Fossil Fuel

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Illustration by Nidhi Aggarwal

Samdhong Rinpoche is a wise man. He is a Tibetan Buddhist monk and was also the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile. Thus he wonderfully integrates the spiritual with the political. Recently he was commenting on the meeting of political leaders in Bali where the problems of climate change were under discussion.

All governments gathered in Bali recognised the urgency of the problem of global warming and agreed that the protection of the biosphere is paramount. However, little agreement was reached on an effective programme of action.

The Americans wanted the Chinese and Indian leaders to cap their carbon emissions before America reduced its own, otherwise, they argued, the American economy would suffer. The Chinese and the Indians responded that as it is the Western industrialised nations, led by America, that have caused climate change, it is those nations that should cap their emissions first. They argued that China and India have a right to develop their economies as the industrialised nations have, otherwise their economies would “lag behind”.

Laughing at the ‘argy-bargy’ between the Americans on the one hand and the Chinese and Indians on the other, Samdhong Rinpoche said, “It is as if the Americans are sawing off the branch of the tree upon which they are sitting, looking at the Chinese and the Indians down below sawing the smaller branches on which they are sitting. The Americans ask the Chinese and the Indians to stop sawing the branch, otherwise they will fall, but the Chinese and the Indians respond, ‘No, you stop first.’ But the Americans demand, ‘No, no, you first!’ In the meantime both continue to weaken the branches of the tree upon which they are sitting and which ultimately sustain them!”

All these government leaders are supposed to be educated, rational, intelligent beings! Climate change is a grave crisis facing the world but it is also an opportunity for us all to rise to the challenge and unite to work together rather than point fingers of blame at each other. The challenge is to redesign the world: to design a more authentic, genuine and elegant world. Who needs this wasteful, stressful, congested and exploitative world where half of humanity goes to bed hungry while the other half is suffering from obesity? Where clean water, clean air and clean food are becoming scarce?

Climate change is not the real problem: it is only a symptom of the problem. The real problem is the faulty design of our economic, political and social systems, based on our addiction to fossil fuels and consumerism. This system was designed by humans. With the power of imagination, creativity and spirituality, surely we can design a world where Americans, Chinese, Indians and the rest of humanity can enjoy the fruits of the tree of life instead of cutting off the branches of the tree upon which we sit. We can do better than this.