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An Ageless Vision
Environment - Cutting the branch we are sitting on
This essay is partially based on Divine Nature, by Mukunda Gosvami.

However carefully camouflaged or seemingly disposed of by several stopgap measures, the rapid destruction of our ecosystem by industry and society remains an undeniable fact. Keeping our eyes closed in blissful ignorance of its cause and results will not stop it from expanding and closing in on us. Environmental breakdown and pollution is not just reality for a handful of environmentalists or victims directly concerned with it. It affects us all, whether we like it or not.

The Other Side of the Coin

We are clearing and stripping our tropical rain forests with the amazing speed of 30 football fields per minute to help the lumber and meat industries make their profits, depriving about 1000 endangered species of their natural habitat annually, despite their vital role in the ecosystem.

Deforestation also creates topsoil loss. Monsoon rains wash away hopes of agriculture together with valuable soil, for the soil now lacks the natural protection of roots and foliage. Another important cause of topsoil loss is the intensive use of chemical fertilizers in factory farming, accounting for a loss of 1/5th of the world's agricultural topsoil since 1950 -- all this for providing the "comforts" of a consumer society, where love of ease has demanded quick-and-easy disposable goods; quick and easy for the consumer, that is.

Mountains of waste have become the pedestal on which the industrialized nations try to make their stand. The problems of consumer garbage, industrial waste, toxic waste, and nuclear waste are still far away from any acceptable solution. The earth's fresh water supplies are increasingly contaminated by the meat, oil, and chemical industries. Massive oil dumping, accidents from oil drilling and transport, as well as motor vehicle use cause about 3,180,000,000 liters of oil to end up in the oceans yearly. For the sake of living easy, more than a quarter of the world's population lacks adequate or uncontaminated drinking water.

Air pollution is another price we pay. Statistics of the World Health Organization show that two-thirds of the world's urban population breathes polluted air. Industries, especially the meat industry, take the biggest part in it, followed by motor vehicles. Much of the industrial exhaust causes the dreaded acid rain, responsible for killing trees, crops, and lakes, as well as the corrosion of buildings. The surplus of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels in factories and vehicles, and by burning forests to clear land, constitutes 95% of the total amount to enter the atmosphere yearly.

Increased carbon dioxide levels have a direct impact on the temperature of the earth's atmosphere. Global warming might result in rising sea levels, causing extensive floods to submerge as much as 5 million square kilometers of lowlands, including a third of the world's farmland. A related phenomena is the gradual affection of the protective ozone layer by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). Strangely enough, CFC production has steadily increased over the last 6 years, despite opposition. Adding extremes as environmental warfare will not make the list seem less endless, and one may wonder what reasons lie behind this craving for destruction.

What About A Solution?

For most people, it seems obvious that something has to be done. But that is often where it stops; and those who do take action deal with the problem on a material level -- a partial solution only. They may succeed in treating the symptoms to a degree, but they fail to address the underlying cause of the crisis.

The symptoms speak for themselves, yet the cause seems more complex than we may want to believe. We run into walls of individual desires for wealth and idealized industrial capacity and, most of all, into the consumer mentality, which identifies happiness with acquiring material possessions at any cost.

The Actual Cause

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has recognized that the environmental crisis stems from a crisis in consciousness. ISKCON sees the solution to be a change in consciousness following the standard of the ancient Vedic teachings. In the light of Vedic understanding, the way to restore the world health is to supply spiritual values, which will automatically promote the rapid decrease of ecological problems.

Apart from its technical aspects, the environmental crisis also has deeper dimensions. The Vedic teachings relate higher, universal laws that govern the interactions of conscious beings. These laws, called karma in Sanskrit, are described in terms of actions and reactions. Thus environmental problems can be explained as the undesirable results of undesirable actions. The most prominent and environmentally destructive of these undesirable actions is the unnecessary and unrestricted killing of animals for food, fur, fun, and cosmetics.

Scientific studies of near-death experiences have shown that a distinct unit of consciousness exists separate from the brain. The Vedic teachings call this unit the soul. If other biological entities share the same physical makeup, it is reasonable to presume that they also possess a soul -- the source of life and consciousness. Considering this, it is just as wrong to kill an animal as it is to kill a human being. The conscious, mass slaughter of billions of animals causes mankind to suffer many karmic reactions.

According to the Vedic view, scarcity is the result of the negative karma generated by the destructive actions of the world's population and not the result of overpopulation. The earth is perfectly capable of providing all the food necessary for whoever lives on its surface. Scarcity is due to our own greed and insensitivity to other living entities, such as the animals we kill.

More than half the annual world deforestation clears land for beef cattle, which consume about half the world's grain production. Grain cycled through animals looses 90% of its protein, and the production of 1 kilo of beef takes 500 times as much fresh water than the production of a kilo of grain. Since to produce one kilo of beef requires 4 kilos of grain, the raising of animals to create food is very inefficient. Just consider, the land required to feed one meat eater can feed 20 vegetarians!

The amount of grains fed to U.S. livestock alone can feed 1.3 billion people, a sixth of the earth's population. Abandoning a meat-based diet would release a vast quantity of food grains for human consumption, solving much of the imaginary world hunger problem.

Food for Thought

If knowledge about the conscious self would become a fundamental part of our educational and cultural system, the present hunger for domination and exploitation of matter would decrease. The Bhagavad-gita embodies this basic knowledge about the nature of consciousness and the self. Like other Vedic scriptures, it gives theoretical understanding of the difference between the body and the self and gives practical guidelines for its realization, such as the chanting of Hare Krishna. The basis for a healthy environment is a science of consciousness that includes knowledge of the soul.

As we experience daily, a godless society results in a consciousness of we-are-nothing-but-machines, and encourages domination and exploitation of the world's resources. The present mechanistic world view fails to see that the real goal of life is self-realization.

Yet interestingly enough, nowadays even leading scientists support the call for a spiritual solution. They find radical changes in public policy and individual behavior necessary to cope with the environmental crises, and they appeal to the world religious community. Still, science more than anything else has been responsible for the present situation of our ecosystem. And although they may see in religion a means of social change, they do not consider religion to have anything useful to say about the origin of life and the universe. Religionists would best live up to their credibility by reclaiming the world from blind materialism and dovetailing human efforts with spiritual development.

Many thoughtful people have found value in the wisdom of ancient times. The Vedic teachings explain that the root cause of all material problems lies in purposefully disobeying the laws of nature by not recognizing the proprietorship of the Supreme Lord. From a spiritual point of view, all resources of the world are God's energies and should not be misused or wasted. A spiritual vision of the universe offers different sources of nonmaterial satisfaction. The higher forms of happiness that come from restoring one's relationship with the Supreme by engaging in the process of bhakti-yoga reduce the sense of greed and desires for material consumption. Everything has its natural place and function, and people live peacefully and in harmony with nature.

The urban-industrial lifestyle is hopelessly artificial and heavily strains the development of real human interests. The material world without spiritual awareness is an unsuitable environment for the spirit soul, but when one returns to a more natural way of life there is a greater chance of advancing in spiritual culture.

Therefore ISKCON endeavors for a worldwide change of consciousness and a return to simple living and high thinking. ISKCON does not claim to have stated or carried out the total solution to the problems of our environment, but it hopes to expand the circle of those who also recognize the problem as a spiritual one. Such persons understand everything in the creation to be part of a unified whole. They are satisfied within and no longer experience the excessive greed that tears our environment asunder. The simple and natural way of life they aspire for contributes to a cleaner, healthier, and more peaceful world.

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