March 19, 2019

#58: Is Faith Sustainable?

#58: Is Faith Sustainable?
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In Episode 58, Quinn & Brian ask: Is faith sustainable?

Our guest is Dekila Chungyalpa, a trained scientist and Buddhist operating at the intersection of science, faith, and the environment. She is the director of The Loka Initiative, a new and innovative education and outreach program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for faith leaders and religious institutions. Its mission is to support faith-led environmental efforts locally and around the world through collaborations with faith leaders and religious institutions on environmental protection, sustainable development, and global health issues.


Dekila believes that science and religion can be sympathetic, rather than adversarial, in their commitment to solving environmental and social problems compassionately and effectively. We are all different, in oh so very many ways, but there’s one thing that that every single human being has in common: if we destroy the planet through our own negligence, there will be nowhere left for us to argue about (and kill each other over) religion and politics.


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Episode #29: The Pope Has Decided to Fix Climate Change With His Own Bare Hands: Being 

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Important, Not Important is produced by Podcast Masters


Quinn:Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian:And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn:And this is a 10th street episode where Teddy, is not here.

Brian:Is that 10 really?

Quinn:Yeah, I think so.


Quinn:Yeah. She's won at this point.

Brian:This is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet right now or in the next 10 years. If it can kill us or turn us into CRISPR robots, we're in. Our guests have been scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, a reverend, you heard me right. And we work together toward action steps that our listeners can take with their voice, their vote, and their dollar.

Quinn:That's right. And this is your friendly reminder that you can send questions, thoughts, dreams, visions, nightmares, any of those things, feedback in general to us on Twitter @Importantnotimp, or you can email us at This week's episode, Brian asks, "Is faith sustainable?"


Quinn:Question two, “Is that a clickbait title?” Yeah, it is. So you're welcome.

Brian:Our guest is the magical Dekila Chungyalpa. She's the founder of the Loka Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is an education outreach platform for faith leaders and religious institutions focusing on environmental issues. Dekila is a trained scientist and Buddhist who hails from the Himalayas. She's worked at the World Wildlife Foundation and Yale University. She speaks five languages, no big deal, one fewer than me. And she combines her passions for conservation and faith based work to try and save the whole kitten caboodle.

Quinn:Whole thing. Whole thing.

Brian:She was wonderful.

Quinn:Yeah. Very inspiring. Like me, a fan of lists, apparently.

Brian:She likes lists.

Quinn:She like lists of people she appreciates, which is like-


Quinn:... "Hey, if you're going to make a list, that's great."

Brian:It's a good one. She's full of gratitude.



Quinn:Which is a hell of a way-

Brian:... hope.

Quinn:... to go through your day in your life.

Brian:Yeah. She's cool. I love talking to these people who believe in God, but who are also so smart and just want every human on the planet to be well.

Quinn:Please do better.

Brian:Yeah, just come on.

Quinn:Come on, just please. And I again, I appreciated her perspective like some of the other faith based folks we've talked to from a wide variety of faiths and religions-


Quinn:... and such, which is like, can we just please forget the other nine things that we fundamentally disagree on-


Quinn:... and just work on this one thing. And we can get back to all that other shit." Right?

Brian:After we save the planet from-

Quinn:After we do this thing,

Brian:... not dying.

Quinn:... which has the tick-tock, tick-tock, and then it goes boom. So, anyways, great conversation with Dekila and we're excited to present it to you.

Brian:Let's listen to it.

Quinn:Okay. Our guest today is Dekila Chungyalpa, and together we're going to ask a loaded a crazy question. Is Faith a sustainable? And of course that applies through our prism of the planet and the species and all of those fun things. Dekila, welcome.

Dekila:Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Brian:We're very excited to have you.

Quinn:Brian especially is very excited.

Brian:So excited. Dekila, if you could just tell us and everybody briefly who you are and what you do.

Dekila:I am an environmental scientist that has turned fringe I think. I had a very traditional conservation background. I come from the Himalayas, and had this deep love for wildlife and wilderness areas growing up in the wilderness for lots of my childhood. And went to school, got my degree, started working for the World Wildlife Fund immediately and went out back to the Himalayas and the Mekong region. And in that process I got more and more and more depressed. Basically I started working on community-based conservation, which is really at the community level, and thought that would make this enormous difference because what we were doing is trying to get basically stakeholder buy in for communities so that they had the rights to natural resources. And of course after some time I realized that wasn't really addressing the problem in terms of urgency and in terms of scale, right?

Dekila:When you think about forest degradation, or just poaching and trafficking or climate change, all of that. It was just like these tiny little wins, when we were looking at massive scale problems. So I then switched and took the job to become the Director for the Mekong region for WWF-US, which is river basin wide. It's five countries, it's the most beautiful river on the planet, just amazing diversity and thought, “This is the right scale. This is it.” We need to work transboundary, we need to work with governments, we need to work with all kinds of different stakeholders. It cannot only be communities or government. And then over five years of working on hydropower and climate change, slowly had that same experience that God, this is still not fast enough, and this is still not extreme enough really to address the issues we were facing with.

Dekila:At that time, it was really the hydropower issue, right, in the Mekong and obviously just the level of resources that are stacked against people who want to talk about sustainable hydropower is staggering.


Dekila:And so I was at this point I think of real crisis in a way when I went to visit my family and as usual, my family dragged me to Bodh Gaya where our annual pilgrimage happens for Tibetan Buddhists. I come from a family of staunch Tibetan Buddhists, and my lineage is all about actually interestingly, meditating in wilderness areas. And I had this epiphany because the Buddhist teacher who was the head of my lineage, his name is the Karmapa. He started talking about vegetarianism. And now I've been trying to be a vegetarian for years just-


Dekila:... from a climate perspective and failed miserably, right? So he was talking about it in terms of Buddhism, and what he said is, “How many of you take this, do this prayer every day?” And it's literally like every single Tibetan knows this prayer. It's the most basic prayer, which translates to, “May I ease the suffering of all sentient beings.” Right? And we say it like ... It's just comes out of a mouth all the time.



Dekila:And he said, “How many of you think of that when you are eating? And how many of you look at the food on your plate and realize that you are eating the flesh of living beings that died to feed you? And how is it that this isn't ... How do you not see the dissonance,” was what he was saying.


Dekila:So he flips this challenge [crosstalk 00:06:47]

Quinn:It's like the nuclear option.

Dekila:I know. He put this challenge, and he said, “I became a vegetarian.” And he hardcore came from Tibet when he was in his teenage years. So for him it's even harder because that's basically the diet in Tibet, and he said, “I became a vegetarian. How many of you would consider becoming vegetarian and think of it as your practice, as your Buddhist practice?"


Dekila:I just watch my hand go up. So there were like two parts of me. There was this very deeply moved emotional, the inner being, right? The inner ... That thing that's inside of us that ... The subconscious. 80% of human decisions are made by the subconscious. And there it was, my hand went up. And then there was the brain and the scientist that was looking at the hand going, "What? What is going on?" It was-

Quinn:What did you do?

Dekila:... thousands of hands. It was that ... And my brain was just like, “I am doing this not out of climate science, not out of my knowledge, not about all the facts and figures I know about how much water is wasted through the production of beef, none of it. This is coming as an act of faith.” And he was just like ... I don't know how to describe it, really an epiphany, like a switch just went off in my head. And that was in 2007. And so I met His Holiness, and he is actually a very avid environmentalist and so, he asked me to create environmental guidelines for his monasteries and nunneries. They were over 200 under him that are spread across the Himalayas and Tibet. And so I thought it would just be this two week vacation that while I was with my family I would just churn out this draft that married with this philosophy, with the science to explain what was happening in the Himalayas, in particular climate change because people are seeing the difference, it's very, very visible. Very tangible for them-

Quinn:Yeah, we've talked about that.

Dekila:... on a day to day basis. But there was no framework for it. Right? And what they hear in the news just paralyzes them. And so he wanted a way out, and he wanted monks and nuns to become the solution. And in that process I just completely converted and have this realization that in some sense all my training as a scientist had pulled me so far away from talking about the things that mattered, like sacred values, and even emotions or even things like sadness, like how easy it is for us to talk about our anger and how impossible it is for us as professionals to talk about our sadness. Right? It was like all of this suddenly just stacked up. And so I came back to WWF and lobbied for six months and got a program called Sacred Earth eventually, and basically worked with faith leaders around the world for five years.

Quinn:Wow. Okay.

Dekila:It's a very, very long ... That might be the longest answer.

Quinn:No. But that context is so vital because look, we have plenty of people and all incredible scientist or movers and shakers that are either trying to upgrade the species or so or save us. And there's a fair amount, they're like, “Oh, when I decided to go to school for Science and I did it and I've worked hard and there's this and this.” And that's great. That's all commendable and hard to do and we're so appreciative. It's something that people can recognize and empathize with, because either they did it themselves, they know someone who did or something like that. Your history is just a little bit different from most of our listeners because they were not born in the Himalayas.


Quinn:And were not raised in a Tibetan family or anything like that. And that perspective is why we're here today. Right? And what you've done with it. All right.

Dekila:So one thing I do want to bring it back to before I forget is that, for me that experience and that epiphany of realizing that faith can move people to do something that is fantastic for the planet was just staggering. Because when I realized it, what I realized was it wasn't just a blind spot for me, it was a blind spot for my entire conservation community. There were so few people who were reaching out to faith leaders, who we're talking to religious institutions and now this is where I would love to launch into why we need to work with faith leaders.

Quinn:[crosstalk 00:11:11] We're going to get to it.

Dekila:But if you have another question.

Quinn:No, we're going to get to it. Don't worry. We're going to go do this thing. Don't worry.

Brian:Are you still a vegetarian by the way?

Dekila:I have been for 10 years, but-


Dekila:... last year I ate a little meat, and now I bring it in once in a while, but ... And this brings me back to Tibetan medicine, my Tibetan doctor insists I must eat a little meat, so it's-

Brian:A little bit is better than-

Dekila:Yeah, but I-

Brian:... four burgers a week.

Dekila:... I would probably go right back. I also got diagnosed with Lyme disease-

Quinn:Oh, interesting.

Dekila:... and I have the chronic version, which I think is really karmic, because talk about a disease that really ... you're looking at impacts of climate change and just ... It's amazing. Right? So I actually think it's very karmic I got this illness, but it brought me back to having to give up gluten and dairy and sugar and-


Dekila:... not getting enough protein and so [crosstalk 00:11:58].

Quinn:Very interesting.

Brian:Love it.

Quinn:Very interesting.

Dekila:Still struggling.

Quinn:All right Brian.

Brian:All right, quick reminder for everyone. Our whole goal with this podcast, these conversations is to provide some quick context for our question at hand, and then dig into some action oriented questions that get to the heart of why we should give a damn about this, and then what everyone out there can do about it.

Quinn:If that sounds good to you, we can push on.


Quinn:All right, so listen, we start with one important question here, and I feel like you will be entertained by this with your Buddhist background. So instead of saying, “Hey, tell us your whole life story, yada, yada.” That's not the point we're looking forward. But we do like to ask both practically, but also, I guess we could say spiritually. Dekila, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Dekila:This is a Buddhist question, who came up with this? This is like one of those exercises we have to do, like, imagine you're dead.


Dekila:Come to terms with your entire life, does it have meaning?

Quinn:Right now.


Quinn:Exactly. Good luck. No, [crosstalk 00:13:06] I want you to be bold and honest.


Quinn:And don't worry, you're not the first one's have laughed at us, but I will say most people turn around [crosstalk 00:13:13] by the end of the answer they go-

Dekila:It's a wonderful question.

Quinn:... by the end of the answer they go, "Oh shit, I'd never really thought about that before."


Quinn:What I'm saying is you're welcome. So-


Quinn:... hit me.

Dekila:Okay. So I know for the first part of my life I think I would have said, “It is to basically protect the planet in any, which way I can.” Right? Seeing very much myself as in some sense I suppose, let's say a protector. But lately, what I realized more and more, and this has been something I've been working on for the last five to six years, is that actually I think I'm here for my community, and that is the community of environmentalist and climate scientists and conservationists because we are suffering so deeply. And it's almost a chronic joke that field conservation has turned into alcoholics. This is like we joke about it all the time in field conservation, but the reality is there's now tons of studies showing that PTSD is very common, that we are seeing symptoms of PTSD among environmentalists and conservationists. Right?

Dekila:And for me, I read this paper by Glenn Albrecht, I don't know if you've read him, but he's an environmental philosopher out of Australia, and he coined this term called Solastalgia, which I try and speak a lot about, especially with the younger generation of conservationists. Because what he talked about was this deep sense of grief that we are going through watching the degradation of the planet. And his argument for why that happens to environmentalist is because environmentalists have expanded their sense of self beyond the body. So we tend to at a very young age, have somehow incorporated something outside of our body with our identity.

Dekila:So it could be a river, it could be a species, it could be the entire planet, it could be a tree, it could ... but whatever it is, it is this deep connection that we feel with nature. So when that extend itself is harmed, we feel it as if we were harmed. But because we don't have that philosophical framework, we are unable to deal with that. Right? It usually turns into anger, it turns into recommendation, it turns into a lot of judgment and rage against people who vote certain ways, right? We are unable to see it in the larger framework of, “Well, this is because it is so deeply personal to me.” And most people don't understand that, who don't have that experience.

Dekila:So for me, this decision to work with faith leaders has ended up being this process of getting people to talk about their spiritual connection to the earth. And I find that it doesn't matter how atheistic, let's say, a scientist is. Ultimately, when we talk about it in these broad terms, what shows up quite often is that most people had a spiritual awakening in a natural setting. We can remember when we fell in love with the planet, right? Whether it was you watched, I don't know, a spacecraft of you from a rocket of the earth, or whether it was, you were walking in a forest with your father, or whether it was like you were in a cave with your mom and shivering all the time. It could be, any one of those things. But we remember it, because there was this moment of spiritual connection that we had.

Dekila:And I think having that conversation is healing to us because we have to find a way. Okay, I'm really going to go. One of the things that I really struggle with is how western education has forced us to cut that relationship off. In the process of studying nature, we actually objectify it, and then we remove ourselves from it, right, to study it. We think of human kind as almost outside of nature. And that dynamic is really, really hard. Because I think what we do is we cut off the one thing that actually heals us, which is this spiritual connection to the earth. And as an indigenous person, as a Buddhist, it's actually ... I realize it is very easy for me to see that and to connect with that because ultimately we don't have this complicated level of guilt and shame and all of those things that come in.

Dekila:I think when it comes to, especially Judeo Christian traditions and conservation or nature [inaudible 00:17:49]. And so it's easier for me to point it out and say, “No, it's actually a psychological thing.” And there are tons of studies showing that sitting for three minutes in nature is going to bring you ... it increases mental health.

Quinn:Sure. The Japanese that's a whole part of their psychotherapy is-


Quinn:... is literally forced. I think they call it forced path, and it's incredible.

Dekila:Yeah [inaudible 00:18:12].

Quinn:Please continue.

Dekila:Yeah. So, I think in the last few years I've realized that, I started working with faith leaders because I thought this was one of the missing pieces and this could create action on climate and on conservation at a scale that me or an NGO or even a scientist community couldn't. Right? 80% of the world is religious. In the United States, over nine out of 10 people say they believe in God, poll after poll, it shows up. So we in some sense have to realize that we're not, maybe not the right ambassador for these people. So engaging faith leaders to me is being able to address people at scale. But in the last five or six years, actually I'm entering the space of realizing that, it's not just for the planet, it's for us and our mental health-


Dekila:... which is partly why I've moved to University of Wisconsin, Madison and I'm now building this program at the Center of Wellbeing. Right?

Quinn:Well, I think that's fascinating. And those clearly offer such a unique perspective compared to most folks in general, much less most folks working in the, and others ... of course battles over this schism, environmental/climate or environmental or climate and what that means. But for a lot of us, recognizing, preserving and cherishing that nature is a fundamental part of, or how we got into this work. So, that's awesome. Let's stick a little bit into the context for today real quick. So, this isn't the first time we've talked about the role of faith and [inaudible 00:20:01] religion in protecting the earth and building towards a more sustainable and certainly more equitable future.

Quinn:And that's not just across the US, it's everywhere, because we can dig into more, and we've talked about on previous episodes and we've talked about in our newsletter, places like the Himalayas are facing extremely unique and honestly just harrowing circumstances coming down the pipe with their glaciers and drinking water and things like that. So everybody's getting it everywhere. That's where we are, right?


Quinn:One might not immediately equate religion or faith and climate science. Come on, coffee, come on. But there is a long history of support, right? And we've talked about this, and conflict of course among them, but many of the early scientists and scientific expeditions and endeavors were funded and supported by religious institutions, right?


Quinn:And much of that goes back to an edict in the Bible commonly interpreted to instruct the faithful to take care of the earth. But of course, that's just western religion, which is not what we're digging into today because it has just a small slice of the planet. But we have some history here too, as we're firm believers, unintended, in bringing everyone that we possibly can on board to help fight back.

Quinn:We're not quite at, whatever means justify the end, but we're getting pretty damn close to it at this point. In episode four we talked to Reverend Mitch Hescox about mobilizing Americans to Christian population into climate missionaries. Mitch, of course, can't recommend that episode enough because he talks about coming from a long line of coal miners. He has the degree himself and did the work himself and has turned himself into a leader in American climate work. I'll mangle this, but it's like his dad, his grandpa and his uncles all had-

Brian:It was a whole, yeah.

Dekila:Yeah. I know Mitch a little bit.

Quinn:It's incredible. But again-

Dekila:Yeah, amazing.

Quinn:... that perspective is so unique. He's so valuable because of that as a missionary. In episode 29, we talked with Jose Gutow, about the current Pope's leadership on climate. Both are recognized bidders among their flock and further. But what about ... and this is where we're going to get to what you're building, you know, religious leaders and institutions who might not have that unique perspective or that aha moment or couldn't go, come to Jesus moment or have a built in education or capacity for discussing or tending to the environment. Right? They already have such immense influence in many cases on a hyper local level, where personal action can be most impactful.

Quinn:So, we start to think about point, there's a huge segment, of course it's very diverse, but a huge segment of people, there's so much influence. How do we get them on board? And once we've done that, how do we get them up to speed? And if I've got it right, it seems like that is particularly what you're working on now.

Dekila:That's right.

Quinn:So if you could tell us a little bit about, what you're building and then how it works basically?

Dekila:Okay. So, when I said I began working with His Holiness the Karmapa in 2007, then I created these environmental guidelines. Really what happened was something that was completely unexpected. He gave me four or five monks to work with who are very senior. Tibetan Buddhism has its own PhD system, right? And so I was working with these basically doctors in Tibetan philosophy. And in the process of designing this very simple booklet of environmental guidelines, and sharing it with the monasteries, we started getting so much feedback from the monks and nuns saying they wanted training. That it wasn't enough that they were just reading this. So, impromptu out of nowhere in 2008, I just created this five day workshop, like what we would do, in a very western educated system-


Dekila:... in that process of project planning and community design and so on and just run through these five issues. And the response was amazing. So it basically snowballed into a movement. The association is called Khoryug and there are over 50 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from India, Nepal, and Bhutan that are doing really good conservation work and climate work. And so it's been 10 years now, and what I see is monks and nuns that challenge this idea ... Buddhism spends a lot of time talking about emptiness, right? We spend a lot of time looking at Samsara and creating a distance from Samsara. So there is this very natural philosophical hump that you need to get over before you can convince anyone to act.


Dekila:And so what I'd imagined was that this was mostly a theoretical and intellectual exercise. And what emerged was this cadre of monks and nuns, in the hundreds and hundreds and now thousands who have gone through this training that wanted to get out there and do something. So these monasteries do everything from, tree planting, to cleaning up rivers, to going out and cleaning with their community, which shocks all the Himalayan people, putting solar on their roofs and doing really, really good disaster management work. So for the last three years, because of the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and then because of this anticipation of climate change impacts in the Himalayas, the monasteries asked that we focus just on disaster management. So all of these monasteries have disaster preparedness plans. They have EMTs made of monks and nuns-


Dekila:... that know how to do first aids, that know how to build stretches with their own robes. They are trained to be first responders. And when you think of it in that way, what institution is more prepared for a disaster than a religious institution that is used to feeding hundreds of people at a time-


Dekila:... that stores a lot of food, tends to store water, right? Has a whole group of people that have already identified their purpose in life to help other people. And so in that sense it's just ... the power of that is immense. And what I see more and more is how it affects communities around them. So what we have now seen are quite often, and unfortunately I haven't done a quantitative study, although it's on my list, is that when monasteries put solar on their roofs, usually the hotels and restaurants in that area start to copy them.

Brian:Oh, wow.

Dekila:And so there is something that I think, there's power of example. Because again like I said, monasteries have large numbers of people that come and live there, that they have to feed and take care of. So typically they put the solar in the kitchen and the hotels that are dealing with similar problems look at the monasteries and go, “Oh, I didn't think that was cost efficient, but now that you're doing it, maybe I'll do it.”


Dekila:So, seeing the same thing with rooftop water harvesting as well. And so for me that process of seeing this change over the 10 years is one of the most hope giving experiences because I'm involved elbow deep and it is my community. But similarly I see it all over the world, the power of faith leaders have in influencing behavior and reminding people to keep to their commitments when they do make commitments.

Brian:Imagine that like all the ... what if all the churches and all the pastors and all the churches in this country started that, started putting solar panels on the rooftops of the churches, teaching all that the country would change in a fucking heartbeat.

Quinn:There's been this argument and we try to keep these conversations fairly timeless or evergreen, I should say. But there's been this argument online, which is not something I should ever start a sentence with or it should be a really good red flag to just do something about-

Brian:Talk about this fight online.

Quinn:But among people I really respect in the movement who have hugely varied backgrounds and perspectives about essentially, and again, you can keep going down the rabbit hole of all of these and find arguments on every side. And I do try to see all sides of it, which is, look, the greatest effect we can have to slow down climate change are these hugely commercial and institutional changes that need to be made correct. Mass transportation changes, mass buildings, shipping all these things, production of fossil fuels, et cetera, et cetera. Right? It's like you put solar panels on your roof it's not a big deal.

Quinn:And their point is like, “Oh, we always tell people to do this when in fact it doesn't really do anything.” It's not a lot, but which is fair. And then the other argument is, “Oh, well that's a very easy thing to say to white people because they can afford to do it. What about the people don't even have trees in their neighborhood and their urban neighborhoods are thousand degrees because they can't cool down at night and they can't afford air conditioning.” Yes, all of that is true. But to me, what is important, and it seems like this is what you're talking about a little bit, is the notion of having skin in the game, which is, if I feel like I have a leg to stand on, if I'm doing all these little things that I'm probably aware, I am but I can't say most people are probably, just don't just statistically add up to much.

Quinn:I put some solar panels on my roof that's, it's come down price a big expense. I recycle, I drive a plugin, maybe not a full EV. I'm looking at it and maybe the next few years, all these different things. I try to walk, I try not to eat too much meat, try not to use too much dairy, right? Not having the world's biggest effect in the world. But what it does give me is this ability for me to call my representative or to look at my pastor or to look at the store, this commercial enterprise that's using a tenant energy, or we're blowing pollution and say like, “Hey man, I'm doing my part.”


Quinn:“It might not be much, but you got to do something.” To me, it just gives you a little more room for a little more skin in the game to say like, “I'm doing this, we're all doing this. You have to make the big changes. Yours is much harder, but we're doing it." So I get where ... yes it's not a huge thing but-

Brian:Totally agree with that.

Quinn:... but it does bleed down and it does make your neighbors go like, “Well, I'm a shitty person, maybe I should put solar on my roof.” It's something, it's something.

Dekila:But I don't think of it as a either or. Right? Like of course we need to make change-


Dekila:... because my God, these systems starting with colonialism and neo-liberalism have been set up to ravage the earth. Like we need systemic change.

Quinn:Exclusively, right?

Dekila:But that's systemic change doesn't mean that individuals cannot also act. For example, I think maybe the industry that makes the most sense when I talk about individuals besides air travel is textiles.

Quinn:Oh, and it's a name.

Dekila:It's over a billion tons of carbon more than international flights, and I think shipping, right? And when you think about what is thrown at us in terms of advertising, at this point it's over 5000 ads a day that we consume passively.

Quinn:That's incredible.

Dekila:So how do we then counter this, what we have basically in the fashion industry, which is throw away culture? I don't know what it's like for guys, but shopping as a woman is just horrifying because everything is polyester. It's a polyester world. And so-

Quinn:Well, my wife doesn't let me shop for myself to start with. Because we've seen what happens when it's just sweatshirts and she's like, “It's enough, it's enough.” So, that's the first answer from my perspective. Yeah, it's a nightmare. And that's why I have so much respect for these companies like Patagonia. That say like ... One of their ads is literally like, “Don't buy our stuff and if you do, use it forever and if you're not going to, give it back or give it to someone who's going to use it or we'll fix it for you." And obviously they're not the biggest company in the world, but that kind of leadership makes such a difference. And there's all these other companies springing up like Rothys with shoes and things like that, that are saying like, "Look, this is a huge problem and we have explicitly not told you it's a problem and so you don't know that." I would [crosstalk 00:32:10] wager to say most-

Dekila:Sorry, I didn't [inaudible 00:32:12].

Quinn:No, no please. No get in there.

Dekila:I think the point I'm making is that when these companies look at us, they don't say, "Oh, it's just one individual and it doesn't make a difference." Right?


Dekila:They see us as mass consumers because we put the money down.


Dekila:The argument that individuals are weak and focusing on individual action takes too long is I think an argument that actually puts money in the pocket for these corporations.


Dekila:Because they might say that, but they're doing the opposite of that by marketing to us and by putting all these ads to us. So for me it really comes down to who is equipped to address them at a level that this issue needs to be addressed? Which is at a holistic moral issue and which is really about choices and making choices that are not how you and I would talk about it, which is choices that are healthy for the planet and that ensure our future and that is going to bring down carbon levels and la, la, la, right? That really is about choices that bring you more happiness.


Dekila:And that is how faith leaders think. Faith leaders think about what brings mental wellbeing, what bring spiritual wellbeing, what brings community wellbeing. If we are able to convince them that blind consumerism and throw away fashion is actually a moral issue. It is an issue that degrades the soul, degrades the spirit. We are-


Dekila:... then able to talk about individual action at scale. And-

Quinn:Yup, and that's the thing, it can grow to scale. And that's one of the few benefits of things like social media in 2019 for as much damage as it's done. You see things like the women's march and what has happened and those things can't come to life. Don't know waste, shouldn't necessarily all the time, but can't come to life.

Brian:But can.

Dekila:Yeah, look at the kids, the kids [crosstalk 00:33:59], right?

Quinn:It's incredible.

Brian:Oh my God.

Quinn:And that's why ... I'm getting to the age where I've got a few friends that are a little bit older and they'll say things like, “These kids are getting ahead of themselves, whose business is it, this and this for them to be doing this, they can't even vote.” And it's like, "That's the fucking point."

Dekila:Oh, my God. Yeah, [inaudible 00:34:16].

Quinn:They're going to be here the longest and they can't even vote and they're doing this. What are you doing?

Brian:So it is wildly inspiring. Let's talk about the local initiative. Where does it start and what are the identification in induction processes like?

Dekila:So basically when I finished at WWF, I was given a fellowship at Yale and I moved there and I spent three years trying to think about how could we support faith leaders and provide them the capacity they needed. For faith leaders who are already interested in protecting, whether they call it creation or the planet, but protecting the earth, right, protecting nature. And I realized that I was really struggling, honestly speaking, I was really struggling in academia because ultimately, I am an activist and I am a conservationist and I want action, right? But there's a neuroscientist called Richie Davidson at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he's the guy that basically studied and proved how the brain literally changes due to meditation. So very interesting work. I totally encourage you guys to look at what he does and invite him. He's Fantastic [inaudible 00:35:26].

Brian:I'm into it. That is one of the things that has got me and kept me on using ... I use headspace most of the time for my meditation and knowing that there's real science and what it has been proven is really impressive.

Dekila:Yeah, exactly. That's what the Center of Healthy Minds has focused on. And so he and I, we've been friends for a long time, but I was telling him about this struggle I was having to create an education and outreach platform for faith leaders and religious institutions at scale. Because what had happened over the 10 years was I just ran around and over Skype was trying to answer the questions faith leaders have. And one of the things that people assume about faith leaders that turns out to be completely untrue is that they are impractical. In reality faith leaders are the most practical hard hearted group of people I've ever met. Their questions are always about, how much is this going to cost? How much of my resource can I put towards this? Can you guarantee the output? The conversations we have are very technical.

Dekila:And ultimately what it comes down to is that they want to know where they can make the biggest difference with whatever funding they have and how can they guarantee a positive output. And that obviously requires somebody to sit with them and do the entire mapping exercises into project design and trends analysis and all of that. And what Richie said was, "Okay, bring it to University of Wisconsin-Madison and we will figure out how to make it happen." And so we launch in May and we've been working on it for the last nine months. And the platform basically is open to faith leaders from all traditions, including, and I really want to emphasize including indigenous traditions. And the idea is that we have four pieces to it. The first is, basically symposiums and meetings that happen between scientists, academics, policy makers, business leaders, public la, la, la, and faith leaders behind closed doors to have these really honest conversations about what works, what doesn't, where they're comfortable, where they're not, where do they need help?

Dekila:Some of them might want to publicly announce a partnership, some of them don't. I have worked with evangelical leaders in the past who never wanted to say that they were working with a big green NGO, right? So it's an opportunity to build trust and build collaboration. And then the other piece, the second piece is online classes that's available to anyone and everyone. And the idea behind that is that we're trying to talk about and stitch together mental wellbeing, community wellbeing and planetary wellbeing as one conceptual course. That there shouldn't be distinction and that when we think about our lifestyles and the lifestyle's, mindful lifestyles, we have to live, all those few things need to be considered, and so that's part of that course.

Dekila:The third piece is probably the piece that I think or I hope will benefit faith leaders the most, especially from third world countries, which is the idea of providing a certificate course design for them that can lead to environmental science education and religious and traditional ecological knowledge. And then explores how faith leaders can basically turn the tide on climate and environmental issues. So it's very focused on experiential project design, project management and it draws on different religious traditions. So there will be a lot on creation care, which is huge for a mainline Christians in the United States or integral ecology, which is huge for Catholics especially a term that was coined by Pope Francis, interconnectedness, which is huge for Buddhists.

Dekila:So it's all over. The idea is that we are recognizing that these principles exist in all religions. And out of that I think will emerge a program that is designed for students to go as fellows and accompany these faith leaders to help set up the courses. One of my biggest struggles, working for WWF and then beyond was just not being able to meet the needs of all the faith leaders that were reaching out to me. I wanted somebody to come and be with them for nine months as they experimented, right? If you were building a project that impacts a hundred people, you want an expert with you-

Quinn:Sure, yeah.


Dekila:... and for the most faith leaders didn't have that kind of technical expertise. And I think in some sense a trusted expert, who understands their religious tradition, who understands the institutions, who knows how much to push, who can build bridges, right? So that kind of person that's needed. And so the idea is that the fellowship's basically send people like that with faith leaders to help set up these projects. And I almost see it like a pipeline for faith led projects-


Dekila:... environmental programs. But I do want to say this isn't new. Faith leaders have been doing environmental work all over the world. If you look at the climate change whether ... If you look at disasters, whether we say it's climate disasters or not the people that respond the most are faith institutions. They're the first there, right? They're almost always ... It's the church or the mosque or the temple that ends up being that safe space for people when they're in distress. So we have to realize that by also demanding and insisting on our vocabulary, we actually lose this window where we can collaborate, where we can come together. And I think for me, part of the program and keeping it at Madison and keeping it with the Center For Healthy Minds is this acknowledgement that there is knowledge to begin both ways.

Quinn:Yeah, absolutely. I'm curious where you've come from, which is not something we choose, but how that was such a part of your life and your realization both early and later and how you want to interact and make a difference, put a dent in the universe with your work. How does this new endeavor with the local initiative which really ... you just said, more I think about it I'm in the waterfall effect of like you said, creating this pipeline of generations on of these people starting to train each other is incredible. But-

Dekila:Yeah, no.

Quinn:... now you're such a vital facilitator. How do you feel like that reflects and builds on your life work?

Dekila:I don't know how to answer that question. None of this was planned. That's all I can say. If somebody told me 12 years ago, this is what I'd do, I'd just laugh them out of the room because I was really proud of being upfield conservationist and being trained in that tradition. And part of that training was, I distinctly remember the first time I saw a rhino and I think I squealed and the chief scientist said, “You don't do that.” And I think I said, “Oh, that's really cute.” He was like-

Brian:You don't do.

Dekila:... “We don't call them cute. We call them charismatic megafauna.” And I was like, “Okay, charismatic megafauna.”

Quinn:Too sure.

Dekila:That was me, right? Okay, maybe I can talk about this piece as a brown woman, as indigenous woman, as a woman raised in a very faith led family, especially of women practitioners, there was a severing that happened when I started studying science and environmental science in particular. And I didn't realize that happened because [inaudible 00:43:04].

Quinn:Among your family?

Dekila:No, in myself, within myself-

Quinn:Oh, interesting.

Dekila:And I think my guess would be definitely for people of faith, but I think that also for indigenous people, we all go through this when we enter western education systems.


Dekila:There is this process of where rationality suddenly just so valued, inherently considered more valuable than intuition or emotion, right? Our assumption that intelligence is more valued and more important than emotion, like I said earlier, 80% of our choices, human choices are made by the subconscious brain, by feelings rather than facts, right? And then use our facts to justify the feelings. That's how humans work. But somehow when we go through the process of higher education, we are convinced that is wrong. We are convinced to not really feel too much and to really rely on our brain and I think that is fair and good. I don't necessarily have a problem with that, except when you have been raised in a tradition where everything is about that ... As Karma Kagyu Buddhist, my experience of meditation is ... I don't even know how to describe it. It's called Mahamudra, but it's basically this process of losing self.



Dekila:You just become one with everything. right? I feel ridiculous, okay, about this.

Brian:That's not ridiculous.

Quinn:No, no, no ,no-

Brian:No way.

Quinn:... no, please that's why you're here don't feel ridiculous.

Brian:That's a real thing.

Dekila:Where your identity completely dissolves, and as you're examining yourself, people laugh while they meditate. I have laughed because it's like you realize how ridiculous you are thinking that Dekila is a real thing. I said, "This is ridiculous." And for me from applying the environmental perspective to that is even more fascinating because it's like, "Well." ... Which part is Dekila? Is it when the oxygen is entering my mouth? Is it when the oxygen is leaving my mouth? [crosstalk 00:45:09].

Quinn:You can go down some serious rabbit holes with this stuff. And I am ecstatic to indulge those things, like you said, from the metaphysical to the physiological. And that's where it must be amazing to be someone who is both as intelligent but as trained in both, and to marry those two in that experience while at the same time trying to forget them, but it's fantastic.

Dekila:Thank you. And I think this is a conversation we should have some other time too because-


Dekila:Now that I know you guys meditate. I invite you to come to Madison.

Brian:Oh, you know, happy.

Dekila:But I think what happened for me personally was that I started seeing myself as a scientist by day and a Buddhist practitioner by night. It was like, I had to do this demarcation to function-

Quinn:So you're back now, basically basically.

Dekila:It's like, yeah. And I think most people of faith do that. You would be surprised how many scientists of people of faith. And it's only in many ways, I'm married to an Indian man who just doesn't understand why this is an issue. He's in the IT world, right? And because in India, this is very natural. I don't know if you remember last year there was the rocket Israel. Israel was the space research organization for India. The top scientist before that rocket launched successfully, he went to a temple, he went to throw a party and he broke a cocoa nut. Then did all these prayers and imagine if this happened anywhere in the world publicly, he's offering a mini rocket to the temple God, right? And in India, this dualism isn't one like here it's a dualism and in the West it's a dualism.

Dekila:And so for me going back to this, when you asked earlier like what is your purpose? Part of that is to say we don't need these intense demarcations that are designed by what I see very much as a neo colonial western education system. As an indigenous person, as a brown woman, I want to take what is useful and I want to take what benefits the world, what benefits all sentient beings, my community. But I get to draw the line for myself, right. And when we're in that education system, how many of us even think we are able to do that? How many of us, even though we're just so over whelmed by deadlines and classes and so on. And so I think that is the one thing that I've gained in the last few years.


Quinn:I love that.

Brian:Dekila, where do you have doubts? Where have you run in to resistance?

Dekila:Mostly in our community, in the science community. I've never actually had any door closed in my face from the faith side. Even the most scary evangelical you can think of. They've had a conversation with me, crazy things happen sometimes. People ask me all kinds of questions and people say they see the devil on my shoulder that they want-

Brian:That's odd.

Dekila:All of that happens, but the conversation takes place. But in the science community there, I did lose friends when I initially started working with faith Leaders. Really lost deep friendships because people felt like I was in some sense, either doing something very trendy and not really meaningful on the ground or who felt that I was going over to the enemy. I do have a friend who I still think of as a dear friend who hasn't talked to me in a long, long time who felt that way because he came from the Catholic tradition and because of all the terrible things that happened really had a rejection of religion as a whole. Right?

Quinn:Sure, which is understandable because it's real bad.

Dekila:Yeah. And so it's not that this work doesn't have its challenges, however, I do think that it allows us to talk about a lot of other things like for me to be able to talk about the pain and suffering that we're experiencing at a emotional, physical identity and then spiritual level. I hope that then regenerates and it adds to a larger conversation that has been happening for decades. Right? And so I do think we need to pull back quite a bit from the economic valuation trend that we tend to go towards with nature and with ecosystem services and so on. It's a little horrifying for me honestly, that we rely on it so much and we rely on technology so much to solve our issues. Because unless we address the human spirit, the instigator of all the problems doesn't change, then sooner or later we're going to come up with more problems. Right? Even if we have a technological fix for this one.


Dekila:And so I do think we have to address that root cause, which is human nature. Where else do I have doubt? Oh my God, I'm so concerned about the timeline. I don't know anyone who ... any of us who aren't. We know we have this very small window to make as much change as possible. And so I personally, the more I was looking at how markets influence or how marketing influences behavior, the more I realized I really don't want to use fear as a tactic.

Dekila:I find myself appealing to all institutions and sometimes on Twitter, randomly throwing to the vast, uncaring universe of Twitter that I wish my respected colleagues would stop using this language that is all about, I don't want to call it fear mongering because that's not what they're trying to do, but this deep desire to shake everybody up. Right? And so then what we do is we fall back on this, on these tactics that are ultimately, I think what it does is paralyze most people who don't understand or don't care about it. If we ourselves are using basically clickbait or doubt or fear uncertainty, what we have to acknowledge is that, that actually doesn't really result in any lasting change.

Quinn:Right. Panic makes us panic.

Dekila:Exactly. Right, exactly. And I think you and I actually have this exchange about like what do we do when we panic about climate change? And in so much as possible. I do think, I love the fact that your podcast focuses on what can we do and ends on a high note because that high note is missing so much of the time.

Quinn:It is, it's a tough one. So segwaying into that and then we're going to actually start to dig into this action here. But I'm curious because it is such a unique perspective and it is such a daunting number that I want more people to appreciate as if they don't have enough shit throwing at them like we're just saying. But on a more existential spiritual question. So we talked about Solastalgia, reports say a third of the Himalayan glaciers are in deep trouble and that's when you add up all the rivers that come down from the hills. It's water for about 2 billion people. How is that these days being handled on I guess the duality, the faith and the psychological standpoint. How do faith leaders there reconcile that physical reality? Much of which is inevitable at this point. What could be this truly daunting future? How is that being confronted there?

Dekila:I see a really interesting thing that's happening in the Himalayas with the Khoryug Monasteries and Nunneries I mentioned. And I think it also is happening at a global scale, which is, communities banding together. So at a global scale what I see is, it's cities that are really giving us hope and that are leading forward on climate action, right? If we rely on governments and intergovernmental politics, it could be a long while, but cities have stepped up and said, “I am going to use ... all my urban plan is on this.” Whatever that might be. And I see the same thing happening in these communities.

Dekila:Basically because of the disaster management training we're giving the Khoryug Monasteries, they are reaching out to their local communities and creating these hubs of management plans. Now that is all about adaptation. But there's this interesting piece that's coming in now, in the 10th year of practice, which is about mitigation and which is really about monastery. So Tibetan Buddhism, under His Holiness the Karmapa and under the Dalai Lama and many of the teachers, most monasteries are vegetarian. But there is this real push to actually have communities become vegetarian, which I hadn't seen before.


Dekila:This real push to share resources, to not own too much, to have organic gardens. All the monasteries that I work with and nunneries I work with have organic gardens that are in some sense starting to become self sufficient when it comes to food. That also see solar and see rooftop water harvesting as part of that self sufficiency process. So going back to what you said earlier about your background in science fiction and you knowing how much I focus on the doomsday scenario, it really gives me hope that communities are thinking that way because I think we have to be prepared for that. That is our reality. If you look at just the, Oh God, the number of frequency of disasters that we're seeing, right? The more we can get people to be prepared and to think of themselves as one unit, the more likely we are to survive it and to change how we rebuild in the future.

Quinn:Sure. It's been so inspiring about what so many of these kids are doing out there these days. Right? Is that going just ... We've organized it, we've done it. We're marching across cities, we're skipping school, we're sitting in Senator's office and we're doing this things, either you guys in office are ready to do it or not? This is happening because we're the ones that are going to have to suffer and truly adapt to what's going on here.

Dekila:Yeah, absolutely. March 15th. Right?


Brian:So let's dig into how our listeners, who many of them are our progressive science nerds who care about the future and our species and our planet. And who might not be people of faith, but how can they help your specific mission? Our goal is to provide action step that our listeners can take to support you and they can use their voice, their vote and their dollar. So let's get into how we can do that. Let's start with their voice. What are the big actionable specific questions that the rest of us should be asking our representatives, and then of course because of today's topic they're faith based leaders.

Dekila:So my first appeal really would be for scientists and everybody else to reach out to the local faith communities that they are living among, right? Whether they are people of faith or not, it doesn't matter because most faith organizations are trying to understand what they can do on climate change or on the environment and feeling completely overwhelmed. So even if you just reach out and say, “Hey, I walk by this church everyday or I bike by this church every day or this mosque. Anyone you're working on environment?” You'll be surprised that most churches do have somebody who's just weary and exhausted and has 5% of their time dedicated to the environment and it's just doesn't know what to do. Right?

Dekila:So my first request would be that to reach out and I think in that sense also recognize that there are all kinds of ... meatless Mondays are being really pushed forward by [inaudible 00:57:03] right now in the United States. Right? Huge impact when it comes to climate change and so on. The other thing that I'm really fascinated by, I think one of you said earlier, “What if the Catholic churches were putting solar?” Well, WWF has tried that and I think the scientists that are working on, especially on making solar more affordable turn to faith institutions because they're the ones who are going to be able to trigger change in their community if they put it up. It's almost like free advertising and reassurance and it's coming from Preston source.

Quinn:Sure, sure. Exactly. And that's okay. And I actually want to go back to the first point on being a trusted source. Since you are a double agent, when we're talking about telling the scientists who are driving their EVs or biking to work or walking to work or whatever that are going past these faith based institutions, whatever they ... however they might be shaped or formed or believed in. What specifically ... how should they frame that reach out? What is that conversation starter that they could be having? And again, the more specific the better so that we can really enable people to do this.

Dekila:Oh God, this is going to get me so much hate mail. Let's drop evolution for the time being. People. Let's just agree to disagree on these few certain things and just start with where we agree.

Quinn:Well, for that's as well it's also like evolution is in a-

Dekila:That doesn't mean in anyway-

Quinn:evolutions in the-


Quinn:... By the way, no, no, no. Please. Evolution, yeah, we should talk about that all day. However, there is a ticking clock and there's other shit we have to deal with. Yeah, let's just deal with that first.

Dekila:Yeah, exactly. And so I have being ... having tried to build these bridges for it's over a decade, I cannot tell you how many times as scientist who happens to be a colleague or a friend will turn to me in a panic before a meeting and say, "You know, I can't bow my head down in prayer, you know, I can't do that if they make me do that or you know, is they bring up evolution. I'm going to have to talk about evolution." And what I always come back to is let's say, you and I, were right now working with the desperate government or with a corporation that is going to hand us $100,000 in this conversation. Would you feel that need to bring up their mining practices or their human rights violations? No. Right? No, you wouldn't. We wouldn't. We as scientists are actually trained to build bridges, we really are, except where it comes to faith.

Dekila:And I think that's partly because science, this ... oh my God, this deep entrenchment that has happened, has happened. We ourselves have been part of the identity politics, and we're just too blind to see it. And so my first request when I asked scientists to work with faith leaders and why we have these meetings behind closed doors a lot of the time is so that if these conversations happen and they're difficult, we know that they're contained, right? So what you want to do is create that safe space first and foremost. And that is to say, “I am here to listen to what you're struggling with and I'm here to help in any way I can. It's not to push your agenda.” It's not to get them to become scientists to believe that I don't know to change their minds in terms of paradigms, religious paradigms. We cannot go there and we're honestly not equipped to go there because all we're going to say is, "You're wrong and look at my data.” And that's not going to change their minds.


Dekila:A philosopher is more likely to affect them than scientist is, right?


Dekila:But, what But what we can do is go there and say, we are here to be a resource. And I think that is so legitimate. And that plays to our strengths.

Quinn:Well, also there's something to which again, we can get into an in another way, but it's so true. It's a way for these scientists or people of science or activists in any way to truly humble themselves, right? Which is the ethos behind plenty of Western religions, good or bad. But to humble yourself and like you said, “Just say, I mean, it's, it's like the single best parenting advice I ever got/marriage advice from a friend of mine was literally just say to your wife, “How can I help? And it solves everything, right? It just-

Dekila:I love it.

Quinn:... It's literally just instead of like, “Do this or do this.” Or “Hey, why don't you just say, how can I help?” And if we just do that, if we just walk in, you don't have to call and say, “Hey, I can do these 20 things for you.” Or at least just go and say, “I can be resource. How can I help, and what could I do?”

Dekila:Yeah, absolutely. And I think in that sense too, we as scientists are willing to do that for so many different kinds of stakeholders. And here is one of the largest, most influential stakeholder groups in the world.

Quinn:I could swing the whole thing.

Dekila:Right, exactly. 50% of all schools in the world are run by religious institutions.


Dekila:The Catholic Church by itself is the second largest property owner in the world.

Quinn:Right. It's incredible. Is McDonald’s number one I think?

Dekila:No, it's the queen of England.

Quinn:That doesn't surprise me.

Brian:McDonalds is not the [inaudible 01:02:22].

Quinn:McDonalds is in there somewhere.



Dekila:I'm sure. I'm sure. When we think of them in that way, how is it that then, we aren't willing to extend ourselves and say, “Oh my gosh, actually helping you helps me, helps us, helps the planet.” Why not just extend that branch and start somewhere? And so for me, you could start anywhere if you want to work at the national level. God knows there are enough institutions working with faith leaders, right?


Dekila:Amazing work that's happening. Like you mentioned Mitch in, They do amazing work. For every faith community. There is a environmental organization, there's an organization called Eco Seek which is just for seats and so the point is that you can work at a national level, you can work with policy, because God knows we do work with faith leaders who too influence policy in DC. Why don't we also work with them to help find support for let's say the green new deal. Right?


Dekila:So there are places I think the point of entry can fit wherever you are, but making that decision to come and be part of that team is the most crucial one. And that would be my main request.

Quinn:And what about, the vote? Any specific thoughts there on what our listeners should be looking for when it comes to that? Specifically not just like, “Oh, vote for somebody who loves the environment or wants to help climate.” But with regard to being more inclusive to the kind of groups you work with, is there anything specifically they should be looking for or talking to their representatives about?

Dekila:So, obviously I'm a big supporter of the green new bill and hoping, that it's going to be different this time than the previous Waxman-Markey bill, right, that failed-

Quinn:Yeah right.

Dekila:... miserable. So let's see this time. But I do worry a great deal about what's happening in the national parks and what's happening with first nations. Just the egregious use of force against first nations for protecting natural resources, in their sacred lands and in some cases legitimately, let's say US government legally recognized sovereign lands, right? For first nations. One of the things that's happening of course, is that we're bleeding from a thousand cuts, I think on a daily basis probably each one of us wakes up, looks at the news and just wants to cry because it's like, which issue should I feel pain about the most?


Quinn:So hard.

Dekila:It's like 50 or some, but having said that, ultimately, being an American, it pains me to see what's happening with wilderness areas and what's happening in protected areas and how those laws are being degraded or undermined or being turned around. Right? And so that's one issue that I feel really strong about, and I hope that listeners do support God, all the NGOs that work on it. I feel like if I named them, I'll be here forever. But so-

Quinn:List a couple of them we can out the rest in our show notes.

Dekila:Sure, of course like WWF, obviously Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, right? And so on. But I also feel really strongly about protecting indigenous rights and protecting first nation rights. And in that sense, there are several legal organizations that work on it, but I'm not sure I can say just go to one. But what I can say is, when we are in America, no matter where we are, we have to recognize we are on first nations' lands. We are on indigenous land, and the one thing we could do is learn about who was here first, because they manage natural resources pretty damn well.

Dekila:Much better. So let's start there with that, the recognition and with that respect. And then the second thing we do is we actually reach out and try and make reparations in any way we can. As an indigenous person from the Himalayas, obviously I feel really strongly about it, but also, we can say we're indigenous to the earth and we're one race and we're one human species, right? But ultimately we have really extracted knowledge from indigenous populations and treated them as if they are part of nature as if they are, in some sense that nameless, I don't know, bucket of natural resources that we can draw on and basically use however we like and throw back what we don't.

Dekila:And I think what's amazing to me is nature and indigenous cultures are so resilient and continue to give back. The traditional ecological knowledge that exists in indigenous cultures, that has actually been the basis of what is now what we think of as modern science, right? That just goes unacknowledged, but also our inability to reach out and build partnerships with first nations. I have seen this again and again where scientists and NGOs, basically will go so far and go no further because they are seen as activists or they are seen as rabble rousers. And I do think there is this very [inaudible 01:07:34] guilt/discomfort about having to enter conversations that people personally are not ready to have. And I think that does come back to the fact that conservation is primarily Caucasian, right?


Dekila:It's run by Caucasians. And so there was this real, the white liberal guilt, whatever you want to call it. But ultimately if we are talking about nature being resilient, and we as human species being resilient, we have to turn to the resources that actually, are the most bountiful, that are going to tide us over. And I think that does exist in indigenous culture, that level of wisdom. So my request to all the listeners is that you find those partnerships, you build them and if that means you have to suffer through a little bit of white guilt, yeah, feel it.

Brian:Feel it.

Quinn:That's where we get this morning.

Dekila:[inaudible 01:08:26] again, [inaudible 01:08:27].

Quinn:That's right [inaudible 01:08:29], It's time.

Dekila:Move on.

Quinn:It's time.

Dekila:You can go through it and move on.


Brian:We got this. Awesome Dekila. Well, we've kept you for quite a while and we've loved this conversation. Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Dekila:Oh, thanks both of you. This was so fascinating and I would love to meet you guys. We should, we should find another time to talk.

Quinn:Yeah, no.

Brian:Yeah, awesome.

Quinn:Absolutely. All right Brian, bring it on.

Brian:We have a few questions for you. Just a few more closing questions. When lexicon the lightening round, they're not-

Quinn:We should probably change from lightening around to not lightening round. Just more questions round-

Brian:But if you're ready for them-

Quinn:Really quick. And again, we do try to keep the answers a little more brief because [crosstalk 01:09:13]-

Brian:It gets a lightening run.

Quinn:It's not a lightening run. Look I'm reconciling some things over here. Okay? When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Dekila:I think I was 12 and there was a dam that went up in my community in Sikkim and people were evicted from that area, one of the indigenous tribes, the Lepcha tribe, and there was a very small hunger strike and I joined them.

Quinn:All right.


Quinn:That's awesome, that's something. 12 is early. That's impressive.

Dekila:My [inaudible 01:09:52] thought I was crazy.

Quinn:I'm sure. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Dekila:Good, that is such a long list. I would start with Richie Davidson at the center of healthy minds. Not only because he believed in my vision and helped me build this platform for the local initiative, but also because his work has been so seminal in linking mental well being with community and planetary well being. And so I think in that sense, this just for environmentalist, who're making the argument that it's one and the same thing. His work is just really influential.


Dekila:Mary Evelyn Tucker is another person who is over at Yale form of religion and ecology, she's been my mentor for years and has just been this amazing sounding board and visionary when it comes to building relationships between religion and ecology.

Quinn:Awesome, awesome.

Dekila:I could go on Jonah-

Brian:No, no [crosstalk 01:10:49].

Quinn:This is not an Oscar speech, Dekila. You're going to get your shot one of these guys, don't worry.

Dekila:[inaudible 01:10:56].

Quinn:We'll have a whole side episode for you to just thank people. It'll be great. We'll call it how to be appreciative, and it'll be important because it's an important thing.

Dekila:Oh it is, you guys should do that.

Quinn:I do it.

Dekila:Do a minute of appreciation in your podcasts.

Quinn:I have a gratitude journal.

Dekila:[inaudible 01:11:14] lovely, yes.

Quinn:I'm trying. Okay, Brian go ahead.

Brian:Dekila, question number three. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed specifically?

Dekila:When it comes to thinking about climate change and especially when I'm reading about disasters then as Quinn knows, I go and rebuild and build my bug out bags and go through everything and re-stash them. So that's one of the things I do. But the other thing I do obviously or maybe not obviously, is meditate pass time in nature and just even if it is, 20 minutes in the weekend that I get to go out and just be in a forest, that probably keeps me going for the next week.

Brian:That's a good one. I assumed that might be part of your answer. How do you consume the news?

Dekila:Well, sadly Twitter, it's probably the first way I do-

Brian:This is not Facebook?

Dekila:Yeah, it's not, I actually am almost completely off Facebook. I think-

Brian:Yeah, get off.

Dekila:... the most recent horrifying thing was that, there are all these other companies that share information with Facebook about women's periods-

Quinn:Oh good. Pretty good. You could have said anything by the way. You could have said the most recent how funny thing is then it would be like madness. You could just make it up.

Brian:Yeah, [inaudible 01:12:28].

Dekila:But I can't switch off Facebook because I have so many monks there that I can reach through to Facebook-



Quinn:[crosstalk 01:12:35], that's the problem.

Dekila:[inaudible 01:12:35] leaders so that's why I have it.

Quinn:I get it.

Dekila:It's not Facebook.

Brian:Awesome. Okay, last question. If you could Amazon prime one book to Donald Trump, what would that book be?

Dekila:Oh my God! Could it just be a ton of books that would be-

Brian:One book Dekila. [crosstalk 01:12:58].

Quinn:See, she's doing it again.

Brian:We'll do another side episode where you just name all the books.

Dekila:To be honest, probably a book on compassion. Because ultimately at the core of it, oh my God! What a suffering individual.

Brian:Yeah, it is the worst.

Quinn:Do you have a specific book on compassion?

Brian:The deal is we have an Amazon book list, Dekila, and we actually put all the recommendations on there and our listeners can actually, send these books to the White House.

Dekila:There is a really, The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I don't know if you know who he is, but he's a Tibetan Buddhist senior monk who also is a scientist and I think that would be a really nice combination.


Quinn:I love it.


Quinn:I love it. One of my recommendations on that front, on today's topic is one of my favorites Being Peace, I'm not sure if you're familiar with that one at all. It's a popular book by Thich Nhat Hanh, from I think early 2000s I think. Something like that, just an incredible small little book that I've given to the number of people but-

Dekila:I have it. That would be amazing. Very nice or very calming training.

Quinn:That somebody else could read to him with [inaudible 01:14:23].

Dekila:[inaudible 01:14:23], flash cards. There's not more than five words.

Quinn:Yeah. Awesome. Hey, where can our listeners follow you on the internet?

Dekila:I'm on Twitter, dchungyalpa. They could also ... I think that's probably the easiest way. I'm also on Instagram. I would love for them to check out the Loka Initiative, so Those are our ways, you're free to reach out to me. Happy, to talk as always, and build bridges.



Quinn:I love it. We need more bridge building these days instead of wall building. Unless we're just keeping out white guys in which case I will help build it [crosstalk 01:15:05].

Brian:We have enough white guys, thank you.

Quinn:... Will put myself behind it. Dekila thank you so much-

Brian:So much-

Quinn:... for your time today-

Dekila:[inaudible 01:15:12].

Quinn:... and a unique perspective you have brought to both our conversation, but you're also bringing into the world and doing things, building a pipeline-

Dekila:Thank you so much-

Quinn:... It's going to make a difference-

Dekila:... both of you. It was such a great conversation. I really enjoyed myself.

Quinn:Well, have a wonderful day. A Wonderful weekend. And we will talk to you soon.

Quinn:Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at It is all the news, most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp.

Quinn:It's just so weird.

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Brian:And you can find the show notes from today, right in your little podcast player and at our website

Quinn:Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening. And finally most importantly to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:Thanks guys.