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Environmental Care

Elephants: Jenny and Shirley

By body mind spirit, Cosmic Care, Emotional Intelligence, Environmental Care, Moral Intelligence, Values 15 Comments

Shirley vid clip #1:

Shirley vid clip # 2:

The touching story of Shirley and Jenny, two former circus elephant, who were reunited at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee after a 22-year separation.

The bonding was immediate. Shirley, who was crippled in an attack and traded to a Louisiana zoo, had not seen another elephant in over 20 years. Their reunion is intense and unforgettable.

Please leave a comment below if you are touched by Shirley’s story.

Click here to donate to the Elephant Sanctuary in Shirley’s Honor! 

Shirley (L) and Jenny (R) were reunited after a 22 year separation.


By Cosmic Care, Environmental Care, Fun and Fabulous, Human Rights/Justice, Moral Intelligence, Values, Vision No Comments

What Will You Do?

FOUR YEARS. GO. is a campaign to change the course of history. The next four years will determine the quality of life on this planet for the next 1,000 years. There is still time to act, but no time to waste.

For more information go to | |

You Are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring

By Conscious Living, Environmental Care, Human Rights/Justice, Moral Intelligence 10 Comments

Paul Hawken

The Commencement Address by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3, 2009

by Paul Hawken

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there.

Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seat belts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see ifit was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages,campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this superb speech. Our thanks especially to Erica Linson for her help making that moment possible.

Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea

By body brilliance, body mind spirit, Breath, Conscious Living, Cosmic Care, Emotional Intelligence, Environmental Care, Fun and Fabulous, Moral Intelligence, Passion, Vision No Comments

This week with speak with the author of Saltwater Buddha, Jaimal Yogis.  Jaimal, a Zen surfer and journalist, wrote Saltwater Buddha to chronicle his late teens and early 20’s as he learned to surf and delved into Zen.  He shares with us some of the highlights from this time of his life, and also shares what a powerful metaphor the ocean has been for his spiritual life, especially given his passion for surfing.  He also shares some prescient observations about what it’s like being a young Buddhist, and what he notices that is different about the young generation of up-and-coming practitioners.

Vince: Hello Buddhist Geeks.  This is Vince Horn and I’m here today with our special guest.  He’s joining us from the West Coast, Jaimal Yogis. He’s a Zen practitioner, surfer, journalist and author of a recently released book called Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea.  Did you find Zen on the sea, Jaimal?

Jaimal: Yeah.  I mean in a manner of speaking, I think, in the same way that surfing for me is just part of my practice.  It’s just like coming back to meditation cushion every day.  And, then in it’s literal meaning, it’s being beyond this kind of concentration that is… sort of encompasses everything.  I wouldn’t have claimed to have found what the mantra is sort of referring to.  But, I do find that returning again and again into the water like a daily baptism for me.  It’s just a way to get back to sort of rinse clean and literally kind of washes… feels like it washes my thoughts into a more ordered manner or something like that.  So, it’s just another meditation practice and I think having a physical practice is really important as a mediator: something that keeps you connected to nature, something that keeps you in good health.  And surfing is a wonderful type of meditation as well because there’s a lot of movement and you are doing this thing where riding waves and you’re kind of emerging with your element like your medium, but, you also just a lot of waiting around.  So, there’s a lot of time where you’re just sitting looking at the horizon and, you know, you can focus on your breath sort of be in that appreciative space which I think appreciation is very close to our true nature.  You know, the more appreciative you are, I think, the closer you are to being in that natural mind.  That’s what I found, you know, that big enlightenment.  It’s definitely a daily, literal that keeps me sane. [laughs]

Vince: I figured because Saltwater Buddha is really kind of like an autobiographical work, you wrote about this particular period in your life where you were exploring Zen meditation, you know, in your late teens and 20’s and also at the same time exploring surfing.  So, yeah, given that it’s such an interesting combination, it’s one that as a Buddhist practitioner, I’d never heard before.  So, I was wondering if you could say a little bit about the time that you wrote about in this book and some of the highlights that you found most pressing during that period.

Jaimal: Sure.  It’s a broad topic.  The book covers a pretty large span of time.  It starts off when I ran away to Hawaii at the age of 16 and I was sort of a mischievous teenager getting into trouble, you know, experimenting with… just pushing the limits of the law, basically.  And so, I was on probation for getting a DUI and stuff.  And I figured I wasn’t sort of living my truth at that time.  I wasn’t living my potential really.  And, I think that dreams can play a big role as guidance.  And I started having these dreams about water and about waves and about islands.

And this was going back to sort of a flashback in time for me when I was living in Azores, Portugal.  My dad was stationed there where I lived close to the ocean.  And then we moved inland.  And so there was something about that time period, that connection that I had with the ocean that was coming back to me.  Then, ten years later, and that was all I knew at that point cause I was really at this point in my life not that connected to myself and to my heart.  And so all I had was this glimmer but I needed to change and it came in the form of this… of water, these dreams of islands.  And so, I took off.  I went to Somalia.  I ran away.  I left this memo hence on my bedroom that was saying that I’m somewhere in the world.  And that created a lot of havoc and it wasn’t the most compassionate thing to do to my family.  So, what it did do is it stirred things up enough… it was kind of like sometimes you just need to make a break, or really make a big change in your life to get on to a different path.  And that was really the beginning of my spiritual path.  And that’s where the book starts.

And when I go to Hawaii, I happened to take Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse with me.  I had been around meditation in my life cause my parents were meditators and that’s where I got my name.  I was named after this Indian guru in the Sikh tradition but I never really had done any of it myself.  And so, surfing was this incredible challenge for me that I too on I decided to stop doing any drugs or I was going to change my life and surfing was this challenge that I took on to help me and it seemed like a creative thing to do and I was also reading about the Buddha’s life or Herman Hesse’s sort of adaptation of the Buddha’s life and I also began meditating and so they kind of just always melded together and I saw these parallels.  I think because surfing is a, is an incredible challenge, people do it for 10, 20 years and you still feel very far from mastery.  It’s similar to meditation in that way in that you can do it every day for many years, it’s still, like your mind is always learning a new challenge and the ocean is always throwing in a challenge and I sort of see the ocean really as a metaphor for the mind and that was the way that my practice developed over the past ten years where I was, I ended up living in a Buddhist monastery going and traveling to different surf places, but I think because I began my past with these two things, sort of growing up together, meditation and surfing, they just blended together and I use the ocean as a metaphor for meditation and I use surfing as a sort of a tool for meditation.  So, I could say more about that, but I don’t know, is there a particular part of the book that you wanted to hear about, I could talk about it.

Vince: No, I think what you just said gives a nice kind of overview of the kinds of things and we can go more into the specifics and you started talking a little bit about the ocean and how it’s a metaphor for meditation and how meditation is a tool for surfing and so on.  I mean, that’s one thing that struck me, I mean, this is a powerful and ancient theme in almost all the world’s traditions, at least the ones that are probably near the ocean where you hear about the waves and the ocean and it’s usually used as a metaphor, right?  Like, it’s a way to describe something, but I’m thinking for a surfer, it must be a little bit more real for you, it must be a little more tangible for you and I was wondering if you could say a little more about that particular metaphor?

Jaimal: Yeah, there’s a few metaphors that get thrown out there a lot in mystical traditions.  One I really like is that we are like waves in the ocean.  A wave is basically a, it starts with wind blowing on the surface of the ocean, it trims up some ripples and those ripples become a veil to catch some more of the wind’s energy and the wind is basically pumping energy into the water, and it begins to spiral and it becomes this thing, it takes form.  It comes into being, at least, appearance-wise, of a separate kind of entity traveling across the ocean.  You see the swell, swells pick up on the feet and they travel hundreds of miles until they break shore.  Energy in motion stays in motion until it hits the sand and then the waves kind of take its most hard form and it pitches into that beautiful concave thing that we see on the beach and surfers love to ride.  The neat thing about that is that waves look so, like a portion of water that’s moving across the ocean, but what’s actually happening is the wind is just transferring, wind energy is just transferring between molecules.  So, if you leave a little stick on top of the ocean floating and a wave moves by, the stick will stay in one place and the wave will just pump through it.  It’s completely energy and it’s similar to the way we are, you know, it’s like we feel like we’re kind of like this separate mass.  We feel like there’s a veil between us and nature or something, like we are independent.  Like a wave, there’s no one atom or molecule that was in me or you when we were babies that’s in us now that we can replenish many times over and what holds us together is sort of mind or our memories and thoughts and similarly with the waves, it looks like a separate thing, but it’s never ever a part from the ocean then this thing that encompasses all the waves and so it’s a great metaphor, right?  It’s like Buddhists talk a lot about how you do have a self, it’s not, but the self is illusory in some sense and how is it a illusory?  Well, because it is connected to all things and all places.  That does seem like an abstract concept and I think if I wasn’t a surfer, I would take that wave metaphor and I would get it and be like “oh, that’s a good metaphor”, but it wouldn’t really think in deep and when you are following a wave and you’re studying them obsessively as surfers do, you really start feeling how these, how this energetic body of water works and how these things really can have individual character and also be part of the sea.  And I think it just deepens the metaphor and makes it much more real and it continues to come back to you every day as well.

Practice is very repetitive and it’s made that way on purpose.  We have to be reminded of these things every day.  Why?  Because our patterns are so ingrained that it takes an incredible amount of energy to change our habits.  And so, being reminded of that metaphor every day is something that I’m incredibly grateful for.

You don’t need to be a surfer to be reminded of that but you can find your own metaphors, you know.  I love that quote, that the earth speaks Dharma. You know, I think, whenever you’re outside and you’re just sort of connecting with the natural world in a way that deepens your relationship to it, you find these Dharma metaphors.  And this one is a good one that you can use but it’s not the only one.

Vince: Thank you for that.  It’s cool.  And just so people know and your book is really… it’s chockfull of metaphors along those lines.  It’s really deep in that way.  It’s a really interesting and complex metaphor itself, the entire book.  So, yeah, thank you for that.

Jaimal: Thank you.

Vince: So, you’re 29 right now and you’re going to be turning 30 pretty soon.  So, you’re kind of part of this… we could call younger generation in the Buddhist world.  And one thing we like to touch on a lot here in Buddhist Geeks is how Buddhism is being understood and practiced by people that are in the younger generation: the kind of third, fourth generation of Buddhist practice here in the West. And I think part of the reason is just because I’m young and I’m interested in that.

Jaimal: Uh, huh.

Vince: And then part of the reason is because people have really responded to it, the times that we have explored that.  People that listen to the show really find that interesting.  So, given that you’re part of this kind of younger generation and given that you started in your late teens and have been practicing now for over a decade, I figured it would be cool to get your take on what it’s like being a younger Buddhist and how it’s maybe distinct from past generation.  Cause we clearly live in a very different time.

Jaimal: You know, the main generation that I’ve watched that isn’t my own is my parents’ generation then.  There’s an obvious difference that they were getting interested in practice in the 60’s and so, you know, is sort of related with drugs and the political movements that were happening at the time.  There was such upheaval world and I think it was probably a very exciting time to be part of it.  And a lot of sincere practice going on… But it was almost like there was a huge… just like everything was getting through the pot, like “free love” and “meditation” and “screw Nixon.”  And these were part of it.  There’s nothing actually wrong with that.  I think there was a lot… a huge emphasis in that generation on these new experiences.  We’re not going to be part of the mundane world.  We’re going to do something utterly different and it’s about breaking down the system.  And I think, especially, because of a lot drugs, it was like the spirituality was associated with them saying that it was supposed to be like fireworks and crazy trips and, you know, sort of give all a high.  That’s one way to go about it.  But, what I see in this generation that excites me is that there really seems to be a desire to live in the world and take the structures that we have and infuse them and be able to bring practice into them and bring a truthful balance way of life into the world that we have.  And in doing so, you know, make the world a better place.

I think we needed that ruckus break from the more sort of entrenched pattern of norms that was happening back in the 50’s and 60’s to give us the gift of being able to now, in this generation, sort of say, “Well, it’s not all bad.  Maybe, I want to live and have a normal job and have a family and also live in a way that is true and in a way that’s in harmony.”  And I think that’s neat too because there really isn’t anything about practice that I think should make every day life so bad.  I think what practice in its most profound sense just makes the most mundane things like kind of juicy… just having an English muffin with your grandma kind of a thing.  Like, that moment is just as full as being at the Dead concert.

Trying to integrate practice into the everyday is…that’s how it becomes grounded in a society, in a culture and begins to become sustainable.  Because we’re still really in this process where Eastern thought and ideas and practice are just kind of trickling in to our society and in some ways they become like pop sort of wisdom.  And that takes its effect.  But real practice, that happens on an everyday level and really that’s still trying to be worked out, I see people doing that in a really beautiful way in our generation.  And hopefully that will continue.

But there are challenges.  I still find being a young Buddhist that I’ve sort of drifted in and out of having a really tight knit community of like-minded, similarly aged buddies to practice with.  When I lived in a Buddhist monastery when I was 18, it was this amazing time where all of a sudden it was just sort of the way that it worked.  Everyone was getting out of high school and for some reason there was this group of guys and girls who were really interested in like practicing a lot.  And we would go on retreats together and just to have that, those group of people who weren’t interested in partying a lot and, like our college years.  And here we were, we just wanted to go up to the monastery and be quiet and then talk about it.  And that was such a powerful time to have those three or four years where I had community in my early 20’s.  And it really laid a foundation and I’m still friends with all of those people.  And we now are busier and we have jobs and partners and whatnot.

But Kerouac, I remember, said like 18 is such a great time to practice the dharma and I think you are in kind of like a fearless, really open space at that time.  A hopefully, idealistic space.  Yeah, I could say more about that but I think community is really important and I’m glad to see things like Dharma Punks and other young practice groups springing up.  And I’m hoping Saltwater Buddha will bring some like minded, water folks together who are spiritually minded because there’s a lot of them out there that surfing is kind of like something has a little bit of like a too-cool-for-school attitude that when you join you’re a little bit cautious about letting people know your true self.  So I’m hoping this will help people take down their guard a little bit and just get together and sit together or whatever it is.

Vince: Nice.  Would you say that part of the reason you wrote the book was to actually get this kind of material out to the surfing community itself, more so than say the Buddhist community?

Jaimal: No, it was both.  It was…  I think a lot of surfers have an interest in Buddhism but maybe they’re always surfing so they haven’t really delved in.  Surfing is one of those things that tends to take over your life.  So I definitely…I hope people who are sort of wanting that introduction could get it through this. And that surfers who already had a Buddhist practice are [duking] it.  But I also thought, hoped, that Buddhist practitioners and really anyone would just kind of relate to the water metaphors.  And that’s been true.  I get more letters probably from people who are just sort of like, “I don’t meditate, I don’t surf, but there’s something about this metaphor that I really connect with.  It’s helping me in my life.”  And I think there’s something universal about water.  We are made of water.  Life is made possible by water.  It really is like this special, magical juju that just makes life on earth possible.  Life as far as we know it, possible.  It has all these incredible properties that no other substance on earth has.  And we use a lot of water metaphors in our life.  We’re always saying, “I’m in the flow today.  I’m drowning in work,” these things are close to us in our language.  We come from the sea original.  And so I’m just kind of hoping to tap a little bit of something in our collective unconscious about something that we all already know but maybe need to be reminded of.

Vince: Well, thanks Jaimal for taking the time to join Buddhist Geeks and share a little bit of about your book and also about your perspective as a young Buddhist practitioner.  It’s been really cool talking to you and wish you the best moving forward.

Jaimal: Thanks so much Vince.  This seems like just a great show.  I’m really happy that it’s out there and yeah, … keep on trucking.

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Interview Originally Found at Buddhist Geeks Here

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Tibetan Glacier Melting: The Thaw at the Roof of the World

By body brilliance, body mind spirit, Cosmic Care, Environmental Care, Moral Intelligence No Comments

SPEAKING this week at the United Nations, President Hu Jintao of China declared that his country “fully appreciates the importance and urgency of addressing climate change.” As well it should. China is beginning to realize that it has a lot to lose from the carbon dioxide that the world so blithely emits into the earth’s atmosphere.

Mr. Hu’s words made me think back to a day not long ago when I found myself on a platform 14,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by throngs of Chinese tourists in colorful parkas. A chairlift had brought us that much closer to the jagged peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the glacier that cascades down its flank. People cheerfully snapped photos of the icy mass, seemingly unaware of the disaster unfolding before them.

Because of climate change, the roughly 1.7-mile-long Baishui Glacier No. 1 could well be one of the first major glacial systems on the Tibetan Plateau to disappear after thousands of years. The glacier, situated above the honky-tonk town of Lijiang in southwest China, has receded 830 feet over the last two decades and appears to be wasting away at an ever more rapid rate each year. It is the southernmost glacier on the plateau, so its decline is an early warning of what may ultimately befall the approximately 18,000 higher-altitude glaciers in the Greater Himalayas as the planet continues to warm.

Because the Tibetan Plateau and its environs shelter the largest perennial ice mass on the planet after the Arctic and Antarctica, it has come to be known as “the Third Pole.” Its snowfields and glaciers feed almost every major river system of Asia during hot, dry seasons when the monsoons cease, and their melt waters supply rivers from the Indus in the west to the Yellow in the east, with the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers in between. (The glaciers on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain contribute much of their water to the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.)

From a distance, Baishui Glacier No. 1 looks as immovable as the defiant mountain above. In reality, it is a fluid field of ice and rock in constant downward motion. Scientists speak about the reactive behavior of these glaciers as if they were almost human. The Tibetan and Naxi peoples who inhabit this region treat them, and their mountain hosts, as embodiments of deities and spirits.

Now, a growing number of glaciers are losing their equilibrium, or their capacity to build up enough snow and ice at high altitudes to compensate for the rate of melting at lower ones. After surveying the Himalayas for many years, the respected Chinese glaciologist Yao Tandong recently warned that, given present trends, almost two-thirds of the plateau’s glaciers could well disappear within the next 40 years. With the planet having just experienced the 10 hottest years on record, the average annual melting rate of mountain glaciers seems to have doubled after the turn of the millennium from the two decades before.

Moreover, temperatures on the Tibetan plateau are rising much faster than the global average. A good portion of the area’s existing ice fields has been lost over the past four decades, and the rate of retreat has increased in recent years.

The slow-motion demise of Baishui Glacier No. 1 will have far-reaching consequences. In the short run, there will, of course, be an abundance of water. But in the long run there will be deficits. These will have national security consequences as countries compete for ever scarcer water resources supplied by transnational rivers with as many as two billion users.

It was not so long ago that the Tibetan Plateau was seen as a region of little consequence, save to those few Western adventurers drawn to remote regions that the early 20th-century Swedish explorer Sven Hedin once called the “white spaces” on the map. Today, these white spaces play a crucial role in Asia’s ecology.

Sadly, it may be too late to change the destiny of Baishui Glacier No. 1. But President Hu, by promising this week to try to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product and to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption, signaled his willingness to act. China can’t solve this problem alone, and President Obama’s scheduled visit to Beijing in November presents an opportunity to forge a bilateral alliance on climate change. After all, the ice fields in the majestic arc of peaks that runs from China to Afghanistan are melting in large part because of greenhouse gases emitted thousands of miles away.

Orville Schell, the director of the Asia Society’s Center on United States-China Relations, is the author of “Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La From the Himalayas to Hollywood.”

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