News monday

Sustainability, ethics and global systems

On Monday, Oct. 15, the Dalai Lama participated in a whole-day forum, in which he shared the stage with a diverse group of experts. The event, titled “Global Systems 2.0,” focused on global issues, such as world hunger, climate change, and global health. The day consisted of two panels: one in the morning titled “Ethics, Economics, and Environment,” and one in the afternoon titled “Peace, Governance, and Diminishing Resources.”

Each panelist had 10 minutes to present his or her area of specialty before listening to the Dalai Lama’s response. Panelists included James Orbinski (current international president of Doctors without Borders and Nobel Peace Prize recipient), several MIT professors, and Jonathan Foley (director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota).

Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, started the day with a presentation on the environment in the morning panel, “Confronting Global Climate Change.” Rebecca Henderson, formerly a Sloan School professor at MIT, followed by talking about the economics of reducing fossil fuels, while Penny Chisholm, a professor of environmental studies at MIT, presented on ways to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through geoengineering.

“We have the responsibility to take care of our own planet. This is our home,” said the Dalai Lama in response to Professor Emanuel’s presentation. “If something happens to it, there isn’t a planet we can move to.”

Several times during the event, the speakers incorporated humor into their presentations, drawing the Dalai Lama and the crowd into laughter. Each speaker in the afternoon jokingly self-identified themselves in two words based on their research. Jon Foley called himself “Doctor Happy,” James Orbinski “Doctor Reality,” Zeynep Ton “Doctor Jobs,” and John Sterman “Doctor Doom.”

Foley began the afternoon panel presentations with facts surrounding the global food supply.

“If you want to solve climate change, you have to think about food first,” said Foley. “We have to solve all of these problems at the same time.”

In his presentation, James Orbinski emphasized the widening gap between the privileged and the poor, pointing to the water insecurity, pollution, infectious diseases, and war that third-world countries often face.

Zeynep Ton, an assistant professor at Sloan, studied the plight of retail workers in the U.S. and how their job dissatisfaction negatively affected not only their own happiness, but also the companies’ profits.

“We are our identified by our work,” said Ton. “More than 900 million people in this world have bad jobs.” She highlighted the significance of creating fulfilling jobs, as they give dignity and meaning to lives.

The last speaker of the day, John Sterman (“Doctor Doom”), involved the Dalai Lama in order to help him make his point about the unsustainability of our current use of the planet. Sterman asked the Dalai Lama to fold a piece of paper in half, and then to fold it 40 more times. According to Sterman, if folded 40 more times, the width of the paper would be wider than that of the Earth.

“Anything that doubles in a fixed amount of time gets big very fast,” he emphasized. He stated that the underlying source of all the issues discussed at the forum was growth, concluding on a note of optimism that solutions exist if everyone were to play their part.

“The speakers did an excellent job presenting simple, intuitive ideas that helped me to see interesting new perspectives on various global issues,” said Alex J. Zhu ’16, who attended the afternoon panel.

At the end of the presentations, Tenzin Priyadarshi, founding director of the Center at MIT, gave the concluding remarks, which aimed to encourage the audience to act upon the knowledge they gained through the forum.

“[The Dalai Lama] struck me as a wise and compassionate person,” said Zhu. “It wasn’t just his title or his robes that gave me these impressions – his responses to the questions posed to him, his hopes of unity through acceptance of secular ethics, as well as his joviality and humble nature led me to see him the way I do.”