2011 – XXIII

Ecology, Ethics and Interdependence

with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Dharamsala, India  •   October 17 – 21, 2011

Conference Videos

Videos will be posted as they become available. Session descriptions can be found below.

Conference Overview

The slow meltdown of Earth’s capacity to sustain much of life, as we know it, poses an urgent challenge for both spiritual traditions and science. These two ways of knowing have developed distinctive responses, which are potentially synergistic. The goal of the meeting is to provide an opportunity to articulate an engaged environmental ethics. This would include the understanding of interdependence through an examination of the most recent data on the scientific case for effective ecological action. Furthermore, it will be a unique opportunity to meet with other faith traditions that have arrived at a religious basis for motivating environmental activism. A dialogue between contemplative scholars, activists and ecological scientists could enrich the response to our planetary crisis. Insights from the new thrust in ecological science evoke the deep interconnections between individual choice and planetary consequence as well as through cross-fertilization of ideas and meaningful action among activists working within their own spiritual framework. We will explore many dimensions, from the human-caused deterioration in the global systems that sustain life, and the role each of us plays as seen through the lens of industrial ecology, to a view from Buddhist philosophy and other faith traditions, to the on-the-ground realities faced by ecological activists. Our hope is that this conference will be a significant catalyst for the formulation of new research ideas in these fields and solutions to our planetary crisis. Planning Committee

Conference Participants

Schedule of Proceedings

Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4 Session 5 Session 6 Session 7 Session 8 Session 9 Session 10

  October 17, 2011 MORNING SESSION 1 || 9:00am – 11:30am

TOPIC ONE: THE SCIENCE Human Impact on Global Systems for Sustaining Life

Geologists use the term Anthropocene Age for the era that began with the Industrial Revolution, in which human activity steadily degrades the global systems that sustain life on our planet. Those systems include, for example, the carbon cycle and global warming and the nitrogen system, where runoff from chemical fertilizers creates dead zones in lakes and oceans. The victims include species gone or going extinct, vanishing ecosystems, and human suffering. A complex interdependence underlies the planet’s life-sustaining systems: they act in tandem with each other and in complex ways, creating safe zones for life – but have tipping points for destruction from human activity. What is the nature of a system, and what basic principles operate to sustain or degrade a system?  How might interdependence be articulated as a principle across all the systems? Participants

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AFTERNOON SESSION 2|| 1:00pm – 4:30pm

Interdependence Between the Environment and Our Health: Risk and Opportunities

These global disruptions raise several ethical issues that will become themes of subsequent sessions, among them: damage from global warming is caused by the wealthiest nations, but most negatively impacts the well-being of the poorest; the question of generational responsibility, where our human descendants are being harmed by our present activities; and the issue of the threat that human activity poses to other species on the planet.  The health problems created areas of poverty by consumption by the world’s wealthiest offers a case in point. Participants

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  October 18, 2011 MORNING SESSION 3 || 9:00am – 11:30am

Industrial Ecology: Connecting Everyday Activity to Planetary Crisis

Industrial ecology studies how human systems impact nature in a fine-grained manner, revealing with precision just how everyday operations of systems like energy or industry degrade planetary systems for supporting life. “Life Cycle Analysis” analyzes something as prosaic as detergent or a cell phone as an ongoing process from cradle-to-grave with hundreds or thousands of discrete steps, each of which can be measured for a wide array of environmental, health, and social impacts. Those impacts range from particulate emissions or toxic chemicals, to the ill effects of industrial farming, to child labor or sweat shops. These metrics lay bare the formerly hidden ethical consequences of our individual choices, for example, when we shop. Participants

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AFTERNOON SESSION 4 || 1:00pm – 4:30pm

TOPIC TWO: ETHICS, PHILOSOPHY, THEOLOGY Environmental Ethics: What is at Stake?

How do we understand our ethical obligations when we conceive of ourselves as part of an ecosystem? Must we move beyond an anthropocentric and temporally bounded perspective to a wider view that encompasses all species and future generations? These and other such questions lie at the heart of Environmental Ethics, a new and vibrant discipline within Western Philosophy. From this new philosophical perspective, key questions include the question of value (intrinsic or not?), the problem of pluralism (is there a universal Environmental Ethics?) and our ethical relations to nonhuman beings.


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  October 19, 2011 MORNING SESSION 5 || 9:00am – 11:30am

A Role for Theology: Models of God, the World, and the Self

“Be careful how you interpret the world. It is like that.” We live within our models, our worldviews, and they deeply and subtly influence the decisions we make, including ones about the environment. Hence, if we hold views of God, the world, and ourselves that are dualistic, individualistic, and anthropocentric, we will “naturally” decide that climate change, for instance, is not a serious matter.  If, however, our worldview is one based on contemporary science as well as the deepest wisdom of many religions, a worldview that claims we are radically interrelated and interdependent with all other forms of life,  then we will (or should) respond to our present crisis with similarly radical changes in our thinking and  behavior.  But do we?  This is the critical question for all fields of concern with climate change, including the religions—and it is a very difficult one.  What causes people to change at a deep enough level so their behavior changes as well? The shock of climate change may be the catalyst to awaken us from the lie of the current worldview of individual fulfillment through consumerism to the reality of fulfillment by sharing with needy fellow creatures and the earth itself, through religious understandings of limitation, detachment, and self-emptying. Could it be that the Christian notion of kenosis (self-emptying) is the other side of compassion and that a more inclusive sense of self (the universal, ecological self) is the product of both? Participants

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AFTERNOON SESSION 6 || 1:00pm – 4:30pm

A Buddhist Perspective on Ethics



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  October 20, 2011 MORNING SESSION 7 || 9:00am – 11:30am

TOPIC THREE: ETHICS AND ACTION The Psychology of Action and Behavior Change

As evidence mounts for the ecological impacts of collective individual choices, change in the basic habits at the individual, community, and societal levels remains difficult. The human brain appears ill-suited to recognize and respond to the global threats posed by human activity, with widespread indifference to these ecological risks. What do the behavioral sciences tell us about the best means to change our ecological habits, and what obstacles must be overcome? Drawing on the science from the previous sessions, concrete examples will illustrate the issues here.


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AFTERNOON SESSION 8 || 1:00pm – 4:30pm

Buddhism on Behavior Change

TBD Participants

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  October 21, 2011 MORNING SESSION 9 || 9:00am – 11:30am

TOPIC FOUR: CONCLUSION The Skillful Means of Activism

The dialogue will be joined by voices of those who are engaged in ethics-driven ecological action. We will hear success stories that include grass-roots organizing among women in Indian villages, strategies for handling urgent global threats like water shortage and global warming, and environmental action within a monastic community. Activists will address issues raised by this dialogue in light of their concrete experience. Participants

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AFTERNOON SESSION 10 || 1:00pm – 4:30pm

Roundtable Discussion

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