Under the title “Nature Conservation + Spirituality = Sustainablity“, Anil K. Rajvanshi puts forward some very cogent arguments to pursue sustainable production and lifestyle practices.
We depend on and are supported by nature
- our natural environment provides our food, and the majority of medicines today is derived from plants and animals, with many sources not yet discovered
- natural ecosystems provide ‘services‘ like our atmosphere, climate, fresh water, fertile soil, nutrient cycling, waste cycles, pollination of crops, timber, animal feed and biomass fuel – amongst many other things; a 1997 team of economists and environmental scientists estimated that all ecosystem services provided free of charge have a value more than twice the world’s GDP
- nature is superior partly because it had a long time to develop its blueprints and strategies through infinite permutations and combinations of designs; and since our brains too are a product of natural evolution and earth time, it could be conjectured that we a) cannot think more than what already exists in nature and b) cannot create in years or decades the complexity that took hundreds of millions of years to evolve
- the fastest way for us to progress is to copy nature; design mimicry has been a catch cry for a number of years, yet we are just at the very beginning of understanding nature; for example, out of 10 to 100 million species on this planet we have only discovered about 1.5 to 1.8 million; even where we think we might have superior technology, we often just don’t have the smarts or the appropriate technology to probe nature
- our brains have evolved with nature; they are wired in ways that allow us to appreciate the more subtle aspects of our natural environments (people being exposed to natural conditions recover quicker from illnesses, walks through forests are experienced as joyful and as a connection to their inner beauty, people on whose beliefs major religions have been founded laid claim to mystical experiences under trees, in deserts or on mountain tops)
Nature lost at this point of its and therefore our evolution is irreplaceable. Our science and technology cannot substitute for any disappearance resulting from us having destroyed the delicate balance that sustained nature.
To preserve at least our benefits (leave alone caring about other species too), we need to conserve nature and therefore stop destroying it. That does not mean stopping technological progress but rather working within the natural context to drive it further; what is needed is sustainable development. Rajvanshi defines it as “a process in which we use recyclable materials, resources and energy for our needs in an extremely efficient and environmentally sound manner. This process can be facilitated by advancement in technology.” That for example means:
- moving away from eco-footprints that require four planets earth to maintain the US lifestyle
- stopping mindless and wasteful exploitation of natural resources (which took millions of years to produce)
- learning to use renewable energies through technologies with cycle times of 10-15 years, which may include fuel cells powered by liquid fuels from biomass, efficient biomass based power systems, solar and wind energy units
- decentralising development by following evolution’s hallmark of size reduction; it leads to an increase in the system’s complexity, material and energy efficiency, and dynamic system’s equilibrium with forces surrounding it (for example, just as dinosaurs became extinct and were replaced by human beings and other small and highly evolved compact life forms, our big and sometimes ugly cities will hopefully be replaced by smaller more compact rural communities)
There is hope for compact and rural based evolutionary society models given current technological trends. From computers to power plants, technology systems are becoming more compact, complex and efficient. Energy production systems become smaller and more efficient in taking advantage of locally available diffuse natural resources like solar, wind and biomass. If this trend expands to our lifestyle, we should be able to feed ourselves and create goods and services from the raw materials available to us in our geographical area. Adding the availability of Internet communication, mobile computing, further development of small renewable energy power packs, genetically modified food and other advanced technologies being researched, it might be possible to have a sustainable development.
A recent study done in India showed that for a community the size of Taluka (comparable to a municipality or county), all its energy demand of electricity, liquid and gaseous fuels could be met by judicious use of locally available biomass resources. With provision of large-scale employment generation, Taluka model can provide critical mass for sustainable development.
Spirituality and Sustainability
However, sustainable development is not just a matter of desire, prescription, economic focus or philosophy. It can only be achieved when the process is underwritten by certain values, values that certainly eschew greed and replace it for example with need. To support the growth and survival of such value system is the role of spirituality.
“Spirituality is the state of mind that makes it understand that Truth is beyond the barriers of worldliness, caste, creed, race or geographical boundaries. It is universal in nature and a great spiritual thought is a cause of celebration for the whole mankind. It connects us to Universal Consciousness and gives a certain perspective in life. As a person progresses on the path of spirituality his or her priorities in life change. The focus of life shifts more towards getting personal happiness through mental peace and is less on material needs and desires and more towards sustainability.”
“Spirituality also helps us have a compassionate view of nature and as we evolve spiritually we become more tuned to it which helps us in preserving it. Besides it helps us live in harmony with each other and enables everybody to work together for the common good“, including that of nature.
Rajvanshi is optimistic that we will achieve this level of spirituality. The clock on technology cannot be turned back. But it can be seen as a product of an evolutionary process in which we become more spiritual as we advance technologically. Doing things more efficiently and thus having our needs satisfied with less quantity of materials and energy will “allow us to think and reflect on higher things in life. Eventually we will follow nature where all the processes are carried out extremely efficiently with few materials, in minimum number of steps and at room temperatures”. Thus a combination of advanced technology and spiritual growth will become a new paradigm of sustainable development.
How can we do it?
I am not so sure how Rajvanshi matches this optimism grounded in evolution with the ongoing need for intervention – maybe the latter is seen as part of evolution. He describes this intervention as creating “a change in mindset … necessary for sustainable growth”.
- the best way to achieve this mind change is education – in schools, colleges and at home (which means enrolling women in this process, considering they constitute 50% of the human race and are the prime carriers of child raising)
- what should young people be taught: facts about the wonders of nature, the limitations of natural resources and therefore the need to husband them carefully as well as developing an awareness of the need for frugality, facts about nature providing answers and blueprints to the problems we are trying to solve
- scientists from major labs should be required to teach part-time in schools and colleges
- scientists and technologists need to inform citizens about sustainability issues in a responsible manner and with a holistic approach – to help educate politicians, policy makers, the corporate world and environmental groups
- international cooperation on development of sustainable and environmentally sound technologies needs to happen, including technology and resource transfers that will allow the developing countries to leapfrog into modern age; resulting improvements of living conditions and lifestyles leading to economic and social development might help reduce the social strife in the world
- a spiritual movement needs to be created to ensure a value change as well as a more holistic approach to sustainability practices
Globally Rajvanshi believes in our innate ability to take corrective actions once the information and knowledge is available to us. Thus the fear of greenhouse gases, genetically modified foods, animal and human cloning might be allayed by continuously evolving technological and social interventions. In his mind, the upsurge of movements around the world in the renewable energy and environmental fields attests to this fact.
There is very little doubt that something needs to be done at least to limit the damage the human species has inflicted on the planet and therefore itself. All of the ideas above support sustainable development goals. They represent only a small fraction though of possible actions, especially as life on this planet will most likely change considerably – in ecological as well as social terms. And I think herein lies Rajvanshi’s most valuable contribution to present as well as future strategies and actions: if we don’t change spiritually, we will have a long uphill battle ahead of us. Let’s hope we don’t have to rely on evolution time frames to achieve this change.