Updated: Feb 14
Last week, I spent my mid-November Sunday in quite a different way than usual. I went to Krishna Eco-farm, in the beautiful Lanarkshire countryside, Scotland. "Eco-farming" means ensuring healthy food and soil, water, and climate protection, by combining modern science and innovation (excluding chemical fertilisers, inputs, and pesticides) with biodiversity conservation and nature protection (e.g., by promoting crop diversity). Eco-farming proposes a very different way of producing food: one where producers and consumers control the food chain, and the amount of food produced depends on them, rather than corporations. Food is produced more efficiently, so that more people can be fed using small-sized crops. Consequently, eco-farming can be instrumental for rural development, food security, and poverty reduction goals. Eco-farming is often referred to as the ‘sustainable agriculture revolution’, which feels ironic considering that this is how crops were cultivated before societies became focused on mass-consumption and profit.
At Krishna Eco-farm, I had the chance to experience a very different lifestyle, where meditation, yoga, soul food, and a strong connection to the land and animals play a central role. I even had the chance to meet some monks, who talked to us about the concept of ‘climate change of the heart’. They argued that to achieve climate change mitigation goals, we need to do more than external actions, such as protesting. We need to achieve internal change first. This is how Hinduism and climate change connect.
To tackle climate change, we need to correct the individualism and greed our societies are currently centred around. The actions of our leaders tend to be driven by individualistic concerns or profit-maximisation goals, especially at the international level. Countries are mainly concerned with what is good for their own citizens, rather than on collaboration and mutual-aid. We must also keep in mind that what is classed as 'good’ is not an objective standard. It depends on what a leader's priorities are. Often the priority is economic growth, based on a narrative that economic growth benefits everyone. Nevertheless, this notion is easily disproved.
Economic growth should not be considered a panacea for poverty because it cannot guarantee human freedom, social inclusion, or human dignity. It is easy to think that if everyone gets richer the poor will also benefit. The growth of international trade and investment has allowed several developing countries to catch up with rich countries, thanks to strong, export-led growth. But this process has not benefited all countries. And even within those countries which have benefitted from rapid economic growth, it is still possible, often even easy, to point out great inequalities in the population. Often, despite economic growth, the conditions of those living in poverty remain unaffected. That this is because poverty is a structural problem caused by unfair practices and social injustice, such as the unfair aspects of international trade that benefit wealthy countries, unequal access to technology, the crushing debt burden of many so-called 'developing' countries. Let's also not forget that, even if poverty was reduced through economic growth, someone would still have to pay the cost of the resulting environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change. Economic growth and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions are after all still tightly interlinked in our current carbon-heavy economic system
Individualism and greed continue to have a chokehold on us: wealthy countries are still not ready to abandon harmful mass-consumption lifestyles as it would affect their economic interests, and continue to exploit developing countries to access cheap manufactured products. But what exactly does it mean for something to be cheap? We know very well that many cheap goods are produced by people whose human rights are neglected and in countries whose economies are stuck in a post-colonial pattern of resource exploitation. The Global South provides natural resources, raw commodities, and labour-intensive manufactured goods, whilst the Global North produces higher added-value and knowledge-intensive products and is benefitted from a favourable tariff system.
Specific and direct intervention is necessary to tackle these unfair practices and invest in human development in Third World countries. Human development should be conceptualised as development aimed at social inclusion and the full realisation of human rights, rather than merely economic growth. To achieve this, wealthy countries must abandon individualism and greediness and instead cooperate on an international level to improve the living situation for all people around the world, despite realising that abandoning unfair practices may affect their profit-maximisation goals. This may include limiting free trade and imposing import tariffs on goods causing high pollution or banning goods produced in a way thay fail to meet human rights standards.
The concept of international cooperation clashes with individualism and greed as it requires pursuing what is best for everyone rather than a handful of privileged countries. Is this the reason why we so often fail at meaningful international cooperation? The theory of climate change of the heart argues that internal cleansing and purification of the inner mind would make it easier to abandon greedy and individualistic mindsets. It may help to reconnect with the planet and other people and, thus, encourage international cooperation. As idealistic as the theory of climate change of the heart sounds, it is useful to point out the unfairness of the current international system and the interests of industrialised states in keeping it as it is.