tv Earth Focus LINKTV November 16, 2015 7:30am-8:01am PST
narrator: today on "earth focus," religion and development in asia. filmmakers kalyanee mam and gary marcuse on how cultural traditions intersect with economic growth in cambodia and china. coming up on "earth focus." kalyanee: as an immigrant, as a refugee, you know, from cambodia, my family and i, you know, fled cambodia when i was four years old. and what i realized was what happening in areng valley was that the people were also being
kalyanee: so the chong people have been living in areng valley, you know, for over 600 years. and we went back to cambodia to film and i discovered, you know, two of the most amazing people i've ever met in my life. and what i discovered was that they are probably one of the most rooted and grounded people i've ever met, and the reason is because of their connection to the land. you know, they feel so grateful for nature because everything they have comes from nature.
the cambodian government has contracted a chinese company to build this dam, and the company's name is sino hydro, and, you know, we've all been asking questions. why is sino hydro interested in proceeding with this dam when two other companies have already, you know, previously pulled out of the project? because they discovered through environmental impact assessment reports that they had conducted themselves that the dam was not economically viable. and i think one of the reasons is that they will make money from the contract from constructing this dam, and also the dam will be built on a build transfer agreement. and according to the agreement, the dam will be transferred to the cambodian government after 40 years time.
during that transfer, the dam will already have built up so much sediment and silt, the cambodian government would actually inherit a dam that's no longer functioning in its proper place. so i think that the answer for me is they want to access this place for the logging, for the mining, you know, for the minerals that they can find. so most of the money will be made during this period before the construction of the dam even takes place. when your land is threatened and your home is threatened, i don't think there's any choice, you know. there's no choice in the matter about, oh, do i fight for my land or do i just stay silent? [chanting]
kalyanee: the wrapping of the trees, it's both symbolic and also practical. it's symbolic because, you know, the saffron robe is a symbol of the monkhood and is also a symbol of this affinity and connection with the trees. but it's also practical because if loggers come and they see the saffron robe, you know, wrapped around the tree, they might think twice, you know, about cutting that tree down.
fred de sam lazaro: in downtown beijing on the 20th floor of a high-rise, one of china's senior environmental reporters is becoming a buddhist. [doorbell rings] liu jianqiang: hi. fred: hi. liu: fred? hi. fred: good to meet you. liu: nice to see you. fred: likewise. liu jianqiang is an investigative journalist. his first story about the environment was an exposé about illegal dam construction on the upper yangtze river. it made national headlines. his hard-hitting stories eventually got him fired, so he continued his work as the beijing editor of china dialogue, an online international journal. [liu speaking chinese] fred: but after 10 years of reporting, he was feeling burned out. [liu speaking chinese]
translator: i think that our environmental activists and those who work for public welfare need more powerful spiritual support. why? every day what we do may be good deeds which give us positive energy, but meanwhile what we are facing is the darkest side of the world. every day what we see is polluted air, polluted rivers, and the slaughter of wild animals. this kind of negative energy attacks us all the time. we've been working on environmental protection for a long time, but the situation in china is getting worse every day. where do we draw our strength from? fred: liu jianqiang is one of millions of chinese who are returning to buddhist, taoist, and confucian temples that were once condemned by the government. a little more than four decades ago during china's cultural revolution, many buddhist
temples like this one in central beijing were destroyed or defaced. today these temples are alive with worshipers. by some accounts, one out of every five chinese, 240 million people call themselves buddhist. some scholars say this search for faith is linked to china's massive environmental problems. gary marcuse: i had been filming in china since 2008, when i first started to meet some of the kind of leading environmental activists and journalists in china. when my friend liu jianqiang said he's becoming a buddhist, particularly a tibetan buddhist, i was very curious about why. we'd already decided we would make a little documentary that would sort of show people what it is that has attracted him, but when i asked him just in shorthand, you know, what is it that you're looking for in a religion, in a faith, in a culture? and he said, well, you know, for 15 years, he said, i've been reporting on the environment, and in that time, everything is still getting worse.
so you begin to feel like what's the point? you know, we're exhausted, we're burned out. and he said i needed something more enduring, something for the longer term, something that would allow me to have a little bit more faith in my own work. well, i asked liu jianqiang, how would we show people what it is about the tibetans that really appeal to you? and he said, well, you should just go talk to one of the tibetan monks, the kind of person that i met all the time up there. so, you know, go into the mountains and meet some of the people and listen to the way that they talk about nature, and you'll see what it was that really, you know, appealed to me. fred: today this lake is the scene of annual gatherings of buddhist monks. it's also the site of a special meeting between buddhists and scientists. dr. lu zhi is a conservation biologist at peking university.
she's been working with tibetans in this area for many years. translator: during the 1990s, when i went to the tibetan area for the first time, i saw something that really surprised me. there was a lot of logging going on, but in some areas, the wild animals were not afraid of people. and there were very old trees, 600 or 700 years old. the ancient forest was preserved. i asked the local people how is this possible? people said this is our sacred mountain. this was a big shock to me. just the concept of sacred mountain was good enough to preserve the resources. it's more powerful than the law or the preaching of scientists.
today the system is still functioning. in the core area, nothing should be touched. then in a broader area, killing is not allowed. no living beings should be harmed. we did a survey on birds, and we discovered that wherever the belief in sacred mountains is strong, there is greater biodiversity. so this shows scientifically the environmental value of sacred mountains. fred: then for two years, dr. lu and her students used gps to map the sacred mountains in the ganzi district of western sichuan province. they found an average of three sacred mountains near each monastery in the district. in the united states, the protected area would be about the size of vermont and new hampshire combined. nearly one third of the land is in sacred areas.
translator: who will protect the environment in the west and in china? it is government responsibilities. but the tibetans don't think of it that way. if you think of it that way, you are not buddhist. you are the protector. no matter if you are a newborn or 80 years old, you are all protector. you have responsibilities. all lives should be protected. fred: in some districts, local governments are recognizing the sacred mountains, and some are even hiring tibetans to take care of the national nature reserves. translator: the cultural values of buddhism are very comforting to the scholars of conservation. i felt at last we found a way, and i began to gain confidence in humanity. these tibetan people are not
wealthy, yet they can still think of other creatures. not just other people, other creatures. this is altruistic behavior. if they can do it, there's hope that other people can do it as well. [bells ring] gary: i've made a whole series of films about the beginning of environmental movements in different parts of the world at different times, and in each of the films, i found myself quite drawn to trying to understand what you might call the native religions or the hunter/gatherer religions, or some of the kind of peripheral cultures that you find in the united states, in russia, in china. some of those older cultures of hunter/gatherers who live close to the land often have the similar kinds of beliefs about the sacredness of the environment and the need to protect and preserve it
for all future generations, because their very livelihood always depended on maintaining the quality of the environment that they lived in. tibetan buddhism, like many of the original sort of hunter/gatherers who lived in europe, in asia, in north america had a very powerful relationship to the land. they have a deep respect and a kind of a sacredness to the environment because that was the means of ensuring livelihood for the next generations and seven generations to come. and so the tibetan buddhists come from that kind of tradition. so i think that's underlying a bit of their immediate sense of respect for all life. so it has a very practical side, i guess from our point of view. from their point of view, it's just part of the way that they look at the world, which is life is sacred and you must preserve it and you actually must even protect areas from human intervention in order to ensure a healthy future for the environment. fred: liu jianqiang is one of
millions of chinese who are taking a fresh look at traditional culture. here under the guidance of chakme rinpoche, tibetan buddhism has changed the way he sees the world. translator: before, i only wrote from a legal point of view. it's wrong, for this is a national park and how can you destroy it? now when i read a story about fish that were killed by a dam, what i have in mind is there are millions of lives here. i strongly believe that i should write about it this way. i'm sure i should speak on their behalf. i shouldn't just think of what is good for us, what's good for humans. i can clearly see my change. [chanting] fred: observing this new interest in religion and conservation, china's communist party is now cautiously supporting it.
translator: former state counselor mr. dai bingguo spoke at the annual forum on ecological civilization and buddhist culture. translator: traditional culture promotes harmony between man and nature and encourages limited consumption and a simple way of life. we support this. we don't oppose taking from nature. we do oppose overexploitation. we want gold mountain, but we also want clear water and green mountain. gary: my chinese friends were very quick to point out that when you see the government, as we did, making some very sort of friendly noises towards organized religions, it's a bit of a surprise often for people from outside china, like how is it that this government that used to be all about atheism is now sort of very friendly towards at least a schedule of religions, particularly the traditional cultural religions like buddhism and taoism and confucianism? and the fact is that the communist party is observing that tens of millions of people
are becoming more religious, and they're realizing that this might actually be an opportunity for them to kind of encourage these religions to be environmentally conscious and to support that side of the religions, because that will help people become maybe a little bit less materialistic, a little less oriented towards consumption. i think the government realizes that the era of kind of, you know, 13% growth every year is coming to an end. pollution is going to be an issue that's going to take 10 or 20 years to sort out. so they really need to kind of encourage a culture, or at least to be supportive of a culture that is less oriented toward consumption, placing less value than always on material gain, because those material gains aren't going to be as easy to get in the future as they have been in the past. martin palmer: i think one of the things that i've seen over the last few years, and increasingly so, is a sense that if there is going to be some kind of chinese solution
to these issues, it is going to come out of chinese traditional culture. so my sense is that this partnership between religion and the government around environment is only going to get stronger and stronger. fred: there's hope these handshakes signal real support for ancient traditions of respect for nature in a society that has paid a heavy environmental price for progress in recent decades. ú