What is Climate Justice?
Climate justice is where care for the earth, care for the poor, and social justice meet.
Climate change unfairly harms people who are poor and people who have been colonized, yet the people who are least responsible suffer the greatest consequences. This climate emergency is connected to other systems of abuse of power, usually originating in the global North.
Only changes in laws and policies, in finance, and by extractive and exploitative industries can achieve climate justice. Only when these changes are created by social movements will the root causes of climate change be solved at the necessary scale and depth.
What do Hindu traditions teach?
All of the natural world is divine. Across Hindu traditions and communities, we are told that all aspects of creation and all living beings are inherently Divine: mountains, rivers, trees, animals, and our fellow human beings. Our festivals celebrate the five elements (panchabhutas), whether we light lamps for Deepavali or immerse murtis in water for Ganesh Chaturthi. The Bhagavad Gita calls us to “rejoice in the flourishing of all beings” (sarva bhuta hite ratah). We are taught to see the earth itself as Bhudevi or Prithvi Ma (Mother Earth), and to treat Her with utmost respect.
It is our dharma to fight for justice. It is vital to note that Hindu traditions go far beyond telling us to revere nature. In the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, Bhudevi declares, “The weight of mountains, rivers and oceans is not as burdensome to me as one human being who oppresses others.” Hindu traditions tell us that when we see injustice (adharma) in the world, we must take action. Many Hindu stories and festivals celebrate the victory of justice over injustice.
Together, these two teachings from Hindu traditions represent a moral and theological foundation for Hindus to work for climate justice. By fighting for the protection of the earth, we are fulfilling our dharma towards Bhudevi/Prithvi Ma. And by speaking up against exploitation and against the destructive fossil fuel industry, we are fulfilling our dharma towards future generations.
Across Hindu traditions, we are called to view the natural world as sacred, and to work for the well-being of all beings.
गिरी सरि सिंधु भार नहि मोही
जस मोहि गरुव एक परद्रोही
giri sari sindhu bhāra nahi mohī
jasa mohi garuva eka paradrohī
“The weight of mountains, rivers and oceans is not as burdensome to me as one human being who oppresses others.”
– Bhudevi speaking in the Ramcharitmanas of Sant Tulsidas
(Translated from Awadhi by Anantanand Rambachan)
माता भूमिः पुत्रोऽहं पृथिव्याः
mātā bhūmiḥ putro’haṃ pṛthivyāḥ
The Earth is my mother and I am her child!”
– Atharva Veda 12.1.12 (source)
વૈષ્ણવ જન તો તેને કહિયે જે પીડ પરાઈ જાણે રે
vaiṣṇava jana to tene kahiye je pīḍ parāyī jāṇe re
Call that person a Vaishnava, who understands the pain of others.
– Narsi Mehta (15th century CE)
A CALL TO ACT
Our faith demands we respect others. But it also demands that we follow dharma, or right action. The core of Hindu life is our sense of duty, to our families, to our communities, to the earth, to ourselves, and to the Divine. Dharma does not allow for comfortable silence. Rather, as Sant Tukaram declares, “when you have business with the powerful / You must speak firmly with them” (tukā mhaṇe manā samarthāsī gāṭhī / ghālāvī he māṇḍī thopaṭuni). We must take the action we know to be right, even when it is hard.
As Hindus, we recognize the earth itself as divine. Many of us begin our day with a prayer to Mother Earth (Prithvi Ma or Bhudevi) for allowing us to walk upon her surface with our feet. We know that all of creation is connected, and worthy of respect.
If we are to take our Hindu faith seriously, we must take the struggle for climate justice seriously. That is why we—as Hindus—must demand an immediate end to any new oil, coal or gas projects, a phase out of existing fossil fuel projects, and a deep investment in a rapid and just transition to a clean energy future. These are the steps truly needed, according to the science of climate change and the teachings of our faith. No bridge fuels, no temporary expansions of drilling, no delays. The end of fossil fuels must begin now.
To do less is to abandon our dharma—our responsibility to our neighbors, our responsibility to our children and grandchildren, and our responsibility to Mother Earth herself.