What is happening to our planet? Conversations with leading thinkers on ecology, ethics and interdependence

- through Fabrice Groult

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How can we contribute to solving the ecological crisis? This is the question answered by thinkers, scientists, environmental activists and religious leaders, gathered in Dharamsala in 2018 at the invitation of the Dalai Lama. Their words were reproduced in a thought-provoking book: What is happening to our planet?

They were a dozen scientists, thinkers, philosophers, spiritual leaders and ecological activists, brought together in Dharamsala by John D. Dunne, head of the chair in contemplative human sciences at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin and Daniel Goleman, American psychologist and science journalist and board member of the Mind and Life Institute. The goal of the summit? Take stock of the ecological situation of the world and reflect on constructive solutions through the prism of the notion of interdependence dear to Buddhists.

What is happening to our planet. Conversations with leading thinkers on ecology, ethics and interdependence is a transcription of these exchanges. Published in 2018 by the Mind and Life Institute, it was translated into French by Massot editions during 2019. The first chapters paint an inventory of the systemic crisis that is shaking our planet, emphasizing the great acceleration that has begun in the 50s. Acceleration that led us to approach critical thresholds that the Stockholm Resilience Center, directed by Johan Rockstrom, calls “planetary limits”. If we keep up the momentum, the average global temperature could rise by 5 degrees by the end of the century, says environmental scientist and activist Diana Liverman. Developing countries, in particular African nations, are today the most vulnerable to climate change, even though they are the least responsible for it, points out the public health expert and professor at the University of Wis.Jonathan Patz. The latter underlines, in a chapter entitled “The ethical burden of climate change”, that the disruptions that we are experiencing are closely linked to the consumerist lifestyles of a minority of us: 20% of the inhabitants of the planet.

Create a positive vision

Why don't we act to solve these global ecological problems? Elke Weber, specialist in the psychology of action and change, teacher at Columbia University, talks about brakes linked to cognitive barriers ("When you focus on a specific element, you don't see anything else") and emotional. “It is physical fear that triggers action. The challenge with many environmental problems is that at this stage they are neither visible nor frightening", she underlines, surprisingly, when one thinks of the very visible and frightening natural disasters which have followed one another these years, particularly in his own country, the United States. To act effectively, Elke Weber recommends focusing on long-term objectives by favoring local leverage and relying on positive messages. "Martin Luther King would not have achieved anything by proclaiming: 'I had a nightmare.' His message was much stronger: “I had a dream”, insists, for his part, Clare Palmer, environmental ethicist and professor of philosophy at the University of Texas.
Thupten Jinpa, official translator of the Dalai Lama and professor of theology, focused his intervention on the mechanisms of change in the classical Buddhist tradition: vision, meditation and action. But also on the remedies and antidotes to fight against avoidance, laziness, procrastination or discouragement that prevent mobilization. Remedies that have the names “confidence”, “aspiration”, “effort”, “flexibility and joy”. A joy that it is "essential to cultivate", adds the Dalai Lama.

World Wildlife Fund grassroots activist Dekila Chungyalpa highlights the action strategies she finds most effective. It is necessary, she stresses, “create a positive vision "," stay optimistic at all costs and engage local communities and local leaders, as WWF successfully fought against a massive dam construction project on the main arm of the Mekong. It is important, above all, to get out of words in order to act. Act with patience, simplicity and empathy, to change ourselves and profoundly transform our economic model, the speakers insisted in unison at the end of the summit. “Each of us, in our own way, has the opportunity to do good around us. Each of us can have a great influence on the world”, slipped the Dalai Lama, by way of conclusion.

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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