More than 4,000 people flocked to UC San Diego’s campus Wednesday morning to hear His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama talk about global warming and its implications.
The famous spiritual leader of Tibet, who is in San Diego on his first official visit, received a celebrity’s welcome. The audience, which ranged from college students in backwards caps to men in blazers, stood and cheered as the Dalai Lama took the stage inside the RIMAC auditorium. When the Dalai Lama put on a UCSD visor, the crowd went wild.
The audience was soon hushed, however, as the Dalai Lama began to talk about the perils of global warming, including rising sea levels and poor air quality. Using a simple but powerful metaphor, the Dalai Lama illustrated just how critical he feels the issues are.
“Look at birds: Even they respect their nests because they know their survival depends on it," he said. "This small blue planet is our only home. If we do not respect it, the entire planet and billions and billions of species will be affected. This is a question of life, a question of survival for the entire planet.”
As he spoke, audience members sat captivated, some wiping away tears or closing their eyes to better absorb what he was saying.
But the talk also offered hope. The Dalai Lama said change is possible and it starts with education based on the scientific research that shows global warming is happening. He applauded scientists who have brought this data to light, including UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who co-moderated the talk. He stressed that regardless of creed or political preference, the world must take heart to the facts. Somerville echoed those thoughts.
“There are no Democratic or Republican thermometers—and satellites are not liberal or conservative,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts.”
In order for change to truly take root, the Dalai Lama said everyone must work toward a common goal, too.
“We need full cooperation based on a clear realization that we are all one. Each and every individual’s future depends on the entire humanity, especially right now.”
Some moments of comic relief were also peppered in to the talk. As the Dalai Lama spoke about how a growing world population would only compound these environmental issues, he joking suggested that more people become monks as a means of birth control. That sense of humor was an unexpected delight for audience member Tatiana Southard, who drove down from Encinitas.
“I knew he was intelligent and compassionate, but I had no idea he was so charming and funny,” she said. “I loved listening to him.”
Listening to him talk was, in fact, a lifelong dream come to fruition. As a small child Southard traveled to the Far East with her parents. As she slept on the plane, her parents woke her just in time to see Mount Everest peaking through the clouds. That moment sparked a curiosity and deep love for Nepalese and Tibetan cultures. She has spent years studying the Dalai Lama’s teachings, and Wednesday morning, she was among the thousands who stood and cheered for him as he put on that UCSD visor.
“I was honored to hear him speak. I was prepared to walk out of that auditorium feeling guilty for all the things I’m not doing but could be—but I appreciate that he offered encouragement. His optimism makes me optimistic.”
The series of talks will continue Wednesday afternoon at the University of San Diego, where he will give a talk titled "Cultivating Peace and Justice"—and Thursday morning at San Diego State University, where he will give a talk titled “Upholding Universal Ethics and Compassion in Challenging Times."
For more information about the Dalai Lama, including webcasts of some of his previous talks, visit dalailama.com.