A Spiritual Key to the Environmental Crisis & Climate Change

Going past the Politics of the Right and the Left

Recent events related to Climate Change

Recent developments in the environmental crisis have caught global attention and have certainly given us plenty of food for thought. Reports from the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (2021) and evidence that the Thwaites Glacier is melting faster than previously believed, are not encouraging trends. What’s more troubling is the possibility that many of the solutions prominent climate activists seek to implement are imperfect at best and potentially harmful at worst. American filmmaker Michael Moore carefully documents this in his film, Planet of the Humans. 

Planet of the Humans is an environmental documentary that calls into question almost all the environmental solutions put forth by “liberal A-listers, such as Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Van Jones, and Robert F Kennedy Jr.” (The Guardian, April 22, 2020). The documentary raises doubts about the proposed solutions for the environmental crisis, including the emphasis on electric vehicles, solar and wind-powered electric grids, and perhaps most scathingly, the use of biomass plants as a carbon-neutral solution. It points out how inefficient these alternatives are and how they take a tremendous toll on the environment in terms of heavy natural resource inputs required to get them operational. According to this documentary, the “green” movement is little more than a clever scheme to move from one inefficient resource toward another.  

Various environmental organizations, which many of us have come to trust over the years, are complicit within this critique. This makes one wonder if the deniers of the anthropogenic nature of climate change on the political Right were not “right” (pardon the pun), at least about a few things – maybe the use of fossil fuels is not so different from the proposed alternatives after all! 

Doomed if we do, and doomed if we don’t? 

Since it would seem that both fossil fuels and the construction of gigantic solar farms degrade the environment, are we left with no alternative but to choose between the lesser of two evils? . Either way, humanity is doomed to face an environmental catastrophe – this appears to be the dismal conclusion of the film. So then, what is the solution? Is there even a viable solution? In this regard, the documentary does little more than titillate with vague expert comments that “we need to come to terms with our own mortality” to understand the picture and that the “burgeoning human population is the herd of elephants in the room” that needs addressing. No concrete solutions are really offered.

The Spiritual Perspective

At Essential Spirituality, we take a more positive and less defeatist approach. And in this article, we’ll make some bold suggestions based on traditional wisdom handed down to us by sages of all faith traditions. And no, we do not see the world’s population as a problem, we believe that the earth is more than capable of sustaining the human race, but it needs to be nurtured and not exploited. The pre-requisite is not a political ideology or religious belief but a balanced mind. Remarkably, the modern mind, despite its analytical sophistication, seems quite prone to dichotomous thinking. Hence, the extreme swings – from fear to aggression, feast to famine, malnutrition to obesity, or in this case, fossil fuels to alternative energy – it invariably ends up as a zero-sum game. A polarized mind is incapable of making sound decisions, and therefore sees villains and issues where there might be none (e.g., population crisis). Or, perhaps it results in a fixed mindset that is unwilling to change and therefore prefers to turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room – excessive consumption.  

If we study the minds of the spiritual greats, we notice that they are far more balanced. A balanced mind is like a stationary pendulum – neither swinging left nor right. One of the greatest benefits of such a mental state is that it completely reduces the need to consume wastefully. The more refined the mind, the fewer its desires, and consequently, the lesser its consumption. As Thoreau once put it, “why should they eat their sixty acres, when a man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt?”¹. All good things automatically come to such beings, and the earth offers up its riches for their needs (probably because their needs are so few). It was quite shocking to see so many experts view the burgeoning human population as “the problem” with regards to the environment, but not a single one of them suggested that perhaps a quick reduction in human consumption might be a far saner and humane answer. 

A Spiritual Solution – Controlled Consumption 

This straightforward solution was not so novel to the spiritual masters, who consumed very little by modern-day standards. And nowhere was this frugal consumption more conspicuous than in their diets. In our own experience, our teacher, Babuji, hardly ever ate more than a handful of morsels, although he made sure to sit for every meal as necessitated by social custom. His teacher, Daatasaheb, customarily ate only half a roti (Indian unleavened bread) and a little bit of  dal (lentil soup) as his daily provision. And before we think that such diets lead to malnutrition, it should be noted that Daatasaheb lived a very vigorous lifestyle that included a traditional exercise regimen until the end of his time, when he was well past 100 years of age. Both men kept a remarkably sound and clear mind right up to the end. For more information on Babuji and Daatasaheb, visit our Inspiration page. 

Even though these are extreme cases of spartan lifestyles, and there are many more in the corpus of spiritual literature, they do serve as examples of what is within our reach. No, we are not suggesting that humanity suddenly stop eating and subsist on such meager fare (although such diets may have a lesson for modern society²); that would prove to be unsustainable for most, were it even possible.  We are suggesting that through greater spiritual awareness and practice one is more likely to become calmer, and  more compassionate, which impacts our worldview and consumption³. 

The Plant-based Diet – A Step Forward

Interestingly, food consumption becomes a very relevant issue in the environmental context, notably the case for a plant-based diet. It would not be out of place to recount here that another common feature of spiritual adepts is that they rarely consume meat or non-vegetarian meals, at least not as a habit. The emphasis on plant-based nutrition in the hagiographies of spiritual luminaries is universal – from the ancient Rishis of India and Pythagoras in Greece to the Essenes of Judaea, and modern mystics like Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and Swami Srila Prabhupada of Iskcon fame. For more on diets and spirituality, see our article, ‘Spiritual Diets: How important is being Vegan or Vegetarian?’ As a rule, the diets of spiritual teachers (meager as they are) automatically gravitate towards a high proportion of plant-based foods, which tend to be low on calories and high in nutrients. Luckily for us, there is a glimmer of a solution and much hope for a beleaguered environment in the dietary habits of spiritual luminaries.

Notwithstanding the basic logic of a general reduction in consumption, plant predominant diets will also create a much smaller carbon footprint. In effect, a fraction (25%) of the current resources necessitated by livestock farming would be enough to feed an entire world that is primarily plant based.ª In other words, one might extrapolate that if the world was to consume a heavily plant-based diet, much of today’s agricultural land could be put back into use as a bio-diverse ecosystem instead of the resource-draining monoculture it is currently used for. Such a large restoration of nature could see a terrific comeback of water resources, rare species, and a diversity of flora and fauna that has been lost to us for ages. Taking it a step further, and to our earlier point that the earth is large enough for all of us (and then some), this also means that a plant-based agricultural system could sustain a multiple of the current human population, at least in theory. 

So, in a nutshell – our suggestions are simple – meditate more to consume lessAnd, eat more plants (and less meat) for longer, healthier life and a better world!

¹ See Economy in Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854. 

² As a side note, recent research in the field of nutrition suggests that a reduction of caloric intake might result in a longer lifespan. For more information, see The secret to a long and healthy life? Eat less

³If you are wondering what spirituality and spiritual practices can offer, we recommend the following resources for more information: 

ªResearch suggests that if the world adopted a plant based diet, the total use of agricultural land would reduce by 75%. See More plant-based diets tend to need less cropland. For more eye-opening content on the importance of plant based nutrition on the planet, we recommend the following documentaries – Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, both by Kip Anderson
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