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Five Indic Theories that can Influence Climate Engineering Measures

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By: Dr. Pankaj Jain, Head of the Department of Humanities & Languages and Chair of the India Centre at FLAME University.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body of the United Nations with a mandate to study climate change, defines climate engineering as deliberately altering the climate system to counter climate change. The IPCC 2013 report suggests that many geoengineering technologies are a subset of mitigation as mitigation involves both emissions reductions and enhancing sinks. These corrective measures must be taken up with knowledge, awareness, and cognizance of likely consequences.
In this context, Indic traditions present a staggering diversity of religious and cultural traditions, which are practised even today in India and are increasingly finding acceptance across the world.  Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism offer ethics-based practices for climate engineering based on Karma, Vinaya, Ahimsa, Sanyasa, and Nyaya. Let us analyse how each of these principles contributes to the activities mentioned above.

Karma – Action and Consequence

Karma, one of the most widely known Indic philosophical and religious ideas, suggests that our present existence and life cycles result from our past lives. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts accept that we must deal with Karma – the consequences of our actions. This karmic theory should be the guiding principle in all our interactions with all the beings and resources in nature. While implementing geoengineering measures, we must consider multiple aspects and balance them with care and sensitivity to avoid negative consequences. For instance, the use of windmills as an energy-generating source is welcomed by those who oppose fossil fuels to limit the emission of greenhouse gases.  However, ornithologists in India have found these eco-friendly windmills to be one of the reasons for the near extinction of the state bird of Rajasthan. Windmills are accused of the deaths of birds elsewhere in the world. Creators of such turbines can bring innovation and design thinking to create renewed products that can be safer and help protect surrounding flora and fauna. Unless we are conscious of the likely consequences, we may continue to harm our environment leading to more climate change.

Vinaya – Humility

The next Indic principle that we will consider while considering geoengineering measures is humility – Vinaya. Ancient Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita teach that every being is divine and worthy of reverence. This ‘reverence for all’ is exemplified in Hindu puja traditions for Ganesha, Hanumana and their rituals for cows, snakes, rivers, mountains, trees, seasons, and the five elements of nature. This spiritual unity with all forms and beings in nature leads them to practice Vinaya, humility always. This humility inspires many Hindus to recite a Sanskrit verse that seeks forgiveness from Mother Earth for touching her with their feet as they wake up in the morning. In an 18th century Bishnoi legend, hundreds of people hugged their local trees to prevent their destruction long before the rest of the world coined terms such as “biodiversity” or “climate change.” The theory of reincarnation further reminds Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains to be humble and recognize all species as family members because each soul can be reborn as any species in its journey through multiple life cycles.

Ahimsa – Nonviolence

In addition to showing humility toward our fellow creatures, Indic traditions encourage human beings to practice Ahimsa, nonviolence, towards every species on the planet. Several Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists are vegetarians and do not consume eggs, meat, or seafood. Occasionally, some Hindus may consume meat, but their staple diet consists of grains, lentils, fruits, and vegetables. This low preference for meat-based food in Indic communities keeps India’s carbon footprint much lesser than other countries.  India’s per capita carbon footprint is even less due to the sustainable food habits of Indians, a manifestation of reverence, humility, and nonviolence towards all beings. The latest research shows that animal farming accounts for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, one of the leading causes of climate change and deforestation.  With the knowledge of the ancient Indic practices, the Indian diaspora spread worldwide can become global advocates to promote vegetarian diet choices that can reduce the adverse effects of climate change.

Sanyasa – Renunciation

Another Indic principle, Sannyasa, renunciation, discourages accumulation and possession of natural resources and encourages modest living, urging people to consume natural resources with a sense of renunciation instead of a sense of entitlement or ownership. We can become better stewards of our planet’s natural resources with the widescale practice of nonviolence and renunciation.

Nyaya – Justice

Jainism, another ancient religious tradition of India with a long history of engaging with Hinduism and Buddhism, brings a distinct perspective regarding justice for animals. According to the Jain taxonomy, all five-sensed beings are equal. Hence to kill a mammal or a bird is similar in karmic consequence to killing a human. Only minimum consumption of one-sensed beings, i.e., earth, water, fire, air, and plants, is recommended for human survival. Among plants, consuming the root or stem of a plant is again unjustifiable from the Jain perspective because that would be equivalent to killing an entire plant.
In summary, the Indic principles based on Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts and contexts can inspire us to be more responsible, sustainable, and moral to protect and preserve our planet and nature. We need to be fair and balanced to nature as we evolve newer technologies to protect and preserve the environment for future generations.  Additionally, Indic teachings can help provide a direction to contemporary policymakers in India and elsewhere to deal with climate change and other environmental threats.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Dr Pankaj jainProfessor Pankaj Jain is an internationally recognized academic leader in Sustainability, Jain Studies, Film Studies, and Diaspora Studies. He is the Head of the Department of Humanities & Languages and the Chair of The India Centre at FLAME University. Earlier, he was the founding co-chair of India Initiatives Group and Associate Professor in the Departments of Philosophy & Religion and Anthropology at the University of North Texas, a tier-1 American university. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and an M.A. from Columbia University (both in Religious Studies). His B.E. was in Computer Science from Karnatak University, India. Prof. Jain has over twenty-five years of work experience in both academia and industry.
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The CSR Journal Team
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