Tibetan leader to visit MSU Denver with climate-change warning
Lobsang Sangay, the former prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, will speak about his country’s looming environmental crisis and why it matters to the rest of the world.
Known as the water tower of Asia, Tibet holds the largest freshwater reserves outside of the world’s polar regions, serving more than 1.4 billion people in downstream countries such as India and Pakistan.
But those water supplies are increasingly threatened by climate change in a country that is especially vulnerable to its impacts, including shrinking glaciers and flooding that put the region’s water security in jeopardy.
Lobsang Sangay, former prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, has been sounding the alarm about Tibet’s perilous position at the epicenter of a looming environmental crisis. Sangay will discuss the topic April 12 when he visits Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Sangay will join MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., for A Conversation on Tibet, Asia and the Global Fight Against Climate Change. WorldDenver, the International Women’s Forum of Colorado and MSU Denver are sponsoring the free public event.
Current projections estimate that more than a third of the glaciers along the Hindu Kush and Himalayan range will be gone by the end of this century. Yet, Sangay wrote in 2017, this precarious outlook is being exacerbated by Chinese government policies focused on environmentally reckless priorities “that have turned this resource-rich plateau and fragile ecosystem into a hub of (Chinese) mining and dam building activities.”
“This not only changes the water map of Asia for the worse but also contributes to an environmental crisis, which in turn contributes to climate change across Asia,” he wrote. “The rising temperatures on the roof of the world make Tibet both a driver and amplifier of global warming.”
(Tibet is known as the “roof of the world” because of its vast plateaus and mountains, including Mount Everest.)
The early years of Chinese rule, following the 1951 occupation and a failed Tibetan uprising in 1959, were incredibly brutal. Many thousands of people were executed or starved to death or died fighting the occupation. (The Dalai Lama has alleged that altogether, 1.2 million Tibetans were killed.) Throughout, the Chinese occupation has focused on separating Tibetans from their language, culture and, especially, religion — all while encouraging a mass influx of Han-Chinese immigrants who, in some provinces, now out-number Tibetans seven to one.
Founded after the exile, the Central Tibetan Administration is based in Dharamshala, India, where it maintains full executive, legislative and judicial bodies. A democratic institution comprising 45 people, it advocates for Tibetan rights and serves a diaspora of around 140,000 Tibetans living in exile across the world. This elected parliament represents the traditional provinces of Tibet, religious constituencies and the many Tibetan communities living abroad.
When the Dalai Lama withdrew from politics in 2011 to focus on his role as a spiritual leader, Sangay won the ensuing election and stepped into the history books as the first purely political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration. (Around 64,000 exiled Tibetans living in India, Nepal, North America, Europe and Australia exercised their democratic right and voted in the election.) Sangay ultimately completed two five-year terms as leader between 2011 and 2021 and since has tirelessly advocated for the homeland that he, as a refugee, has never visited.
In 2020, Sangay became the first Tibetan political leader in six decades to step into the Oval Office, and he made quite an impact. A month later, the U.S. Congress passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, which called for the right of Tibetans to choose the successor to the Dalai Lama and the establishment of a U.S. consulate in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
A Conversation on Tibet, Asia and the Global Fight Against Climate Change
When: April 12, 6-8 p.m.
Where: St. Cajetan’s, Auraria Campus, 101 Lawrence Way
Free and open to the public. RSVP here.
Despite facing numerous challenges over several decades, Sangay remains optimistic about his fellow Tibetans and their homeland.
“This is the third generation since the occupation, but our movement is strong because the people inside Tibet are very strong in their spirit, intellect and determination,” he told an interviewer in 2015. “In recent history, Tibetans as a people have never been as united and in solidarity as they are now.”