Matthieu Ricard: committed to the planet

- through Fabrice Groult

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As the 25th International Conference on Climate Change (COP 25) takes place in Madrid from December 2-13, the climate emergency has become everyone's problem. More and more people are taking up, each in their own way, the challenge of safeguarding humanity. Some opt for mass actions in the street, others for small daily gestures. Matthieu Ricard, for his part, uses an unexpected means in terms of the environment: our ability to amaze us. Buddhist monk, interpreter of the Dalai Lama, respected scientist and photographer in his spare time, Matthieu Ricard publishes an album of photos taken in during his many travels around the world, in which each image invites you to marvel at everything, nothing, the simple, to rediscover a child's gaze on infinitely large or infinitely small nature. The committed text that accompanies them urges us to take action without delay, because it is our survival and that of humanity that is at stake. Encounter.

Your book, Wonder, is an ode to the beauty of the world in all its forms, while being an implacable critique of the action of man on nature.

The wonder of wilderness alone will not solve the ecological crisis, but can generate awareness and respect. If you think of something that amazes you, be it a landscape, a work of art, a sage, etc., you will not despise it, distort it or destroy it, but on the contrary will naturally feel respect for it. -in front of her. In this book, my wonder is about this "wild part of the world", to use a phrase from the philosopher Virginie Maris, which we must preserve for what it is, not as an instrument that we can use and abuse by totally neglecting the millions of other species with whom we share this planet. Some species have developed special and remarkable faculties that allow them to survive. Bats have sonar that allows them to see in the dark, which I personally am unable to do! Migratory birds are able to fly straight from Alaska to New Zealand guided only by stars or polarized sunlight, while I get lost all alone in Paris (laughs)… The man therefore has no legitimate reason to believe himself above the lot. His faculties give him, on the contrary, an increased responsibility just by the power of action which is his on the rest of the biosphere. To be amazed is to become aware of our belonging to the biosphere, and more broadly still, of our belonging to a universe that goes far beyond our planet alone.

Would the environmental question therefore be for you the major challenge of the XNUMXst century?

This is indeed the major challenge, because climate issues will impact everyone! Much more than immigration which, on a European scale, represents only 0,5% of the population; much more than the situation – difficult, it is true – of farmers who will be in an even worse situation when temperatures reach peaks. When IPCC scientists recommend reducing industrial meat production by 80%, this is not a recommendation made by vegan fanatics, it is simply linked to a reality: 15% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by these factory farms…

“Migratory birds are able to fly straight from Alaska to New Zealand guided only by stars or polarized sunlight, while I get lost all alone in Paris (laughs)… The man therefore has no legitimate reason to believe himself above the lot. »

Today, more than half of the population lives in cities, it is also the consequence of the importance placed on pseudo-values ​​such as consumerism, materialism, etc. They have certainly led to material growth, but to the detriment of qualitative growth: better quality of life, more satisfaction in life... An American emits 200 times more CO2 than a Zambian, and up to 2000 times more than an Afghan! These data are known, it is not a question here of condemning anyone or, what we rather tend to do, of asking developing countries to limit their growth. Instead, they should be helped to acquire more renewable energy sources to meet their perfectly legitimate energy needs, while at the same time reducing the unbridled consumption of developed countries. There is still a balance to be found between how to help people who are below the poverty line to acquire the minimum to lead a decent life while ceasing to subsidize fossil fuels, and how to redirect our efforts renewable energies, in particular by funding research. If nothing is done, in the end, all of humanity will lose.

You say that we can feel somewhat overwhelmed by the magnitude of these climate issues. Is this book a bit like this hummingbird for you who fights with his means against the fire which ravages his forest?

When we see all those who, today, are mobilizing against global warming, I think that today we have exceeded the level of the hummingbird, we are more at the level of the flight of starlings (laughs)… I was lucky enough to be able to have access to extraordinary places: Patagonia, Yellowstone Park, Iceland… The wonder that, each time, was born in these places appeared to me as a particularly promising theme on which I could write. a text, in which I could talk about my convictions. I am 73 years old today, I cannot be Greta Thunberg, but I can contribute to the fight with my own weapons: pretty photos accompanied by a committed text based on irreproachable scientific work. This book is my modest contribution to a larger movement, like what members of Extinton Rebellion, young people like Greta Thunberg, etc. are doing.

Photographer Olivier Föllmi says that “the positive outlook is cultivated. " What do you think ?

He is right. Seeing what I call the “banality of good” is cultivated and protected from the vision that considers “human nature to be bad”. This distorted perception of reality arises from the fact that we are constantly inundated with bad news, and that we are never told the good, the positive… Most of the seven billion human beings generally behave well. Cultivating a positive outlook would consist of emphasizing the positive predispositions of beings rather than their deviations, without concealing them, it goes without saying… We could speak here of positive psychology. All scientific research shows that joy is not simply the absence of sadness, benevolence is not simply the absence of malevolence. On the contrary, "positive emotions" such as enthusiasm, admiration, wonder, joy, celebration, rather than jealousy, etc., have extremely regenerating effects in human beings and conducive to its development. We are a long way from the “Coué method” here.

Discourses on the environment are often criticized for only doing so from a catastrophic or guilt-inducing angle. Your book opts instead for a positive approach by approaching them from the angle of “beauty”. Do you think it is necessary to change the approach to environmental issues for the message to get through?

My friend Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilient Center thinks that the way of communicating was probably not adequate. We know today that to encourage people to get involved in any project whatsoever, we must not only show them the consequences if they don't, but also show them the advantages of getting involved. We could also talk about the advantages of happy sobriety. Here, it is not a question of depriving yourself of anything, but of being content with what you have, of simplifying your life. Presenting people with inspiring solutions without overwhelming them with blame would be a constructive approach without being an ostrich. The odds of rising temperatures are quite believable. It must be understood that this risks causing suffering beyond measure! The risks of seeing the population of seven billion inhabitants fall to one billion are not a catastrophism, it is the scientists who say so! But all hope is not lost, there are solutions, only it requires changing our way of life. And there, we are unfortunately facing incredible inertia from decision-makers, and as Greta Thunberg said at the United Nations, it is a betrayal of future generations!

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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