Dr Bhaskar Vira gave an outline of the work of his institute at Cambridge University, set up to explore relationships and interconnectedness of issues such as climate change, food security. He spoke about one of the key areas of the institute’s work, which is the role of the natural landscape in maintaining water systems, the dangers of potential conflict over water, specifically mentioning Tibet as the source of water for billions of people. Dr Vira said that knowledge of Tibet as the earth’s Third Pole is gaining ground in scientific circles; previously attention was focused mainly on the North and South Poles.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, who was awarded an OBE for services to heritage and conservation said: “Whilst we are dependent on scientists and academics to explain relationships and connections, we are also dependent on people to make decisions and adapt their behavior and to help us think about the values we share for the future. I am more and more convinced that people are not persuaded by fear or material matters alone, but we are persuaded and inspired by beauty – by the intangible phenomenon of our spiritual relationship with the landscape. If we are to deal with climate change, we need to inspire people to act in the belief that there is a better future that is not solely dependent on material things. It is harder these days to talk about spirituality, but we perhaps need to adopt spiritual values and language to inspire people.”
Referencing the Karmapa’s nomad heritage, Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet outlined new plans by China to turn vast tracts of Tibet into nature reserves. While on the surface this appears to be a useful approach of preserving the landscape, what few realize is that it is contingent upon the removal of nomads from their pastures. Beijing bureaucrats talks of ‘contradiction of grass and animals’, although for many generations, Tibetan nomads like the Karmapa’s family have made skilful use of the landscape of the world’s highest and largest plateau, co-existing peacefully with wildlife and protecting the land and its species. In these new nature reserves, grazing of yaks is illegal and so is the gathering of medicinal herbs.
Kate Saunders also referred to an emerging dialogue in China in which many Chinese scientists are calling for strengthened participation of science-based conservation with Tibetan stewardship of the land. These perspectives are little-known outside but drawing attention to them honors the Karmapa’s nomadic heritage. And as China seeks to gain endorsement from governments and international institutions for its new nature reserves, there is a need to challenge official China’s narrative on the nomads. Ringu Tulku Rinpoche said that in Tibet before 1959, people looked at the environment with a very personal connection that could be called spiritual, and that remains the case today. He spoke about a Wechat conversation with Tibetans in Tibet who understood the issue through two perspectives: one was the outside environment, the “container” in Buddhism, and the other was the inside environment, relating to how people react to each other and live together. The group decided that all the monasteries and communities should come together and pledged to protect the environment.
In response to thinking about transforming concepts of ownership, Lord Williams recalled the Hebrew Scriptures, stating that we do not own the land; rather it is lent to us for a time. Another participant remarked that changing our relationship to the earth also involved changing other power structures such as that between men and women, different races and castes. This shift also relates to the need to feel secure. We would be more able to resolve environmental issues from a position of security, allowing people to see the mutual benefits of everyone being responsible for each other.