You are here

School News

December 7, 2011

Professor Elke Weber Talks Environment with the Dalai Lama

Columbia Business School Professor Elke Weber met with the Dalai Lama as one of 10 behavioral and climate scholars and scientists who discussed ecology, ethics, and interdependence during a five-day workshop in October in Dharamsala, India.

Topics: Leadership

Columbia Business School Professor Elke Weber met with the Dalai Lama as one of 10 behavioral and climate scholars and scientists who discussed ecology, ethics, and interdependence during a five-day workshop in October in Dharamsala, India.

Weber shared her experience with students and faculty and staff members during a lunch event organized by the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business on Tuesday, December 6. The October workshop, organized by the Colorado-based Mind & Life Institute, featured conversations on environmental issues with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist leaders and scholars. Weber said the Dalai Lama, who has previously focused on the effects of meditation on the brain, has been particularly interested in the science behind global warming for the last few years.

“The Dalai Lama is the most science-literate person I’ve met in a long time,” said Weber, the Jerome A. Chazen Professor of International Business. “He is a genuinely interested person and very much in-the-moment when you’re with him.”

With about 100 people in attendance, Weber said she began her conversation with the Dalai Lama by speaking in English slowly and simply as she’d been instructed to make up for any language confusion (an interpreter was also present). The pair then addressed their first topic: why don’t people act on environmental problems?

“Action doesn’t always just come from awareness,” Weber said. She explained that even when people want to act, they often don’t know which actions will be most effective; when considering changing light bulbs or voting for sustainable public policies, for example, people often end up doing neither. In addition, human capacity for worry and attention is limited, “so we tend to focus on the here and now, and what will help us survive to tomorrow,” Weber said. Anxiety and denial — and a cultural distrust of science in the United States, Weber noted — also create barriers to action.

“There are few truly evil individuals or companies that want to destroy planet Earth,” Weber said. “We just have other, conflicting goals that are more immediate.”

Weber said the Dalai Lama believes the Buddhist idea of reframing — for instance, focusing on the positive benefits of environmental decisions instead of the negative costs — can help enable people to take action. He is also interested in how the Tibetan monastic community can inspire people through role-modeling and social imitation; if villagers see a monk picking up trash off the street, for example, they are likely to follow suit. The monks have also instituted such environmentally friendly practices in their monasteries as separate receptacles for recycling. Weber and the Dalai Lama also discussed how making environmentally friendly choices automatic — positioning a vegetarian meal option as the default rather than more traditional meat choices, for example — can have a significant effect.

Weber said she learned a great deal about Buddhism and walked away from the experience with a fondness for the Dalai Lama as a person.

“I’d never been more scared in my entire life (before meeting him),” Weber said. “But he’s a really warm human being who emanates goodness, and he’s an extremely funny man.”

Watch Weber’s conversation with the Dalai Lama.

Join the Mailing List

Keep up with the latest decision science news by joining our mailing list.


Participate in Online Studies

The center is continually recruiting people to participate in online studies.

Sign Up Online >

The Curl Ideas to wrap your mind around

Insights Gained

In his new book, Mark Broadie illustrates the value of developing a fresh approach to a pursuit mired in tradition, and brings analytics to golf.

Read More >

Katherine Phillips Named Senior Vice Dean

Effective July 1, 2014, Phillips will succeed Gita Johar, the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business, whose three-year term as senior vice dean is ending.

Read More >

Financing China’s Future

China’s rapid urbanization strategy requires a financing system that can keep up. Shusong Ba of the State Council of China lays out economic and policy reforms that will help local governments cope with cities bursting at the seams.

Read More >

Event Connects Endowed Professors, Alumni

More than 60 distinguished Columbia Business School alumni, faculty, and staff members gathered at New York’s Le Parker Meridien hotel in Midtown for the School’s biennial Professorship Celebration on March 24. The event connects alumni who have supported endowed professorships and the professors who hold those chairs.

Read More >

Columbia Business School Community Gives Back to Local Community Through Inaugural Day of Impact

Students, faculty, and staff showcase their passion for making a difference outside the classroom through ten community service projects throughout New York City

Read More >

One Europe, One Banking System

Could it happen? What are the benefits and obstacles? Two prominent Euro economists go head-to-head.

Read More >

Eyeballing the Experts

What can umpires’ mistakes tell us about how status and reputation influence decision making?

Read More >

Social Savers

Peer monitors can help the poorest of the poor increase their wealth.

Read More >

New Research Proves Gender Bias Extraordinarily Prevalent in Stem Careers

Columbia Business School experiments show that hiring managers chose men twice as often for careers in science, technology, engineering and math

Read More >

Latest News

Find out about our upcoming events in our weekly Center for Decision Sciences newsletter.

Read the Newsletter >