5 Bits of Gandhi's Wisdom for the Green Movement

mahatma gandhi spinning yarn photoWikipedia/Public Domain

Mahatma Gandhi wasn't really an environmentalist, in the way we think of it today.

First of all the term and movement didn't exist. Second, Gandhi himself was more concerned with the plight of humanity than with the planet as such—even though treatment of animals certainly figured into this and many of the principles he advocated have positive environmental benefit.

Nevertheless, and perhaps it goes without saying, Gandhi's work and spirit has been a profound inspiration for social, political and environmental activists for a number of generations.

So, on what would have been Gandhi's 143rd birthday here are five inspirational quotes from the Mahatma ( skipping over the ones most people probably already know, like being the change you want to see...) for the green movement.

"There is more to life than increasing its speed."

This has always been one of my favorite Gandhi quotes. For me, this is really about rejecting the fetishizing of progress (all change is not progress...), about novelty for the sake of novelty (a rejection of consumerism, marketing, and to some degree the essence of capitalism), about not assuming newer is better, faster is better. It's about embracing living consciously and presently, always being aware of your needs versus wants, attempting to balance the maximum and optimum. It's also about recognizing that speed and style are two different things, and if only one can be achieved in any given instance, then it should be style and not speed.

"First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win."

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace has been using this phrase a lot lately, and it's a good one—even if that part about fighting you can get drawn out and the winning part isn't assured.

Nevertheless, it's an important sequence of events to remember for the green movement. At first your concerns are ignored, either willingly or ignorantly. Then they are mocked, by some combination of people thinking you're a kook and people or corporations or governments who are threatened by addressing your concerns. In the green movement of 2012, depending on the issue, we're somewhere in the laughing at us and fighting us phase—though there have been some small victories.

"The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems."

Simple. Correct. Take our energy supply as just one example: Right now, even barring any further technological advancement, we have enough know-how to get to 80% renewable energy by 2050—if we just close the gap between our technology and our politics-slash-economics, if we just did what we are capable of today.

Ditto, feeding the world with small and medium-sized local, organic farms. All the evidence shows that the intensive, globalized, free market-led agricultural model promoted over the past few decades is simply not needed to feed the world—even one with increasing population. Organic agriculture can do it. Hunger is problem of distribution of available food, of access to food and food security, more than of anything else.

"Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being."

Total personal independence, in the sense most often promoted in the mythology of the United States either in its Old West version of the rugged individual, the capitalist mythos of the self-made man, or the modern Tea Party/Libertarian notion of you mind your business, I'll mind mine, let the government not intervene very much, and all will be well is at its best a delusion about the way humans have and will related to one another.

As Gandhi says, people are social beings. We depend on each other completely and at all levels, from the family, to the community, to the national—albeit in varying degrees in time, place, and individual circumstance.

Only if we recognize, promote, and support this interdependence—and expand the notion out to include all species on the planet—will we have a shot at creating a enduring environmentally-sensitive and just, a socially just, society.

"When I admire the wonders of the sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator."

No matter how you define from creator—be it the expansive spiritual sense or in the material sense—the sense of awe and wonder Gandhi expresses here, the acknowledgment of that a-ha moment, that miraculous moment, has to be one of the key virtues that the green movement needs if it is to be successful in the long term, if it is to create deep and lasting change.

Appealing to utilitarianism—what does this mean for my bank balance, for me and mine—might be a useful short term tactic or conversation starter, but without appealing to the innate deeper sense of holiness, whole-ness, and humbleness, all our green gains will be partial, temporary.

5 Bits of Gandhi's Wisdom for the Green Movement
Mahatma Gandhi would've been 143 years old today. Going beyond his well-known maxims like being the change, here are five of my favorite bits of Gandhian wisdom and how I apply them to environmentalism.

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