December 1 2015

Environment and Altruism, by Matthieu Ricard


Matthieu RicardWith the COP 21 taking place in Paris, the tragic events that occurred there make us even more determined to enhance our altruism and compassion and include the fate of future generations in our compassion.

It has been said that a politician thinks of the next election, while a statesman thinks of the next generation. It is high time for politicians to behave as responsible statesmen. If they do not, future generation will curse them saying: “You knew, yet you did nothing”.

The question of the environment is a complex issues – scientifically, economically and politically. But in the end it comes down to  altruism versus selfishness.

If we don’t care about the fate of future generations and the millions of other species who are our co-citizens in this world, then there is no need to care for the environment. But this cannot be. We have no right to jeopardize the fate of billions and billions of human beings who will be born after us and to cause the sixth major extinction of species on the planet since life appeared on Earth.

It is easy to simply say that the problem is serious, but that it is too late to do something. Surely when we already have one foot over the precipice it is not too late, but it might be very soon.

We may assume that the majority of us are basically good people who are willing to build a better world. In that case, we can work together to do so thanks to altruism. If we have more consideration for others, we will promote a more caring economy, and we will promote harmony in society and remedy inequalities. We will do all that is needed not to transgress the planetary boundaries within which humanity and the rest of the biosphere can continue to prosper.

As we are fundamentally interdependent, we are all on the same boat and so we need to enhance significantly our level of cooperation and solidarity.
Karuna-Shechen is dedicated to provide effective, meaningful and targeted education, healthcare, social, and cultural development services that respond to clearly identified needs of the under-served populations of Tibet, Nepal, and India. Since we work in and around the Himalayas, which have been described as the Third Pole, we are highly concerned by environmental questions.

There are 40,000 large and small glaciers throughout the Himalayas, in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. These glaciers are melting at a rate three to four times faster than the North and South Poles. The melting is particularly accelerated in the Himalayas by the pollution that settles upon the snow and darkens the glaciers, making them more absorbent to light.

Altogether there are 400 glacial lakes in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan that may break their natural dams and flood populated areas lower in the valleys. If these floods happen, the glaciers will increasingly shrink. This will cause drought as the streams and rivers will not be fed by melting snow.

Some 47% of the population of China, India, and other countries is dependent upon the watershed that comes from the rivers of the Tibetan plateau (Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Yellow, Salween, and Mekong) for their agriculture, general water supply, and, therefore, survival. The consequences of the drying up of these great rivers will be catastrophic.

According to our capacity and small means, Karuna-Shechen is making a special effort to help by bringing solar electricity to remote villages, encouraging “Agro-Ecology,” and the production of organic food that is more sustainable for the local environment. We are also implementing scheme of rainwater collection to avoid depleting the water-table (which resuts in springs drying up in many villages.)

We have also built a number of schools using bamboo instead of materials that require high-energy input. In the provinces of Bihar and Jharkhand in India, we are initiating the planting of 6000 kitchen garden, where farmers grow a rich variety of food, to counter the rise of mono-cultures that impoverish the quality of the soil and reduce dramatically biodiversity.

This is just a drop in the ocean, but if we all make efforts in the right direction, we may still be able to build a better world.