World Environment Day is observed on June 5 to promote sustainable living to ensure the longevity of life on Earth. This can be achieved by exploring possibilities for embracing a greener lifestyle through policies, programs and practices.
In this context, the concerns of the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, on International Mother Earth Day (22 April 2022), are noteworthy: “Today, the Earth is facing a three-planet crisis – climate disruption, natural and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste,” he said, adding that humanity had treated the planet badly, and that we had been bad stewards of the Earth.
Our planet is facing an acute shortage of life-sustaining clean water, fresh air and fertile soil. Earth’s ecosystems become unsuitable for the survival of mankind and the proliferation of biodiversity.
Environmentalists are now embracing the idea of connecting humans with nature. The core issue is is this a new concept? The fact is that the oldest documented records of human civilization, the Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads, which are a treasure trove of human intelligence and wisdom, state the interconnectedness of the biotic-biotic and biotic-abiotic components of the environment.
Holistic understanding of the environment
The ancient Indian system of knowledge focused on liberation of man from the darkness of mere unconsciousness. The preservation of land, water, air, hills, forests, rivers, oceans, plants, trees, herbs, shrubs, all forms of life and even planets was a central issue in the ancient Indian system of knowledge. When it is necessary to exploit the Earth, our seers pray for forgiveness.
Prithvi sukti in the Atharva Veda says: “Whatever I dig from you, O Earth, may you recover quickly, O purifier, may we not injure your vital organs or heart.”
Water is considered divine as is evident from a verse in the Rig Veda: “Water from heaven, water from springs, pure bright water leading to the sea, may this divine water protect us here.” It is mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib that air is our Guru.
Our ancestors had a holistic understanding of the environment and revered and preserved it in its totality. The ‘Shanti Mantra’ shows the importance of coordination and reciprocity among all natural forces and resources. The mantra says that water, vegetation, natural energy, and all living and non-living components must exist in perfect harmony and peace. This mantra proclaims the peace of the heavens, the middle region, the earth, water, plants, trees, all Gods, Brahman, the universe, and even the peace of peace. A verse in the Rig Veda says, “Heaven is my father, my brother is the atmosphere of my navel, and the great earth is my mother.”
The Vedic message is loud and clear: the environment belongs to all living and non-living things. Therefore, it is our duty to protect it for everyone’s happiness.
There is an absolute deviation from the ancient Indian way of life and knowledge. Now, we have started extracting sand from rivers instead of water, stones from hills as a substitute for medicine, and cash crops from agriculture instead of grain.
We produce non-biodegradable goods from everyday uses that damage the environment, burn agricultural residues that pollute the air, and use excessive fertilizers and pesticides that pollute products, soil and water.
Can we launch a mass movement to curb plastic use and can we return to organic farming? Can each of us become carbon neutral by planting trees? Can we refill the same amount of water that we use daily? Can we promise not to waste a drop of water, a grain of food and a unit of electricity? Can every household use solar power? Can we really live according to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of seven sins? Can we start paying the same respect to environmental components as was given in ancient times to protect natural habitats and ecosystems?
We exploit natural resources for our greed without concern for the environment or the survival of the next generation. The government needs to control the costs of education, health, transportation services, and quality diesel to free farmers from the pressure of more production.
The government’s decision to achieve 20% blending of ethanol with gasoline by 2025 is a very good decision as it will ensure good sugarcane prices for farmers, reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce emissions. We must not forget the two great principles of Vedic civilization – less is more and Mother Earth belongs to future generations and we are only its guardians.
(Author is vice chancellor, Punjab Central University, Bathinda. Views expressed are personal.)