robert Thurman
Jane Goodall
Kathleen Dean Moore
Vandana Shiva
Wendell Berry
Muhammad Yunus
Maggie Fox
Sulak Sivaraksa
Lord Nicholas Stern
Lester Brown
Zbigniew Brzezinski
Ha Vinh Tho
E.O. Wilson
Deepak Chopra
Robert Gilman
Paolo Lugari, Gaviotas founder, Columbia
Harvey Fineberg
David Attenborough
Jeremy Legget

Leaders already supporting the Council:
Frank Cownie, Mayor of Des Moines, Iowa

Others who might support the Council as donors and networkers:
Ted Turner
Michael Moore
Oprah Winfrey
Leonardo di Caprio
Richard Gere
Bob Geldoff

How you can help:

  • Suggest wording for this call to action if you think it needs adapting
  • Help us contact these elders through your networks
  • Share any further thoughts on the goals of the initiative
  • Suggest other leaders and supporters who should be on our list
  • Ideas for pushing forward this initiative e.g. ways to contact and persuade influential people, using social media, networking, mobilizing funding, web design, etc.
  • Contact your networks to help us get out the word about this initiative
  • Educate yourself on the realities of climate change: you could start with reading Kathleen Dean Moore’s interview on the Moral Urgency of Climate change and Bill McKibben’s article, “Global Warming’s Terrible New Math."

With your help, we can move from the destructive emphasis in our global society on new, bigger, and better, to valuing what is sustainable, stable, steady, local and community-based.

For more information, please contact:

with gratitude,

The Council of Elders organizing team


Lyons is a human rights advocate, environmental activist, scholar, author, former professor of American Studies

Moore is a nature writer and philosophy professor from Oregon.

Dean Moore, Kathleen. “If Your House is on Fire.” Sun. Iowa: Dec. 2012. Print. And McKibben, Bill. “Global Warming’s Terrible New Math."  The Rolling Stone. New York: July 19, 2012. Print.