His Holiness the Dalai Lama has issued a short but powerful manifesto that urges all of us – citizens, elected officials, policy managers, other religious leaders – to confront climate change head on by working together “for the benefit of all human beings.”
“It is no longer enough to think only of “my country,” “my people,” “us” and “them,” he writes in Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal To The World. “Our world is deeply interdependent, not only in terms of our economies but also in facing the challenge of climate change…The climate crisis affects the whole of humanity.”
According to Pew Research Center, Buddhists make up roughly 7% of the world’s population and roughly 1% of the adult population in the United States.
The 85-year-old Dalai Lama is one of the world’s most revered spiritual leaders and is considered a living buddha. He was born in Tibet but had to flee in 1959 when the citizenry rose up against the Chinese occupation of their country. He now lives in exile in India and travels the world raising awareness of the plight of Tibetans under occupation and the threats climate change poses to people and planet alike.
Those climate threats are becoming increasingly severe in Tibet. As the book’s co-author German journalist Franz Alt notes, two thirds of the Himalayan glaciers are in danger of disappearing by 2050 due to global warming. The Tibetan Plateau has been described as the Third Pole because it is the third largest area of frozen water on the planet after the North and South Poles. “The Third Pole’s glaciers are melting at a rate that has almost doubled since 2005,” reports the Dalai Lama. “More than 500 small glaciers have disappeared altogether, and the biggest ones are shrinking rapidly,” a phenomenon that could sunder “the largest water tank in the world.” All ten of Asia’s major rivers, including India’s holy Ganges and China’s Yellow and Yangtze rivers, originate in the Tibetan Plateau.
“Without water there’s no life,” says the Buddhist. “If Tibet’s 46,000 glaciers continue to melt, we will face unimaginable water problems” and conflicts that could very well lead to war.
The solution, advocates the Dalai Lama, is to work together to stop burning the fossil fuels that emit dangerous greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. And by “together” he means learning from activists like Greta Thunberg and other religious leaders like Pope Francis. In a letter to Thunberg, the Dalai Lama wrote, “It is encouraging to see how you have opened the eyes of the world to the urgency to protect our planet, our only home. At the same time, you have inspired so many young brothers and sisters to join this movement.”
As for Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama writes of the similarities between the Pope’s Encyclical “One human family, one common home” and “my message of oneness of humanity.”
“Technology alone will not save us,” he opines. “We need interdependence of ethics and technology. We need a joint plan to save the planet.” And that plan goes beyond religions! “What is Buddha, Allah or Christ supposed to do if we human beings destroy our earth; fill the oceans with plastic so that fish, seals and whales perish; and cause rapid increase of desertification and greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere?”
The Dalai Lama’s answer is to take action. “Recent studies suggest that the world is getting close to exceeding its carbon budget,” he says. “Therefore, this budget must become the most important currency of our time.” Chapter X of the book is titled “What Can I Do?” and contains many suggestions for offsetting our carbon budget with solar energy and energy efficiency – as well as by voting for political leaders who understand the urgency of the climate crisis we face. Educating children should also be a priority, he says. “The youth of the twenty-first century are the planet’s real humanity now…They are our real hope.”
Though Our Only Home is short, it is filled with insights that are both charming and surprising.
“Buddha would be Green – me too, I am Green,” he declares early on. Later, he nails climate change as a “world war against nature.” While some critics say that earth’s global temperature rises are insignificant, the Dalai Lama counters by noting that “even a small temperature rise in our body creates much discomfort.” He also relates to Mother Earth. “Only when we understand that our earth is like a mother…will we really take care of her.” It doesn’t take much more than one or one-and-a-half degrees to make us realize we’re sick.
So, it is with climate change. Which is why the Dalai Lama “hopes and prays that the 2015 Paris Agreement will finally bring tangible results.”
“Protecting our environment is not a luxury we can choose to enjoy but is a matter of survival.”