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Address to the Canada-Tibet Policy Seminar

Address by Elizabeth May, Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada, to the Canada-Tibet Policy Seminar, in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, April 23, 2004


Your Holiness, Prime Minister Rimpoche of the Tibetan Government in Exile, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an unbelievable honour to be here today for which I wish to thank the Canada Tibet Committee and Rights and Democracy.

As an environmentalist and as a Canadian citizen, I am very grateful that our Prime Minister, Paul Martin, has agreed to meet with Your Holiness. Previous prime ministers have refused. They have bent over backwards to avoid alienating Chinese leadership. It is a sad reality that Canadian environmental assessment law was eroded so that, in the words of a Cabinet member, we could "reassure the Chinese buyers" that purchasing a nuclear reactor from Canada would not be subject to public scrutiny in Canada — even when that "purchase" required a $1.5 billion loan guarantee from the people of Canada.

Bearing in mind your remarks, Your Holiness, that we can no longer speak of "we" and "they," because they are part of we and we are part of they, I will not point a finger of blame for environmental damage in Tibet, before acknowledging that wasteful use of fossil fuels by North Americans has also impacted China's and Tibet's environment. Our greenhouse gas emissions are fueling climate change, with serious consequences around the world — including exacerbating floods in China and increasing erosion in Tibet. I have been asked to set out our concerns about the threats to Tibet's environment. Not surprisingly, just as the people of Tibet are oppressed by Chinese occupation, so too is the Tibetan environment. China has entered into an aggressive industrialization plan for Tibet, with both economic, but very clear political, motives. Major mega-projects have been undertaken, with virtually no benefit for Tibetans but with the effect of changing the face of Tibet. The linking of Tibet to China through east-west highways and through the $3.2 billion (US$) railway from China to Lhasa, currently under construction, have serious environmental consequences. In fact, the railway cuts through three designated nature reserves, destroying habitat for Tibet's beleaguered endangered species.

The North-South water diversion, the many dams both constructed and on the drawing board are a threat to Tibet's water supplies and ecosystems. In fact, the Tibetan plateau is far more important than just for Tibet's domestic water supplies; the Tibetan Plateau is the source of all the major rivers in Asia – the Yellow River, the Yangste River all the way to the Mekong River in Vietnam. Its influence includes controlling monsoon patterns in the region and affecting ecosystems many thousands of kilometres away. The Tibetan Plateau is of global concern.

Massive deforestation also threatens environmental sustainability in Tibet. Conversion of grasslands to farmlands has increased erosion. The amount of degraded grassland in Tibet has increased by 95% between 1989 and 1998. As a result, Tibet is suffering from severe erosion. Uncontrolled mining is a serious problem, with gold mines in particular polluting the surrounding environment. At least eighty-one species in Tibet are endangered, with the Tibetan antelope and wild yak nearing extinction.

We, as Canadians, wish to help Tibet and protect the Tibetan environment. But, in so doing, we acknowledge that we owe Tibet much.

Your leadership, Your Holiness; your willingness to be a teacher, to teach and to be a living exemplar of the practice of non-violence, is needed as never before. Although we know better, as a species, we still behave monstrously. Humanity engages in intolerable violence…in murderous cruelty…ethnic group against ethnic group, man against woman, and even appallingly, adult against child. But we also engage in daily violence against the planet — as if in some sort of pathological, suicidal stupour — we attack our very life support system. Help us learn, point out the ways, to lead us away from violence against our brethren, to stop monstrous killing of our fellow species, to lead us away from our violence toward all Creation. Help us learn that we must end all violence. Now.


Canada Tibet Committee

Rights and Democracy

 


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