The issue of climate change is a perplexing one, whether one is a diehard fearer of the doom it portends or a stubborn skeptic. There is a lot of debate about whether the climate will change catastrophically (some say it is already the cause of increased natural disaster) or if other natural factors will intervene to make the phenomena a whole lot milder. However, there is no doubt that measures can be made to minimize humanity’s effect on the climate and environment.
According to the European Commission on Climate Action, Humans are increasingly influencing the climate and the earth’s temperature by
- burning fossil fuels,
- cutting down rainforests
- Farming livestock.
All of these factors influencing climate change and environmental degradation can be directly linked to the problem of endless consumerism. The problem is that no matter how much we have, we always want more. As Mahatma Gandhi famously wrote, “Earth produces enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for our greed.” Whether it is the industrialist billionaire looking for his next billion or the hipster upgrading to the latest smart phone as soon as it gets released, all of us are guilty of taking more than we need. In fact, we are almost pressured by our society into earning as much as we can throughout our working life and collecting as many “goodies” as we can before we die.
There is often a great sense of fear among those who focus perpetually on the problem: the doomsayers, the protesters, the motivators, researchers, and ‘greenies’. In spite of this great fear in a certain sector of society, there is a greater sense of nonchalance among the wider public who would rather sit on the fence, not be bothered and go about their business, ignoring the foretelling of impending doom. But I’ve noticed that even those in the first group are not always ‘doing their bit’ personally, to make changes to how they live. Instead, many tend to rely on lobbying governments to make changes. I know a whole bunch of folk who ride to work, refuse imported goods where possible, vote ‘green’ but are afraid to give up the one thing that could be causing the greatest damage – eating animal meat. (some of the statistics on this are outlined below) They, like so many others who ‘do nothing’ (apart from worry), are not prepared to give up something they ‘enjoy’ for the sake of future generations and for maintaining the status quo. And the reason is deep-seated. The attachment of the senses to the things they enjoy is so strong that one’s ‘better judgment’ (even coupled with the fear of doomsday) is not enough to turn the tables and change habits and put a stop to the endless consumption that is driving the changes in our climate.
So whether one’s attachment is to eating meat, driving a gas guzzling, outrageously polluting V8 (its mind boggling how many Hummers have been produced and sold since the news of impending catastrophe due to global warming became apparent) or to the profits of the mining and other ‘industrial age’ companies, there is no doubt that it is hard to change our ways.
Perhaps this is what the PM of India, Narendra Modi, was suggesting when he made a recommendation that people embrace yoga as a means to tackle global warming. “What?!” I hear you say (or at least I’ve heard the critics scoff): “He reckons a couple of yoga poses are going to stop global warming!?” Indeed THAT is an absurd suggestion. But the president of India’s understanding of yoga is a little deeper than the average Joe’s.
“We can achieve the same level of development, prosperity and well-being without necessarily going down the path of reckless consumption. It doesn’t mean that economies will suffer; it will mean that our economies will take on a different character. For us in India, respect for nature is an integral part of spiritualism. We treat nature’s bounties as sacred. Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”
Narendra Modi is obviously not suggesting we just start doing a few random yoga poses and hope for the best. He is suggesting a change in consciousness and lifestyle (the two go hand in hand, each inspiring – or degrading – the other). By changing our consciousness and therefore our lifestyle, this situation of environmental degradation that is essentially caused by excess consumption would be helped. The practices of yoga, including introspection, meditation, and a vegetarian diet will help a person’s consciousness change to one that is less needy, no longer hankering for the things that ‘cost the earth’ but rather, a yogi will be satisfied within himself.
The yoga poses or asanas are not actually necessary for the change to occur but they do help. It is said that yoga asanas and pranayama (breath-work) bring a person more into the mode of goodness (and out of the modes of ignorance and passion). In the mode of goodness one feels less need for acquiring many things or dependence on material things to bring inner satisfaction and feels more compassion towards others, including animals. This cultivation of the mode of goodness would certainly reduce the levels of energy and meat consumption that currently add to the energy and climate crisis. Also the asanas, pranayama (breathing) and mindfulness of yoga help a person to know they are not their body or their mind, but rather, they are the spirit soul within the body who witnesses and deals with the world through the agency of the senses and mind. Once a person identifies themselves as spirit not matter, he is naturally able to give up the things that are unnecessary, feeling satisfied within.
And so Narendra Modi suggests we adopt an international day of yoga. This would raise awareness of the possibilities that yoga has to offer, and inspire more and more ‘average Joes’ to take up its practice, regardless of one’s cultural background or spiritual persuasion. He also points out that economies do not need to suffer. Sustainable economies based on peoples’ needs and not on greed do exist on this planet and many people are already moving more into what have been labeled LOHAS industries – lifestyles of health and sustainability.
So how does would such a lifestyle really affect the climate?
The official handbook for Live Earth, the anti–climate change concerts that Al Gore helped organize says that eating your veggies and plant-based proteins instead of animal-based proteins is about the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon foot print/climate change impact. It may be a surprise to know that livestock produce 18% of total emissions.
And the gases produced by the cow’s digestive process (methane from flatulence and nitrous oxide from manure) are worse for greenhouse warming than CO2. Added to that are the emissions from the clearing of forests to grow pasture, fertilizers for growing feed crops and energy to power meat processing plants. A 2006 UN report states that the livestock sector is the 2nd or 3rd biggest contributor to warming, and if we all gradually weaned ourselves from meat there would be a just as significant cooling effect.
In 2012, there were roughly 70bn animals raised as livestock for 7.1bn people. And a study published in July by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that livestock production is among the most destructive forces driving climate change: it degrades air quality, pollutes waterways, and is the single-largest use of land.
Here are some more astounding statistics:
- On average, only a third of a person’s protein requirement is taken from meat, yet it uses a third of the planet’s land and power to produce.
- 1kg of meat requires 10 to 20 times as much energy to produce as 1kg of vegetable protein such as tofu or tempeh.
- 32,900 calories are used to produce the 940 calories of one porterhouse steak.
So it’s clear, changing to or even leaning towards a vegetarian or vegan diet would make a difference. As we discussed earlier, despite the information being there and being so clear, it still seems monumentally difficult or even impossible for people to give it up, and so we suggest little by little, and with the addition of some of the deeply satisfying practices of yoga, like yoga asanas to help the body feel light and free from energy blocks and meditation upon transcendental sound which provides a higher taste, a deeper sense of fulfillment, than that which we get from anything else.