Prime Minister Modi Needs to Treat Nature as God


In Berlin this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that “Indians treat nature as God . . . we should ask the world about climate change. We believe exploitation of nature is a crime.”

While I agree with Modi that India’s many ancient traditions recognize the importance of nature, I find this statement more than a little irksome. It completely ignores the multitude of environmental problems India faces: sacred rivers heavily polluted with chemicles, sewage, and human bodies; world heritage sites in danger from air pollution; and vanishing species. (That doesn’t seem like godly reverence of nature to me.) And it seems to shirk the country’s responsibility to remedy these problems.

India is a world leader in carbon emissions. In 2014, China was responsible for approximately 28 percent of the world’s carbon emissions followed by the United States, the European Union, and India. India is the third largest single-country emitter, and the only country of the top four that hasn’t pledged to reduce its carbon emissions.

Instead, Modi has pledged to increase solar and wind-generated power and encouraged Indians to make lifestyle changes to combat climate change. Speaking to the UN General Assembly last fall, Modi spoke about India’s great spiritual love for the environment and the benefits yoga offers:

“For us in India, respect for nature is an integral part of spiritualism. We treat nature’s bounties as sacred. Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

Yes, these are all good things for the environment. More solar, wind, lifestyle changes, and spiritual respect will certainly help combat climate change. But India has also doubled its coal production during Modi’s administration. Land that was once forests, fields of grain, and mustard flowers is now covered in ash and polluted with toxins such as mercury and arsenic.

No amount of yoga will help with that.

And while Modi was talking about yoga’s benefits to the General Assembly, he was notably absent from the UN Climate Summit the week before.

I certainly understand that many Indians don’t have access to electricity and Modi wants to provide for his people. And I recognize countries like the United States and European Union relied on dirty energy when they industrialized and have historic emissions that far outweigh India’s. Developing a country quickly and sustainably is not an easy task. Modi certainly faces a lot of challenges when it comes to providing for his people.

But if Modi is going to say that to Indians nature is sacred, he can’t increase the country’s reliance on an energy source that will pollute it. He just can’t say and do such completely opposite things. At best, he looks like he’s failing to represent his people. At worst, he looks like a liar.

Modi must practice what he preaches and pledge to reduce India’s carbon emissions in advance of the UN Climate Summit in Paris.

Image by Global Panorma available on Flickr.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .