Around the Pier: Meeting of the Minds

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What does one discuss with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama when given only a brief window of time? For scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the topic of conversation was a no-brainer: climate change.

More specifically, they discussed the important role that religious and spiritual organizations can play in developing consensus on the need for action on climate change.

The meeting occurred during His Holiness’s June 2017 visit to UC San Diego, where he shared a public address on campus June 16, and a keynote speech June 17 at the all-campus commencement. Attendees of the intimate encounter included Scripps Director Margaret Leinen, Scripps climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, journalist Ann Curry, and UC Regent Richard Blum. (View photo gallery.)

Ramanathan said he utilized his “two-minute parking lot pitch” to discuss with the Dalai Lama what he deems a moral problem in which the worst consequences of climate change will be experienced by three billion of the world’s poorest people. Many of these poor people live in villages and have never had access to fossil fuels used by the more affluent. And yet, despite bearing little responsibility for the warming of the planet, the poor will likely suffer the worst consequences.

“There’s a huge moral problem, and that’s why I’m coming to you,” said Ramanathan, recalling the opening line of his conversation with His Holiness. “It’s my feeling that we should teach and talk about climate change in every church, every synagogue, every mosque, and every temple, or this problem’s not going to get solved.”

This was Ramanathan’s fourth encounter with the Dalai Lama. In recent years, the distinguished scientist has made great efforts to court leaders of faith to get involved with the scientific community and galvanize public support for environmental stewardship. As a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Ramanathan has had several opportunities to speak to Pope Francis and other spiritual leaders about the need to understand and protect our planet.

Ramanathan noted that as commencement speaker, the Dalai Lama had a grand platform to inspire change and create awareness among the graduates. Recognizing this incredible opportunity, he told His Holiness that it would be “very nice” if he mentioned climate change during his commencement remarks.

The Dalai Lama listened keenly to his talking points, and was also attentive to Leinen as she discussed the U.S. position on the Paris Agreement and the leadership that California is showing in both reducing emissions and working internationally to form partnerships with other states, countries, and regions to advance technology and share ideas.

Pioneering Scripps oceanographer Walter Munk also rubbed elbows with the Dalai Lama at a leadership luncheon on the UC San Diego campus. The two have met several times over the years, and in 2015, Munk and Ramanathan presented His Holiness with a framed image of a deep-sea worm named Sirsoe dalailamai by Scripps Oceanography in honor of the spiritual leader's 80th birthday. 

“Climate change is an enormous challenge both technically and scientifically but nothing compared to challenges of international collaboration,” said Munk, a professor emeritus of geophysics just months shy of celebrating his centennial birthday. “This is why it’s so important His Holiness is addressing this issue––he has a following by many which can help foster more international collaboration.”

Munk fondly recalls his various meetings with the Dalai Lama. “I have had the chance to spend several hours with him and he is very good company. He does not take himself too seriously and he has a great sense of humor.”

Scripps leaders look forward to continue fostering collaborations with the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders in efforts to find solutions to a global problem. Ramanathan said he was happy to see the Dalai Lama take the stage—in front of 25,000 graduates and their families—where he mentioned climate change within the first few minutes of his keynote address.

“It is not a problem for a particular nation or a particular continent, but for the world,” the Dalai Lama said. “This phenomenon teaches us that as human beings, we must work unitedly, with common effort toward a common goal. That’s [a] happy world. This century should be a peaceful century; in that respect, now you have the opportunity—as well as responsibility—to create that kind of world.”

– Brittany Hook

Related Image Gallery: The Dalai Lama Visits UC San Diego

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