FaithWorld

from India Insight:

More pilgrims mean more trouble for shrines in north India

Nestled in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand attracts increasing numbers of visitors every year. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of visitors to the state rose nearly 200 percent to 30.3 million. With major Hindu shrines located in the state, about 70 percent of the tourists who visit the state visit religious sites. That is a worrying sign for ecologically fragile areas such as Kedarnath – a small temple town located 3,583 metres (11,755 feet) above sea level and almost entirely washed out in recent flash floods.

The rush to the Himalayas has been accompanied by a haphazard pattern of growth that might not be sustainable. A study by infrastructure group IL&FS IDC Ltd showed that the carrying capacities – maximum number of persons an environment can support -- of various tourist centres in Uttarakhand reached saturation levels in 2010.

It is in this context that some environmentalists have been calling the devastating floods a man-made catastrophe. “Ecological fragility sets limits. Today these limits are being violated … and the pilgrimage to the Char Dhams is being turned into crass consumerist mass tourism,” said activist Vandana Shiva in an email conversation with me. (To see pictures from the flood crisis, click here)

A booming economy, young population and better infrastructure led to about 900 million visits to various domestic destinations, including to another Himalayan shrine, the Amarnath cave, in 2012. Located in a narrow gauge in Kashmir, this snow-covered shrine attracted more than 600,000 Hindu pilgrims last year, up more than 30 percent from 2010.

This year, the tour operators in the state expect even more pilgrims, though the board overseeing the pilgrimage arrangements refuses to put a number to the expected rush. “Number (of pilgrims) is fixed – 7500 per day, per route (there are two routes to the cave),” NK Choudhary, CEO of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board told me in a telephone interview.

from Global Investing:

How socially responsible is your investing?

Is your investment ethically sound and socially responsible?

A new survey by consulting firm Mercer finds that only 9% of more than 5,000 investment strategies achieve the highest environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) involves buying shares in companies that manage ESG risks. For example, firms that make clean technologies are favoured, while businesses which pollute the environment, are complicit in human rights abuses or nuclear arms production are shunned. All this sounds good, but the performance of such investments has been somewhat mixed -- meaning being good doesn't always mean doing well. But the SRI industry is hoping that greater involvement of funds, especially long-term ones such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds -- may generate flows into the sector and lead to better performance.

Of the 5,175 strategies assigned ESG ratings, 57% are in listed equities, 20% fixed income and the remaining 23% across real estate, private equity, hedge funds and others.

“Human rights” urged for whales & dolphins – is this a good idea?

whales

NE Pacific Transient killer whale in Alaska/Dave Ellifrit/NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Whales and dolphins should get “human rights” to life and liberty because of mounting evidence of their intelligence, a group of conservationists and experts in philosophy, law and ethics said on Sunday.

Participants at a University of Helsinki conference said ever more studies show the giant marine mammals have human-like self-awareness, an ability to communicate and organize complex societies, making them similar to some great apes.

Pope says gay marriage threat to creation

gay marriage

Argentinans exchange rings in Ushuaia, 28 Dec 2009

Pope Benedict on Tuesday linked the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage to concern about the environment, suggesting that laws undermining the differences between the sexes were threats to creation.

Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes,” he said at his annual meeting at the Vatican with ambassadors to the Holy See. 

  Pope Benedict addresses foreign ambassadors at the Vatican, 11 Jan 2010/Maurizio Brambatti

Pope Benedict addresses foreign ambassadors at the Vatican, 11 Jan 2010/Maurizio Brambatti

Buddhist charity turns bottles into blankets for disaster victims

bottles (Photo: Crushed plastic bottles at the Tzu Chi Foundation recycling factory in Taipei, 4 Nov 2009/Nicky Loh)

A plastic bottle thrown into a Taipei recycling bin could be reincarnated as a blanket to warm disaster victims in any of 20 countries, thanks to a unique project by the world’s largest Buddhist charity.

The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has been taking plastic bottles from the waste stream of Taipei, a city of 2.6 million, for three years to convert them into about 244,000 polyester blankets intended for disaster zones. It has sent volunteers with relief supplies to some of the world’s biggest disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and last year’s devastating Sichuan earthquake in China.

This week, Tzu Chi expanded its one-of-a-kind recycling effort to begin making shirts, scarves and cloth shopping bags.  It sends the plastic bottles to a factory that breaks them down into a polyester fabric, which is then sent to crew of volunteers who fashion it into blankets or garments.

Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew meets Obama on U.S. visit

bartholomewGreek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the “green patriarch” who leads 300 million Orthodox Christians, spoke with President Barack Obama on Tuesday about the fight against climate change.

“We view with alarm the dangerous consequences of disregard for the survival of God’s creation,” His All Holiness told a gathering at Georgetown University after his White House meeting. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the White House,3 Nov 2009/Larry Downing)

Given the name “green patriarch” by former vice president and environmental crusader Al Gore, Bartholomew also will meet this week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

Will the Nobel Peace Prize go to a religious leader this year?

nobel-ceremony (Photo: Nobel Peace Prize 2008 award ceremony, 10 Dec 2008/Ints Kalnins)

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. What are the odds that a religious leader will win? I checked with our bureau in Oslo for the latest buzz.

“The Peace Nobel is basically a guessing game,” chief correspondent Wojciech Moskwa warned. A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated this year and a record number remained on the secret short list late last month, he learned in an interview with Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but Lundestad firmly declined to comment on the speculation.

prio-logoBy contrast, the independent International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) in Oslo publishes its own picks and it named Colombian peace activist Piedad Cordoba, Jordanian interfaith dialogue pioneer Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal and Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar as its favourites. “PRIO does not appear to have any special inside track, but they have on occasion been right,” said Moskwa.

U.S. religious conservatives and progressives profiled

The first ever comparative surveys of U.S. conservative and progressive (or liberal) religious activists has just been published by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and Public Religion ResearchClick here for a link to the survey.

Many findings of the study – based on a detailed survey answered by 1,866 progressive religious activists and 1,123 conservative ones — will come as no surprise to followers of the U.S. political scene. But they will no doubt be closely scrutinized by both Republican and Democratic strategists.

USA-HISPANICS/ABORTION

Republicans are sure to take note of the fact that religious conservatives are still preoccupied with the issues of abortion rights and gay marriage, which they staunchly oppose. The Democratic Party will note that progressive religious activists care deeply about poverty, health care and the environment.

Indians add green touch to religious festivals

ganesha-11 (Photo: Procession with Ganesha statue in Mumbai, 15 Aug, 2009/Punit Paranjpe)

Few events can rival the ancient rituals and riotous color of India’s religious festivals. This year, the months-long celebration season is also becoming eco-friendly.  Alarmed by the high levels of pollution caused by firecrackers, toxic paints and idols made of non-recyclable material, schools, environmentalists and some states are encouraging “greener” celebrations.

In Mumbai, where the 10-day festival for the elephant-headed Ganesha (the Hindu deity of prosperity) is underway with giant, colored idols and noisy street parties, radio and TV stations are airing environmental messages and school children are learning to make eco-friendly idols.

The statues, made of brightly painted plaster of Paris, are usually immersed in the sea or a lake after a lively procession that can sometimes take half a day to navigate the choked streets, and which ultimately leaves dismembered idols strewn along the shore.