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  • Alessia D’Onofrio

Climate Change of the Heart

Last week, I spent my mid-November Sunday in quite a different way. 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. Producers and consumers control the food chain, and the amount of food produced depends on them, rather than corporations. Food is produced more smartly 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 hyper-capitalistic.

At Krishna Eco-farm, I have experienced a very different lifestyle, where meditation, yoga, soul food, and a strong connection to the land and animals play a central role. I also had the chance to meet some monks, who illustrated the concept of ‘climate change of the heart’. They argued that to achieve climate change mitigation goals, we need to do more than external action, e.g. protesting. We need to achieve internal change first. This is how Hinduism and climate change connect.

A central human flaw that needs to be corrected is individualism and greed. 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 citizens. However, ‘what is good’ is not an objective standard. It depends on what the priorities are. Often the priority is economic growth, as it is believed 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. Also, within those countries which have benefitted from rapid economic growth, it is possible, even easy, to point out great inequalities in the population. Often the conditions of those living in poverty remain unaffected. It may be argued that this is because poverty is a structural problem caused by unfair practices and social injustice (e.g., the negative impact of certain aspects of international trade, unequal access to technology, the crushing debt burden…). In addition, even if poverty was reduced, someone would have to pay the cost of the resulting environmental degradation due to climate change. Economic growth and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions are tightly connected. For example, climate change may affect nutrition through changes in crop yields, and access to food, water, and sanitation may be reduced.

Furthermore, developed countries may be regarded as unlikely to abandon harmful lifestyles as it would affect their economic interests. They may continue to exploit developing countries to access cheap manufactured products. Considering this, we may question what it means that something is 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.

Therefore, specific and direct intervention is necessary to tackle these unfair practices and invest in human development in Third World countries. Human development can be conceptualised as development aimed at social inclusion and the full realisation of human rights, rather than merely economic growth. To achieve these goals, it is necessary that developed countries abandon individualism and greediness and instead cooperate on an international level to improve the living situation of 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 that are produced using methods that do not 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. Arguably this may be the reason why international cooperation is insufficiently pursued. 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, this analysis is useful to point out the unfairness of the current international system and the interests of industrialised states in keeping it as it is.

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