That's the Spirit

In a vacuum of political will, spiritual leaders like the Pope and the Dalai Lama are taking the lead on climate

September 3, 2019

10:27 am

It was a holiday weekend in the U.S., as Americans enjoyed the end of summer in their annual lazy, Labor Day revel. But it was a busy weekend for spiritual leaders outside the U.S., as both the Dalai Lama and the Pope chimed in on the importance of tackling the climate crisis.

The Dalai Lama — the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetan people — kicked things off on Twitter on Sunday, tweeting “Ours is a globalized world. Climate change affects us all; no one can hide from it. The global economy means we need to think of other people as members of one global family. This is why we need humane values based on common sense and common experience in our education systems.”

The Pope followed up the next day with a written message for Sunday’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, in which he urged world leaders to take “drastic measures” to fight climate change.

“Governments will have the responsibility of showing the political will to take drastic measures to achieve as quickly as possible zero net greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the average increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius with respect to pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the Paris Agreement goals.”

The Pope’s message (and presumably the Dalai Lama’s, as well) was issued on the cusp of a critically important month for the survival of the planet. September will see both UN Week and Climate Week NYC take place toward the end of the month, when a two-week flurry of meetings, summits, campaigns, conferences — and even two global strikes — will attune laser focus on the climate threat.

The Dalai Lama and the Pope have been two reliable voices in the fight against the climate crisis. The Dalai Lama gave an address at the original Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, in which he noted “This blue planet of ours is a delightful habitat. Its life is our life; its future our future. Indeed, the earth acts like a mother to us all. Like children, we are dependent on her. In the fact of such global problems as the greenhouse effect and depletion of the or one layer, individual organizations and single nations are helpless. Unless we all work together; no solution can be found.”

Nearly 20 years later, in 2011, he held a summit on Climate, the 23rd “Mind & Life Dialogue with the Dalai Lama,” in his Dharamsala, India, private residence. The meeting convened scientists and spiritual leaders, and a transcript of the dialogue exists in book form currently. The closing sentence of the book belongs to the Dalai Lama, who notes, “The earth is our home, and our home is on fire.”

This weekend, the Pope railed against “constant pollution, continued use of fossil fuels, intensive agricultural exploitation and deforestation,” according to Reuters, “as being among the man-made causes of global warming and said the Amazon, where fires are raging, is ‘gravely threatened’.” In fact, he has made climate a regular topic of concern, even mentioning it specifically when he addressed U.S. Congressional leaders in 2015. He also put the issue to his followers, noting that “Environmental degradation is not simply a problem or a statistic — it’s a sin."

Faith communities are an essential lever for mass adoption of climate change policies and actions. What if every house of worship was as low-carbon and as renewable as possible? It’s critical that, in a vacuum of political leadership, spiritual leaders can fill in the gap.

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