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Dalai Lama Considers Climate Change At MIT Forum

Tibetan exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama waves as he takes the stage for the "Ethics, Economy and Environment Panel" at the Global Systems 2.0 Conference at MIT on Monday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Dalai Lama bows as he takes the stage for the “Ethics, Economy and Environment” panel at the Global Systems 2.0 Conference at MIT on Monday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Every nation will suffer if governments don’t think about common interests and responsibilities in dealing with climate change, rather than national interest, the Dalai Lama told a crowd in Cambridge on Monday.

“Whether we can really solve these problems or not, we have to make an attempt, that’s how I feel,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said at a forum hosted by the The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values, a nonprofit think tank at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rising Sea Levels

new report out in the Journal of Coastal Research shows sea level rise is accelerating along the Northeast coast, threatening cities such as Boston. The latest study, from researchers at Virginia Institute of Marine Science, confirms two earlier studies.

The rising sea level and other climate change issues were among those discussed at the forum titled “Ethics, Economy and Environment.” The forum addressed what one scientist on the panel called “one of the biggest problems facing humans today — global climate change.”

The Dalai Lama said when he was growing up he didn’t think much about the environment. The water near his home was always very sweet but, he said, when he reached India and was told it wasn’t safe to drink the water, he started to consider the degradation of the environment a very serious matter. He lamented that the problems are largely invisible to the general public.

“Unlike violence, war, bleeding, dying, these are images that are stuck in our mind,” the Dalai Lama said, “the environment [is] not that kind of visible.”

A leading MIT scientist on the panel said if this generation doesn’t act now to address global warming, there will be severe consequences, including not only rising sea levels but also heat waves, floods, droughts, more powerful hurricanes and an acidic ocean.

The Dalai Lama sat quietly on stage in his maroon robe silently nodding his head. He said even though he doesn’t have children, all of humanity’s children will be affected by climate change.

“We have the responsibility to think about their future, their life,” he said.

Education is the answer, and governments and the media have the responsibility to raise awareness, the Dalai Lama said.

Looking For Solutions

Rebecca Henderson, an economics professor at Harvard Business School, says we need to transform the world economy from one where resources are cheap and waste is free, to one where resources are properly priced. That, she says, will change polluting behaviors. Henderson says the challenge is convincing businesses to manage morally and ethically.

“I think there’s increasing consensus that business as usual may have unacceptable social and environmental costs,” Henderson said.

Penny Chisholm, a professor in the environmental studies department at MIT, looked at the latest efforts in geoengineering — tinkering with nature to try and reverse the effects of climate change. Scientists are looking at technical solutions such as collecting carbon in the atmosphere and storing it deep in the earth, controlling the temperature of the earth, or adding nutrients to the ocean. But, she told the Dalai Lama, these solutions could be dangerous.

“We aren’t going to know what will happen,” Chisholm said. “So to take that risk with our planet is too great when we know there’s a solution at the root cause.”

The solution, she said, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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