The Meek Shall Save the Earth

By G. Venkatesh
June 2006

The Author is consulting editor for the „Minerals and Metals Review” and a freelance writer/editor for a few other magazines. He works as a Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, Norway.

„The task before us is vast; and first and foremost, we must seek to control the vast mass of sunken thoughts which have become automatic with us. The evil deed, is no doubt, on the conscious plane, but the cause which produced the evil deed was far beyond in the realms of the unconscious, unseen, and therefore, more potent.”
Swami Vivekananda in one of his discourses on practical spirituality, in Los Angeles, California, in the late 19th century.

It is said that life emerged from water and will be taken away for good by fire. If that fire can be interpreted as heat and its concomitant agents, are human actions paving the way unconsciously for the manifestation of this belief? Global warming and all the hazards it brings in its wake – melting glaciers and rising sea levels, threatening to submerge small islands in the midst of oceans – have often been dubbed as hype by some academicians who claim that if glaciers for instance melt when the temperatures soar, the rate of evaporation of water from the surface of the oceans will also increase, and offset the effect of the melting glaciers. It remains to be seen however, whether there is a total offset or just a partial one, for a partial one will just serve to delay what some other researchers believe is inevitable if coal, oil and gas are combusted at ever-increasing rates, to step up industrial production around the world. Global warming, with immediate repercussions or not, at the rate at which material progress is being achieved, is here to stay.

After all the presentations made around the world on topics related to global warming, and all the theses which have been compiled by researchers, at least one conclusion can be arrived at. Global warming is an avoidable evil. Like in the case of all evils which are more the offspring of human temptation and an absolute failure of the self-control mechanism of the mind than anything else, the solution rests with man. But is modern man aware of it? True, minds and brains which have equated capability to domination and supremacy, will fail to comprehend that meekness (as implied by Jesus the Christ, when He said that the meek would one day inherit the earth), is a solution to gargantuan problems which seem to be insurmountable with intellect, rhetoric or physical exertion.

Task before us

The question is how to achieve uniformity of thought in this respect. Consensual decision-making? Force? Education? The first one seems to have failed miserably with the USA and Australia pooh-poohing the Kyoto Protocol. The second one can be tried on small and powerless nations like Togo and Sierra Leone for instance, but that would just be akin to treating one decilitre of water and then adding it back to a thousand untreated gallons! And, who will bell the American cat? The land which wrongly believes that all knowledge stems from its bosom, will certainly not bow down to sound advice from other countries in the world.

Coming to the Kyoto Protocol, the resistance of countries like India and China – though they have signed the Protocol – to attempts to impose restrictions on their industrial development and growth can be vindicated. It is certainly wrong on the part of the First World which has ascended the ladder of growth and is poised on the higher rungs, to ask the others to stay on the lower ones, while it assumes the liberty to push itself a few notches higher, at the expense of the ones below. Stark materialistic capitalism is dirty and mean to say the least, just as communism is most certainly a disease. Where is the Golden Mean? Will it remain ever-elusive? One sometimes may wish to think that China is on the verge of finding it. Far from it, it would possibly overtake the USA, not just in the GDP, but also in the proportion of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere, in two or three decades. When a suppressed jack-in-the-box is suddenly let loose, it springs forth unrestrained. India happens to be the land in which several spiritual giants were born and lived. The Vedanta philosophy which has in it the very seed of spirituality sprouted in India, and was taken to the four corners of the world by Swami Vivekananda in the last decade of the 19th century.

The last century has been rife with wars and bloodshed, one-upmanship, assertion of suzerainty by the superpowers, recourse to falsehood to serve ulterior motives, repercussions of an eye-for-an-eye tendency; though on the positive side, it has abolished slavery, apartheid, and ended the evil of colonialism. But newfound freedom has been Janus-faced; and the veracity of the jack-in-the-box theory has been proved time and again. Now when stock-taking and restructuring have become a global necessity, the First World realises that it would not be easy to suppress the developing countries, as it once had till the end of the first half of the last century. Further, the economic interests of the First World are closely linked to those of the developing nations, and these linkages will only be strengthened in the years to come. Now, with fortunes intertwined and interdependency becoming the order of the century, where should one look for inspiration to tackle problems of the ilk of global warming?

Introspection – looking inward

As Oriental spiritualists have averred from time immemorial, the answer is always to be found within. Instead of groping in the ever-changing external world for solutions, none of which brings permanent relief, as Oriental philosophers have time and again been advocating, man needs to delve into himself, and seek answers which he will never be able to find by basing his quest on the knowledge accumulated through the external sense organs. Technology, Logic, and Rhetoric are all imperfect and limited, and are tools which can at best be used for temporary patchwork. Manmade systems which cater to man’s ever-increasing appetite for sense enjoyments break down at some point or the other, revealing the inherent deficiencies which existed all along, unknown to and unseen by the men and women who were exploiting them for their materialistic ends. There are often arguments as to which of the two – capitalism and communism – is the best for human welfare. Both these, being systems devised and followed by man, over a period of time, reveal their loopholes. This writer spoke to some East Germans recently, and one of them was regretting the loss of jobs which had plagued Germany, and said that this was a graver problem in the eastern States of the country. Andreas Wagenknecht, for that is his name, even looked back nostalgically to the days when East Germany was a free country, governed by socialistic norms – a country where there was education, food and jobs for all. When asked why the people of the former East Germany pressed for unification with the former West Germany, he quipped sarcastically – „ They wanted to enjoy the luxuries – radio sets, televisions and such other gadgets – which the west Europeans were availing of.” So, that is the tale of troughs and crests. When one goes through these pitfalls and learns useful lessons from the past, one becomes wise. But then, should everyone wait till he/she becomes a hexagenarian to gain this wisdom? For then, it would certainly be too late, if the general interest of the world and all the people inhabiting it; and also that of future generations, is the goal to be attained. The need of the hour is for one and all to start right NOW. The realisation of certain truths which mankind, at the moment, is not courageous enough to accept and face, is vital. The „Eat, Drink and Make Merry for Tomorrow we Die” escapism which flows in the veins and arteries of the modern Homo Sapien, should be quashed. How spirituality can aid in combating the menace of global warming, will be dealt with, in the paragraphs to follow.

The captains of industry will continue to flood the markets with commodities at cheaper prices, and compete with each other in the world market for a greater share of the pie. Even if a few producers agree to stop burning more coal, oil or gas, and are able to reduce their outputs, and give up the greed for greater profits, there will be others who will capitalise on their retraction and flood the market with their outputs, to sate the appetites of the consumers. The Prisoner’s Dilemma propounded by Nobel laureate Dr. John Nash holds sway. It will continue to, as long as man exists, as trustworthiness is far from total, and thereby faith of man on man is never absolute. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. As long as there are people willing to pay more, there will be people hankering after profits. As the Animal Planet slogan goes – When the buying stops, the selling also will.

So, it is the common man - the lay consumer - who has to take the lead. If mobs can overthrow Governments, mobs can certainly curb global warming! The realisation that manmade systems have never been perfect, and the quest for satisfaction in the material world has often ended in frustration and despair – as documented in the history of mankind – should set one and all thinking and pondering over the purpose of human existence. Embellishing the body and yielding to the dictates of a weak and uncontrolled mind endlessly, has made man’s journey meaningless and frustrating, from time immemorial.

Mastering nature - which man wrongly believes he has been able to attain to - with the sole aim of exploiting its bounties for his material prosperity, has not been just an illusion, as nature has proved time and again, but has also brought in its wake, offsetting agents which have defeated the very purpose of the utilisation of these bounties. In the 21st century, we have global warming which threatens to unleash a plethora of undesirables on the surface of the earth.

Stem the rot

If man can shed his attachment to, and preoccupation with material pleasures, which entangle him endlessly in this „wheels-within-wheels” world, and divert his attention to the subtle soul beyond the body and mind, he would realize firstly, that his pursuit of happiness had all along been misdirected. When he would comprehend the divinity of the soul and its interrelationships with the souls of all life on earth, through a common strand which the Hindus would identify as the Supreme Soul or Brahman and the Christians would label as The Lord, he would at once understand that every action of his, affects the lives of others, through the medium of the soul. When he realises that clothing the body with expensive apparel, and attempting to augment his status in society by feeding his mind with the pride of possessing a car, indirectly does more harm to the world around him, than the good that he directly derives from these actions of his, and that he would unconsciously be instrumental in the diseases and deaths of the generations to come, the fact that he is actually eating out of the plates of others will gradually dawn upon him. He will realise that it is because of his increasing demands, that industries in his country and elsewhere in the world are burning fossil fuels, which have over the years, given birth to global warming and associated menaces. He would however wonder if his efforts to turn away from materialistic desires, would be in vain, as according to him that would be a drop in the ocean. Yes, his doubts are certainly justified. But what we are advocating here is a spiritual revolution; as a country or two, or a million people or two million of them, will certainly not make a big difference. The writer came across people in eastern Germany who preferred the humble bicycle to the motor car which they could very well afford. While teenagers in many countries of the West – the USA especially – measure their self-esteem on the basis of the model of the car they own, and how early in life they own one – here are youngsters, in the land which gave the IC engine and the motor car to the world, learning to abstain from its use. Further, cycling contributes to sound development of the body and the mind (it even brought Germany an Olympic Gold Medal in Athens last year).

Whether this loosening of the bonds of attachment to the motor car is a result of realisation on the part of the youngsters, of the damage auto exhaust causes to the atmosphere, or the effect of good governance of the earlier Government, thanks to the Green Party, it is very much worth emulating. Liberty, Fraternity and Equality which formed the motivating trio for the French Revolution; now have to be applied to the Global Village as a whole, and it is only through the tool of spirituality that one man can honour the rights of another. This could be the rich and mighty recognising the right of a healthy existence of the poor and downtrodden, or the present generation honouring the rights of those to follow. Sense gratifications are momentary and serve only to please the mind and body both of which are ephemeral. Deeds done with the soul as the target beneficiary will be immortal and continue to benefit humankind forever, for it is verily through the soul, that human lives are bound together… quite like a string of pearls held together by a unifying idea called Lord, Ishvara, or what you may. There are some religions - Buddhism for instance - which do not believe in the existence of soul. But these religions exhort their followers to do good and abstain from doing harm to other living creatures. When put to practice in right earnest, the end result will be the same. Spirituality ultimately translates to thinking good, speaking good, doing good, and willing the good of all life on earth. A simple definition, but it takes immense self-control to attain to.

One would argue for the sake of arguing that man’s genius will find a solution to all problems using technology as a tool. If the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are increasing, one would blame the losses in the electrical transmission systems and the inefficiencies of the generating and storage systems, which necessitate a much greater supply than the actual demand. Yes, one certainly can fix these problems and ensure that supply comes down to equal the demand, and less fossil fuels are burned in the thermal power stations. If the demand grows, obviously, for a given efficiency of a generation-transmission-storage system, one would burn more fuel and emit more GHGs. Certainly, the efficiency cannot be increased indefinitely. Even if the system is 100% efficient, more demand would necessitate a greater supply, with supply increasing, though linearly in this case and not exponentially as would be the case when inefficient systems are in place and the inefficiencies get compounded en route. Nevertheless, there would definitely be an increase. One could harp endlessly about wind and solar energy, but these can shoulder a good deal of the burden only if the burden is reduced! In other words, only when the power consumed comes down, can solar and wind power contribute significantly to the total energy pie. And to bring down the power, industries need to stabilise their production levels, and households have to curtail their expenditures on power-hungry luxury items. It all boils down again to the creation of conducive conditions for renewable energy sources to play a key role in the future. The key to this lies with the common man, who needs to go beyond the „mind-and-body” existence that he is leading at the moment. Wasn’t it some European who once taught the world that Vincit que se vincit? There are Governments which declare that wind power stations and solar panels are being commissioned to cater to the growing demands of power. We await the time when Governments will proudly announce that the power requirement in the domestic, industrial and commercial sectors in their respective countries has stabilised over the years, or at least the rate of increase has dropped; and that renewable energy sources have actually taken over from some thermal power stations which have been decommissioned. In other words, good has to replace the not-so-good (let us avoid the use of the term „evil”), and not just exist alongside it.

On that positive note, which of course entails a great deal of unity of thought and fellow-feeling among the people of the world...let us have the heart to face the truth as it is, and stir ourselves to positive and constructive action, in the interest of generations to come.

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