PORTLAND, Oregon, May 12, 2013 (ENS) – “The main thing is the oneness of humanity,” His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, said during an environmental summit Saturday in Portland.
“In 1959 I came from Tibet and escaped to India. Now the whole world has some problems, but there is no other place to escape,” he told an audience of 11,000 people. “Environmental protection, taking care of our world, is like taking care of our own home. This is our only home, so we have to take care, and not only for our generation.”
The Dalai Lama shared the summit stage with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Executive Director of the Oregon Environmental Council Andrea Durbin, and David Suzuki, a Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmentalist.
The Tibetan spiritual leader says the world’s environmental problems stem from greed, a lifestyle based on over-consumption and a global population of seven billion that is outstripping the Earth’s ability to sustain it.
“By the end of this century, there may be 10 billion people,” he said. “We have to think very seriously about the future of humanity. Environmental issues are a key factor.”
“Due to global warming, the south pole, north pole ice quite rapidly melting, so sea level is rising, also climate now change, also earthquakes,” said the Dalai Lama. “We are responsible for the emission of carbon dioxide, also deforestation.”
“Meantime, there is serious concern about the gap between rich and poor on a global level and also on a national level,” he said in excellent English, consulting with his translator, Dr. Thupten Jinpa, only occasionally.
“We take growth for granted. Just making money, money, money, money, money – and spend on luxurious lifestyle. I think in the long run this is not good,” he said.
He asked the audience to imagine what the world would look like if each of the two billion people in India and China had a car as do people in “so-called developed countries.”
Just to find the space for so many cars would be difficult, the Dalai Lama said. “We must think about these problems that are coming; they are inevitable, these problems,” he warned.
Governor Kitzhaber said one of the problems we face is “the assumption that consumption can go on forever and at an increasing rate.”
“Global climate change, the decimation of our rainforest, the collapse of fisheries – a whole host of things suggest that unlimited economc growth on a finite planet is beginning to bump up against the physical limits of our planet,” said the governor. “More people are impoverished, their kids are hungry, fewer and fewer people are being lifted up by that economy.”
Another problem is that “we measure the wrong things,” said Kitzhaber.
The Gross National Product measures all the economic activity of the country and anything that produces a profit counts as a plus. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was “great for the economy,” he said, “carnage on the highways, crime, the prison system, the war in Afghanistan – all count as positive in our current way of measuring,” the governor explained.
“We need first of all a new metric that balances and counts as a deficit environmental degradation, that counts as a plus stay-at-home mothers, volunteerism in the community, and healthy kids,” he said.
“I think the fundamental challenge is to say – what does an economy look like that can operate within the environmental and physical limits of the planet and actually moves everybody up,” Kitzhaber said.
“If we’re going to have a consumption-based economy, and I can’t envision an economy that doesn’t involve consumption or a life that doesn’t involve consumption, then what we consume and the rate at which we consume it really matters,” said the governor. “If you start with the assumption that it has to be sustainable both environmentally and socially, then it opens the field to creative thinking of what that might look like.”
The summit had been planned for months, but it happened to occur just two days after scientists announced that for the first time in human history, atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, have risen above 400 parts per million.
Many climate scientists have warned that 350 ppm is the safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere to avert the worst consequences of climate change – droughts, floods, wildfires, sea level rise, extreme weather and extinction of species.
Dr. Suzuki responded with alarm. “A lot of people I have respect for in the world are saying we’ve passed too many tipping points to go back. The annoucement of 400 ppm is absolutely catastrophic,” he said.
“We have a very, very urgent crisis right now just in terms of the atmosphere,” Suzuki warned. “We elevate the economy above the very atmosphere that sustains us. We’ve lost the sense of what are the really important things that keep us alive.”
“His Holiness talks about how we have to act as one species, as one group. Now the only time we see that is in movies when aliens attack the planet – then you see the Russian president calling the Chinese president, calling the Americans,” said Suzuki.
“Now the atmosphere is the unifying issue. It’s unAmerican to say we can’t do anything about this. It’s not the American way,” said the Canadian environmentalist and broadcaster.
Durbin, who heads the Oregon Environmental Council, said, “I think climate change is the most significant issue of my generation and my childrens’ generation,” but she is also concerned about the prevalence of toxic chemicals.
“We are exposing ourselves every day to untested, unregulated toxic chemicals in the food we eat, in the water we drink, our air, the products we use, the buildings we live, work and go to school in,” Durbin said.
“We’re all participating in a big chemistry experiment. These chemicals are being passed on from generation to generation. These chemicals can last for hundreds of years.”
“Babies are being born pre-polluted,” she exclaimed. “An American pregnant woman can be carrying, on average, 43 chemicals in her body that she would be passing on her child in her womb. We learn increasingly about their impact – cancer, autism, learning disabilities, early onset puberty, infertility, birth defects – to me that is just morally wrong.”
“We have a broken system in the United States,” said Durbin. “Regulation of toxics hasn’t been updated in nearly four decades. There are 80,000 chemicals that are in use today, we’ve only tested 200 of them. Clearly, we’re out of step with where our laws need to be to protect human health.”
Durbin would like to see the United States adopt the European system that requires companies to prove a chemical is safe before they allow it into the market. “We need that kind of reform at a national level in Congress,” she said.
All speakers agreed that education is the key to environmental protection.
“If we use our human thinking of long-term interest, then we truly become human beings,” said the Dalai Lama. “Not through prayer, not through blessing, but through education. So education is the key factor. The existing education system is not adequate; it is very much oriented toward material values.”
In addition to education, Suzuki, Durbin and Kitzhaber all agreed that more political action is needed to turn back the environmental threats facing the planet.
Governor Kitzhaber believes we need to put a price on carbon so carbon dioxide emissions can be limited.
“Most people know in their hearts that we will sooner or later be putting a price on carbon. It’s happened in California, it’s happened in British Columbia with the carbon tax, which is a much simpler more direct way,” he said. “The point is, we’re going to get there. We need to be much more explicit about having this conversation. It’s beginning to surface in this state, I’m sure it will surface in Washington under Governor [Jay] Inslee’s jurisdiction. If the West Coast were to move in that direction together, it’s the sixth largest economy in the world.”
“Fundamentally rethinking the economy is the long-term solution,” he said.
During this summit and throughout his three days of appearances in Oregon, the Dalai Lama said time and again, “Inner wealth – human affection, human friendship, these are the most important.”
“Just to think of yourself, is foolish, selfish,” he said. “One company, one family, one individual who always consumes – more greed, more greed more greed. regardless of other consequences – this is a mistake.”
“Develop inner strength,” said the Tibetan leader. “The person who develops inner peace – that person develops a precious human life.”