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Why Ancient Wisdom Matters?

I bow my head in reverence to our ancestors for their sense of beauty in nature and for their foresight in investing beautiful manifestations of nature with a religious significance.

Mahatma Gandhi

Environmental degradation and climate change have posed existential threats to entire humanity. These have severe implications upon food security, human health, economic opportunities and social harmony. In fact, environmental and climatic crises are turning out to be the fountainhead of all crises, as unfolding of Syrian conflict in the aftermaths of successive droughts shows. There is increasing recognition of the challenges climate change and environmental degradation could pose to entire humanity, as is evident in framework negotiations of United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDG), and Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). However, these conventions and agreements are conspicuous by their emphasis upon climate finance and transfer of technology, with minimal considerations upon consumption pattern, food habits and energy conservation. It is in these latter spheres that ancient wisdom of India could provide useful solutions, and could complement the efforts undertaken in multilateral conventions.

Ancient Indian values focus upon harmony between human being and ecology. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain philosophy has always had a humane and dignified view of sacredness of all lives, and held that humans are but one link in the web of lives and consciousness.   Focus has always been put upon sustainability, use and reuse, recycling, and conservation of natural resources. Sacred botany i.e. tress and plants are a part of sacred heritage and cultural consciousness. In the Vedas, the most ancient of all Hindu texts, trees are referred to as Vanaspati (Lords of forests) and invoked as deities, just as rivers are invoked. The Vedas pay tribute to the nature and consider the earth as mother. Within precincts of the home, however humble or grand, a Tulsi plant is often present and cared for by the household.

Choice of food that is consumed everyday by the households has a direct bearing upon health of our ecosystem and on planet. In making food choices, our traditional and locally grown food, with its focus upon vegetarianism, has proven to be the most ecologically sound. These kinds of food habits can play a positive role in the mitigation of effects of climate change and resource deficit. Food crops farming emit less greenhouse gases and consume much less water as compared to meat industry. Global meat industry is a disproportionate user of water and land resources as it has been calculated that one kg of beef requires 15 times and one kg of chicken requires 5 times more water as is required in producing one kg of wheat. In October 2015, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that the livestock industry accounts for 18.5% of the worldwide greenhouse gas emission, even more than the transport industry!

It is another matter that the focus upon vegetarianism has often been termed as food fascism by the orientalists. It is also deeply ironical that these values of consumption and food practices are increasingly being replaced by western consumption practices. ‘Mcdonaldisation’ and ‘coca- colaisation’, have become the norm, and processed foods and beverages, all of which have huge ecological footprints, are preferred over traditionally cooked food and nimbu- pani.

Our ancestors, some 4500 years ago, built cities like Harrapa, Mohanjodaro and Kalibangan-engineering marvels having well laid out design of roads and drainage, and using materials well suited to regional conditions. Yet, in the 20th century, we invited a foreign expert ‘Le Carbosier’, who lived in a temperate climate- altogether different from tropical climate of India- to design the layout of a city! Our ancestors focused upon building designs suited to local geography; we insisted upon uniform building materials and designs across the regions, and laid out energy guzzling and mirrored buildings throughout the country. Our ancestors considered extending the height of a building, so that it could aid in heat escape thereby helping in cooling; we focused upon decreasing the height of building and use air conditioner, instead. This we did to the utter disregard of the tropical conditions of the country. This utter neglect of the traditional knowledge is the sole reason of the phenomenon, what has been termed as ‘Urban Heat Island’- distinctively warm urban areas as compared to surrounding rural areas. It needs no expertise to understand that building design unsuitable to local conditions and topography will only aggravate the climatic crisis.

India has always been an agriculture dominated country, although the situation has undergone change in the recent years. Earlier, organic farming with emphasis upon manure, rather than chemical fertilizers, was the norm. Manure would help increase the productivity of soil and retain water in soil thereby decreasing the water required for irrigation. However, the current faulty agricultural practices and agricultural policies have resulted in contamination of soil, and pollution and depletion of water resources.

Historically, there was focus upon small-scale dams called johads that would capture the rains when they come. Just that small action helped the water pause, so that it did not run off and cause erosion or disappear; allowed it to percolate down into the aquifer and constantly replenish the system. However, they had been forsaken as focus shifted to using big dams and people stopped taking care of their own plots of land, the way they used to.

Science has clearly spoken out. Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 5th report has clearly articulated that atmospheric temperature rise, which occurred in the era of “carboniferous capitalism” and in the backdrop of “indefinite multiplication of wants”, needs to be restricted to 2oC limits of preindustrial atmospheric temperature level, in order to avert catastrophic consequences, glimpses of which are already witnessed in the Uttrakhand floods and Chennai floods and disasters in other parts of world. In India, many stretches of rivers including that of Ganga and Yamuna have been declared dead. Environmental pollution is responsible for shortening the life on an average Indian by 3.2 years.

In short, the nature which was made a slave and put in constraint during these 200 years has started retaliating. Current status of planet demands responses that go beyond technology and finance. It is in realm that basic tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism can prove useful to tackle the biggest threat to humanity as their focus has essentially been upon ‘harmony and conservation’. A reorientation and renewed consciousness towards them is strongly desired.

Article submitted by Dr Varun Dhamija ( and Mr. Arun Dhamija. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of GreatGameIndia.

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