UA Professor to Meet With the Dalai Lama

Diana Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment, will meet the Dalai Lama during a conference in India.
Oct. 11, 2011
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A University of Arizona professor is among a small group of scientists, theologians and ethicists who will meet with the Dalai Lama and his advisors in Dharamsala, India, during a conference on the interconnection between environmental change, ethics and individual choices. 

Diana Liverman, a Regents' Professor in the School of Geography and Development who co-directs the Institute of the Environment, will discuss the ways in which human activities are changing the global environment and risking Earth's capacity to sustain life when she meets the Tibetan spiritual leader at his residence on Oct. 17.

Liverman is one of 13 participants, including the Dalai Lama, taking part in the five-day conference, "Mind & Life XXIII: Ecology, Ethics, Interdependence." Together, the group will consider human-caused environmental degradation and what the appropriate ethical and spiritual response should be to ensure planetary stewardship.

"This is an honor and a great opportunity to talk to and learn from one of the world's great spiritual leaders about the risks of global environmental change and the responses to it," Liverman said.

"Part of what interests me about Tibetan Buddhism is the focus on compassion in solving the world's problems," she added. "Because my work has always been concerned with the millions of people in the world who are vulnerable to environmental change, I see the need for a compassionate approach to understanding the human dimensions of global environmental change and developing fair and ethical environmental policies."

The conference, organized by the Boulder, Colo.-based Mind &Life Institute, is broken into 10 presentations, each designed to explore ecological issues from different viewpoints, including the human impacts on the natural systems that support life on the planet, the responses of Buddhist philosophy and other faith traditions, and on-the-ground realities of environmental action.

"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," according to the Mind & Life Institute's website. "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."

Alfred Kaszniak, who has been a chief academic officer of the Mind & Life Institute and is a professor of psychology, psychiatry and neurology at the UA, recommended Liverman as a participant in the dialogue – the latest in a series of discussions between scholars and the Dalai Lama that began in 1987 and has included conversations about neuroscience, physics and economics.

Sitting in a circle, before an audience of Tibetan monks and other visitors, the speakers will converse with the Dalai Lama, who has voiced his concern for the environment, calling for conservation, protection, awareness and personal responsibility.

In her conversation with the Dalai Lama, Liverman will address several points, including the accelerated impact of human activities on Earth's natural environment and the risk of crossing irreversible planetary thresholds concerning climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity and pollution-boundaries that, if crossed, could prove devastating to the planet's natural systems that support life.

Liverman will be the first presenter, speaking from 9-11:30 a.m. on Oct. 17 Indian Standard Time (GMT+5.30). In Tucson, that will be 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 16. A livestream of the seminar will be available online and the sessions will be available for streaming and download after the event.

Liverman has written widely on the human dimensions of climate change, including climate impacts on food and agriculture, climate policy, and climate and development in Latin America and is known for her efforts to promote the role of the social sciences in understanding environmental issues.

She also co-authored a study that identified nine planetary thresholds, concluding that three – climate, biodiversity and nitrogen pollution – already have been crossed. She has served on several national and international committees that include the National Academies committee on America's Climate Choices and the scientific advisory committee of the international Global Environmental Change and Food Systems program.

For her contributions, Liverman earned the Founders Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society and the Distinguished Scholarship Honors Award by the Association of American Geographers.