Creating the climate for environment sustainability

As the lurking dangers of global climate change become alarming, the Art of Living has taken up several holistic and multi-pronged initiatives to ensure environment sustainability. The goal of these initiatives is to take actions to protect the environment and encourage practices and lifestyles that nurture it. Combining awareness with effective actions, it has initiated several mass movements aimed at ensuring environment sustainability, which is one of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Mass Awareness Drives

Realising that one of the biggest environmental hazard today is the millions of people who live without the knowledge of climate and their surrounding environs, the Art of Living is engaged in educating them about the ecosystem and the way it is changing. There is a strong accent on awakening environment consciousness in all its programmes, especially for the youth and children. It also conducts mass awareness drives and cleanup campaigns in public places such as streets, parks and schools.

In 2008, the Art of Living, in partnership with Youth Serve America and United Nations Millennium Campaign, carried out a global environment project to mark the Global Youth Service Day. Hundreds of young people from 20 US cities planted trees, cleaned up beaches and raised awareness about global environmental issues, along with their counterparts from six countries.

Such mass awareness drives are conducted throughout the world all year around. Many of these drives have culminated in long-term adoption of public places by taking the responsibility of their upkeep. For example, since 2003 Art of Living volunteers are nurturing the Lake Herdsman Regional Park near Perth, Australia by weeding, planting, re-vegetating and cleaning up the environment. The work done at the Park, one of the city’s premier wetlands areas, has received three grants from the government. This has helped to maintain the eco-friendly character of the natural reserve, which is home to many rare species like the Motorbike Frog, Fairy Wren and Supreme birds. Bird species which were not seen at the lakeside for many years are now returning.

In another innovative initiative, the Art of Living worked with Dubai Municipality to launch ‘Green Store Awareness’ campaign to cut down plastic bag usage by malls and promote eco-friendly alternatives.

In October 2007, it joined hands with other NGOs such as Trio-Chem for a project to develop Rishikesh in Northern India as a model environment-friendly town, which included cleaning up the Ganges River. The Art of Living is working simultaneously to prevent further pollution of this river and clean up pollutants.

Mission Green Earth

As planting tree is considered one of the most effective ways of checking global warming, the Art of Living has been not only aggressively planting trees, but also encouraging the public to join in. In 2008, it launched a massive initiative christened ‘Mission Green Earth’ to encourage people to plant trees. The initiative, taken up in association with the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), envisages the plantation of 55 million trees between July 16, 2008 and June 2009 in different parts of the world. Around 10.6 million people from 36 countries planted 10 million trees from July 18-October 19, 2008. This project has witnessed the involvement of everybody from school kids, to visually-impaired students to celebrities, ministers and politicians.

The trees are being planted in villages, wastelands, farms, along the river banks and coastal sides, hills, roadsides, railway track sides, private houses, public places, thermal stations, coal mines, military areas, educational institutions and office premises.

More than the number of trees, it is the number of people who have been encouraged to take action towards environmental sustainability that makes this project one of the biggest exercises against global warming. Between October 17 and October 19, 2008, 8.05 million people, who had already taken the action of planting at least one tree, pledged to fight against poverty.

This simple act of planting a tree is going to make a big difference to the global environment. Trees absorb and store the key greenhouse gas emitted by our cars and power plants, carbon dioxide (CO2), before it has a chance to reach the upper atmosphere where it can help trap heat around the Earth’s surface. Hence, it’s a sure-fire antidote to global warming. Trees also filter pollution from the air, recycle water and prevent soil loss.

Magic of a Tree

The Art of Living has been promoting tree plantation for the last many years through its vast volunteer network. Tree plantation forms an integral part of its social intervention programme, 5H. Under this programme, millions of trees have been planted in thousands of villages in India. In 2005, the Art of Living distributed 100,000 plants in test tubes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah during the World Environmental Week.

Taking a holistic view, the Art of Living’s plantation campaign puts special focus on identifying the right tree for the right location. Accordingly, it has been promoting the Laxmi Taru (simarouba glauca) tree in different parts of the world. This eco-friendly tree with a well-developed root system and with an evergreen dense canopy efficiently checks soil erosion, supports soil microbial life, and improves groundwater position. It also has the property to check overheating of the soil surface. The Art of Living has popularised this magic tree on a global scale with plantations in countries such as the UAE, Oman and other West Asian countries. Across India, the tree has been planted in nearly 1,000 hectares of land.

Reforestation in Haiti

The Art of Living is running a reforestation project in Haiti. The project was launched in 2007 to rehabilitate the environmental crisis in the country, where nearly 98 per cent of its forests have been cut down. The goal of this project is to plant and nurture 1.5 million trees.

Over 30,000 acres of land have been secured for the purpose. This project, being implemented in collaboration with International Association for Human Values and Friends of Petite Anse, has yielded a very significant outcome in making the people of Haiti realise the dangers of economical imbalance they have created. Along with the 98 per cent deforestation, 70 per cent of the land has become uncultivable, making Haiti's environment one of the most devastated in the world.

To ensure a sustainable reforestation project, the Art of Living is training local youth in leadership skills and making them partners in the project. This has helped in establishing permanent reforestation projects in partnership with local farmers and grassroots organisations.

Chemical-Free Farming

Another initiative of the Art of Living that is making a profound contribution to the cause of environment sustainability is its campaign to promote and popularise chemical-free agriculture. It has launched awareness programmes to encourage people to return to traditional methods of farming and eliminate the use of harmful chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Chemical-free farming is seen as the only way to check degradation of soil quality. Excessive use of fertilisers have pensioned the soil, not only reducing yield but also making produce grown on them poisonous for human consumption. Also chemical-free farming is complementary to environment sustainability as it reduces the demand on natural resources such as water. Several studies have also shown that natural farming (without fertilisers and pesticides) not only leads to enhanced yield, but also supports healthy lifestyles.

To spread this practice, the Art of Living has trained thousands of farmers in India and abroad. It also runs an internship programme at its European centre in Germany to educate youth about natural farming. ‘Deepening Roots, Broadening Vision’ is a summer internship programme which is regularly conducted at the Art of Living cente in Canada. Young students are trained in organic agricultural practices which help in environmental preservation. Besides issues of food security and sustainable agricultural practises, youth leadership training programmes are conducted. This multi-disciplinary approach has helped to create dynamic leaders who take environmentally-responsible initiatives and spread the ‘Green’ message to their communities. “Unforgettable … I am applying lessons from this internship in every part of my life,” shared an intern from the 2007 batch.

Tiny as these initiatives seem to be, they are making a significant impact in communities across the world. Litha Lomsa (an environmental education and action group) has been created in the Sosebenza youth centre in Cape Town. The group has driven the creation and maintenance of an organic food garden, an indigenous flower garden and a recycling unit which utilises waste material from the Masiphumelele township. Children from the township feed on the produce of the organic food garden. This is one of the several organic gardens maintained in the country, helping to deal with the challenge of food insecurity.

Harvesting Water for the Rainy Day

Water shortage is considered the most dangerous outcome of environment degradation. The Art of Living has responded to this crisis by training thousands of villagers and youth to take up water-harvesting projects in their communities. Apart from conserving water for use during the dry period, the initiative also reduces the possibility of flash floods. In the absence of any harvesting mechanism, excess rainwater during monsoon flows away and hence the farmers are forced to turn to groundwater sources for irrigation and other purposes during the dry days. This amplifies the use of groundwater supplies and lowers the water table drastically.

Several villages in India where the Art of Living works have indigenous mechanisms for rainwater harvesting, thus creating a grassroots model for environment sustainability. Using this mechanism, the Art of Living turned Kapsi, a drought-prone village in Maharashtra, India, water surplus. Similarly, it is also engaged in restoring indigenous water supply mechanisms in rural India by harnessing village ponds, etc.

Healthy Body, Healthy Environment

The rural practice of cooking food on wood-fired stoves (chulas) is not only a health hazard, but also a great source of air pollution. To address this, the Art of Living has pioneered the concept of smokeless chulas. It has designed an improvised chula and is engaged in training people in villages to popularise this concept. It not only consumes lesser woods, but can also be fired using other materials such as sawdust. Through the 5H Programme, the Art of Living is also popularising biogas plants (cow dung) as a source of biofuel. Biogas, thus produced, is used as a low-cost fuel for any heating purposes such as cooking. These simple but grassroots initiatives are also reducing deforestation as wood for cooking is the main reason for deforestation in tribal and rural areas.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Environment

The Art of Living’s commitment to environment is so deep that it doesn’t stop with the physical environment. Giving the issue of pollution a wider dimension, the Art of Living is addressing emotional pollution through stress. Emotional pollution stimulates negative emotions in the subtle mind and disturbs the harmonious existence between people and environment. If one person is angry and agitated, the anger and agitation rubs off onto all those who he comes in contact with. Through its various programmes, the Art of Living is working to reduce stress and greed, which is the greatest pollutant. Man’s greed to make quick profits, obstructs the preservation of the ecosystem. Emphasising that the purpose of development is to build a healthy and happy society, the Art of Living’s initiatives attend to the human psyche which causes pollution, whether physical or emotional.

Deriving Synergy

In addition to taking up direct initiatives to ensure environmental sustainability, the Art of Living is also engaged in building platforms for collective actions. In January 2008, it hosted an action-oriented confluence of over 200 non-profit organisations working in the area of environment sustainability. About 600 delegates from these organisations deliberated on the ways and means of facing the challenges of environmental sustainability together.

Through its multi-faceted initiatives, the Art of Living is showing the world that damage to ecosystem is not an inevitable by-product of technological progress. All its initiatives place protection of ecosystem alongside sustainable development.