Ancient lessons to help us fight climate change

 Ancient lessons to help us fight climate change

Jakarta Post, Opinion – August 15, 2007

by Anand Krishna, Jakarta


Thousands of years ago — to be precise around 10,000 BC — we faced a similar climate problem to what we are facing today.

According to one popular Hindu legend, contamination had poisoned the seas and the oceans. It was a terrible situation. The polluted waters caused poisonous gases that threatened life on earth.

At that time, the whole world united to deal with the crisis.

All wars between the nations ended. The major powers, the sura and the asura, who had always been hostile towards each other, decided to end all their hostilities and unite to face the threat.

The sura were the people, the nations "in line" with and attuned to nature. They were the "rhythmic" people. On the other hand, the asura were the people, the nations "not in line" with nature, not attuned to nature. They were "not rhythmic".

The so called "good" and "wise", in the olden days were called rhythmic, because their lives where in rhythm with Mother Nature. They were environmentally conscious, clean and ate the right kind of food. They developed technologies that were useful and life-friendly.

The asura did not care for rhythmic life. They did not care much about the environment. They did not bother about cleanliness. They ate what they liked. And they developed technologies that could destroy all humankind.

Our world today is still divided between these two kinds of people: The rhythmic and the arrhythmic. There are people and nations developing technologies which could bring an end to human life, and there are people and nations working for peace and harmony.

Climate change is nothing new. It has happened in the distant past, as we shall learn from the legend. It may also happen again in the near and distant future, if we do not learn lessons from our past.

In 10,000 BC, according to the legend, both the sura and the asura let go of their differences — political, social and religious — and decided to face the common threat.

This was their mistake. You can never let go of such differences. The differences are there, they are very real. You can, at best, shut your eyes to such differences.

The unity between the sura and the asura did not have a real foundation. The platform they stood upon was not strong enough to hold both of them for long.

Facing global warming today, I am afraid we are standing upon such a flimsy foundation. The appeals made by United Nations and the truly admirable work of Al Gore and others must create stronger ground for unity.

Let not the "threat of destruction" unites us.

Such a unity shall not last long. Let us not shun our differences, for differences cannot be shunned. Let us build the platform of unity on the awareness that differences are not a hindrance to unity. Unity makes sense because of such differences. Without such differences, we shall not be speaking about unity. We are different, yet united. This is the same as the motto of Indonesia: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity.

"Awareness", a "sense of oneness" — these are the essential ingredients lacking in the world. And therefore, any notion or idea of unity remains a notion, an idea. It is still a dream; a theme for poets and writers; a project for various institutions. It has not become a reality. Not yet.

Motivated by the "Common Threat", the sura and the asura of the olden days did unite.

First, they dropped their weapons.

Secondly, they began to cleanse the waters. They realized that the "threat" was of their own creation. And, that they must deal with it by themselves. In that, at least, they were right.

They did not blame it on God, mother nature but blamed it on their own doings, such was their realization.

Once again, their realization was great. What they did was right. It is just the foundation — that was not right. And since the foundation was not right, their unity did not last long.

What we are facing today, is a kind of repetition of what we have faced in the past, not once, not twice, but many times. We have also done much — on a worldwide scale — to face this threat.

Today, our world is almost united on this issue. We were never so united in the past. This is commendable. But, let us check the platform upon which we have built this united front. Is it based on awareness that this world is but one family, that we share the same earth, same sky, same sun, moon, and stars? Or, is it built upon a "threat", upon "fear".

If unity is built upon a sense of threat and fear, then it shall not last long. It cannot hold us for long. Let us, therefore, strengthen this platform first. Let us unite our hearts, and let us unite in love and compassion.

The developed countries must let go of their big egos, the developing countries must let go of their complexes. Today, as never before, we are accorded a golden chance to unite in awareness. Thanks to information technology tools, today we have free and fast access to all kind of information, news and science. Today, we can, as never before, really work together in "real time". We can learn and think in real time.

We can also solve all our problems, including global warming, in real time. That is, if we really want to.

Just a bit of dimming of street and bill board lights by the developed nations, and environment-friendly clothing by the people of developing nations could already do wonders. What use are jackets and ties in a country like Indonesia? We must go back to our batik shirts and we should adjust the temperature of our office air conditioners to 24, even 26 degrees.

I don't have to repeat what Al Gore mentioned in his monumental and brilliant documentary "An Inconvenient Truth". Many other environment pundits have done the same. I am just reminding all of us of the foundation we are standing upon. Are there bricks of love? Is it cemented with compassion? Has it been plastered by understanding? And, what about the paint? Is it painted with awareness? If the answer is "yes", then great. If "no", then let us work on it, together.