Scanning the problem of Climate Crisis
Climate Crisis is not a fiction, but a fact. The word “Crisis” simply means turning point in life or history in times of difficulty, danger or anxiety about the future. How do humans and other living beings respond to such situations is the fundamental question before us. What is required is to make conscious attempts for tackling the issue at stake with the three well known 3 Ps as maintained by the World Summit for sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.They are - Political will, Practical steps and Partnership. The Faith communities are called upon to respond to the challenges creatively with innovative solutions so as to manifest the power of religious wisdom in tackling the problem.
In this search the Eco-Canvas goes beyond the boundary of caste, creed and code of religions. It is indeed a matter of spirituality for the affirmation of life for all. It is not only a scientist’s concern, but everyone’s responsibility as it affects all. It has human rights implications as “the environmental degradation is an undeclared war against the poor of the soil” (President Museveni of Uganda). “Climate Crisis is a deadly war humans have been waging against nature. It is reflected in the contamination of air, water and soil deforestation and species loss, in ozone depletion and emergence of deadly diseases.” (Thomas Manickam). Nature is thus, envisaged as one of the spheres in which God meets man personally and in which he is called to exercise responsibility” (E.L. Allen). As Ecology is a matter of faith, one should bear in mind that “the compassion of humans is only for their neighbors, where as the compassion of the Lord is for living beings” (cf.Sib.18.13).
The challenge in times of Climate crisis is to be solved by living in harmony with God’s order of creation. It goes beyond an anthropocentric understanding of the problem. The search does not end simply with the question of God to Cain, “where is your brother”? It means that the climate crisis is to be looked at from a bio-centric/ecocentric perspective. The environmental refuges are not only human beings, but all living creatures on this planet. “We, humans have the responsibility as well as the capability to protect the Earth and its habitats-animals, plants, insects and even micro-organisms. If they are to be known by future generations, we must act now” (Dalai Lama).We and they(?) Live under the umbrella of the symbols of life and death - air, water, earth, sky and fire. The issue of climate change/climate crisis is indeed a topic related to sustainable development, sustainable mobility and integrity of creation which exert terrible influence on the people in the margins.
The prophet Isaiah wrote long ago how humans trample upon the laws of nature. “The earth mourns and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (24:4-5).The environmental deterioration in the form of global warming will make the earth uninhabitable for all living beings. As there is a discernable human influence in Climate change, we need to look for a paradigm shift in mission as well as in life- style. This is basically the challenge before the global community, as Dr.Konrad Raiser, the former general secretary of the WCC, remarked. In order to protect human dignity and to respond to the groaning of creation positively, the eco-challenge is to live sustainable in the 21st century with ethical and spiritual values such as gratitude, humility, sufficiency, justice, faith, hope and love. (See article by Dr.David G. Hallman entitled, “Spiritual values for living sustainably in the 21st century”.
An urgent call to act:
In the UN assembly (Sept.2009),Yugaratna Shrivastha of UP, who is a girl student of the 9th standard, representing 300 croses of children in the world spoke on climate change with an SOS.: She said: “What kind of a world you elders, are leaving behind for us, children? There is the melting of ice in the Himalayas and other ice caps, polar bears are dying due to climate crisis, millions of people in the world are not getting safe drinking water, the atmospheric temperature is soaring high and the sea level in the Pacific ocean is rising which would devastate a few countries of the world in the twinkling of an eye. You need to take action against these alarming life situations. If action is not taken at this moment when will you? If not you, who will”? She warned the assembly that when you take decision in air –conditioned rooms remember the face of a child due to sunburns outside.” Truly speaking, climate crisis is also the violation Child rights. This speech had a tremendous impact on the world leaders who later met in Copenhagen for the Climate Conference. The UN slogan for the year 2009, “The Planet Earth needs you for facing the Climate change” gives a warning to us. In 2004, the UN on the Environment Day chose a topic which is quite relevant to the people of Adamans and other islands. “Wanted! Seas and Oceans: Dead or Alive” In the appeal, fifty key facts about seas and oceans are listed.
It is impossible for you to get a piece of ivory without meeting an elephant in the dense forest. We need to go to the forest first and encounter the animal! Let us, therefore, look at the problem from various angles. There is no simple answer to it. It is a matter of common vision in God’s one world and a life style of the people. As Earth is our home, the issue is interwoven with relationships in God’s order of creation. The interrelatedness between human beings and other living begins on this planet has raised umpteen questions of spirituality and ethics. The question of violence and peace is also integrally related to earth ethics because the majority of the marginalized sections of the community (such as Dalits, Fisher folks, Adivasis) depend on land, water and forest for their livelihood. The protection of earth’s surface and its vitality, bio-diversity and beauty is a sacred trust to all people beyond any divide. The UN call to observe bio-diversity year in 2010 and the special appeal on June 5, the UN Earth Day with a single theme, “Many species, and one planet-one future” are initiatives for a better tomorrow. All things are interconnected .Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it. In a well known Christian hymn, the chorus reads as “All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful: The Lord made them all” (cf.Ps.104) The Vedic chant entitled “We are birds of the same nest” reaffirms the interrelatedness and interdependence on this planet.
In search of a spiritual quest:
It is a naked truth that environmental degradation due to the plundering of the Mother Earth to satisfy the present generation leads us to “an unstable climate which will eventually take us to a unstable world, stoking tensions and feeding conflicts. Abuse of nature by the human beings is an undeclared war against the poor of the soil.” The opportune time has come before the whole world particularly before the Church to act as agents of change and channels of grace for seeking spirituality beyond the creed, code and cult of the religions. There is the vision of a common tomorrow in God’s world as stewards of God’s creation. The awareness of the threats posed by Climate change urges us to opt for a life style, which is less anthropocentric and more of eco-centric for the protection of Human Rights. The very concept of the interlinking of rivers for which we spent our time in the past is indeed too anthropocentric and it does not take care God’s entire creation.
A caring attitude to nature protects the rights of all living beings. Since the eco-challenges go beyond the borders of a nation and are inclusive in their character, they require the co-operative effort of the global community. What is needed is to undertake local initiatives with a sense of being part of the whole. If life is the gift of God, we should do our best to preserve life and to promote it at its best. Since God has not consulted humans for creation on this planet, humans have a subordinate role to play by guarding it and subduing it according to the divine purpose. What God has found “good” should never be allowed to change its status. The spirit of independence goes with interrelatedness in the order of creation. The ecological sins such as water pollution and air Pollution which have been added to the mortal sins by the Pope Paul Benedict the 16th in recent times speak of the gravity of the problem. The so-called 7 traditional mortal sins are too personal in their nature, according to a communiqué, where as the ecological sins have their “social resonance”.
The question of violence and peace is integrally related to earth ethics because majority of the people depend on land, water and forest for their living. The protection of earth’s vitality, bio-diversity and beauty is a sacred trust entrusted to all people beyond any divide. The ecological revolution should start locally and universally in the temples, churches, mosques, pagodas and all other places of human enagements. As God is the creator of the Universe and the earth belongs to him, humans have the responsibility to defend the earth “not as a project but as a way of life” The cultural slogan of India, Vasudaivakudumbakam - which is a creed for human dignity - teaches us that the survival of humankind depends heavily upon the respsonsible use of all the resources of the earth. As members of the Faith Communities, we are challenged to pray as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer: “Let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (St.Matt.6.9-10; Lk.11.1-4).Reference to “earth” (gen) and “food” in the prayer makes it ecological as food is grown not in heaven, but on earth!
The Climate crisis has a bearing on food crisis. The UN declaration of 2008 as “Year of Potatoes” was meant to highlight the importance of agriculture. We are called upon not to convert agricultural land to cultivate cash crops. If earth’s topography is changed, the hills and mountains and other geographical settings on earth will ultimately harm the food production. The year 2010 as “year of bio-diversity” speaks of the need to preserve all living species on this planet for the glory of God. In Ps. 150:6 we read the invocation of the Psalmist as, “Let everything that breathe praise the Lord”. What happens on earth pleases God in heaven (Lk.15.7, 10).
What is climate crisis?
Let us now look at the problem of Climate crisis from the scientific angles. A good doctor is one who diagonizes the disease and prescribes the right kind of the medicine for the patient. Scientifically speaking, climate crisis refers to variations within the earth’s atmosphere and their subsequent effects on the earth. It happens due to the dynamic process of the earth and other external forces such as the intensity of sunlight and human activities. It is also noted that this happens due to shifting of internal layers of the earth, solar output and orbital variations. Natural calamities like volcanic eruptions, Tsunami (huge tidal waves) release carbon dioxide (Co2) from the earth’s interior levels. Toxic-terrorism which is the dumping of highly hazardous toxic wastes such as nuclear and e-wastes turns a few countries of the world as “garbage dumps” resulting in climate change.” Pollution trade” has become a profitable business of the rich countries of the world.
According to a US Geographical Survey, human activities generate about 130 times the amount of Carbon dioxide emitted by Volcanoes. This is instrumental to Green house effect and global warming. Green house effect is the phenomenon of heat building up in earth’s atmosphere when polluted gases such as Carbon dioxide (Co2), Chlorofluro Carbon (CFCs), Nitrous Oxide and Methane prevent it from escaping unto space. Global warming happens due to an increase over a period of the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. It is indeed remarkable that the Churches were called upon to ring Church bells 350 (parts per million) times on December 13, 2009 when the Copenhagen Summit had its meeting on Climate justice. The number 350 refers to the permissible limit of Co2 in the atmosphere for a healthy living. Now the concentration stands at 390 ppm (i.e. upper limit) .The ringing of the bells in the Churches was a symbolic gesture of giving a warning to the faith communities and others. Some churches took it seriously while others simply brushed it aside. The Kyoto UN meeting (1997) did not succeed in convincing the developed nations of its “ecological sins” against humanity. Speaking about the Kyoto protocal, India’s Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh remarked “Kyoto is in intensive care, if not dead”!
When we speak about climate crisis we are primarily concerned about the human influence in contributing to an increase of Co2 levels due to emissions from fossil fuels combustion and other factors such as misuse of land, ozone depletion and deforestation. The world community is indebted to Albert Arnold (AL) Gore Jr. who received the Nobel peace award in 2007 for his notable contributions on Climate Crisis. He could share greater knowledge about the effects of man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counter such change. The web of life in nature is being disturbed due to the jet speed mobility of the technological culture. The Ultra violet rays (UB) penetrating through the Ozone hole might be detrimental to human health. The economic cost of climate change is quite serious as it brings about infrastructure damage and destruction of bio-wealth. Moreover, it has been warned that a rapid change in climate may result in vegetation stress, rapid plant loss and desertification. The Copenhagen discussion (Dec.7-18, 2009) recognized the gravity of the problem and agreed upon the local initiatives to keep the temperature increase below 2C. Although the final statement has no legal validity, we are called upon to think globally and act locally. I am afraid, the people who live in the costal areas like Andaman’s will have to meet with “Climate refugees” who move from the sea to the hinterlands, if the temperature of the sea rises 1 to 2 0C.
In an article by Richard Black (The Hindu, June 21,2010 entitled, “Rainfall impacts of Climate Warming to persist” has given us certain basic facts of climate change. He writes, “Rainfall changes arise largely through increased temperatures in the ocean. Canada and Russia would receive more rain and snow”, He also writes about the ocean acidification threat to marine species. “The oceans absorb a third of the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels. However, as Co2 dissolves in seawater, the water’s pH- a chemical measure of acidity-decreases and it undergoes acidification. Computer models predict fall from pre-industrial pH of 8.2 to 7.8 by the end of century,0.4 degrees in pH will increase acidity by about 150%”.It has also been brought to our attention that the plants gets disabled in absorbing carbon dioxide when its level in the atmosphere goes up beyond its permissible limit of absorption.
The religious Wisdoms of the world and the secular spirituality of the times have much to contribute to find a solution to the problems of climate change. There should be a constant search for a more equitable world order. For this, creation of environmentally sensitive religious communities should be a top priority as all the religions of the world speak of the gift of life. Religious resources of the peoples of the world have to be pooled together as an adequate basis for human survival. There should be just laws to prevent “ecocide”(i.e. turning of land into waste land).The sanctity of the agricultural land should not be changed to fields for cash crops.
Upholding of moral and ethical principles of sustainability is a must. Those principles could be stated as follows: I) Respect earth and all life. ii)Care for earth means sustainable life iii)Share resources iv) Affirm the ecological rights of the people as integral to social justice v)Create space by strengthening the weaker sections of the people who live in intimate relationship with the mother earth. VI) Uphold indigenous and tribal values contributing to ecological spirituality vii) Build sustainable communities based on sound spiritual values as stated earlier. Viii) Integrate knowledge with compassion.
Instead of fossil fuels, opt for alternative forms of energy. Consumption of wood and wood derived paper has to be reduced. Waste recycling and use of solar heating and wind energy be given wide range of publicity. Massive reforestation be encouraged. Tropical rain forests, being the lungs of the world, have to be preserved so as to ensure quality of life for the future generation.
May the 11th commandment be made known to all. “Thou shall not harm the environment by pricking and punching”. Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church has called upon the faithful members during the Lenten season to practise Carbon fasting for 5o days. The carbon fast is a response to an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions by opting for vegitarianism. The 50-day plan prepared by the Metropolitan, lists simple energy saving actions which could lead to lighter carbon footprints. I give here below a few proposals of the Metropolitan with my comments:
i) Remove a bulb from our home and live without it. Use energy saving electric blubs (e.g.CFL)
ii) Find a way to reduce carbon dioxide while traveling (Walk / use bicycle for short distance. Avoid driving!)
iii) Use washing machines only when there is full load. Hand washing of cloths with soap be encouraged from time to time and use sunlight for drying cloths.
iv) Shop from the local shops and farmer’s markets. Have a kitchen garden for vegetable production. Use organic manure for plants.
v) Snub plastic bags. Plastic is a non bio-degradable material for 200 years. It blocks water percolation to the soil and to the root of plants.
vi) Check your car tyre pressure. Low tyre pressure means high fuel consumption.
vii) Have one meal with only salads and fruits.
viii) Enjoy silence at least on a Sunday. No TV, no radio, no ring tones.
ix)Make our public places green. One should be [proud of a green environment. Initiate tree planting in the premises of the worshipping places and in the streets on special days such as August 15 and January 26. Gift a sapling to a child on his/her birthday! “Our motto should be, as A.P.J.Abdulkalam puts it, “Billion trees for billion people” in India. Trees reduce air conditioning cost by 20-50%! According to an estimate, a tree reduces soil erosion cost by 14 lakhs, Rs.28 lakhs for air pollution control and saves Rs.16 lakhs worth oxygen in a period of 50 years.
x) Avoid plastic flowers at the altar and use natural flowers / leaves in the flower vase
xi) Collect the water used to wash plates and vegetables to water the trees and plants in the vicinity of home.
xii) Give rest for your refrigerator for 3 hours at the peak time on each day.
xiii) On Good Friday, switch off all the unwanted lights in the Church.
Simplify our lives by abiding eco-friendly values of life guided by conservation not consumerism; need not greed; enabling power not domination; integrity not exploitation . The present generation has a moral responsibility to use the recourses of the earth judiciously.
Living with ecological sensitivity. Learning from nature includes the basic principles of eco-vision (cf.Job.12:7-8).Make use of waste disposal methods at home. The exponents of eco- theology should speak for people –friendly markets.
Propagate bio-ethics. The component elements of bio-ethics are:
i)Equity-fairness to other forms of life(i.e. Right to live, eat and drink)
ii) Diversity-recognition of complementarity.Diversity is integral to Reality.
iii) Accountability – responsible towards one another and the earth.
iv) Participation - involving creative response at the local level.
v) Sufficiency - meeting the basic needs of all.
vi) Subsidiary - supporting the downward distribution of power. Needless to say that the eco-dharma flourishes only under the banner of satyam, sivam and sundaram be the basic principles of life whether religious or secular.
Building communities of peace. Peace with nature is to be pursued at different levels. For this, an eco-liturgy be used in interfaith worship services. Peace-building and peace-keeping are God’s ordained ecumenical tasks. In war situation, the weaponry used could radiate enormous amount of energy for distruction.I would say that the recent Afghan War and Iraq war have contributed much to global warming. We need to pursue the things that would make for peace (Rom.14.19). Environmental justice for a social cause is an important factor to promote peace, justice and equality among the marginalized groups. We need to mediate on the arrival of peace everywhere as the divine wish. “Let there be peace in the sky and in the atmosphere, peace in plant world and in the forests; let cosmic powers be peaceful…let there be undiluted and fulfilling peace everywhere”(Atharvaveda). In Romans 8:19-21 St.Paul speaks of the groaning of creation for sharing the liberty of the children of God which is the presence of the Kingdom in our midst. No doubt, in a nuke war the elements of the earth-panchaboothas-the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water will turn against humans. Their wrath will be terrible. When humans love nature-flora and fauna- and abide by spiritual values, there will be harmony in the midst of diversity as we find in a rainbow.
Legacy of Religious wisdom: Asian culture is full of nature images and symbols. Without a ray of doubt, all the religions of the world should affirm that the religious concern for the conservation and ecological harmony of the natural world be our common heritage. This means that the ecumenical vision merges with the ecological responsibility of the people across the divide. It would be worthwhile to produce an anthology of religious texts from various Holy Scriptures for interfaith dialogue and discussion.
Use of natural fibres be encouraged in cottage industries as a means to solve the problem of food security and eradicating poverty.
Train ecological prophets, preachers and priests for eco-spirituality .The world today is seeking for new forms of spirituality rooted in love and justice which are less dogmatic about the boundaries. The infinite possibilities of a world governed by love have to be captured by humankind, if it is to survive. Eco-activists are like John the Baptist- “a voice crying in the wilderness”.
In this paper, I have been dealing with the problem of Climate Crisis holistically and the members of the earth community are exhorted to practise “ecological ecumenism” at the local and the global level.
“We are the birds of the same nest
We may wear different skins,
We may speak in different religions
We may belong to different cultures
Yet, we share the same home our earth.
Born on the same planet,
Covered by the same skies,
Gazing at the same stars,
Breathing the same air, we must learn to happily progress together,
Or miserably perish together.
For man can only live individually
But can only survive collectively (from the Vedas).