Our Jain religion emphasizes ahimsa and we care for all living beings. Given today’s challenges, it is time for us to take a position on climate change. We invite comments to this position! (The picture below is not ours, we like it but it is just for illustration. Our position is in the text .)
A Call to Action for Jains on Climate Change
Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee of JAINA
Climate change threatens to harm all living beings on an unprecedented scale. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims and others have all published their statements on climate change and make specific commitments to mitigate further damage. Our principles of ahimsa and aparigraha make Jainism a religion of environmental protection. The Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee of JAINA has drafted a position on climate change to translate our principles into actions.
We will hold a session on Sunday afternoon, July 5 from 4-5 pm at the JAINA convention and invite you to participate in this session to discuss the right approach to present this position to the world.
Jain Declaration on Climate Change
In 1990, L. M. Singhvi wrote the Jain Declaration on Nature which described a Jain commitment to preserving nature. Almost 30 years later, there is an urgent need for action on climate change.
Jainism is one of the world’s oldest religions, having originated in Northern India well before 500 BCE and, as underscored by The Jain Declaration on Nature, is an ecological religion whose philosophies and codes of conduct inherently provide solutions to address our current crisis of climate change. The principal tenet of conduct followed by Jains is that of Ahimsa or non-violence to any living being. As a result, practicing Jains are vegetarians. We also have a long history of building sanctuaries for wounded animals. Jains refrain from the use of pesticides and herbicides, and the teachings prohibit Jains from engaging in professions that harm plants, animals and the earth. Another key tenet followed by Jains is Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Ahimsa and Aparigraha as taught and traditionally practiced have great relevance to the climate crisis. We also encourage our community and the world community to embrace new practices based on our fundamental Jain philosophy.
While there is no central authority that speaks on behalf of all Jains, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) is a well-established organization with an evolving agenda proposed by a number of committees. JAINA organizes conferences, activities and an education curriculum for Jains in North America. The Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee of JAINA affirms the consensus position of scientists that human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and animal agriculture, are the main cause of global warming. JAINA recognizes the extreme threat that climate change poses to all life on Earth. We ask Jain individuals and communities to sign on to this Position on Climate change in order to make a public commitment to action.
Climate change in 2019
Burning massive quantities of fossil fuels to build and run modern society has increased the concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million (PPM) to over 410 PPM. The CO2 molecules in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun. To date the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by 1 degree Celsius due to warming by greenhouse gases released through human activities. Most of the extra CO2 and heat has been absorbed by the oceans, creating stress and dangerous living conditions for marine animals.
Higher temperatures have made life very difficult for many animal and plant species. In fact, tens of thousands of plant and animal species are going extinct every year due to habitat loss and changing climate. Hundreds of humans also die every year due to hotter conditions and from extreme heat events cause by climate change. Disease patterns are changing, with the most vulnerable animals and humans getting even sicker. Changes in the climate have already changed the geographic distribution of pathogen carrying mosquitoes and increased the risk of diseases such as Zika virus.
We see that sea levels are rising due to melting glaciers and hotter ocean temperatures. Low lying areas are flooding, causing people and animals to be displaced. Warmer ocean temperatures are also adding extra energy to hurricanes making them ever more destructive, again causing much loss of life and suffering.
We also see that forests are getting drier and wildfires are becoming increasingly more prevalent and destructive. All of this causes incredible suffering and loss of life – plant, animal and human. This is an unacceptable situation for Jains who hold that all life is sacred.
Actions of the Jain community to address climate change: beyond tradition
The Jain principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) naturally makes Jainism a religion of environmental protection. Chemical pollution of the environment causes many organisms to suffer and die which is abhorrent to Jain philosophy. We also recognize that animal agriculture contributes between 18 and 54% of global warming where the difference in the numbers is due to the timescales being considered; the larger number is from a shorter timescale calculation since methane is a much more effective at trapping heat than CO2 but does not persist in the atmosphere as long. Practicing Jains are vegetarians. Vegetarians contribute far less to global warming from food choices than non-vegetarians. Considering the harm that results from dairy farming to cows who are forcibly impregnated, separated from their newborn calves and eventually slaughtered when no longer deemed “productive”, Jains are increasingly going beyond vegetarianism to eliminate dairy products and adopt completely vegan diets. Dairy farming also has environmental impacts, via the land and water inputs required, as well as the methane and other pollution produced. Though traditionally, Jains have not gone into farming, it is time for Jains to join the transformation of our agricultural system to a completely veganic one, with no animal inputs or chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Jains are also encouraged to consider their choices of energy sources and transportation as a way to express ahimsa. Our traditional teachings minimize the use of electricity and energy during religious ceremonies for lay people. They limit our ascetic community of sadhvis and sadhus (nuns and monks) to walking as their only mode of transportation. The Jain understanding of karma extends responsibility for an action not only to a person who directly causes harm but also to one that indirectly causes harm. So, anyone who drives a fossil fuel automobile or is a frequent flyer bears responsibility for wildfires and hurricanes. As an extension of ahimsa, an increasing number of Jain temples in North America have also begun to install solar panels.
The Jain principle of Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) also naturally makes a Jainism religion of environmental protection because creating all the material goods (stuff) that people own and use requires mining of raw materials and energy which is often derived from fossil fuels. Manufacturing also creates vast quantities of waste byproducts which are often toxic. We recognize that a pervasive culture of consumerism and greed is driving people to want bigger homes and bigger cars. The resources of 3 to 5 planet earths, using current mining and production processes, are required to give everyone the current standard of living of industrialized Western countries. Jains realized thousands of years ago that, beyond the necessities, owning more material goods does not make people happier and causes harm to other living beings. Therefore the Jain teachings encourage monks and nuns to live with only sparse clothing and begging bowls and lay people to minimize their possessions. We recognize that the stuff that people buy contributes greatly to their carbon footprints so that owning less stuff leads to much smaller carbon footprints. We exhort all people to strive diligently to reduce their consumption and therefore their carbon footprints.
We Jains invite everyone to make individual choices such as those below to reduce our impact on climate change:
- Follow our traditional practices to eat a vegetarian diet and minimize waste, care for other living beings, and minimize our use of water
- Eliminate dairy products to transition to a completely plant based or vegan diets
- Reduce our flights and carbon emitting road trips; maximize the use of public transportation
- Live in smaller homes and use renewable energy sources such as solar
- Limit the size of our cars and the use of fossil fuels
- Transition to electric vehicles, car sharing or a car-free lifestyle.
We ask our Jain communities to commit to the following actions:
- Consider adding solar panels and energy saving technologies for our temples
- Consider the availability of public transportation in the planning of where to locate temples
- Facilitate the arrangement of carpools for people to get to the temple while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions
- Serve only vegan food and use only vegan items in rituals such as pujas in temples
- Eliminate the use of Styrofoam and single use plastics in serving of food; use reusable plates and cutlery where possible and otherwise use compostable or biodegradable products only, so as to minimize waste in our landfills
We also add our voices to the collective to promote national and global policies to reduce emission of greenhouse gases and mitigate or reverse climate change. We agree with scientists that CO2 concentrations need to be below 350 parts per million in the atmosphere in order to prevent human and animal suffering from natural catastrophies, such as fires, massive hurricanes and flooding of low lying lands. We follow the tradition of ahimsa, and the example of Gandhi is using satyagrapha for nonviolent social change. Therefore:
- We ask world leaders to commit to transitioning away from fossil fuels as soon as possible: invest in public transportation using renewable technologies and plan living areas for efficiency
- We ask world leaders to remove subsidies for the meat and dairy industries, to eliminate favorable treatment for fertilizer and pesticide companies and to facilitate the transition to veganic agriculture supporting all living beings and reversing the process of climate change
- We urge leaders to protect living beings on undeveloped land from exploitation and to support regenerative agriculture
- We also ask leaders to support technologies to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere