In this article Religious Relationships with the Environment in a Tibetan Rural Community: Interactions and Contrasts with Popular Notions of Indigenous Environmentalism, (a mouthful of a title) the authors discuss the ideas and roles of worship of local gods with the lay people of Tibet and how this affects their worship of their environment. Many rural Tibetans still have a strong foundational belief in their traditional regional gods all of whom are directly tied to the environment of their local ecosystem. It is by this very nature that many lay Tibetans are inclined to take steps to protect their environment since they see it as an extension of their religion and any damage that falls upon their sacred sites could come back to them much worse. This combined with the Buddhist ideals that all life is precious form a powerful incentive to protect their environment. As we saw in the Pad Yatra documentary on Tuesday, Tibet has clearly been one region that is already seeing the potential future impacts and ecological destruction that can come from climate change.
Given the current political tension between Beijing and Tibet, alongside with China’s new push into more eco-friendly environmental policies, it would seem that China has an opportunity to hit two birds with one stone. China could make a form of a cultural peace offering to Tibet by stepping up their environmental conservation efforts in the Tibetan plateau, and framing it as not simply an fight against climate change but as protection/worship of the Earth and the idea that all life is sacred. By following this strategy China would not directly lend credence to either Buddhism or local spiritual deities, but would in fact still follow their basic tenets and directly appeal to the goodwill of the people in a moral sense. Not only would this appeal to Tibetans from a religious angle but from a pure standard of living angle as well. This would further their propaganda message that China is simply helping the people of Tibet who are incapable of helping themselves, and bringing them into the twenty-first century. This effort would be well received in the west (as long as it is genuinely followed through) from younger generations who are growing much more environmentally conscious. China could use the guise of environmental protections to peacefully bring a large portion of the Tibetan population closer into the fold of the Chinese government, genuinely make concrete improvement in the lives of Tibetans and others surrounding the plateau, and at the same time garner goodwill from Western populations looking for powerful governments to step up and lead the charge against global warming. From a karmic perspective, environmental protection seems like the best possible move for the Chinese government.