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Mahatma Gandhi first talked of Sustainable Development

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”

– Mahatma Gandhi (1869 to 1948)

More popularly known for his non-violent struggle for India’s independence, so much so that his birth anniversary is now also the International Day for Non-Violence, Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi – who led India to her freedom, was also an environmentalist. And such was his passion, vision and understanding of the environment – back in the days when nationalism overruled any global thinking – that his writings and thoughts are punchlines for almost all present day environmental organizations and campaigns.

Be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

A man of words and action, who always believed in leading by example, Gandhi was not just a great political and spiritual leader, he was also a thinker and one of the first who thought on the lines of sustainable development. His teachings of simple living and high thinking and considerable portions of his writings reveal his thought process in the direction of sustainable development.

“God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like a locusts.”

Excerpts like the above are vividly illustrated in Gandhi’s writings highlighting his thoughts on development, politics and governance. A practitioner of non-violence and truth, Gandhi lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community, wore traditional Indian dress, woven with yarn he hand spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and undertook long fasts as means of both self-purification and social protest.

Almost a century ago in 1909, Gandhi had already envisioned the insatiable and unending pursuit of material pleasure and prosperity in the Western society as a threat to the Planet and its resources. In his writings compiled in the “Hind Swaraj”, Gandhi not only warned the western society of the ill-effects their lifestyle may bring, but also appealed to his countrymen not be trapped by the thought of material gains.

The real importance of Gandhi as an environmentalist lies not just in his vision and his understanding of the man-nature relationship, but in the fact that he patterned his personal life on these ideals and set a (then) living example for others to follow. Throughout his life, he continued to give demonstrations on health, hygiene and sanitation.

Not many political leaders of his stature in the world have ever devoted so much of their time and energy for a better, cleaner environment with such sincerity and dedication. It is about time we see (and demand) such great leadership today lest it may be too late tomorrow.