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By Max Havins
April 19, 2012
SAN DIEGO, CA — This week the Dalai Lama joined two distinguished scientists in highlighting how global warming threatens the one planet we all call home. His message: climate change offers an opportunity for every person to have a positive influence on the rest of the world.
Besides, it is in our own best interest to do so. “Each individual’s future depends on the rest of humanity,” His Holiness told the crowd at the University of California, San Diego.
The spiritual leader and Nobel Laureate lamented the short-sightedness that has thus far prevented effective global action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. He noted personal or national interests too often overshadow the bigger threats to our shared interest and shared future.
“This is a question of our life, our survival,” he said.
The Dalai Lama’s comments echoed those of two renowned climate scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who joined him in a panel discussion.
Dr. Richard Somerville pointed out that our actions today will determine the type of climate that our children and grandchildren will be living with for decades to come.
“The problem is getting worse,” he said. Global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak within the next decade and decline rapidly if society is to minimize disruptions to the climate.
Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, meanwhile, emphasized the benefits of near-term action on a long-term problem. Reducing soot and other pollutants that are warming the planet can result in substantial health benefits, both for the developed and developing world.
Perhaps most importantly, the solutions are available today and even get wide political agreement. California, he noted, has been able to cut such pollution in half during the past 20 years with regulations to improve diesel engines.
In less developed economies, however, the pollutants typically come from stoves burning wood or dung. The smoke has a warming effect on the entire plant, as well as immediate and dramatic health impacts. It causes illness and the premature death of millions each year. Recently, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton helped create a coalition of several countries to address such pollution.
Dr. Ramanathan highlighted these types of initiatives as particularly relevant to the overall theme of the Dalai Lama’s visit—“Compassion without Borders.” Dr. Ramanathan had previously seen the power of religious leaders to put a spotlight on climate change, having participated in a workshop at the Vatican last year presenting evidence of the challenges.
For the Dalai Lama, on the other hand, it is the science that is especially powerful. He prompted nods from the audience when pointing out an education gap that needs filled. Broader awareness will help show others that addressing global warming is no different than taking care of your own home. Collectively, individual actions (saving energy, investing in cleaner fuels) can have significant global impacts.
The scientists both shared the Dalai Lama’s view. They remain optimistic about the chances to build awareness. Dr. Somerville noted that dramatic greenhouse gas reductions are possible with today’s technologies. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are not only opportunities to help the planet, but they can save money.
These messages seemed to resonate, not least because of the Dalai Lama’s stage presence. It did not hurt, for example, that he was wearing a UC San Diego visor while delivering a message of “oneness.”
Attendees told Sierra Club Green Home they were impressed with his positive attitude and sense of humor. His Holiness smiled at one point and noted there is a very simple solution to population growth: more monks and nuns.
The Dalai Lama also shared responses to questions he likely gets quite often, relating to the meaning of life and means of dealing with conflict.
On the meaning of life, he referenced a common distraction with material gains (bigger houses, bigger cars). Do these create happiness? “No, certainly not,” he said. A better approach, he suggested, is to consider the broader benefits you can create to make the world a happier, more peaceful place for all.
His Holiness acknowledged people will disagree with one another and there can be conflict. Everyone has their own view and many may not view climate change as he does.
The Dalai Lama emphasized that such debate is important. Even heated arguments can be healthy, he noted, as long as those involved maintain respect for one another. To which Dr. Ramanathan provided an important addition: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”
Wise words from wise men.
For those who missed the broadcast this week, mark your calendars for May 28 when UCSD-TV will be airing a recording online.
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