Karuna-Shechen, our action to protect the environment

By Matthieu Ricard on November 30, 2015

With the COP 21 taking place in Paris, the tragic events that occurred in the French capital should give us even more determination to enhance our altruism and compassion and include the fate of future generations in our compassion.

It has often been said that a politician thinks of the next election, while a Statesman of the next generation. It is more than time for politicians to behave as responsible Statesmen. Otherwise future generation will curse them and say: “You knew, yet you did nothing”.

The question of the environment is complex scientifically, economically and politically. But in the end, it is a matter of altruism versus selfishness. If we don’t care for the fate of future generations and of the millions of other species who are our co-citizens in this world, then we don’t need to care as well 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 6th 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 not too late to do something. Surely when we already have one foot over the precipice, it is not too late yet, 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 do so together 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.

Being fundamentally interdependent, we are all on the same boat and need to enhance significantly our level of cooperation and solidarity.
Karuna-Shechen is dedicated to providing effective, meaningful and well-targeted education, healthcare, social, and cultural development services that respond to clearly identified needs of the underserved 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 melt 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.

At our humble level, Karuna-Shechen makes special efforts to bring solar electricity to remote villages, to encourage “Agro-Ecology” and production of organic food, more sustainable for the local environment. We also implement rainwater harvest schemes, to avoid depleting the water-table (which results in springs drying up in many villages.) We have also built a number of schools using bamboo instead of material that requires high-energy input. In the provinces of Bihar and Jarkhang in India, we have catalyzed the growth of 6000 kitchen gardens where farmers grow a rich variety of foods, as an alternative to the development of monocultures that impoverish the ground and dramatically reduce 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.

For more information on Matthieu Ricard's humanitarian activities :