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Dalai Lama on Global Warming

On the same week I encountered the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, I had the once in a life time chance to meet a world figure who lived, and led, a community in what must be considered the closest thing to Shangri-La we westerners can comprehend. When she was about twelve years old, my wife Trudi wrote a seventh grade paper about Shangri-La. To her at the time, it was almost an imaginary place of high peaks, prayer flags, and ever-present scent of jasmine flowers. She never dreamed that one day she would actually find such a place in real life. Neither did she dream that such a place may disappear as a victim of global warming. She found out that both were true earlier this year when she and I ascended into the foothills of the Himalayas to visit the Dalai Llama in Dharamsala, India. We went there to discuss his Tibetan people's struggle for freedom in the face of the China's invasion of Tibet, but we came away with an understanding that another, more existential threat hung over the Buddhist monks, one that could make the Chinese invasion seem like a walk in the park. At the Dalai Lama's residence, matters soon turned to this equally pressing threat to the Tibetan people, that of global warming. I asked for his advice on this subject, about how to engage the developing world in this effort. He immediately perked up and let us know it was much on his mind. "It will be the people of Tibet who will suffer first," he said. "We know that what little water is available on the Tibetan plateau will be diminished as these changes take place. I know how dry our home is and I can hardly imagine what it will be like as global warming kicks in." "It's not just Tibetans,' he continued. "All four rivers that provide India's water are fed by the Himalayan glaciers. Those glaciers are going to shrink and they are. When the Ganges is dry, it will be millions of Indian's who are parched. Yes, this is not right. It is dangerous and people all over have to act." If the people of the developing world are to be the first victims of global warming, the Dalai Lama should not be the number one spokesperson for these endangered billions. Perhaps no one else could be both as close physically to the epicenter of destruction and spiritually to the heart of understanding that non-violence ought to encompass the earth itself, not just we two legged occupants. I was surprised at the strength of his comments on global warming since he was necessarily immersed in the mortal threat to his people that was then raging in Tibet. So we learned two things in the foothills of the world's tallest mountain range. First, Shangri-La actually exists. Second, it won't exist in its current state much longer if we do not act to prevent violence against the planet.


Jay Inslee represents the First District of the State of Washington (Seattle area) in the United States House of Representatives. He is the co-author of Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.