Biodiversity and Nature: Our Responsibility
The subject of biodiversity is a very ancient, complex topic which is addressed in the Vedas as part and parcel of India’s cultural heritage. The entire realm of nature is composed of five basic elements, each one inseparable from the others. These elements are: earth (Prithvi), water (jal), air (vayu), fire (agni) and sky (akash). However, according to our ancient traditions, these elements are not seen as only bio-chemical compounds. Rather, they are revered, respected and worshipped as divine. As these forces are what give us life and sustain us, we must see them as divine.
Although these five forces can be separated and seen as discrete elements, the entire natural world is inextricably interwoven and interdependent. Nothing exists in a vacuum. The intricate ways in which one species affects another are hard to fathom. They say, for example, that by letting one species of frog from the Brazilian rainforest become extinct, we are causing a cascade of events that could potentially lead to the demise of the human race. It is not the frog, itself, that is so crucial to our existence. Rather, it is the web of life that connects us all. We cannot simultaneously destroy Mother Earth and yet convince ourselves that we have a bright future ahead of us.
A wise man by the name of Chief Seattle once said: “All things are connected. This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected, like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Yet, in the face of this, we allow (and cause) thousands of species of plants and animals to become extinct each year due to our disrespectful and indiscriminate use of Mother Earth. In addition to providing food, wood for our homes, and the simple beauty of nature, more than 25% of the world’s medicines come from our forests. We would not set fire to our own homes. We would not destroy our supermarket or pharmacy. Why can we not show the same respect for our real home, for our real supermarket, for our real pharmacy? We must have more respect for this land which gives us life, nourishes us, protects us, heals us and sustains us.
We call our Earth “Mother Earth,” yet we do not treat Her as a Mother. She has given us all that we need to sustain our lives, and we are simultaneously destroying Her. If our own mother were sick, we would not let her simply suffer, decay and die. We would fight tenaciously to bring her back to her full state of glory. We must give the same love and attention to our Mother Earth. We must not pollute Her or waste Her; rather, we must nurse Her back to health.
Additionally, the natural order of Mother Earth must be respected. What do I mean by this? India is a land rich in natural resources, rich in lush, untouched beauty, and rich in its ability to provide food, water and land to its people. Methods of agriculture and farming must be in concert with the natural laws of the land. When we try to impose our own demands on the land, we limit its inherent ability to produce fruitfully and with variety.
The United States is suffering the consequences of attempting to impose its will on the land. The U.S. agricultural service has converted American forests, woods, and fertile areas to grazing land for the cattle that later become hamburgers. More than 260 million acres of American forests have been turned into land for the beefladen diets of its inhabitants. Every second of every day, one football field of tropical rainforest is destroyed in order to produce 257 hamburgers.
Yet this tragedy far exceeds the loss of aesthetic, natural beauty. As our forests are destroyed, as more and more species become extinct, as our water becomes less and less drinkable, as our air becomes filled with pollutants, we are pulling apart the web of life strand by strand. Sure, the web will not collapse with the removal of one small strand. However, day by day, we are making what was once a strong, tightly-woven web into a fragile, wispy collection of strands fighting to hold themselves together.
A proverb says, “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” We must follow the example of God’s other children, and have greater reverence and gratitude for the wealth and diversity in our home.
There is a story that goes as follows: “A man once lived a long and pious life. When he died, God took his hand and said, “Come, I will show you Hell.” The Lord took the man to a room where many people sat around a pot filled with food. The pot was deep, so a long spoon was needed. Each person held a spoon, but the spoon was so long that the people could not feed themselves. The spoons were longer than their arms, so — although the people tried various ways — they could not carry the food from the pot to their mouths. The suffering was miserable. The people were famished and weak.
Next, the Lord said, “Come I will show you Heaven.” He then took the man to a room that was identical to the first: many people sitting around a large pot of luscious food. Here the pot was just as deep, the spoons were just as long, but the people were joyous and healthy. “I don’t understand it,” the man said. “Everything is the same as is Hell, but here all the people are so content and well-fed.”
“The difference between Heaven and Hell,” God said. “Is that in Heaven people have learned to feed each other.”
Let us realize that if we were left alone we would suffer and starve. We depend upon each other – humans, animals, plants, water – to survive. Let us continually remind ourselves of the ocean in which we are only drops. Let us not turn a blind eye to the web Mother Earth has so gently wrapped around us.