By Paramadayala Nityananda Das
New camps of environmentalists are emerging and distinguishing themselves through mutual critiques. Leaders of ISKCON want the movement to have a voice in this issue. To preserve our spiritual message, we need to be a distinct camp. The movement has supported international environmental initiatives; but this fails to distinguish us. We need to do a critical analysis of our own position and then critique other camps.
ISKCON signed The Hindu Declaration on Climate Change (the Declaration). It was developed by the “Bhumi Project”. The director of the Bhumi Project is an initiated ISKCON devotee. The director said the Declaration “…calls for strong, meaningful action from the 195 governments currently meeting in Paris…”. He was referring to COP 21 which took place in December 2015. The director lauded ISKCON’s signing the Declaration “…showing that it is concerned about what comes out of COP21”. He added “To be a success, the meetings need to end with all the countries collectively committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…”.1
All the 195 countries did commit to reducing greenhouse gases. This is known as The Paris Agreement, it “… contains a multitude of provisions to accelerate the world’s transition from fossil fuels to solar, wind, nuclear, hydropower and other clean energy sources”2. So, according to the leaders of ISKCON, and the Bhumi Project, the meetings were a success.
My question is: Where is the critique? Individuals in the “degrowth” environmentalist camp have the intelligence to ask “…industrialism has produced manifold negative impacts on the natural world, then why assume that yet more industrialism will magically reverse this trend?”3 Devotees should also wonder how people can believe that future economic and technological advancement can solve problems caused by past, and current, economies and technologies. In other words, we should wonder how people can place faith in things like the Paris Agreement. If we have this attitude we will take note of the answer given by Srila Prabhupada. He explains how, despite their failures, materialistic leaders remain sure of their abilities; and perpetually fool the masses:
Every demon is vainly proud, thinking no one is more intelligent and esteemed than himself. Therefore the overpowering desires that urge him on to perform various activities are, according to him, ultimately beneficial for human society. In the end, of course, it is inevitably revealed that all his aspirations were illusory and unrealistic. Yet despite this revelation, the demons continue to influence the populace through manipulations and lies (Renunciation Through Wisdom 1.3).
Considering such statements, it is hard for me to understand why followers of Srila Prabhupada promoted a document which declares that, despite the harm they have created, the world can benefit from the joint action of materialistic governments and technologists. The Declaration says:
A transition towards using 100-percent clean energy is desperately needed, as rapidly as is possible in every nation. Doing so provides the only basis for sustainable, continued human development. It is the best hope for the billions of people without electricity or clean cooking facilities to live better lives and reduce poverty4.
First, devotees need to understand there is no way to manipulate natural resources for sense gratification without being a burden to the Earth. Srila Prabhupada wrote:
According to Vedic understanding, men are transformed into thieves when they plan economic development for sense gratification (SB 4, 18.7)
The earth became overburdened due to dharma-gläni, or irregular discharge of the Lord’s desire. The Lord appeared on the earth to curb the increase in miscreants, and not the increase in population, as is wrongly put forward by the mundane economist (SB 3.3.13).
So, whether the energy comes from fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, etc., it is being used for sense gratification; therefore, it will be a burden to the Earth, and humans will suffer, individually and collectively, from the sinful reactions. This is a general principle. I want to go beyond this with some specific analysis. I will attempt this by describing two environmentalist camps, and how they differ from Krishna Consciousness.
The two contrasting camps are the Ecomodernists and the Degrowthers. In April 2015, eighteen notable scholars published “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” (the Manifesto). One of the coauthors was a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for work in the environmental field. Of course, thousands of scholars, government leaders, and investors, cannot be in complete agreement with the assertions of eighteen individuals. But the basic ecomodernist attitude is dominant in materialist societies. And the U.S. government is overtly reinforcing it.
Noteworthy quotes from the Manifesto include:
As human lives have been liberated from hard agricultural labor, enormous human resources have been freed up for other endeavors. Cities, as people know them today, could not exist without radical changes in farming. In contrast, modernization is not possible in a subsistence agrarian economy.
Urbanization, agricultural intensification, nuclear power, aquaculture, and desalination are all processes with a demonstrated potential to reduce human demands on the environment, allowing more room for non-human species. Suburbanization, low-yield farming, and many forms of renewable energy production, in contrast, generally require more land and resources and leave less room for nature.
Nuclear fission today represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy.
Human civilization can flourish for centuries and millennia on energy delivered from a closed uranium or thorium fuel cycle, or from hydrogen-deuterium fusion.5.
As for degrowth environmentalism, it has recently been well articulated in response to the Manifesto. It is significant enough for Distinguished Professor of Economics, and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, to write a column criticizing it:
To be fair, anti-growth environmentalism is a marginal position even on the left, but it’s widespread enough to call out nonetheless6.
Noteworthy responses to the Manifesto by degrowthers include:
From the point of view of degrowth, a lower impact and less consumerist world will require an increase in farming (and gardening) and greater reconnections to the natural world.
From a degrowth perspective, technology is not viewed as a magical savior since many technologies often accelerate environmental decline.
Fatally, the ecomodernists neglect to identify the ultimate ill that plagues us—to wit, the addiction to growth-based economics, rooted in finite and polluting fossil fuels, and the sprawling industrial society that these energy sources and policies have facilitated over the past two hundred and fifty years; deeper still, they subscribe to the pig-headed belief that all of this necessarily equates to a desirable mode of development.
The point is that ecomodernism offers a peculiarly whitewashed and sugary interpretation of industrial modernism, and fails to acknowledge that the interrelated problems of overconsumption and environmental decline were not coincidental byproducts of those modern industrial processes.
Should development occur in a top-down fashion, brokered by powerful international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and industry, or bottom-up, in organic, low-impact, and community-led efforts?
One of the most unfortunate results of this technophilism and Biggering-Is Better attitude is the ecomodernists’ adoration of nuclear power7.
The ecomodernists positon on nuclear energy is noteworthy. Ten years ago, Stewert Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog and coauthor of the Manifesto, predicted that, in the next decade, mainstream environmentalism would change its view on nuclear energy as well as urbanization and genetic modification. He also stated: “The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power”8.
Beyond the authors of the Manifesto, numerous, leading, environmentalists promote nuclear energy. A couple of examples are,former Greenpeace UK boss Stephen Tindale who is now a campaigner at The Alvin Weinberg Foundation (a pro-nuclear organization). Tom Wigley is a nuclear promoter. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change, one of the most highly cited scientists in the discipline and recognized by the joint award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
There are numerous examples, but there may also be examples of pro-nuclear people changing camps; however, there are other indications that mainstream environmentalism is becoming pro-nuclear. The Paris Agreement classifies nuclear as “clean energy” Accelerating nuclear energy development is one path the 195 countries can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the U.S. position on this is crystal clear.
President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” is described by the EPA as follows:
Nuclear power is part of an “all the above” energy strategy that supports economic growth and job creation, enhances our nation’s energy security, and protects the planet for future generations. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) ensures that zero carbon nuclear power will continue to play a prominent and meaningful role in America’s energy mix. EPA expects nuclear power to be a key partner in achieving the goals of the CPP.9
The government has explicit plans to manipulate people’s minds and convince them nuclear energy is safe and economical. On September 14, 2016, Dr. Ernest J. Moniz, U.S. Secretary of Energy, made a presentation to the Committee on Appropriations. He said:
A prerequisite for nuclear power continuing as a vital part of the nation’s clean energy portfolio is public confidence in the safety of nuclear plants and commercial confidence that the plants can be operated safely, reliably, and economically10.
With many scientists and teachers in concert, it will be an easy task for the U.S. government to convince people nuclear energy is safe. We can expect to see indoctrination of children beginning in elementary schools. I attending a state university from 2000-2010 and witnessed professors aggressively indoctrinating students.
So how do these schools of thought compare/ contrast with Krishna Consciousness? Those in the degrowth camp do not know that technology can be used in Krishna’s service- and thus, be positive in all respects. They think there are limits to human population. We would not expect them to know that increasing the population is not a problem if people act in Krishna Consciousness. At least they can utilize their human intelligence enough to see that it is impossible to increase materialistic consumption and technology, and reduce environmental impact at the same time. They advocate natural farming. A more natural life style is okay but they need to acknowledge that no human adjustment can free one from the greater miseries of material existence without Krishna Consciousness. Basically, their problem is lack of spiritual knowledge. But they may be favorably inclined because they want to work from the “bottom-up, in organic, low-impact, and community-led efforts” so they will be able to appreciate ISKCON’s ecological villages; and through this they may become attracted to the philosophy.
In contrast, ISKCON signed a document which called “for strong, meaningful action from the 195 governments currently meeting…”, In the words of the degrowthers, we are thus supporting the idea that change should “occur in a top-down fashion, brokered by powerful international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and industry”. This is the ecomodernists perspective; however, we should be critiquing it, not promoting it.
COP 21, and the Paris Agreement which came out of it, were part of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I will not belabor the point here, but anyone can search “United Nations” on vedabase and see that Srila Prabhupada had no faith in it. I am not sure Srila Prabhupada would be in favor of ISKCON endorsing the United Nations bombastic plans to accelerate economic and technological advancement in the name of saving the environment. I more strongly question if Srila Prabhupada would agree that nuclear energy is safe and endorse plans to accelerate its development? Below is one, among many, statements he made about nuclear energy:
Therefore trying to utilize mundane science to overpower nature’s law is like creating a Frankenstein. Efforts to extirpate human suffering through advanced technology and bring about lasting happiness have brought us to the Atomic Age. Western thinkers have become gravely concerned about the extent of destruction an atomic explosion can cause. Some leaders are trying to calm the alarm with platitudes about how atomic energy is to be used solely for peaceful purposes, but this is another form of deception caused by daivé mäyä, or nature’s law. (Renunciation Through Wisdom, 1.1).
A more general statement by Srila Prabhupada is:
We are trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. Therefore, although we are engaged in a hard struggle to conquer nature, we are ever more dependent on her(The Hare Krishna Mantra).
I believe ISKCON’s endorsement of the Paris Agreement had a negligible effect on society at large. I am only concerned with the effect within the movement. Conditioned souls are contaminated by the illusion that they can increase their sense gratification by manipulating material resources. The purpose of ISKCON is to decrease this illusion; so, why endorse plans which are products of this illusion magnified to the extreme degree? ISKCON leaders have signed a Declaration promoting the Paris Agreement, I hope they now produce a document with a sophisticated, critical, analysis of modern environmentalism
7 A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique. http://www.resilience.org/wp-content/uploads/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf
10 http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/091416-Secretary-Moniz-Testimon y.pdf