The Mahatma and the Earth: Gandhi’s Ecological Vision

The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs but not for a few people’s greed. Gandhi distilled his ecological wisdom in this famous saying.

Gandhi recognised that ecological sustainability and socio-economic justice are two sides of the same coin because we live in an interconnected world. And he brought his philosophy of compassion and nonviolence to bear on our relationship with the earth.

Whenever we engage in production and consumption patterns that are non-sustainable, we are engaging in violence and triggering further violence. Nonsustainability leads to taking others share of their ecological space, and shrinking ecological space for nature’s renewal and other’s rights. A violent economic model based on greed therefore leads to violent conflicts in society, and even conflicts between humans and other animals. Most significantly, violent economies need violent governance where governments pass laws and make policies to prevent people from using their resources sustainably and equitablity for their basic needs, in order to ensure that the earth’s resources can be monopolised by  violent economies of the greed of a few.

While times have changed, the patterns of colonisation stay the same, based on violence, destruction of people’s freedoms and economies, taking what is not yours, collecting unjust rents, creating constructs of divide and rule, and supremacy.

On the other hand, the patterns of liberation and freedom are perennial. And these contours of freedom were comprehensively shaped by Gandhi.

Over the past four and a half  decades of serving the earth, ecology movements, and building movements against Corporate Globalisation, greed and the rule of Big Money, I have taken inspiration from 3 principles that Gandhi distilled from the struggles and practice of freedom through history—Swaraj (self organisation, self rule, freedom as autopoiesis), Swadeshi (self making, self reliance and creating local economies) and Satyagraha (force of truth, of creative Civil Disobedience)


Swaraj is the basis of Real Freedom in Nature and Society, beginning at the smallest level and emerging at higher levels. It allows the thriving of biological and cultural diversity both of which are under threat today.

“Swaraj” defined India’s freedom movement. It encompassed not just political freedom, but also economic freedom. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj has been, for me, the best teaching on real freedom in the context of Industrialism and Empire. It has become even more relevant in the search for freedom in times of corporate rule (also referred to as corporate globalisation and neoliberal economic reform).


Swadeshi literally is self making, of creating local living economies based on local resources, indigenous knowledge, and community. It reduces our ecological footprint while enlarging our consciousness and intelligence. It allows the expression of our fullest creativity as human beings and as Earth Citizens. In Swadeshi we are co-creative with nature’s intelligence, creativity, and regenerative potential, and the creativity and intelligence of our fellow human beings. Co-creativity with nature creates abundance by combining production, conservation, renewal, and regeneration in one continuous cyclical and circular economy of permanence, based on the law of return, of giving back to nature and society, on sharing and caring. This is the foundation of sustainability. It is not a linear extractive economy that is polluting, degrading to the planet and to human communities.

Swadeshi is the core of economic democracy. It is the source of Real Wealth, of well being and happiness for all.

Swadeshi is based on local economies that grow into national economies, and finally into a planetary economy, in alignment with nature and people’s real freedoms, and real wealth creation and well being at every level.

While the international financial and trade organisations coerce and push the government into a blind and indiscriminate experiment with globalisation, Gandhi reminds us of the economics of ‘localisation’ and local self rule.


Satyagraha, or the force of truth, is Gandhi’s word for non-cooperation with and non-participation in systems, structures, laws, paradigms and policies that destroy the earth and rob us of our humanity and our freedoms, that crush our potential for compassion and sharing, that atrophy our hearts, our minds, our  hands.

The force of truth is the highest power  for change, for freedom from unjust rule, the power to  seed  freedom and through our freedom, seed the future.

As Gandhi said, As long as the superstition exists that unjust laws must be obeyed, so long will slavery exist.

Gandhi  first used Satyagraha in South Africa in 1906 to refuse to cooperate with the laws of the apartheid regime imposing compulsory registration on the basis of race. The contemporary movements against apartheid—“separation”—on the basis of religion and race, are a continuation of the spirit of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King.

When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, he was called to Champaran by our freedom fighters—like Dr Rajendra Prasad, who became the President of India after we gained Independence—to strengthen the movement of peasants against the forced cultivation of Indigo .

2017 was the hundredth anniversary of the Indigo Satyagraha in Champaran. The Indigo Satyagraha was based on the refusal to grow Indigo. The peasants had repeatedly said, “We would rather die than grow indigo.” But it was Gandhi’s arrival to support the peasants of Champaran, and being stopped by a magistrate on his arrival, that triggered the Satyagraha.

The British had introduced Salt Laws to prohibit the Indian populace from producing or selling salt independently; instead, Indians were required to buy expensive, heavily taxed salt that often was imported. To protest against these unjust laws, Gandhi undertook the Salt March, walked to Dandi Beach, picked up salt from the sea saying, “Nature gives it for free, we need it for our survival. We will continue to make salt. We will not obey your laws.” The Salt Satyagraha spread rapidly to the forest regions, and became the Forest Satyagraha against the British appropriation of community forests. Chipko, which I call my university of ecology, had its roots in the Forest Satyagraha of 1930 in Tilari in Garhwal. The Salt Satyagraha inspired Navdanya’s Seed Satyagraha and Seed Freedom movement.

Satyagraha, the force of truth, is more important than ever in our age of “post truth”. Satyagraha was, and has always been, about awakening our conscience, our inner power, to resist external, brute power. It is an autopoeitic response to an externally imposed cruel and unjust system.

Satyagraha is the deepest practice of democracy, a “No” from the highest consciousness—the moral duty to not cooperate with unjust and brute law and exploitative and undemocratic processes  because there are higher ecological and laws of humanity we must obey to be members of one planet, one humanity.

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