Our Collective Climate Delusion

If we’ve all lost our minds together, can we really know what’s happening?

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Occasionally, a great reckoning will sweep through a culture, unveiling a world that will be shocking to some and unsurprising to others, but forcing change nonetheless. Take, for instance, the election of Donald Trump, which has thrown America’s long history of racism and our culture’s pervasive misogyny into the center ring of our current cultural, post-truth circus. But what will finally force a real conversation about the global threat of climate change? In his eloquent and unsparing book, “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” Indian writer Amitav Ghosh explores the cultural, political and psychological history of our species’ inability to grasp that our daily habits are threatening our lives. He seamlessly weaves together stories and statistics to remind us that the world humans have constructed is by no means under our control: Earth has limits, and so do we. But at what point will we recognize—and reckon with—that fact? And how do the stories we tell ourselves about the past and the future contribute to that reckoning?

You are best known as a fiction writer. What made you decide to write the lectures that constitute “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable”? And what role does fiction, or the humanities in general, play in helping us to process and understand our world?
AG: For me, climate change is impossible to ignore: It is the most important question of our times, and I wrote the book because I felt that it demands a response from every thinking person. Just as people once asked their parents, “What did you do during the war?” a future generation is going to ask their parents, “Why didn’t you pay attention to climate change?” 

As human beings, stories are fundamental to our understanding of the world. Perhaps if we listened to different stories we would better appreciate the scale of the challenge that we now face as a species.

You write in the book that our lives are not guided by reason but by “inertia and habitual motion” and that “those who uproot themselves and make the right preparations [for climate change] are precisely those obsessed monomaniacs who appear to be on the borderline of lunacy.” And you very specifically chose to use the word “derangement” in relation to the vast majority of people who cannot comprehend climate change. What does it mean to be sane at this point in our history as humans?
AG: I don’t think any of us can claim to be sane at this moment. We are all living in a kind of collective delusion, in which the political and economic discourse continues to conjure up horizons of unlimited “growth,” and we continue to use the very things that will ultimately destroy us—cars, planes, etc.

You observe that one effect of modernity is the shift in how we think about nature. In our literature and in our art, nature used to be an awesome force to be feared, respected and revered. And then—through our increased proficiencies in science, technology, engineering and math—we came to believe that we could control nature. How does it feel to you to be witnessing the results of our limitations? Of our hubris?
AG: It wasn’t just that modernity led people to believe that “nature” could be controlled—it led them to believe that the earth is inert. It is this illusion that has been shattered by climate change. James Lovelock’s seminal book “Gaia” showed us that in many respects the Earth functions as a living organism. But, of course,  this is what most premodern cultures believed anyway.

I’d like to talk about cultural memory. Great quantities of humans now live in places where our ancestors felt it unsafe to populate. You write in the book about the great incentives it took to get modern people to live on the island of Hong Kong, and about stone tablets left by earlier generations on the coast of Japan, warning of tsunamis and advising, “Don’t build past here!” Yet we chose instead to build not only a settlement but a nuclear facility there. One-third of America’s infrastructure is in our hurricane-prone Gulf Coast. Are we about to enter an age of remembering?
AG: The list of cities that are facing potentially catastrophic impacts is growing by the day. Hurricane Harvey may have been an important inflection point in the U.S.—at any rate, it seems to me that much more attention is being paid to this issue today.

One of the most enlightening parts of the book is the time you spend laying out how Eurocentric the dialogue around climate change is, and how the history of empire and of colonialism has also played a significant role in this story. Can you talk a little about that?
AG: It is a fact that the discourse on climate change is very Eurocentric. But this is, strangely enough, partly the fault of non-Westerners, because climate change is not a major subject of discussion in countries like India, China, Indonesia and so on—even though they all stand to lose a great deal. 

The impacts on India are widespread and intensifying. The most notable impacts are prolonged droughts, extreme heat waves, an increasing number of “rain bomb” events, and more and more agricultural land being invaded by seawater.

Most people cannot comprehend climate change or their contributions to it. We are also bad at imagining the sheer numbers of people who will be affected. You write that “the consequences are beyond imaginable: The lives and livelihoods of half a billion people in South and Southeast Asia are at risk.” What can help us conceive of this problem or how it will affect our fellow humans?
AG: The vastness of the scale of climate change is one of the factors that prevents us from grasping the enormity of the challenge, especially because we have become accustomed to thinking in delimited ways. Our approach to problems is to break them down into tractable units—but that often makes us lose sight of the interconnections of the big picture.

You cite many statistics in the book: Predicted sea-level rise may displace 50 million people in India; a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will decrease food production there by 25 percent; China feeds 20 percent of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land, and desertification there is already causing $65 billion per year in losses. Scholars such as Robert Paarlberg have written that, because the United States may not see some of these same impacts and because our fossil-fuel lobby is so strong, U.S. action is stymied. Do you agree? And can the world solve this without the United States?
AG: I think the whole framing of climate change as primarily a threat to the world’s poor is very misleading. The truth is that everybody stands to lose in proportion to their circumstances. For many subsistence-level farmers, the impacts will surely be disastrous in that they will lead to complete immiseration. But in gross terms, the rich stand to lose the most, partly because they simply have more to lose and partly because they are more dependent on advanced infrastructure. During Hurricane Harvey, for instance, some of the richest people in one of the world’s richest cities were very badly impacted. Similarly, Puerto Rico is technically a part of the world’s richest and most advanced country, yet most of its people remain without electricity many weeks after Hurricane Maria. Cuba, by contrast, has been relatively resilient. In 2017 the U.S. probably had a higher tally of climate-related losses than any other part of the world.

Is there anything that gives you hope that we’ll solve this crisis?
AG: In my view, the idea that all problems have a “solution” is itself a hindrance in regard to thinking about climate change. At this point “coping” or “adapting” might be better words to use because many climate change impacts are already locked in—no matter what we do now.

Amitav Ghosh is a celebrated writer whose books include “The Circle of Reason,” “Dancing to Cambodia and at Large in Burma” and “Flood of Fire.”

The Fix

America’s workplaces, and the policies that serve workers, are in need of renovation. Do we have the political will for an overhaul?

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

We’re awash in news accounts of workplace sexual harassment, the “fight for $15,” cities vying for the Amazon HQ2 bid, and Congress debating which public policies they claim will help “regular” Americans. Grid asked Peter Cappelli, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, his thoughts about what we can do to fix some of our broken systems.

You’ve written a lot about workplace culture. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes are out. Uber’s Travis Kalanick, out. Harvey Weinstein, out. It seems as though every day there’s another report of sexual harassment. Do you think there will be a sea change?
PC: I think so. There already was, I think, a pretty big change in the big corporations. I don’t think there is a lot of explicit sexual harassment going on now in the big corporations. They’re really sensitive to it in the HR side, the complaint side. They know it’s bad for PR, they know the government has been watching them—the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Department of Labor—and they don’t tolerate it.

You think about all of these revelations that you’ve just mentioned, every one of them is in organizations where individuals can be like personal dictators—the founder, right—at these small companies which suddenly get rich, like Silicon Valley, or even Amazon. I think it will be a big change in those companies. You’re not going to see any difference at GE or IBM or Procter & Gamble or any of those folks, but you’re going to start seeing it in these smaller companies where the boss, the founder, sets these quirky, dysfunctional cultures.

Philadelphia is among the cities bidding for the new Amazon headquarters, which the company says could bring in 50,000 jobs. Two years ago, The New York Times did an exposé on what was characterized as a brutal and cutthroat culture. Is that picture accurate, and, if so, what has been done to correct it?

PC: I don’t know much, independently, from Amazon—although I do know that they haven’t done an awful lot, other than [CEO] Jeff Bezos saying, “No, it’s not [like that].” I haven’t seen much of anybody say it’s not true. I guess, for Philadelphia, there’s kind of a “so what?” issue. For one thing, it’s not clear what a headquarters away from the real headquarters is. Duplicate headquarters would just be crazy expensive and complicated. So I suspect that they’ll have an administrative center, and I don’t think that has to operate the way things do at an actual headquarters, where the boss is there and everybody’s competing for the boss’ attention and it still feels kind of like a startup. They do have that reputation—but it is a reputation at the headquarters.

Some workers aren’t getting by even while juggling multiple jobs. Will Pennsylvania or Philadelphia move toward a $15 minimum wage?
PC: We know across the country, cities tend to be Democratic; states are much more likely to be Republican. So you see the cities moving much more aggressively in this direction than the states. The thing you worry about is: If you raise the minimum wage, are you going to eliminate a lot of jobs at that level? The [research] is that small movements in the minimum wage don’t seem to have much effect on jobs. But there are recent studies out of Seattle, where they jumped the minimum wage a lot very quickly, and that did seem to reduce jobs at the low end. But part of that is this territorial problem: If you’re raising the minimum wage in a country, employers can’t do very much to get around it; if you raise it in a city, all they have to do is step over the border to the county—go over City Line Avenue or its equivalent. So you might see some of that going on, which would hurt jobs. I think what we know is: Gradual doesn’t seem to have much effect on jobs; rapid and big has an effect, especially if one jurisdiction is trying to do it and the ones around it are not.

Do you have a sense of what incremental would be? Pennsylvania’s (and Philadelphia’s) minimum wage is $7.25. What if we wanted to bring it up to $15?
PC: If it doubled in a period of tight labor markets, where wages were going up anyway, and it doubled over 10 years or something, it might not matter that much. If you’re trying to do a doubling in five years, that’s a pretty big move. I’m pretty sure there will be jobs lost in a move that big.

Is there one issue, program or approach at the federal level that you think would make things better for the average American?
PC: I don’t see anything being done that’s going to help the average worker.

[Tax policy reforms at the federal level] look like they’re going to be quite regressive, so that more of the cuts disproportionately go to rich people. The problem with that is that the states and local governments end up picking up the slack, and so they’ve got to raise taxes, and it ends up being worse for people who don’t have as much money, because the tax burden shifts away from the richer folks to everybody else. So there’s nothing on the policy agenda that is going to be any better
for workers. 

Even the immigration thing—illegal immigration, which is hard for anybody to support—it’s been declining sharply anyway, even before President Trump came in, because Mexico’s been doing better. A lot of them have gone home, because opportunities there are better and the U.S. economy has been in lousy shape for jobs for the last eight years or so.

Is there anything Congress could consider that you think would be good for workers?
PC: Policies that make it easier on families would be a good thing, for sure. Some of that is college costs, college loans, all that kind of stuff. Regulation of colleges could be better, particularly those that are predatory.

Keeping the minimum wage from eroding helps, because if you don’t raise it with inflation it starts to go down. Enforcing employment laws that exist, which tends to go down when Republicans are in office, goes up when Democrats are in office. That would be helpful. 

And if they had actually done this infrastructure investment—that was the one thing everybody on both sides thought made sense—that would be really important, I think, for everybody in the country, but especially for poorer people... Richer people don’t really need the infrastructure so much, especially the billionaire class. They fly in their own planes, they don’t drive very much, they don’t send their kids to public schools, any of that stuff. They don’t really need government very much, but everybody else does. Public services and public buildings and infrastructure—that would make everybody’s life better.

The Other Sharing Economy

Creatives, wealthy homeowners and anchor institutions in liberal cities need to do more to share the wealth


Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Richard Florida’s 2002 book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” chronicled how cities could redevelop their cores by attracting knowledge workers—a rising tide that would lift all boats. But instead of gains trickling down to blue collar and service sector workers, rising housing costs only deepened inequality. “The New Urban Crisis” looks at a decade’s worth of global data to provide a roadmap for cities like Philadelphia that stand on the precipice of either deepening or demolishing structural inequality. 

What was the main premise behind “The Rise of the Creative Class”?
RF: Throughout most of my life, people were moving from the cities to the suburbs. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, so the city was—even more so than Philadelphia—most commensurate with white flight, the industrialization decline and decay. Beginning in the 1990s, we could begin to see… that there was a group of people, who mainly work with their minds, professionals in management, in business, education and law, high-tech people who were coming back to cities—and of course the artists, musicians, designers—that was about a third of the workforce. And the rise of this group of people, from less than 10 percent of the workforce before 1950 to more than a third of the workforce, was creating a new way of living, a new way of working and a new kind of demand for cities. 

People ask me, “Well, what did you get wrong?” and I would say what I got wrong is that I really underpredicted the extent and vigor of the urban revival. Philadelphia is the best case of this in the world. From 2000 to now is when the urban revival picks up real vigor, and it really has been astounding—both for good and bad.

What should a city like Philadelphia be wary of as it hatches further plans for development?
RF: Look, Philadelphia isn’t in the straits of New York or LA or San Francisco, but… it has a rising level of inequality, it has a rising level of economic and social segregation, and it’s becoming less affordable. What I said to the leadership of your city is, “You gotta come to grips with this now, and you’re lucky because you’ve seen the warning signs of New York and San Francisco and London and LA and Washington, D.C., and Boston. But boy, oh, boy, you’ve gotta be very proactive.” 

Because you’re the place people are coming to now, right?: “New York’s a wonderful place, but I can’t have the life I want there.” Philadelphia’s close, you have this gift of location, gift of great airport, gift of history, gift of train connectivity. … You are a place people want to be. 

You’re going to have to build more housing, for sure, to renovate more housing, but that’s not enough. You’re going to have to double down and build affordable housing. And then, of course, you have good transit, but really investing in upgrading that transit. If we’re going to build a new middle class that can afford things, we’ve got to make these bad service jobs better—family supporting jobs. We did it with manufacturing work 100 years ago; we now can do it today with these jobs.

You write that it’s really landlords and wealthy homeowners, not corporations, that are accruing the most economic benefit in our cities, and you recast NIMBY homeowners as “the new urban Luddites.” 
RF: The “new urban crisis” is really the fundamental crisis of our time because the same force that drives our innovation and progress, of greater tolerance and greater civilization—all the good things—economic and social progress, this clustering of people and talent and knowledge and all sorts of diversity in cities. … That’s the same thing that carves the deep divides in our society and separates us.

The most advantaged of us—the most advantaged companies, the most advantaged people, the wealthiest people—can buy into these locations; others get shoved to the side. There’s only so much land to go around. So, what happens, then, is that these wealthy landowners, real estate people, but also homeowners, want to protect that asset. So what do they do? Instead of acting in the interest of the city or society, they say, “No, no no, I don’t want a new condominium tower in my neighborhood. I don’t want more development. I want to protect my pristine, historical, lovely neighborhood.” That’s why I call them the new urban Luddites: It not only makes housing less affordable, it holds back the very economic and social progress that makes cities great.

We can add density by doing infill development, we can add density on top, we don’t have to knock down historic buildings, we don’t have to go up 50 stories; we can add four stories on top, we can set it back. … I think it’s not about deregulating land use and getting rid of this stuff and building just big towers. It’s about building great neighborhoods with more density, and there’s a lot of room to do that.

Many people in Philadelphia live in deep poverty, and they are essentially trapped in their own neighborhoods. 
RF: Through all the neighborhoods surrounding the campus area in West Philadelphia, you see it. You see a knowledge-based district that’s been renovated, and then you see—like in many cities—poverty that looks like third-world conditions. The disturbing and the liberating part of this is, for most of my life we thought the federal government would swoop in and solve this problem, whether that was President Clinton or President Obama—or President Clinton, again. With the rise of Donald Trump and this conservative swing, I think the message has come through: No one at the federal government is going to solve this. 

We’re going to have to solve it the same way we rebuilt Philadelphia—we did it locally. The federal government didn’t rebuild Philadelphia. Neighborhood groups did it, community groups, university leaders. But it needs a real commitment. Dealing with this concentrated poverty means a full-bore strategy for better education, better skill development and, I think most importantly, better connection to economic opportunities in the service sector. 

It’s about giving people living-wage work.
RF: One of the things that really worries me is that urbanists have not thought enough about how the key to really making an inclusive city is to make better work for the half of us—think about that: the half of Philadelphians who toil in these low-wage, precarious service jobs… disproportionately women, disproportionately Hispanic, Latino and African-American. It’s just tragic.

I was reminded at a panel by Angel Rodriguez, formerly of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, that the median incomes in the neighborhood they work in are $5,000 to $15,000 a year. 
RF: The creative class really has to grow up and say, “Look, we’re going to pay more. We are going to pay the people we get our food from more. We’re going to pay more for that food so that they make more. We’re going to pay more if we want to have personal service, or someone to come in to keep our homes… We’re going to make sure that people have a family-supporting living wage.” I think the burden there is on this creative class to say, “We don’t want to run the service class into the ground, and we can share, in a way, by paying higher prices.” I think it could be a movement which is like “Made in USA”: The people who work in [a] company are being paid decently, and that’s why I buy that product.

In Philadelphia, you’ve had these great anchor institutions that have driven your urban turnaround: universities, hospitals, real estate developers, and you can even consider high-tech companies like Amazon or Google to be anchor institutions. I think they have to belly-up to this, too. Our universities pay their professors great, but their service workers are often nonunionized and make minimum wage. Some universities provide affordable housing, or Stanford University provides mortgage subsidies to their professors. Their service workers, who live who knows where, commute up to an hour each way. 

When we invite companies to come to our cities and provide them with tax abatements, why not reinforce this and say, “It’s not only about paying your high-tech workers a great wage and bringing creative-class work; it’s about creating good jobs for service workers, and we’re going to make you part of that. You’ll be part of our inclusionary prosperity.”

If real estate developers are going to start to develop in our cities, some people are saying they’re going to have affordable housing, but what about making sure they select retail anchor tenants in their buildings [who] pay workers well? And that can be an offset for greater density. I think there are a lot of ways to think about involving anchor institutions in more inclusive prosperity.

Do you think Philadelphia has an opportunity that other cities don’t? 
RF: I think Philadelphia’s going to be a case study in how to do this. …  You mentioned urban schools that are still quite problematic, the legacy of poverty and disadvantage that is very deep, a legacy of racial and economic segregation that remains. Those are deep problems, but I do think Philadelphia is going to make it. If we look to 2030 or 2035, I think Philadelphia should look like a place that’s more inclusive and more democratic and more community based. I really do. 

The Visible Woman

Why do we still not see black Americans as having a connection to the environment?

illustration by Abayomi Louard-Moore

illustration by Abayomi Louard-Moore

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Carolyn Finney’s book “Black Faces, White Spaces” is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand all of the ways in which African-Americans have been prevented from owning, accessing and having a public relationship with land, open space and the concept of “the great outdoors.” From exploring institutional racism in the National Park Service to lesser known history—black Air Force recruits in World War II had to have all-white beaches opened to them in order to train to serve their country—the book shines light on the underbelly of our white-dominated environmental movement.

National Park Service employees were very upfront during your research about not caring much about addressing exclusionary practices.
CF: One of the things I always say is that privilege has the privilege of not seeing itself... I’m clear when I talk to predominantly white audiences, that ultimately I want to engage people’s humanity, because it’s something that we all have… There’s real fear there, what they’re experiencing now in our country in multiple ways. So what happens? Let’s say I’m a white person who works for an environmental organization, I have a leadership position, I’ve had this for years, I am relevant because the dominant culture is “relevant,” and now you’re telling me that maybe I’m not relevant anymore. So what happens to me if we hire a black or brown person to be that new leader? What happens to me?... We’re dealing with a human being wondering about their own relevancy. So, for me, that’s what I think is behind some of the commentary.

What is the importance of addressing the racism internal to environmental organizations before trying to more broadly engage people of color?
CF: One of the things I often say to audiences is that I don’t use the term “outreach” anymore… It’s well-meaning, perhaps, it means I’ve “outreached” out to you, I can bring you to my table and make room for you, and then—you have to learn everything we do. You’ll always be responsive to us. We brought you here. They basically don’t have to do anything else, except bring you to the table. And, actually, we know that this is not a useful model, for many reasons, besides the fact that it puts all the onus on that person, that person of color, that person who is different, to do all the work. I call it “building relationships of reciprocity,” because when you are in a relationship, the onus is on both of you.

What role does the media play in reinforcing the idea that people of color are not welcome or associated with natural spaces?
CF: I always ask, “Who is not visible? Who do we not see here? When we see someone, what are they doing? The whole myth of black people “don’t” when it comes to the outdoors is just that—it’s just a myth. Because everyone, including black people, have diverse, complicated and complex relationships with the outdoors. … Driving around south Florida [where I did my research], the thing that you will see almost immediately is black and brown people fishing at the canals. You can’t miss them, it’s every day. But it’s as though we can’t see them. As though that doesn’t count. … It’s not always about climbing a mountain. 

You write that, for slaves, “The ‘woods’ induced both positive and negative feelings: a place that was resource-rich, a place of transformation and refuge... but also a place to fear.” You talk a lot about fear in the book, but can you talk about the positive side for African-Americans?
CF: Well, it’s funny that you say that because one of the reviewers of the book thought I didn’t talk about fear enough and wanted me to write a whole chapter about how African-Americans are afraid, and I was very frustrated with that request. Despite all of that fear, black people go on and feel joy, go on and get creative… People are still laughing and falling in love and getting married, creating music, creating art.

You said it really beautifully in the book. You wrote, “While fear as a by-product of white supremacy and oppression was/is certainly part of the lived reality for many African-Americans, focusing solely on the fear denies the malleability of the black imagination to create and construct a rich reality that is not grounded primarily in fear, but in human ingenuity and the rhythms and the flows of life.”
CF: Yes! I like that, too! We’re not always here just to respond to white oppression. We’re living our own lives, like other people do. Sometimes life exists in spite of that other stuff. This is where the creativity comes from and what I want to honor.

You wrote upfront in the book about what it means personally to you to be a black woman writing about the environment.
CF: So, before I am black, I am a human being. And I always want to say that, because what that means is that I am connected to every other human being. I’m part of the species of human beings. And I’m different because I’m black, or different because I’m a woman and all the other ways that I may be different from other people—but I’m a human being. And so I try to understand, ‘What is it about me being different that is challenging in this country?’ So it’s my aspiration to be seen as more fully human, to belong, to be in relationship with all kinds of people. To be visible—I don’t want to be invisible. I want to be visible. I want to be valued. Who doesn’t want to be valued? It’s an intense desire for me and the people I love to be seen, and to increase my own ability to see. I don’t see everything! I have blinders on and I don’t want to. So what does that mean? I’m really interested in all the ways in which we are a person in the world.

Carolyn Finney, Ph.D., is a performer, writer, cultural geographer and a professor in geography at the University of Kentucky.

Buddhist spiritual leader Losang Samten discusses the ancient wisdom written in sand

Compassion Project

interview by Alex Mulcahy

Wrapped in a brown robe and exuding a disarmingly calm manner, the Tibetan-born Venerable Losang Samten does not act like someone with a looming deadline. In a small building on the campus of the Plymouth Meeting Friends Center, Samten is working on a sand mandala, quietly arranging brightly colored grains of sand into an intricate work of art. It’s a Buddhist tradition, and the mandala must be finished today because tomorrow it, like all other works of its kind, will be dismantled—a reminder of the impermanence of all that is created.

We asked Samten what, if anything, a mandala might say about sustainability, science and peace. While the piles of sand waited for his attention, Samten patiently answered our questions.

What is the purpose of a mandala?
Generally, the mandalas are a teaching tool. Mandalas are a spiritual image, a visual image for an individual to improve their concentration. There are many different reasons and purposes for a mandala. The idea is for an individual to cultivate the highest level of compassion. When you see the mandala, the benefit... it can impact a person immediately or a little further down the road of their spiritual path.

Which mandala is this?
This is the Wheel of Life. In the middle of the mandala there are three animals—a pig, a snake and a bird—and they represent ignorance, anger and greed, which is what we call the poisons. Poisons to destroy our inner peace.

Some might argue that, while a mandala is beautiful, perhaps time would be better spent directly addressing an injustice, or acting politically.
The whole idea for any meditation is to discover how to help, how to improve society, how to improve the world. To help the community, first you need to make sure you are ready for that. Before you take on the job of lifeguard, you need to know how to swim well. Otherwise you might die, too. First you need to help yourself, then you can help others. So the meditators are in the cave, or in the home, but the fundamental aim is that the person comes out of the meditation and meditates with the community, and then helps.

Anger, one of the three poisons, can motivate people to act. And it’s certainly difficult not to respond with anger when you feel that people are profiting from exploiting others, or the planet. How as a Buddhist do you handle that anger, or change it, without losing motivation to effect change?
The traditional Buddhist answer will be: Without anger, you have to fight. Without anger, you have to deal with the situation. Because when we get angry, we lose the balance. Without anger, we can save everyone. Anger is very much a part of our life. But the good side of the Buddhist view is that anger is there temporarily, not permanently. If we meditate and research, we can eliminate the anger.

An example to me is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama does not get angry with the Chinese leadership, and he is doing his best to get more human rights in Tibet. Change always takes time. Positive change takes a long time. We should not give up.

Many are skeptical of religion, and much more comfortable with science. Can the two work together?
Absolutely. In the Buddhist tradition, faith is of secondary importance. Reason is important. Logic is important. There are numerous conferences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Buddhist leaders and scientists, that discuss many issues—including the environment and mental sciences. The Mind and Life conference has been going for 30 years. That is such a great legacy of the Dalai Lama.

Scientists can tell us what we see, more than ever, in the 21st century, but when it comes to our internal mind and thoughts, science is still very new. His Holiness the Dalai Lama encourages the holy masters in India in monasteries to have technology be part of their conversations. So they study a lot about modern science. We are searching for what the truth is.

Is religion a hope for the environmental movement?
Education is the key factor. Me, as one member of the world, to share this mandala, it’s not to promote religion or what I believe, but as education. How do we live more peacefully? When a person is educated, there is a chance to work for change. Some people do not see the problem of the environment changing until the issue comes to their backyard. Until then, the environment issue in the U.S. is treated as a political issue instead of a fact.

What can a religious leader do to help make change?
People have difficulty with religious leaders who are saying something, but are living a different life. They should live as Buddha taught or Jesus taught. When last September the pope came, he drove a small car around town. For me, that was great symbolism. It’s a reminder to us to live in simplicity.

The Venerable Losang Samten is the spiritual leader of Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia, and the author of “Ancient Teachings in Modern Times: Buddhism in the 21st Century.”