The climate crisis: we can be part of the change

By Matthieu Ricard on November 05, 2021

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Our time is marked by many social, economic and ecological disasters. For Johan Rockström, codirector of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the environmental crisis is a first-rate emergency where the stakes are particularly high and the time to act limited.

Most of us are both aware of and preoccupied by these human-made ecological upheavals that are responsible for the sixth mass extinction of species since life on Earth began. Yet there are solutions. We have a few years left to take drastic and decisive action.

Faced with the lack of political will and commitment, what can we do to initiate and contribute to change and prevent additional disturbances and suffering?

Matthieu Ricard offers some keys to better understand the climate crisis (you can turn ON the English subtitles!)

To get out of the rut of recommendations with no impact, we must first take full measure of the alarm bells rang by scientists and follow schools of thought that promote altruism and proper well-being as true guides in our decision-making. The idea is not merely to survive but to live better with less, in harmony with our ecosystem. Being informed helps better understand the importance of life around us and the need for its protection. Faced with ecological, energetic and economic threats, we must act with consideration for other species, future generations and the environment.

A simple and effective step we can all take is to stop consuming animal products. Industrial farming is a disaster not only for the environment or for health, but also for its role in increasing poverty throughout the world. Every two months, there are as many animals slaughtered as there have been Homo sapiens on Earth since their origin (about 110 billion). Jane Goodall, the great primate expert, once told me: « What shocks me most is that people seem almost schizophrenic as soon as you mention the terrible conditions that prevail in intensive breeding sites, the cruel piling up of sensitive beings into tiny spaces – conditions so horrible we are forced to constantly administer antibiotics to keep them alive, lest they let themselves die off. I often describe the nightmare of transport – if they fall during transport, they are hoisted by the leg, effectively breaking it – and of slaughterhouses where so many animals aren’t even stunned before being scorched alive or plunged into boiling water. It is obviously terribly painful. When I tell this to people, they often reply: “Oh, please don't tell me, I’m too sensitive and I love animals.” And I think: “What could possibly have gone wrong in this brain?!” »

On top of this inherently ethical aspect, there are also crucial moral and environmental considerations for not consuming meat. Many scientific reports from the United Nations (IPCC and FAO), the Worldwatch Institute and others, have alerted on the dire environmental impacts of industrial animal production. Quantitatively speaking, intensive breeding - meat production and derivatives (wool, eggs and dairy products) - is the second highest source of pollution in the world. Overall, industrial livestock production contributes 14.5%1 of greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity, behind the building sector and before transport.

No longer consuming products from intensive breeding constitutes an immediate and efficient commitment to kindness towards animals, as well as a concrete step we can all take for environmental preservation. According to an IPCC report, this factor alone could help stay below the 2°C global warming threshold.

Showing authentic concern for others through kindness is the only type of connection that can help us work together efficiently, ethically and sustainably for a better world. An altruistic mindset can alleviate inequalities and social injustice in the short term, promote the well-being of the population in the medium term, and in the long term fully take into consideration the fate of future generations and of 8 million other species who inhabit this planet.

Another useful step we can take is to cultivate our natural gift of compassion on a daily basis. Respecting and taking care of the environment and of all living beings fosters hope, stoking our desire to become aware of our interdependence and restore trust in human nature. Merely reviving our sense of wonder for what is wild around us won’t fix the ecological crisis, but it is inherent to the awareness-raising process needed to protect the living. Finding beauty in the world each day, be it in a child's smile, in a wonderful landscape or in the fleeting experience of a snowflake resting in the palm of our hand, is a precious gift we wish to preserve. Wonder leads to respect. Respect leads to the will to care. And this leads to direct and long-lasting action.

Governments often announce long-term measures to reach carbon neutrality, but lacking strong short-term commitments, they avoid the problem and leave it for the next government to take appropriate action. Winston Churchill said that « a head of State thinks about future generations, a political person [thinks] about coming elections. » It is time politicians demonstrate some courage if they don't want to be considered traitors by generations to come.


Karuna, the non-profit organization founded by Matthieu Ricard, offers concrete solutions to populations in India and Nepal so they can face the climate challenges as best as possible. With environmental, business and educational projects, Karuna helps develop access to water, solar electricity or even organic farming. To find out more, click here.

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1 This number is taken from the FAO report on greenhouse gas emissions due to livestock in Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock, FAO, October 2013. The share of 14.5% is based on an analysis which takes into account the entire life-cycle, meaning it includes CO2 emissions linked to deforestation due to livestock farming, production and packaging of food for the animals, etc. Considering the life-cycle as a whole is of particular importance since indirect emissions from livestock amount to a significant share of emissions.