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How secularization of society has affected environment

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By Nithin Sridhar

It is well known that ‘secularism’ has become an inseparable part of any discourse on politics in India. But, what is often not realized is how the notion of ‘secularism’- the separation of the ‘secular’ from the ‘sacred’ has completely overtaken the discourse on any issue related to Indian society.

Secularism is a western notion that historically arose in response to European problems. It is not only alien to Indian society, it is highly unsuitable as it completely ignores Indian ethos that are rooted in the notion of ‘dharma’ (duty/righteousness). Hence, the secularization of Indian life and society that has been carried out in the last many decades has resulted in disastrous consequences. One such area where secularization has distorted the issue and has caused enormous damage is ecology and environment.

Indian view of Environment

The ancient Indian scriptures held environmental conservation in high priority. The Smriti texts give elaborate instructions and methods regarding maintaining personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness. They further speak about keeping the water, land, and the fire unpolluted.

Arthashastra gives elaborate information regarding construction and maintenance of water tanks. Even before the British occupation of India, one can see a huge number of water tanks and lakes across the country. Also, the breaching of tanks was severely punished. Manu Smriti says that trees have life, and the Vrikshayurveda suggests that planting a tree is equal to having ten sons.

But, these instructions regarding environmental conservation must not be perceived in isolation. The Hindu scriptures perceived the environment as a living divine force and a mother figure who should be loved, respected, and protected. The Bhoomi Sukta that appears in the Atharva Veda extols the earth with all its ecological features as a living mother, a force that permeates all the objects in nature. The Sukta further calls the humans as the sons of the mother earth.

Therefore, the Indian conception of the environment and its conservation is deeply rooted in the understanding that the trees, the animals, the air, the water, the land and every other object in nature are permeated by divinity, and hence they are all worthy of our love, respect, and preservation.

This holistic vision of the environment that was once integral to the Indian way of life has been completely distorted and destroyed by the secularization of the Indian society in the last century.

The result of secularization

The secularization of the society has distorted the discourse on the environment in two stages. First, it separated the elements like ecology, environmental pollution, and conservation from the elements of divinity and motherhood of nature, and then, it shifted the entire focus of the discourse on the previous ‘secular’ aspect while completely isolating and ignoring the latter ‘sacred’ aspect.

It is the direct result of secularization that what was previously understood as divine manifestation is now perceived as ‘lifeless objects’ and the mother nature herself is seen only as an ‘opportunity to exploit.’ Even in the case of animals or plants, where science recognizes that they do have a life, the perception is that their life is somehow inferior to human life.

Thus, the secularization has legitimized human greed that perceives humans as conquerors born to conquer and claim ownership over the objects available in nature. This has prepared the ground for complete exploitation and the eventual destruction of  the environment.

The current debate over people’s right to eat beef is one example. Illegal and uncontrolled mining and the pollution of rivers like Ganga are other examples. The point being made here is that because the environmental objects are perceived as lifeless or inferior entities and not as manifestations of divine, humans are committing huge Himsa (violence) on the environment.

The effect of secularization is such that even the religiously devout fail to perceive the environmental in an integral holistic manner. For example, though the religious people worship River Ganga as a divine Mother who removes all sins, the very same people also through plastic, soap, and other such things into the river. Similarly, factory owner’s discharge untreated industrial wastes into Ganga water, though privately they may be great devotees.

This disconnect between the faith and the action is the direct result of secularization that has created an artificial separation in the minds of the people such that, they now do not even realize that polluting the river goes against the very essence of worship.

Now coming to the cleaning and conservation activities taking place around river Ganga, many people who are involved in this view the river only as a water resource and not as a living mother. The situation is not quite different in discourses about global warming and climate change as well.

This secular conservation discourse can at best provide a temporary solution to the environmental problems. But, it does not help in changing the attitudes and perceptions of the people that drive human activities. Human activities will continue to be driven by greed and sense of ownership, as long as the element of sacredness is not recognized and made integral to the conservation discourse.

People’s growth is important, nation’s development is also important. But, such growth and development should not only take into account the environmental aspects but should also be driven by a sense of sacredness and Dharmic righteousness. Only such a progress will be progress in a real sense. The current secularized treatment of the environment will only lead to further deterioration of the environment and eventual destruction of the entire planet.

(Photo: shipbright.wordpress.com)

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s Take on Climate Change

Trump's backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

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Pollution, U.S., Trump
The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming. VOA

“I’m not going to put the country out of business trying to maintain certain standards that probably don’t matter,” President Donald Trump told VOA when asked about the economic impacts of climate change.

When not denying its existence, the Trump administration’s approach to
climate change essentially comes down to three arguments: the United States has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions more than other countries, regardless of any international agreement; regulations to cut emissions come with high costs and few benefits; and those regulations would put the United States at a disadvantage because other countries will not follow.

“When you look at China, and when you look at other countries where they have foul air,” Trump added, “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money.”

As U.N. climate negotiations get under way in Poland to work out rules for implementing the Paris climate agreement — from which Trump intends to withdraw the United States — experts weigh in on the administration’s claims.

Pollution, Trump
A bus gives off exhaust fumes in Alexandria, Virginia. VOA

Emissions cuts

It’s true that the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas production more than any other country. U.S. emissions peaked in 2005. In the last decade, they have fallen by about 13 percent, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

But the United States was the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases until 2006. And, others have made bigger cuts by percentage. Hungary’s levels, for example, decreased 14 percent.

U.S. emissions started to fall when the fracking boom took off.

The new technique of hydraulic fracturing turned the United States into a major natural gas producer. As the price of natural gas has dropped, it has been steadily replacing coal as the dominant fuel for electricity generation. Because burning natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide than coal, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased.

More recently, renewable sources such as solar and wind power have started to make inroads on the power grid.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

While U.S. emissions have fallen since the 2000s, China’s have soared.

The country pursued astonishing economic growth with an enormous investment in coal-fired power plants. China is now the leading producer of greenhouse gases by far, roughly doubling U.S. output.

Cost-benefit

Trump has argued that regulations aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions would hobble the U.S. economy. He has moved to undo the Obama administration’s proposed rules on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances, among others.

Critics question whether those regulations would cost as much Trump suggests.

“None of these policies were going to have dramatic increases in the prices that consumers would see,” Duke University public policy professor Billy Pizer said. He added that normal price swings would likely swamp the cost of the regulations Trump targets.

Trump, pollution
Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts. Pixabay

The emissions reductions the Obama administration pledged in Paris “were built largely on a continuation of the coal-to-gas transition and a continuation of growth in renewable energy that’s already happening,” said Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute research center. As such, he added, they “don’t imply a large cost. In fact, they imply a marginal increased benefit to the U.S.”

Those benefits come, for example, because burning less coal produces less air pollution, which lowers health costs.

Not to mention the direct results of climate change: wildfires, floods, droughts and so on.

“We have enough science and enough economics to show that there are damages resulting from us releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. We know that that is not a free thing,” University of Chicago public policy professor Amir Jina said. “And yet, we are artificially setting it as free because we’re not paying the price of that externality.”

He said economists nearly unanimously support a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade program or some other way to put a price on carbon emissions.

Collective action

Few nations have taken the necessary steps to meet the emissions reduction pledges they made in Paris, according to the most recent United Nations emissions gap report.

Paris Agreement, CLimate, trump
Developed countries are being urged to honour Paris Agreement. Flickr

Even those pledges would fall far short of the Paris goal of limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the report adds. Reaching that target will take “unprecedented and urgent action.” A 2016 report said an additional $5.2 trillion investment in renewable energy will be necessary worldwide over the next 25 years.

Trump’s statement — “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money” — sums up why nations are reluctant to act: no one wants to take on burdens that they think others won’t.

“It’s the thing which has been dogging action on climate change for generations,” Jina said.

“We only really solve the problem if everybody acts together,” he added. “And if enough people are not acting, then we don’t.”

Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts.

Each country decides what it is willing to do. Every five years, countries come together and show their progress.

Climate Change, Trump, disasters
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

“You over time build confidence in each other,” Pizer said. “Ideally, you ratchet up the commitments as you see your actions reciprocated by other countries.”

Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

However, the first of these check-ins is five years away. Trump can’t formally withdraw the United States from the agreement until 2020.

Also Read: Paris Adopts Climate Action Plan, Aims to Achieve a ‘Zero-Carbon’ Future

Pizer notes that the predecessor to the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, failed in part because it imposed caps on countries’ carbon emissions, and most of the world balked.

“In my mind, this is the best we can do,” he said. “If there were a different way to do it, I’d be all over that.” (VOA)