During UCSD visit April 18, Dalai Lama says science and religion not incompatible in curbing global warming

An affable Dalai Lama donned a UCSD Titans visor during a discussion on global climate change at UCSD. Photos by Carol Sonstein
An affable Dalai Lama donned a UCSD Titans visor during a discussion on global climate change at UCSD. Photos by Carol Sonstein

By Pat Sherman

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was in good spirits during a visit to UC San Diego April 18, where he frequently told jokes, chuckled and even gave UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox an affectionate head-butt.

The spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism was at UCSD to discuss climate change before heading to the University of San Diego to talk about cultivating peace through justice. Both events were sold out, as was an address at San Diego State University on April 19.

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An affable Dalai Lama donned a UCSD Tritons visor during a discussion on global climate change at UCSD. Photos by Carol Sonstein

Opening the event at RIMAC Arena, eBay founder and chairman Pierre Omidyar noted that the Dalai Lama has previously stated his belief that when scientific facts contradict Buddhist beliefs, “those beliefs must be discarded.”

A 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama was discussing climate change with UCSD professors Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Richard Somerville.

During his opening remarks, Somerville said the Earth’s climate has always changed from natural causes. What is different today, he said, is that human activities have become the dominant factor.

“Our generation today now controls what the climate will be for our children and grandchildren,” Somerville said. “We did not seek this power but we have it because we have long used the atmosphere as a free dump for the side effects and waste products of human activities.

“The case for urgency” in dealing with climate change is “scientific, not ideological or political,” Somerville said.

Ramanathan began by offering a “scientific message of hope.”

“There is a practical and proven way to slow down global warming considerably in our lifetime,” he said. “In fact, we can cut down expected warming over the coming decades by almost half and thus slow down the melting of the glaciers and snow packs, particularly in the Tibetan glaciers, which are referred to as ‘the water fountain of Asia.’ ”

Spiritual leaders, such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope, have the “moral authority” to demand cleaner climate practices, Ramanathan said. The Dalai Lama stressed the importance of nations setting aside “national economic interest” and coming together with the “full force of cooperation” to slow global warming.

“The world belongs to humanity,” said the 76-year-old spiritual leader, who sported a UCSD Tritons visor for the discussion. “America belongs to the people … not to Republicans or Democrats.”

Climate change, said the Dalai Lama, “is a question of our life, our survival. … This is something, very, very serious.”

While the toll war and violence takes on humanity is evident through widespread imagery, climate pollution is often an “invisible,” yet omnipresent killer, the Dalai Lama said.

“This blue, small planet is our only home, no other planet,” he said. “We have to take care of it.”

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As many as 4,500 people gathered at RIMAC Arena April 18 to hear the Dalai Lama discuss global warming with UCSD professors Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Richard Somerville.

Stressing the importance of education and awareness, the Dalai Lama said that if mankind can work together to reduce the threat of nuclear warfare, it can do the same to reduce greenhouse gas-emitting pollutants. The future of the planet depends on the “oneness of humanity,” said. Somerville called for educating political leaders on the problem of global warming, though adding, “I am optimistic about what technology can do, (but) guardedly optimistic” about what politics can do to solve the problem.

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