When East meets West on Climate Change

A dear colleague observed recently that I seem to have lost faith in the power of governmental policies and markets to solve climate change. Having attended the UN COP-17 meeting in Durban, South Africa last year and watched the sausage making in the international policy arena, I admit that I felt the intense urge to do something different, try something different.

Twenty years of such policy making resulting in the Kyoto protocol, carbon offsets, carbon markets, biofuels, IPCC reports, Nobel prize, etc., has led to the fastest rate of increase in anthropogenic Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions ever. If policy makers had been trying to ruin the Earth’s climate as quickly as possible, I doubt that they could have done much worse.

The policy makers are failing because Western industrial civilization is built on shaky foundations that are not conducive to a thriving, sustainable future for Life on Earth. And unless those foundations are infused with a strong dose of wisdom from the East and strengthened, this civilization is on a collision course with Mother Nature with predictable consequences.

I found glimmers of that wisdom within the marginalized tribal communities of India, with their clasped hand greetings of strangers, their one-room huts with unlocked front doors and in their concept of “Deva Kadu” or God’s Forest that had helped them live sustainably for thousands of years in the forest until their fatal contact with the British and industrial society in the 19th century. These tribal communities are now poor, their forest barren, their cultures destroyed and their future bleak. But they had enough lingering customs to let me glean that another world is possible and what such a world could look like.

According to Vedanta, there are really only three questions that anyone needs to answer in life and the normative answers to these three questions form the foundations of any civilization or culture. The three questions are:

1) Who are you?
2) What is Nature? and
3) Who or what is God?

And in the forest communities of India,

1) you are a generous, not greedy, being, part of a whole called community,
2) Nature is the cradle of Life, not just a bunch of resources to be exploited and a receptacle for collecting industrial toxic waste, and
3) God is to be found in all forms within the Deva Kadu, and not just in human form.

The anthropomorphizing of God in the major religions of Western Industrial Civilization has led to the incarceration, torture, exploitation and slaughter of billions of animals, birds and fishes annually in an unparalleled display of cruelty that has Karmic consequences. As Goodland and Anhang have calculated, at least 51% the anthropogenic GHG emissions can be attributed to just the Livestock industry alone and yet the climate movement has been stubbornly ignoring it for fear of offending Western sensibilities, even though that industry is set to grow by 68% in the next 15 years alone.

It is time to infuse a bit of the East into the West.

It is time to move from greed to generosity as the behavioral norm for a human being in the new industrial civilization. It is time to treat Mother Nature as the cradle of Life that she is, to ease up on our demands on her and to help her heal from the grievous wounds that we have inflicted on her. And it is time to replace cruelty with compassion as the normative ideal for our attitudes towards our fellow Earthlings.

In short, it is time to Go Vegan.

Please take a chance on your generous impulses. Our children and grandchildren are counting on you. And so are the poor forest communities of India and the world.

Happy Cows and Pink Elephants
Dancing with Al Gore
Sailesh Rao
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