Paris, Climate Change, Snow and Snow Leopards

Due to concerns about terrorism following the attacks in Paris, French police have revoked permission for a Paris rally to demand strong action on climate change. The demonstration was to be held November 29. The U.N.’s 21st annual conference on climate change, COP21, is scheduled to begin on the next day, with world leaders, business executives, and official delegates from 195 countries attending.  They will have until Dec. 12 to agree about a possible new global agreement aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.  And more than 3,000 journalists and thousands of environmental activists will be watching, along with many others around the world.

This past September, the Global Buddhist Climate Change Collective was formed to “facilitate a Buddhist contribution” to the COP21. They put out a letter calling on world leaders to act on climate change. It was signed by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and 13 other well-known Buddhist teachers.

Tibet_Himalayas2One of the signatories, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, claimant to the 17th Karmapa, an important position in Tibetan Buddhism, said in a recent interview “Given that the rate of warming in the Tibetan plateau is at least two times greater than the global average, we know flooding and droughts are bound to worsen.”

Earlier this year, a group of Tibet’s exiled leaders, including the Dalai Lama, warned that two-thirds of the glaciers in the Tibetan plateau may disappear by 2050 because of climate change.

The Tibetan Plateau is the highest plateau in the world, with an average elevation of over 16,000 feet, and contains the largest tropical glaciological area in the world. It is home to 37,000 glaciers that feed Asia’s largest rivers, including the Ganges, the Mekong and the Yangtze. More than two billion people in over a dozen countries depend on the water provided by the snow and ice of the Tibetan Plateau. And, it has experienced rising temperatures of 1.3 Celsius over the past five decades, which is actually three times the global average.

And then there’s the snow leopard. I don’t know how many of these beautiful animals once roamed that area, but it is estimated there are only 4000 left. October 23 was the first International Snow Leopard day and the World Wildlife Fund released a new report that said, “Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the ‘ghost of the mountains’ could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.”

I understand there are 81 Buddhist monasteries in Tibet that send out patrols of their local areas to protect the leopards from poachers and they also educate the local communities about environmental protection. These Buddhists understand that dharma means not only finding inner peace but also taking external action.

Whether or not the leaders at the UN climate conference will take action as well is the crucial question. The Buddhist approach to climate change is based on the doctrine of interdependency (pratitya-samutpada), the interconnection of all things in the universe. Coming in the wake of the recent jihadist activity, the Paris conference could be a unique opportunity to explore the links between climate change and terrorism.

Jason Box and Naomi Klein write in the New Yorker: “The connection between warming temperatures and the cycle of Syrian violence is, by now, uncontroversial.” The authors quote a recent comment by Secretary of State John Kerry: “It’s not a coincidence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced its worst drought on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

Box and Klein express hope for the conference in Paris to succeed. They pose the question, “What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?”

I find myself cynical about such things nowadays. I expect the usual dog-and-pony show. But Andrew Steer, president of the US-based World Resources Institute, believes the recent terror attacks will stiffen “the spine in terms of determination to really solve what is the greatest collective action problem in history.”

Finally, I recently read about a woman, Marie Byles (1900–1979) who was a key figure in the development of Buddhism in Australia. From the 1940s she developed an eco-Buddhist worldview and Buddhist environmental ethic. In a work titled “Adapting Buddha’s Teaching to Modern Conditions”, she wrote,

“The Buddha spoke of avoiding ‘onslaught in creatures’ and had he been alive today with the rapid destruction of earth itself, he would certainly have included the earth along with creatures as not to be slaughtered.”

Human beings suffer the disease of separation – separation from the environment and each other. We must continue to change our concept of the environment. Far too many people still see humans as rulers of the planet. Instead, we should be the harmonizers.

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Painting by Nicholas Roerich 1933


2 thoughts on “Paris, Climate Change, Snow and Snow Leopards

  1. In the last Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders also linked climate change to political unrest, and warned that global warming could cause international conflicts “over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow crops.” He cited it as “still our biggest problem”. I’m not stumping for Sanders, for sure, but whatever their political bent, I hope more leaders begin to see the linkage you (and he, and others) speak of, and we can begin to cure the “disease of separation”.

    1. Thanks, Mark. Couldn’t agree more. If people think there is conflict in the world now, just wait until we are fighting over water and land for crops. I like Bernie Sanders. I don’t think he has a chance to get elected, but I hope he was help steer the political dialogue in the right direction.

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