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Dalai Lama on: Earth - A Conservation District in the Universe

Ed Lazar, Humanitas International Human Rights Committee: Your Holiness, it is my great pleasure today to introduce David Brower to you. I regret that you have not yet been able to meet the President of the United States, but today you are meeting the person many of us consider the president of the environmental movement in our country. David Brower put the environmental issue on the agenda of the United States and the world. He was the first executive director of the Sierra Club and the founder of Friends of the Earth, an environmental conservation group which is now in forty-two countries. He has been chair of the international conferences on the Fate and Hope of the Earth and currently the chair of Earth Island Institute. It has been said of him that he is the "archbishop of the church of the wilderness."

David R. Brower: Thank you very much. You have placed a heavy burden on my shoulders. If I carry it out at my advanced age—I'll be eighty next year—it will be because of people like Justin Lowe [Director of Earth Island's Tibetan Plateau Project] who is helping me prepare things. He has brought two gifts. My story, For Earth's Sake , and this Credo. It's almost Buddhist.

Dalai Lama: Very close.

I am very much impressed and very much appreciate your very strong concern about Tibet. The major rivers of India, China, and Vietnam, originally come from Tibet. So now you see, water resources in these areas, particularly in the most populated nations, come from Tibet. Secondly, once the ecological balance is damaged or disturbed in Tibet, then it will take more time to recover because of its high altitude, as well as the dryness. Thirdly, if Tibetan climate conditions are changed, it will effect the monsoon patterns in all the Himalayan region, including China. So therefore, the concern for making some proper plan for the Tibetan environment is going to benefit not only Tibet, but all surrounding regions. At present, our Chinese brothers and sisters, I think they're exploiting blindly, but that finally they will face some problems.

The lack of knowledge and lack of farsightedness is shared by many communists. One characteristic of many communist movements is that they are rather hasty and once they are into the swing of something, they take a great leap, a kind of emotion develops and brings with it all sorts of things without proper plan. So that has taken place during the last forty years in Tibet in many places. So there's real danger.

DRB: If today you were able to start environmental restoration in Tibet, where would you begin? What ecosystem would you begin restoring, how would you go about environmental restoration in Tibet?

Dalai Lama: I don't know. There are two big hydroelectric schemes in Tibet. According to the Chinese, there is one big dam project in the Kham area. There is a hydroelectric project using the water of Yamdrok Lake. So these two things, it seems, will have very serious consequences. Then there is deforestation in southeastern and eastern Tibet, and also certain portions in the northeast, where large areas of forest are now almost thoroughly, in many parts, completely destroyed. Although the Chinese in recent years have done some replanting, it is not properly done, so the damage is much greater.

Then, as I mentioned earlier, usually the Chinese rush in without a proper plan. One case I know is in southern Tibet, quite near Lhasa, I think one day's journey away by car. The Chinese have put in very many restrictions at the site. Local people are not allowed to the mine site, but everyday, sixty or seventy trucks, fully loaded, come from that area. So what is the real nature of that project? Nobody knows. The mining must be taking place according to a hasty plan without any proper consideration to its side effects. For instance, when it rains they may not have proper protection over the open mining pits.

Then also there is another problem in the vast pasturelands in the northern part of Tibet. Previously the area was just like a no-man's land. There were many wild animals, thousands and thousands of wild animals, as well as domestic animals grazing. Now in many of these areas, particularly the lower elevation areas where the Chinese can survive or settle, many, many of these areas are now transformed to farmland. That creates a lot of problems for wildlife, as well for domestic animals. So these are all very serious. So you see I don't know where I should start.

DRB: The thing to do I guess is to organize so that we have teams to work on all of these. We can't wait on any of them.

Dalai Lama: We have objective proof that many of these environmentally hazardous projects are happening inside Tibet, but there are others which are still quite speculative, like whether the actual dumping of nuclear waste is taking place or not. Although there are some indications, we do not have conclusive evidence. One thing is quite clear. That is, near Kokonor Lake around the southern part of that area, are some important Chinese military installations. Among them, one industry is producing nuclear weapons, that is quite certain, because about ten years ago one high Tibetan official reached one factory where nuclear weapons are produced. Afterwards, that official suffered a sudden death. There is grounds for suspicion. Then in the no man's land, at the juncture where Mongolia, East Turkestan and Tibet meet, the Lop Nor facility usually is where the Chinese nuclear testing is carried out. In some parts of Tibet, according to some Tibetans, some animals are having deformed animal births. In certain parts of the no-man's land, the Chinese have put in very many restrictions. Even Chinese truck drivers cannot enter from certain gates. Many people are now having some concern for Tibet, for the environment in Tibet, and that the environment of Tibet is very much linked with neighboring states. Therefore, it becomes not only a Tibetan subject or concern. It is therefore an issue for the entire region. I think it is worthwhile to have a team of scientists sent to Tibet, along with Chinese scientists, and in various areas carry out investigations as to whether mining works or hydroelectric projects are really properly planned or not. If they are properly planned, all right. These investigations would not take an antagonistic stance towards the Chinese and not simply disapprove of what they are doing, but rather help them to see what negative consequences could ensue from their work. Now the Chinese government themselves at least on the surface are showing some kind of concern about the environment.

DRB: Very little.

Dalai Lama: Even so, they are obviously showing something. So you see, they themselves should be part of a team studying these projects and then carry out some research in these places.

DRB: In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we have a definition for progress: multiply, replenish the Earth, and subdue it. It is not working very well. We should multiply our concerns, and I think we should learn that replenish does not mean just "fill it," it means to restore, which is part of your peace program. And then not subdue the Earth, but subdue our greed. We're particularly interested now in restoring because, in my own philosophy, since the industrial revolution we've been tearing the Earth apart faster and faster. In my own lifetime, the population of the Earth: times three; the population of California: times twelve; and the world as a whole has used up four times more resources in my lifetime, as in all previous history.

So far, most of the organized religions are not worried about that, as the Earth is just disappearing. In the last twenty years we've made so much new desert that if it were growing food instead of being desert, it could supply the population of—forgive the expression—China. Almost all our institutions, and that includes many religions, but certainly the corporations, the governments, the universities, all think this can go on.

It seems to me that the one way to save us is to get people who disagree, from all the nations, all the colors all the ages, all the sexes, to work together to try to build back, to give nature a chance to restore. That can be a very challenging, exciting role for civilization as a whole.

One of the ideas that one of our young women came up with is a "Peace Forest" in Tibet, where we try to get people of various nations working together to restore the forests that have been destroyed. Noel Brown said we should go from Desert Storm to "Desert Flower." It's time to start rebuilding, trying to help nature, trying to help our nature (gestures toward self) and nature outside, rebuild. Not just to plant trees, but to grow a forest, what needs to be the understory, the animals, the whole piece, so that your idea for Tibet can come to pass—cultural, natural—to rebuild where it has been destroyed.

It's terribly important that we teach people how to restore; it's not easy. I know of one man who spent twenty years so far trying to restore a little island just south of Bermuda. He had to look at all sorts of records of what was there and try, very humbly, to bring the things back together.

Dalai Lama: Thank you. I feel the danger for the future is very clear, that it's reality.

There are many factors: lack of knowledge and lack of courage. So now the most important thing is firstly to establish clear information. If the present situation continues, what will the negative consequences be? Regarding this question I place more hope in environmental scientists, rather than religious groups. Of course religious teachings no doubt have some potential to contribute in that direction, but I think the main thrust should come from those scientists who are involved in environmental research. From that, they can show a clear sort of picture.

DRB: We still have too much hubris and pride; too little humility. You were speaking of scientists. When I run into scientists who do not have much hubris, I say, "What do you believe most thoroughly today that you think is most likely to be laughed at in twenty-five years?" That slows them down. I think that in religions, the things we believed very sincerely centuries ago, the Buddhist world particularly, we still believe. We're not laughing at them. My law for scientists, if I'm ever in command, would be: they may not take anything apart that they cannot put back together and they may not put something together that they can't take apart. They've been doing both of those things too much. We've taken the atom apart and we don't know what to do to get it back together.

Dalai Lama: It will be important to build the sense of responsibility in each individual person. Certain problems are essentially human creations. The answer must come through humanity—the combination, collection of individual human beings. In India, as one small example, when we discuss how to handle the educational system local officials realize the unsuitability of the national curriculum to the border regions. But at the same time, they say that because it is something written in the constitution, nothing can be done. On a few occasions I asked "Who made the constitution?" Humans made it, the Indian people created their constitution. So if the Indian people find something wrong, why not try to make some changes?

So again, sometimes individual people, although they see the negative things, the long-term dangers, they lack the confidence or courage to be able to effect any change. It's very important for people like you to be able to lead and mobilize all the individual concerns and energies and guide them towards a particular goal.

DRB: In the past year I've talked to about 200,000 people in various audiences. I've asked them, how many in this audience would be willing to commit one year out of the next ten to work on the idea "It's Healing Time on Earth," and to try to heal the Earth, kind of an Earth Corps, a Peace Corps, working around the world performing environmental restoration projects. The International Green Circle we call it. Out of those 200,000, about 140,000 have put their hands up.

So the wish is there. How to organize it? We'll get some young people. They are understanding we're near the end of our rope. The religions that we practice here, except for Buddhism, don't think much about the Earth. For example, the Ten Commandments, in the Judeo-Christian theology, talk all about how we should treat each other, but they don't say a word about what we should do for the Earth. I've never seen, with anything I've done, that much response. That's the exciting thing in my life now. I've worked on the environment for more than fifty years. Now it's more exciting when we look at what your ideas are—your Five Point Peace Plan—as an example of what needs to happen around the world. Twenty-one years ago we took out a big advertisement, a page and a half in the New York Times , where the copy said, "We need to treat the Earth as a conservation district in the universe, as a sort of Earth National Park." An extension of your plan for Tibet would be that we'd soon realize that it could be an Earth National Park.

Dalai Lama: I am very encouraged and inspired by your tremendous knowledge about Tibet. So I very much appreciate that now I have gotten more backing.