“The splendor of the sun, which dissipates the darkness of this whole world, comes from Me. And the splendor of the moon and the splendor of fire are also from Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.12)
Question: “It seems that you like to editorialize against the idea of global warming/climate change. Yet these same movements aim to improve our environment and make our planet a better place. Wouldn’t Krishna want us to be good stewards of His creation?”
Answer: Devotees of Lord Krishna believe that bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the most sublime engagement for all of mankind. Regardless of a person’s geographic location, physical attributes, or religious affiliation, simply by regularly chanting the Lord’s names in a loving way, one can achieve the highest form of happiness imaginable. There are many movements in existence that aim to tackle all sorts of problems in the material world. Capitalism, communism, socialism, environmentalism, etc. all have certain aspects to them that are appealing, but in the end, they all associate exclusively with matter, meaning they only deal with God’s inferior energy. True perfection in life comes through association with the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, or God. If we get caught up in these other inferior movements, we become more prone to ignoring our relationship with God. This is a decision that can end up being very costly.
The Vedas tell us that God is the original creator. Simply by exhaling once, Lord Vishnu creates this and many other universes. The same Lord then later exhales and takes all the universes back into Himself. Each of the material planets has a presiding deity, and the earth is no different in this regard. Known as Bhumi Devi, the earth is our mother whom we should respect and not unnecessarily burden. In this regard, we see that the technological advancements of the past two hundred years have certainly caused an unnecessary burden to the planet. Pollution has increased, and worst of all, mankind has become further bound up in fruitive activity. By working to gratify the senses, people become bound in karma, which then dictates that they be forced to repeat the cycle of birth and death. Human life is meant for breaking out of this cycle, for the soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world with God.
Being good stewards of the environment is certainly in line with religious practice. However, the modern day global warming/climate change movement goes beyond just taking care of the environment. There must be a distinction made between the ecology movement and the climate change movement. Many people are interested in maintaining the ecological health of the planet, and they certainly shouldn’t be criticized for wanting to recycle and keep pollution down. The leaders of the climate change movement, however, are not really interested in anything besides ascending to power.
This is a bold assertion, but if we do a quick study of the situation, we’ll see that this is indeed the case. The most prominent leaders of the climate change movement don’t actually follow any of their own teachings. For example, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore actively preaches that we should limit our carbon emissions, including curbing our burning of fossil fuels. Yet it was discovered recently that his home in Tennessee uses up much more electricity each month than the average American home. The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has also taken up the fight against climate change. Yet he regularly flies around in his corporate jet, something which causes much more pollution than the average person’s driving of their car. In response to criticism, the governor said that he was investing in carbon offsets, which essentially means that he continues to pollute while some company promises him that they are finding ways to cancel out his carbon emissions somewhere else.
“The Group of Eight industrialized nations joined with developing countries in agreeing Wednesday that average global temperatures shouldn't increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius in a significant new acknowledgement in the fight against global warming.” (G-8 agrees to cap on global temperatures, AP)
If the leaders of this movement themselves don’t practice what they preach, how can we take them seriously? Wanting to take care of the environment is certainly nice, but leaders of this movement believe they can control the average temperature of the planet. Big commissions have proposed temperature caps, whereby governments would impose a restriction on how high the average temperature of a certain area could get for a certain time period. The Chinese government has even floated the idea of seeding clouds in hopes of steering hurricanes and other great storms.
These ideas seem ridiculous to the average person, yet they are seriously considered by the leaders of the climate change movement. The reason this thinking is so dangerous is that it aims to minimize or take away God’s influence as it pertains to controlling the weather. The climate of the earth is extremely complicated, so much so that computer models and scientific hypotheses are always being revised. We may be able to assume certain climate patterns based on past history, but that is still no guarantee of what will happen in the future. The Vedas tell us that Lord Krishna is responsible for creating this world and all the creatures that reside within it. At a set point in time, He will destroy this very same creation, and then recreate it again.
“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)
The scientists who lead the climate change movement believe that the world was created through a random collision of chemicals. Essentially, this leads them to think that if they can find a way to control and adjust these chemicals, they can control the weather. After controlling the weather, they will look for other things to control as well. For devotees of God, these ideas seem preposterous. These ideas represent a direct assault on the very essence of spirituality. The climate change doctrine can be thought of as its own type of religion. There is a specific set of sins; i.e. the burning of fossil fuels and the driving of SUVs. There are scriptures represented by the scientific journals and agreements formed by international commissions. There is a promised panacea, that of a world with a controlled climate. There is even a God in this movement; the government leaders and spokespeople who will implement the proposed ideas.
In America especially, people are leery of politicians who bring up religion in public. This is because the Constitution has an Establishment Clause whereby Congress is prohibited from establishing a national religion. If a politician were to propose a law that demanded everyone convert to Catholicism or Judaism, there would be a public outcry. Spirituality is a personal pursuit, something that involves an intimate relationship between a person and the Supreme Lord. Religion is not something that can be imposed on people, because at the heart of spiritual life is love for God. Love can never be forced. History is filled with instances where governments tried to force citizens to practice a specific form of religion, and the results were never good. Following this flawed model, the leaders of the climate change movement try to impose their belief system on the entire world, for without intervention from the government, none of their solutions could ever be implemented.
The climate change movement is popular because people have a natural inclination to serve something. They want to take part in a cause higher than themselves; they want to be part of something that will make their life matter. They want to help their fellow man live a better life. These are certainly noble intentions but if we direct our services to the wrong areas, we will essentially be wasting our time. Suppose that the climate change people were right and that we could control the earth’s temperature. Suppose that we decide to work very hard to curb carbon emissions and that in the future, we end up being successful. Pollution becomes virtually eliminated, but do our problems stop there? Have we done anything to advance the plight of our soul? Lord Krishna tells us that anyone who has material desires at the time of death must accept another material body in the next life.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
The material world is governed by three modes or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The desire to improve the quality of the environment certainly falls into the mode of goodness, but association with goodness means that we are still interacting with material nature. The human form of life is meant for understanding the constitutional position of the spirit soul. Religion means learning how to love God, for material nature represents Krishna’s inferior energy. As spirit souls, we are part of the superior energy, but due to our forgetfulness of this fact, we have become allured into associating with maya, or material sense gratification. If we remain on the platform of goodness but don’t advance beyond that, we aren’t really doing anything for ourselves.
To illustrate this point, let’s take the example of vegetarianism. Since animals are also living entities, the Vedas advise us to be kind to them and to refrain from killing them unnecessarily. Also, devotees of Krishna try to eat as much prasadam as possible. Prasadam is vegetarian food, more specifically food in the mode of goodness, that is prepared with love and offered with devotion to the deity of the Lord. Krishna then spiritually eats the food and leaves the remnants for us to partake of. Lord Krishna has not asked us to offer Him non-vegetarian food, thus meat is never offered to the deity.
Devotees of Krishna advise others to give up meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication, since these make up the four pillars of sinful life. By giving up these practices, one becomes dhira, or sober. Just as being sober is a requirement for those wanting to drive a car, it is also necessary for those wanting to make spiritual advancement. Along with abstention from the four pillars of sinful life, we are advised to chant the names of God as often as possible, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Yet we see that people have trouble giving up sinful life in the beginning stages, especially meat eating. So which practice is more important; giving up sinful activity or performing the chanting of the holy names of God? The Vedas tell us that it is more important to chant God’s names than it is to simply abstain from harmful behavior. For example, say that we have one person who doesn’t believe in God at all, but remains a strict vegetarian. And let’s say there is another person who has trouble giving up eating meat, but sincerely tries to take up devotional service and chants regularly. In the spiritual estimation, the meat-eating chanter is considered superior because by regularly connecting with God, they will eventually give up all sinful habits automatically. The strict vegetarian, however, is not making spiritual advancement, so their renunciation is considered false and useless, phalgu-vairagya.
“A person who properly performs his regulative duties according to varna and ashrama but does not develop his dormant attachment for Krishna or awaken his taste to hear and chant about Krishna is certainly laboring fruitlessly." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.8)
Devotional service involves nine different processes, of which chanting is considered the most effective for this age. If we regularly remember God, offer Him prayers, and hear about Him, we are guaranteed to achieve perfection in life. What’s more is that taking up devotional service automatically solves every other problem in the world, including hunger, poverty, and the destruction of the environment. Two of the greatest Vaishnavas in history, the brothers Rupa and Sanatana Goswami, were excellent stewards of the environment without even knowing it. Empowered by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation on earth, to revive the bhakti cult in Vrindavana, the two brothers spent twenty-four hours a day engaged in Krishna’s service. They were completely renounced, for they lived on basically nothing. They would sleep outside and wear only a small rag for clothing. They ate almost nothing; they spent all their time building temples, writing books, and chanting God’s names. Obviously this type of renunciation is reserved for the most advanced devotees, but their example is well worth noting. One who engages in devotional service gradually loses their taste for karmic life. This means that they automatically use less energy, pollute less, and have less material possessions. Any energy they do use is for God’s service, thus there is no waste or pollution.
Devotees of Krishna try to tackle the spiritual climate change problem. Due to the effects of Kali Yuga, more and more people are turning away from religion and becoming enchanted by various causes pertaining to the material world. If we take up the process of devotional service, we can benefit not only ourselves, but our fellow man as well. The highest welfare activity is the spreading of Krishna consciousness. The planet belongs to Krishna, thus it is not ours to save, maintain, or destroy. We can control the fate of our souls, however, and by regularly chanting God’s names, we can ensure that our soul returns back to home, back to Godhead.