Indians have a proud history of striving to live in harmony and balance with nature. For a country that derives its name from a river--Indus--it is no coincidence that respect for nature has been part of India's civilizational legacy.
The connection of the people with nature is still very visible in our practices today. This Friday, tens of millions of Hindus across the country will take dips in the sacred Shipra River as part of the Simhastha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain.
However, the rivers in which we attempt to cleanse ourselves are heavily polluted. Even the air we breathe is in many areas among the most polluted in the world. India, with all its rich culture and heritage, is today tagged with the dubious accolade of being highly polluted.
In 2015 the Bhumi Project issued the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change...We proclaimed that our rivers are all goddesses, our mountains are gods...
This 22nd April represents an opportunity to resolve to change that. All over the world, people will be planting trees as part of international Earth Day's 'Trees for the Earth' campaign. What those planting trees are doing literally, we must do metaphorically: return to our roots, and rediscover our close relationship with Bhumi Devi, our precious shared mother earth, that has always been at the core of the Hindu faith.
Where the environment is concerned, India is currently in a shameful state. Of the world's 20 most polluted cities, 13 are Indian, and 650,000 Indians die from air pollution every single year. According to a recent report, more people lack access to clean water in India than anywhere in the world, and many are asking whether India is currently facing its worst-ever water crisis. India is also suffering severely from climate change, which increases the frequency and intensity of flooding, droughts and heat waves like the one we are currently witnessing. Last December, record-breaking amounts of rain led to extreme flooding in Chennai that killed around 300 people. These problems are only compounded by poor urban planning. All of these scourges most affect those who are least responsible--this is the sort of injustice that no religion should tolerate.
Hindus are today required to expand their concept of dharma to include considering the effects of our actions on all human beings...
In 2015 the Bhumi Project, of which I am the director, issued the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change. This historic statement was endorsed by over 60 major Hindu leaders and organizations worldwide, in an attempt to draw attention to these issues and galvanize change. We proclaimed that our rivers are all goddesses, our mountains are gods, and that the landscape as a whole is full of divinity. We argued that, just as the ancient Mahabharata text tells us that "[d]harma exists for the welfare of all beings," Hindus are today required to expand their concept of dharma to include considering the effects of our actions on all human beings, doing our part to ensure we have a functioning, abundant and bountiful planet. We praised our climate-friendly Hindu practices such as vegetarianism as an example to the world, and encouraged Hindus to act on climate while encouraging their governments to do the same.
The world has showed signs of fundamental progress since then, it is true. In December, 196 countries signed the ambitious Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and endeavor to limit global warming to a level that would spare the world from the worst impacts of climate change. On 22 April, heads of state and other government representatives from a record number of countries--India amongst them--will reaffirm their commitment to the Agreement in a ceremony in New York. Last summer, with the country's total power capacity at around 240GW, India officially announced a hugely impressive target of adding 100GW of solar energy by 2022. India has started co-operating with others to clean the Ganga, while the second phase of Delhi's odd-even number plate scheme to reduce air pollution from fossil fuel-burning vehicles began last week.
[T]his Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, the use of plastic in the Mela zone will be banned, with biofuel vehicles used to curb pollution and many trees planted.
However, this is not enough. Temperature records are still being broken, lives are being lost, and we must not allow ourselves to stagnate in self-congratulation. Two months ago we witnessed the hottest February on record. A heat wave in India has just killed 130 people. The Indian government is still investing heavily in fossil fuels such as coal, even as countries like China show signs of peaking consumption, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and breaking world records on the amount of new solar and wind power installed in 2015.
That is why I have just signed a global interfaith declaration on climate change, along with leaders of all faiths such as His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Swami Agnivesh, Pujya Chidananda Saraswati, Radhanath Swami, Dr. Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyassi, Chief Imam at the All India Organisation of Mosques, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Catholic Archbishop of Bombay and around 30 other Indian faith leaders. We've called on governments to implement the Paris Agreement without delay, phasing out fossil fuel consumption and subsidies as soon as possible as part of a transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. We have also called on our own faith communities to reduce their carbon footprint.
Let us return to our roots this Kumbh Mela, then, living out the ancient Vedic texts that wisely instruct us to respect Mother Earth...
For Hindus, the Green Simhastha initiative is an excellent example of how this might be done: this Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, the use of plastic in the Mela zone will be banned, with biofuel vehicles used to curb pollution and many trees planted.
Let us return to our roots this Kumbh Mela, then, living out the ancient Vedic texts that wisely instruct us to respect Mother Earth and treat her with love and compassion. Let us clean our rivers, cleanse our air and reduce our reliance on polluting fossil fuels. Let us live our faith in the way it must surely be lived, according to a dharma that allows us to bathe in clean water and breathe fresh air again. By working in harmony with those of other faiths, this is a noble and necessary vision we are more than capable of turning into a reality.
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