The celebration of ‘World Environment Day’ has emerged from a realisation of the dichotomy of two paradigms, the Western, represented by ‘Father Greed’ and the Indian, represented by ‘Mother Earth’. Western history takes responsibility for the enormous destruction it has caused to the environment. Its genesis can be traced to the Semitic God and his religions.
Earth was specifically crafted by Semitic God for the subjugation by man. Semitic God gave man the authority to subdue earth and dominion to rule over all other creatures to cater for our ever-expanding greed. The classical essay of Lynn White Jr. sought to identify the roots of the contemporary ecological crisis in Christian theology, especially in the biblical command to dominate over creatures found in the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Genesis 1:28 in Old Testament says: “And God blessed them, ……. multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over…… every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Lynn White Jr. concludes Christianity “bears a huge burden of guilt for environmental deterioration.” Biblical doctrine of creation provided the ideological basis for exploiting nature. Semitic religions were born in West Asian deserts with no diversity of life and only dry monotony. This has influenced their view of life, like intolerance to diverse views, disrespect for natural diversities etc.
“Fathers” of European Wisdom
Western rationalism, paradigm, science, the concept of freedom etc., are based on conquest, exploitation, torture or extracting the flesh and blood of nature. The view of Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, famously known as the “Cartesian Paradigm”, sanctions the exploitation of nature and weaker sections, following the Semitic path. His doctrine, ‘bete-machines’, says animals are machines unable to think, which generates insensitiveness towards nature. In ‘Dioptrics’, Rene Descartes claims we are “masters and possessors of nature.” English scientist Francis Bacon is known as the “father” of the scientific method.
He famously said: “torture nature to reveal her secrets”, “put nature on the rack”, and “nature had to be ‘hounded in her wanderings’, ‘bound to service’ and made a ‘slave’.” The homocentric thought of these “fathers” of philosophy and science is inseparably settled in the European psyche. Vernon Pratt concludes: “The story we tell ourselves is that over the centuries, our civilisation has fought for mastery over nature.”
Marxist Exploitative View
Karl Marx’s intellectual advancement was influenced by the popularity of the views of the “fathers” of philosophy and science. The utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude towards nature is common to Marxism and capitalism. Several of the theories of Marx and Engels were implicitly hostile to the environment. Howard Parsons notes, “Marx and Engels agreed with the capitalist ‘stratagem’ to ‘subdue’ nature for ‘human requirements.” Marx and Engels, in “German Ideology”, adopt the Western ideological view that the entire course of human history is a struggle to overcome the external forces of nature that bind him, subordinate nature to serve man’s purposes, an effort to gain dominion over nature and, thereby, become truly free.4 They maintain that this would happen only under communism. Engels writes: “Under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real conscious master of Nature….”
The default idea of capitalism is that nature and everything on earth, like land, water, forest, animals, minerals and plants, are mere commodities to gratify human greed. Its offshoots are a wide range of environmental threats like industrial pollution, energy crisis, rapid destruction of natural products, soil erosion, tropical deforestation, indiscriminate felling of forest cover, extinction of species, declining biodiversity, harmful chemical fertilisers and pesticides etc., which are inherent in the Western model of development. The quality of air and water has been dramatically reduced worldwide by the increase in pollution of the land, water, ocean, air and sound. The pollution results in the human-induced destruction of the biosphere, reduction in the level of groundwater, depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain (acidification of surface waters), increased earth temperature, climate change and global warming. These may lead human civilisation to the brink of a possible catastrophe.
Global warming due to environmental pollution started with the industrial revolution and accelerated with the expansion of industries. It has become acute in this age of economic globalisation due to corporate effects on the environment. Today rich countries throw 80% of CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. The ozone layer, which acts as a protective covering of the earth, is depleted by the emissions. But the capitalist countries add the cost of ecological crises to the account of the weaker nations by introducing new considerations in the political and trade policies. The British government introduced the railway system in India, and one of its main objectives was to cut and transport commercially valuable trees in the forests. In 1900, India had 42% forests; now it is only 21%.
This year in 2023, World Environment Day will focus on plastic pollution. The transition of human relations from natural relations to the throwaway culture has been beautifully explained in a quote of unknown authorship: “When man used to eat in leave plates, all relations were naturally green. When food was taken in an earthen pot, relations were kept with humility and patience. When it shifted to metal plates, relations were polished once a year. When food was taken in glass plates, relations became highly fragile. Now, when people take food in paper and plastic plates, the relations are like throw away after use.”
Globalisation and environment
World view in German, “Weltbild”, explains how the domination and exploitation of the natural world have only intensified in the recent decades of “globalisation”. Globalisation, the new face of capitalism, vigorously pushes an anti-ecological growth model to world countries. The concept of growth says the more trees we cut, the more fossil fuel we burn, and the more greenhouse gases we emit, the more the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grows. It is postulated that there is no use of high-priced timber standing as trees in forests.
Regarding the impact of Westernism on the environment, Thomas Friedman says the whole growth model is economically and ecologically unsustainable. Western greed for unlimited growth has disrupted the natural cycle increasing pollution and ecological imbalance, leading to the destruction of the earth. It also results in backlashes from an angry nature.
From the time of Bacon, the goal of science has been the knowledge used to control nature and dominate it. Thus, science and technology in the West were, in a significant way, applied against nature. Modern science dreams of conquering even other planets. Scientific advancement aims to industrialise, mechanise, financialise, privatise and commodify nature. Marx also accepts the conquest and exploitation of nature as the aim of science and technology. Marx shared the capitalists’ view of science and technology in the famous work ‘The German Ideology’: “The inexorable progress of science and technology would guarantee man’s eventual mastery over the external forces of nature.”
An increase in production in agriculture by utilising those varieties of seeds that need more water creates a water crisis. They also create the problem of pollution, water scarcity, drying up of groundwater sources etc. Similarly is the case of the use of genetically modified seeds etc. Harmful chemical pesticides destroy the land’s fertility and render it infertile. Excessive use of air conditioners, refrigerators, foam mattresses, etc., has increased the levels of CFCs (chloro-fluoro carbons) in the atmosphere resulting in environmental degradation. The present generation misappropriates the resources of future generations also. Environmental journalist Philip Shabecoff had his famous words, “So bleak is the picture…….that the bulldozer and not the atomic bomb may turn out to be the most destructive invention of the 20th Century.”
Development Versus Environment
Eco-consciousness has emerged as the main idealistic movement in the West since the collapse of communism. Semitic religions looked upon nature worship as primitive. But today, on the other extreme, the fastest growing religion in the world is secular- viz., “Environmentalism”. World sees a sudden paradigm shift from an anthropocentric ecology towards eco-centric anthropology. Afforestation, social forestry, companies having an environmental audit, state pollution control boards, environmental tribunals etc., are the modern outcomes of the eco-consciousness. Of late, the West is realising the limits of its growth model. The fight between environmentalists and developmentalists is common in the Western growth process. It is the conflict of Anthropocentrism versus Biocentrism. Developmentalists argue that development can take place only at the cost of the environment. On the other side, environmentalists canvass zero interference in the environment in the name of development. Eco movements take an extreme and reactionary position in the West, similar to the extremism of the advocates of growth. A new radical wisdom of “Deep Ecology” championed by the Norwegian Arne Naess and others has dawned in the West.
Mikhail Gorbachev says: “The Ten Commandments are out of date. They will be replaced by the 18 principles of the Earth Charter.” Gorbachev says about a new religion. He says, “Cosmos is my God. Nature is my God.” Such worship of the universe is called ‘cosmolatry’. Worshipping the creation rather than the creator is Semitic blasphemy.
Western Journey Towards Indian Ethos
Recently the west realised that the life support system is fragile and its balance shouldn’t be disturbed. Here begins the Western journey towards Indian ethos on nature and earth. Western theologians, religious practitioners, scientists, ecologists, etc., are abandoning their traditional teaching of domination given to humans over nature and turning to the Indian view of “milking nature” and “mother earth”. Environmental activism, the Green Party of Germany, etc., often take direct inspiration from Indian or Buddhist ideas. Those in the West who are critical of patriarchy said the Western outlook towards nature is “Father greed”, and the Eastern solution is “Mother Earth”.8 Robert Muller, who was Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations for 40 years, is not hesitant to declare a Hindu connection in it by referring to the all-pervading Brahma: “Once again, but this time on a universal scale, humankind is seeking no less than its reunion with ‘divine,’ it’s transcendence into higher forms of life. Hindus call our earth Brahma, or God, for they rightly see no difference between our earth and the divine. This ancient simple truth is slowly dawning again upon humanity as we are about to enter our cosmic age and become what we were always meant to be: the planet of God.”
Bhagavad Gita promulgates the symbiotic theory of “parasparam bhavayantah” i.e., mutual and harmonious relationship. Hence, we believe in the harmony of the environment and development. Our literature is full of narrations on the harmonious relations with nature which educates generation after generation about the eco culture. There is divinity in nature, and everything in nature is holy for us, which is against the Semitic principle. We believe that nature has to be approached like the milking (dohanam) of a cow instead of its exploitation or commodification. “Ma Nishada” (Desist O hunter from violence) is our slogan towards flora and fauna in nature. Planting trees was a religious duty for every Indian. Natural living is a characteristic of our daily life. We have a tradition of a profound and deep-rooted ecoculture and eco-sense from the time of the Vedas. It is time to project the intricacies of our inherent ecoculture to the world.