UBEF Lecture Series | Tibet’s Rivers and Climate Change: How Events in a Remote Area Affect Australia And the World
The Department of Indian Subcontinental Studies presents
University Buddhist Education Foundation (UBEF) Visiting Professorship in Buddhist Studies Lecture Series | Public Talk
Tibet’s Rivers and Climate Change: How Events in a Remote Area Affect Australia And the World
Professor John Powers, UBEF Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
Tibet is one of the most significant global hotspots for climate change. Often referred to as the “third pole” because its glaciers hold the third largest reservoirs of fresh water on the planet, the Tibetan Plateau is warming at four times the global average, and its glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. This has implications for Australia, the Asia Pacific, and for much of the rest of the world. Hydrological patterns that begin in glaciers in the west of the Plateau follow the course of Tibetan rivers, which ameliorate their effects. They then descend into India and Southeast Asia, where they determine the amount and intensity of the rains of the Southern Monsoon. The monsoon ends its progress in northern Australia and peters out in the Outback. The vagaries of these weather phenomena also affect the Southern Oscillation, which in turn determines how much rain Australia receives in a given year. This presentation will focus on a research project funded by the Australian Research Council that aims to produce an environmental history of Tibet’s hydrological past, focusing on some of its main rivers. It also considers water management across the Himalayas and how it varies from region to region. Clearer data on the environmental past can serve as a comparator for present trends: are there past events that are pertinent to the current situation? Have there been similarly dramatic climate shifts that can be discovered from scientific studies and literary sources? The project takes an innovative approach to such questions: it brings together a team comprising scientists (two climate scientists and a surface water specialist), anthropologists, historians, and philosophers. The goal is to develop a large data set from past accounts (including historical treatises, autobiographies, religious works, and travelogues) that is correlated with scientific studies (ice deposits, sediment samples, tree ring analysis, pollen, etc.) that can be used to develop a more complete and robust vision of Tibet’s environmental past than what has been attempted to date.
About the speaker
John Powers is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and author of 18 books and more than 100 articles and book chapters, mainly focused on the Buddhist history of ideas in India and Tibet. His books include A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism (Harvard, 2009) and The Buddha Party: How the Chinese Communist Party Works to Define and Control Tibetan Buddhism (Oxford, 2015).
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Also in the series:
28 October 2021 – Lecture 1. The Contested Middle: Tibetan Debates Regarding How to Understand Madhyamaka
4 November 2021 – Lecture 2. Can Ultimate Reality Change? The Three Natures/Three Characters Doctrine in Indian Yogācāra and Its Modern Interpreters
11 November 2021 – Lecture 3. Forum: What’s Wrong with Studying Texts? Current Debates in the Field of Buddhist Studies (with Dr Mark Allon and Dr Jim Rheingans)
UBEF Visiting Professorship in Buddhist Studies
The University Buddhist Education Foundation (UBEF) Visiting Professorship in Buddhist Studies was established at the University of Sydney in 2009 through the generosity of the UBEF for the purpose of sponsoring an extended visit to Sydney of a distinguished international scholar in any field of Buddhist Studies in order to expose students and academics to current trends in research and to raise the profile of Buddhist Studies in Australia. It is administered by the Department of Indian Sub-continental Studies in the School of Languages and Cultures. Past recipients are Professors Peter Skilling (EFEO, 2009), Geoffrey Samuel (University of Cardiff, 2010), Karen Lang (Virginia, 2011), Bernard Faure (Columbia, 2012), David Eckel (Boston University, 2013), Richard Salomon (University of Washington, 2016), Lara Braitstein (McGill University, 2018) and Michael Zimmerman (University of Hamburg, 2019).