We must move beyond painfully slow negotiations on climate change and use faith as an inspiration to make immediate changes
The release of the landmark encyclical by Pope Francis last month highlighted an issue that until now many faith leaders have largely been silent about – that of climate change. This year in particular has seen a specific movement around climate issues, as world leaders are expected to meet in Paris in December to commit to a deal to address dangerously rising temperatures.
Negotiations have already started taking place, including in the recent UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany, which I had the good fortune of attending on behalf of MADE, along with the UK Youth Climate Coalition. What struck me the most in my visit, however, was the sheer slowness of the negotiations. Meanwhile, speaking to experts and activists, they commented on how delighted they were that, “these are the fastest negotiations I’ve seen in 26 years!” This, of course, raises questions about the bureaucracy of such conferences and whether political discourse can keep up with the rate of damage to the planet.
What’s more, it was striking to see the lack of diversity and representation of UK delegates attending the Bonn conference, particularly Muslim representation – in fact there was just myself and one other. This, in turn, made me question: Why are Muslims and people of other faiths not more involved in these crucial discussions?
In his speech, Pope Francis quoted one of his predecessors, Pope Benedict, who stated: “….creation is harmed ‘where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.’”
This statement should undoubtedly resonate with the Muslim community well, as God (glory and praise be to Him) has told us numerous times about our responsibility as stewards of the earth – to maintain and look after it, not to exploit it. God reveals in the Qur’an (30:41): “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].”
Islam puts forward a clear moral and religious obligation towards the natural environment demonstrating that it is part and parcel of who we are. Yet the majority of Muslims, as with other communities, have readily bought into the consumerist, capitalist culture which is so heavily contributing to climate change. The constant need to have the latest item, the overconsumption of resources, and the wastage of food and energy has led to a whole host of environmental problems.
Consider how the main sources of our energy – coal, oil and gas – are extracted. A site needs to be located for extraction, most likely a natural site on land or sea that has not been touched before. The extractions not only cause problems for local residents and habitats, but massive trucks and heavy machinery cause severe land stress. If drilling occurs at sea, there is likely to be an oil disaster. Oil spills have occurred on many occasions leading to huge environmental damage, killing thousands of land and water animals, and affecting communities for decades to come.
Large amounts of CO2 are being churned out as fossil fuels are burnt, adding to the greenhouse gases warming up our atmosphere. We have already seen a temperature rise of 0.80C which has caused more frequent and intense natural disasters than at any other time before, such as droughts in Africa, landslides in China, flooding in Bangladesh, and just last month, heatwaves in Pakistan killing over 1,000 and leaving approximately 14,000 people hospitalised and treated. Imagine, then, what a devastating impact an increase of 80, 40 (as most are predicting), or even just 20, will have on our people and our planet?
A recently published, groundbreaking Lancet Report stressed the severity of climate change on human health and how it will lead to countless deaths. This is particularly the case in countries of the Global South, where the poorest will be the most hard hit, despite contributing the least to climate change in the first place.
All faith traditions emphasise, in some way, our duty towards the environment. While politicians and economists debate political and economic standpoints, we simply do not have time to wait. As Pope Francis’s encyclical explained, it is up to us as people of faith, to make the moral argument that, regardless of politics or economics, we have a responsibility and a duty towards each other, towards our Creator and towards future generations to take action on climate change now.
Last month, MADE, along with its partners at the newly formed Muslim Climate Action, attended the Speak Up Lobby, where thousands of people lobbied their MPs around climate change in the first Prime Minister’s Question Time since the election in May.
We are at a crucial point now where the effects of climate change can still be recoverable – but only if we all become active and engaged. If all individuals make a conscious decision to change their daily life, the shift could be huge. Regardless of the consequences, as people of faith, we must believe that God will hold us each to account for what we have personally done and we must battle, if only for the sake of our souls.
Photo Credits: Taskima Ferdous
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