Given current news media, many people are questioning whether peace is possible in the world today. Jan. 30 was the anniversary of the 1948 assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi. During the 72 years since his death, Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize. However, as Ramachandra Guha wrote in “Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World, 1914-1948” (2018), “Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. He was never chosen, in part because of Norway’s extremely close relationship to Britain. That Gandhi was never awarded the prize remains a matter of deep embarrassment to the Nobel Committee in Oslo. They have since tried to make amends, by awarding prizes to (among others) Albert Luthuli, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi, all of whom were inspired by Gandhi.”
The theory and practice of non-violent resistance to unjust authority has been Gandhi’s most enduring legacy. But there are others, too. I myself think that Gandhi and his legacy also speak directly to the question of environmental sustainability.
The history of the contemporary environmental movement often implies that there were no concerted efforts before the 1960s in the direction of environmental sustainability. Ecological movements started as radical cultural movements. Then, in the 1970s, the ecological movement became a political movement and there was awareness that the demands of ecology were not only local aspirations but also crossed national boundaries.
In January 2011 the city of Santa Clarita began the process of completing a climate action plan. This ambitious project measures the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated within the city and develops strategies to reduce them in the future. The city conducted a CAP as part of the One Valley, One Vision general plan process. OVOV serves as the new general plan document for the city of Santa Clarita.
The state of California requires all cities that create a new general plan document to consider its impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and complete a CAP to achieve the emission reduction goals outlined by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). AB 32 requires that statewide greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
The city of Santa Clarita completed a CAP in August 2012. The city’s website now includes frequently asked questions about climate change, interactive features to measure your carbon footprint, an online climate change resource library and links to other websites to help keep you informed.
The essentially Gandhian question – how much should a person consume? – has never been more relevant than today. Back in 1928, Gandhi warned about the unsustainability on the global scale of western patterns of production and consumption. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West,” Gandhi said. “The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [England] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”
Gandhi had an intuitive understanding of the global limits to resource-intensive, energy-intensive industrialization. As Gandhi put it in 1926, to “make India like England and America is to find some other races and places of the Earth for exploitation.” Since the Western nations had already “divided all the known races outside Europe for exploitation and there are no new worlds to discover,” Gandhi asked, “What can be the fate of India trying to ape the West?”
Gandhi’s advice was disregarded. India today is an ecological disaster zone.
Gandhi had a keen interest in practical forms of conservation. He endorsed the ideas of Albert Howard, a pioneer of organic farming who had lived for many years in India, and set his disciple J.C. Kumarappa to rebuilding the village economy on sustainable lines.
What can you do to help? Consider these three easy-to-follow actions:
• WALKING: Gandhi’s most famous act of civil disobedience was the 1930 Salt March when for three weeks he walked 241 miles to the ocean, spreading his message of peace. How “walkable” is your neighborhood? One-quarter of the trips we take in our cars are one mile or less. In addition to the obvious health benefits, walking can help reduce your carbon footprint.
• VOTING: Gandhi’s heightened self-awareness and openness to self-criticism contrast sharply with the arrogance of those in positions of power today. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 (H.R. 763) in the U.S. House of Representatives proposes a fee on carbon at the point of extraction to encourage market-driven innovation of clean energy technologies and the fees are recycled to citizens in monthly dividends.
• HONORING: Commemorate with friends and family the life of M.K. Gandhi: Oct. 2, 1869, to Jan. 30, 1948.