Gandhiji was a visionary with rare foresight and insight. It spanned the environmental arena, as much as it did many other areas of vital importance to humanity and society.
Gandhiji’s entire conceptual framework regarding environment, also how to protect it and how not to damage it, is based on his opposition to the Western model of development. It is a model based on increasing human greed and not on meeting human needs. It is the model responsible for widening the social, economical, political and ideological divides between the haves and have-nots of the world. It is the model responsible for ecological devastation and dehumanisation of vast sections of human race for the sake of advancing mindless, selfish and heartless development initiated by and for the elite few. The means utilised for this kind of development have caused irreparable damage to the environment by exploitation of finite natural resources.
The devastative results of such development were foreseen by Gandhiji much earlier than the environmental brigade of the 21st century. Gandhiji had professed these catastrophic consequences as early as in 1909, much before the Agenda 21 manifesto was published by the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Habitually, Gandhiji was a century ahead in his thinking and forecasting. Unfortunately, India also chose this model of development, and as of 2012, it is the fourth largest polluting country in the world.
Gandhiji’s cardinal principles of peace and nonviolence are intrinsically interconnected with environmental wellbeing. Man is the most superior species on earth. Along with privileges, this stature has bestowed paramount responsibilities on him too. Above all, it has made him responsible and accountable for the welfare of all living beings and nature. But in his selfish greed for his progress alone, man has forsaken this sacred duty. Quite to the contrary, instead of being the protector and patron of all lesser beings and the environment, he has turned into their annihilator. This is not how nature intended man to live and function. It wanted man to live in harmony with others, to coexist rather than to dominate. This simple but profound natural law was the basis of Gandhiji’s environmental philosophy, which endorsed peaceful cohabitation, nonviolence, and reverence for all life.
The Western thought of development strives to provide maximum comfort and a plethora of conveniences to man. This led to a passive, affluent lifestyle with no regard for physical labour, giving birth to newer diseases, illnesses and disorders. To cure them, newer medical practices and treatments were invented, and a whole new industry of healthcare mushroomed, which was closely related to personal care and lifestyle management. In this way, the new life style firstly made man pay to be unhealthy and diseased, and then made him pay even more to get cured. Man got trapped in this vicious circle of a mindlessly consumerist society, and paid heavily for it.
It is because Gandhiji had foreseen the impending disastrous results of West incepted progress that he professed an alternative life style which was minimalist, austere and equitable. One is filled with wonder and admiration when one notes that Gandhiji had put into practice a life based on simplicity, smaller size and lesser speed even when his ideologies were in infantile stage. His experiments with living with nature were manifested in the Phoenix Ashram and Tolstoy farm ventures in early 1990s in South Africa.
This is the way of life which is needed today, if we are to arrest or inhibit the looming environmental catastrophe. We will have to usher into a nonabrasive and noninterfering life pattern and give all the species and all the people their right to live, if we ourselves want to survive.
Indeed, Gandhiji’s thoughts on environment are more relevant today, than they were ever before.