Gandhi’s Contributions to Environmental Thought and Action

Environmental Ethics 24 (3):227-242 (2002)
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Abstract

Vinay Lal raises doubts about Gandhi’s status as an environmentalist but argues that Gandhi had “a profoundly ecological view of life.” I take issue with Lal’s claims and, to set the record straight, describe Gandhi’s contributions to environmental though and action. When we look at the aims of contemporary environmental spokespersons and activists, Gandhian themes are dominant. Gandhian biocentrism and Gandhi’s recommendation not to harm even nonsentient life unnecessarily are familiar in contemporary environmental thinking. Gandhian non-violence is both a technique of environmental activists and, for some, one of the constituents of the world for which they struggle. Gandhi emphasized simple living, an important theme for many who are concerned about looming ecological crises. Taking a broader perspective, Gandhi criticized what we today call globalization and encouraged, in its place, the decentralization of economic activities. Gandhi’s emphasis on decentralization and local economic self-reliance led to the Chipko movement in India. Gandhi’s emphasis on small-scale economies, on self-reliant communities, and on appropriate technology paved the way for the “small is beautiful” approach. Gandhi’s recommendation that we live in self-reliant rural communities, if implemented, would significantly decrease that consumption which is causing climate change and straining the capacity of the planet.

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