Deforestation and desertification have led to massive climatic repercussions and have gravely accentuated global warming. Currently, global warming is leading to rise in temperature of the Earth’s surface, as well as, the Earth’s atmosphere. Over the last century, average temperatures around the world have risen by 0.75 degree C (1.4 degree F). Today, the rise in temperature is no longer a natural phenomenon. However, a long series of scientific researches and international studies by the national science academies has stated that this increase in overall temperatures is due to the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases. Activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels have contributed largely towards these emissions.
Causes of global warming
Global levels of greenhouse gases have increased dramatically since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. When greenhouse gases rise abnormally, they start accumulating in the air, trapping more heat and intensifying the effects of global warming. These gases are produced both naturally and through human activities.
Man-made carbon dioxide emissions are largely contributed by burning of fossil fuels for human activities. Other important sources come from land-use changes and industry. Methane is created by humans during fossil fuel production and use, through livestock and rice farming and from landfills. Nitrous oxide emissions are mainly caused by the use of synthetic fertilisers for agriculture, fossil fuel combustion and livestock manure management. Fluorinated gases are used mainly in refrigeration, cooling and manufacturing applications.
Deforestation has become a massive undertaking by humans and transforming forests into farms. This has impacted the greenhouse gas emissions for centuries as people have burned and cut down forests to clear land for agriculture. This has a double effect on the atmosphere as it entails emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and also involves reducing the number of trees that can absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Effects of global warming
One of the most visible effects of global warming can be seen in the melting of the polar ice caps and the resultant rise of sea levels. The climatic shifts impacted by global warming is damaging the Earth’s environment and transforming lands into arid and semi-arid areas.
Current research is also showing that the water cycle is changing and rainfall patterns are shifting to make areas that are already dry even drier. This is causing water shortages and intensifying the distress of the over 2.5 million people in dry regions, which are getting drier.
The rate of melting of mountain ice has increased. This has been seen in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa but is particularly true at the Earth’s poles. Perennial ice cover in the Arctic is melting at the rate of 11.5% per decade and the thickness of the Arctic ice has decreased by 48% since the 1960s. During the past 30 years, more than a million square miles of sea ice has vanished. The continent of Antarctica has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometres (24 cubic miles) of ice per year since 2002. Since 2010, the Antarctic ice melt rate has doubled. The Earth’s sea level has risen by 21 cm (8 inches) since 1880. The rate of rise is accelerating and is now at a pace that has not been witnessed in the last 5000 years.
Spirituality and global warming
In ancient Greece, the Earth’s atmosphere was known as the air between the land and the heavens and was seen as one of the four essential powers of nature, along with earth, fire, and water. The Greek philosopher Plato considered these four elements as the divine tools used by the Demiurge (divine craftsman) in creating the world. The philosopher Aristotle felt that these four elements must be in balance, because each carries a quality that is necessary for life. Thousands of years before Plato and Aristotle, religious traditions in the Indian subcontinent also emphasised the interconnectedness of air, earth, fire, and water. A balance of these natural elements was seen as a manifestation of Līlā, the creative play of the Gods. In this creative action, air and wind had special importance because Prāṇa (the breath) was considered the source of life itself.
Today, Hindu spirituality still promotes the belief that the human spirit longs for equilibrium – the condition when one’s spirit is aligned with the symmetry of air, earth, fire, and water. Unfortunately, humans too have often disregarded this symmetry, thereby harming themselves and nature. This leads to spiritual degradation. The only lasting remedy is to recover one’s spiritual connection with nature. As the 2009 Hindu Declaration on Climate Change says, “Humanity’s very survival depends upon our capacity to make a major transition of consciousness, equal in significance to earlier transitions from nomadic to agricultural, agricultural to industrial and industrial to technological. We must transit to complementarity in place of competition, convergence in place of conflict, holism in place of hedonism, optimisation in place of maximisation.”
To maintain the equilibrium, humans should maintain peace with Nature. Through ones sublime spirit, one should maintain the Earth and its environment. We should take efforts to protect our climate, stop deforestation, preserve nature, stop felling trees, and in fact, stop being the cause of global warming. The authors of ‘Healing Earth’ believe that every human being has spirituality. It is the expression of our deepest beliefs about our planet. From ancient times, human beings have taken the familiar patterns of climate and weather in their environment as a source for inner, spiritual balance. Conversely, one can understand how a permanent change in climate can shatter not only the ‘outer’ working lives of human beings but also their inner spiritual lives. The present environmental challenges are extremely serious. We need to consider the spiritual wisdom of all people as we face these challenges.