Gandhi and the Environment: A Tribute for World Environment Day

Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the only Head of State at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972, apart from the host Prime Minister Olaf Palme, who was the host. The speech she gave at the Conference, linking human development, poverty and peace to environmental conservation is definitely one of the first steps towards the articulation of sustainable development. i.e., ‘meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

But long before this Gandhi, there was another Gandhi who was calling the world’s attention to these issues. Who else but Mahatma Gandhi!

Hug the Trees!

Gandhiji may not have articulated his thoughts on the environment in terms that we use today. But his whole philosophy was deeply rooted in concepts of what we now call sustainability: taking only what one needs from the environment, simplifying wants, equity, non-violence towards all life forms, and a caution against mindless pursuit of ‘development’. Many environmental movements like Chipko or Narmada Bachao Andolan are in fact inspired by Gandhiji.

On the occasion of Stockholm+50 and WED, here are some quotations from the Mahatma, which mark him as a very early spokesperson for environment and sustainable development.

‘I suggest that we are thieves in a way. If I take anything that I do not need for my immediate use, and keep it, I thieve it from someone else. I venture to suggest that it is the fundamental law of Nature, without exception, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day-to-day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in the world, there would be no man dying of starvation in the world.’

Speech on ‘Ashram Vows’ at YMCA, Madras. 16 Feb, 1916. CWMG Vol 13, 230-231.

‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.’

Quotation popularized by Gandhi.

‘We cannot have ecological movement unless the principle of non-violence becomes central to the ethics of human nature.’

Mohan-mala. A Gandhian Rosary. Ahmedabad. Navajivan Publishing House. 1997. 93-94.

‘God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single 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.’

Young India. 12 Dec 1928. CWMG Vol. 38. 243.

If it is man’s privilege to be independent, it is equally his duty to be inter-dependent.

‘In the modern rush, the chief use we have for our rivers is to empty our gutters in them and navigate our cargo vessels, and in the process make them dirtier still.’

Young India, 23 December, 1926.

‘Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants.’

Yeravada Mandir. Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad.  

‘We cannot have ecological movement unless the principle of non-violences becomes central to the ethics of human nature.’

Mohan-mala. A Gandhian Rosary. Navjivan Publishing House.


Credit: Centre for Environment Education put together a collection of Gandhiji’s thoughts to mark the 10th anniversary of the Earth Charter, in a publication called ‘Earth Charter & Gandhi: Towards a Sustainable World.’ Compiled by Karikeya Sarabhai, Meena Raghunathan, Amishal Modi. These quotations are taken from there.

One thought on “Gandhi and the Environment: A Tribute for World Environment Day

  1. Mahatma Gandhi was the original Sustainability Champion. The only hope for homo sapiens to survive the Climate Crisis is to adapt to his prescription. Many thanks for reminding us of what we already have. Best regards..

    Liked by 1 person

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