An Islamic Perspective On Climate Change by Abdurraheem Green
“Climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today- more serious even than the threat of terrorism.”
This is according to Sir David Anthony King, the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Government and Head of the Government Office for Science from October 2000 to 31 December 2007.
The potential human suffering brought about as a direct consequence of the effects of global warming are catastrophic!
The warming of the world’s oceans is expanding their volume, while polar ice sheets have started to melt and glaciers around the world are shrinking. The combination of these changes is increasing sea level. Coastal systems and low lying areas will increasingly experience adverse impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding and coastal erosion .
Extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, heavy rain and snow, storms and floods are becoming more frequent or more intense.
In Europe the Mediterranean area is becoming drier, making it even more vulnerable to drought and wildfires. Northern Europe, meanwhile, is getting significantly wetter, and winter floods could become common and are expected to cause significant changes in the quality and availability of water resources.
The lack of fresh drinkable water is set to become the major source of conflict on our planet, with the potential for untold levels of human suffering. Many poor developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change but also have the least resources to cope with its impacts.
Global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinctions this century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk. If the planet warms by more than 3°C, most ecosystems will struggle.
Some even believe that the rabid melting of ice sheets will have a dramatic knock on effect on the earth’s delicate crust and lead to an increase in earthquakes and volcanic activity.
According to many media outlets you might imagine that the premise that humans have caused climate change and global warming is controversial or even imagined. This is not the position of the vast majority of scientists and experts in the field.
From a scientific perspective we are as certain that humans are responsible for our recent climate change as we are that cigarettes kill. Climate scientists agree that climate change is happening here and now. Based on well-established evidence, around 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, has issued an uncharacteristically blunt call to action on climate change. As climatologist Lonnie Thompson explained back in 2010:
“Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilisation.”
Others have postulated that the whole issue of climate change is invented or exaggerated by governments as a pretext to raise “stealth” taxes and pass laws to reduce civil liberties and to impose further state control. Although many governments have done exactly that, it does not mean that the threat of global warming in not real. In fact the consequences of global warming are indeed likely to cause further world wide instability and unrest and itself act as a catalyst for increased government control, which should motivate all freedom loving people to try and halt it.
There are two reasons why global warming is not likely to be some conspiracy. Firstly, the almost complete consensus of scientists in the field. Although science is not beyond being influenced and controlled, the method of peer reviewing theories and data and the general openness of the scientific community still makes this an unlikely scenario when applied to a virtual consensus.
Secondly, the issue of climate change has been warned about for well over 35 years, mostly by people who were often very much anti-establishment. In fact there is evidence that a well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralysing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds and lobbying, the media attention has by and large been funded by the energy industry! Indeed, an analysis conducted by The Carbon Brief in 2011 found that 9 out of 10 of the most prolific authors who cast doubt on climate change or speak against it have ties to ExxonMobil.
Greenpeace have said that Koch industries, a major player in the fuel industry and one of the largest private companies in America, invested more than US$50 million in the past 50 years on spreading doubts about climate change. This is hardly surprising since the major catalyst of man made climate change has been identified as the burning of fossil fuels. Changes in agriculture with extensive deforestation and increased desertification as well as the increase in livestock, are considered to be major contributors to the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly methane.
So what are the solutions?
I remember some years back when I was working as a cabbie in South London, I came to find out that one of my passengers was part of the senior management team of Greenpeace. I remember the conversation clearly:
“I have to say, I really respect you guys. Some of the stuff you do to raise awareness is amazing.”
“Well, thanks, that’s nice of you to say so.”
“No I mean it. The environment is such an important issue. The way our planet is being destroyed with Global warming, pollution of seas and atmosphere, destruction of species…it’s an issue we have to deal with.”
“Of course, that’s what Greenpeace is all about!”
“Yea, sure, but you know I actually think you guys are part of the problem not part of the cure!”
Up until this moment my passenger had been relaxedly sitting in the back of my cab, but now he sat up. I could see the shock on his face.
“What do mean?”
He looked puzzled.
“Well all the stuff you guys do, as brave as it is, is just dealing with issues. Save the whale, save the rainforest, stop dumping hazardous chemicals, but these are symptoms of the disease. You make people think that by stopping these things they are going to make a difference. So they donate some money, think they are doing something for the environment, but all the while the real disease, the cancer is still eating away. You’re part of the problem because you cover the symptoms, but it means the root problem is ignored.”
“Well, what is the real problem?”
“It’s the way we live. It’s the ideal of consumerism, that by and through material things, we are taught, that this is the way to happiness. This is the real disease.”
“Well I agree, in fact we are beginning to discuss exactly these issues, but what is your solution then?”
“Well I know that this is going to sound unlikely, but I believe that the solution is the religion of Islam!”
“It’s because we have turned away from our Creator, lost our purpose our souls seek satisfaction in the material. But we can never find it there, so we consume more and more, hoping that if I just have this or that then I’ll be happy, but we are never fulfilled. I’m sure you know better than me that it’s our Western consumer societies that are destroying the world, causing the pollution and destruction. It’s only when we understand the true purpose of our life and surrender to the will of our Creator can we find true happiness. Just see how everything follows the laws and patterns and systems laid down for them by the wise Creator. They all submit to God. It is only when we too follow the guidance and system and patterns laid down for us by the Creator can we also be in harmony with the Universe and world around us.
Also, Islam teaches that we are responsible and accountable for everything we do. Our bodies, our health, our lives, our wealth, the planet and all that is in it has been entrusted to us, and Allah is going to ask us about what we did with it. This is the real solution. We have to completely change the way we think!”
We arrived at the airport.
“I wish you we driving me up to Scotland because I could really talk to you all day!” He said.
And that’s where we left it.
Coming back to the point, just by being Muslim you are already on the first and most important step to being in tune and living in harmony with your environment. The whole universe is in a state of submission to the laws of its creator. The very word “Muslim” means someone who submits to God. In this profound spiritual sense a Muslim is in harmony with the universe.
The Muslims knows that this world is a test, a prison for the believer. You know that in good deeds and obeying your Lord and seeking His pleasure is the real path to happiness and success, and as you live and feel that, you become content with what Allah has provided you with and are happy with what suffices your bare needs. This is the way we can think in a completely different way from the enslavement of consumerism that is in part destroying our world.
We have been warned by Allah and His messenger against waste and excess:
“Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful.” The Qur’aan, 17:27
Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-`Aas reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) passed one day by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqas while he was performing wudu’ (ritual washing of body parts in preparation for prayer). The prophet asked Sa`d, “Why this wastage?” Sa`d replied “Is there wastage in wudu also?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you are at a flowing river.” (Ahmad)
So even when there is plenty we should take care not to be wasteful! Part of being a Muslim is being conscious, aware and realising that one is accountable.
Ultimately all the problems besting humanity come from sick hearts. Hearts that are detached from their real purpose which is knowing and remembering Allah, for in this alone do hearts find rest. So it is inevitable that when humanity is distant from their Lord, evils will emerge:
“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].” The Qur’aan, 30:41
When we turn to other than Allah and set up false objects besides Him, in which we place our hope, trust and love, our hearts become corrupted and the earth on which we dwell also falls into corruption.
The solution then is to return to our Lord and to single Him out alone for our obedience and adoration. The hearts are then filled with the peace and tranquility for which they long.
It is empty corrupt hearts that are destroying our world and it is only whole and fulfilled hearts that can mend it.
The cure for the hearts is a living, vibrant and real connection with our Creator, not merely some passive ritualistic emulation of it.
Of course many point out that the most excessive consumers and producers of carbon fuels are in fact Muslims. This is not however the correct manner in which to judge Islam itself. There are many reasons for this discrepancy between the claim to be Muslim and Islamic and the reality of what it entails. Part of the problem that besets the Muslim world is following a hollow ritualistic shadow of Islam. If we merely go through motions of the outer acts of worship without imbibing their inner dynamics we will not change anything. We will be just like the cargo cult of the South Pacific islanders who had witnessed Japanese and Americans building airstrips and flying in cargoes of food and clothing and machines. These islanders build imitation airstrips and control towers and even aircraft thinking that by mimicking these outer appearances they would cause this wealth to arrive as if by ritualistic magic! Many Muslims have a similar approach to the rituals of Islam. They perform prayers without understanding a word. They fast by abstaining from food and drink but do not leave the evil in their words and deeds. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it and offensive speech and behaviour, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
This is a very profound statement, that we should reflect upon in respect to all of the rituals of Islam. These outer rituals have an inner purpose. Islam needs to lived inwardly and outwardly. Only then will it become the cure for the ills besetting our world.
We have the cure, but that doesn’t mean we should forget to clear up the symptoms! We should never allow the vastness of an issue overwhelm us into inaction and apathy. A Muslim should realise that Allah has power over all things and that what He wants from us is the effort, and it is never too late to make that effort however small!
Although the real solutions lie in us making real and significant changes in the way that we think, small practical actions should never be overlooked. Anas (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.”
This is a simple, small practical step, and even knowing that the end is imminent should not prevent one from doing it. This is because ultimately we are accountable to Allah, and it is our sincere efforts and intentions that are important. We should not always expect to see the fruits of our efforts straightaway.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to the Climate Summit 2014 this 23 September to galvanise and catalyse climate action. He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilise political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.
On September 21st thousands of organisations from unions to faith groups, and hundreds of thousands of people already signed up are aiming to launch the biggest climate change mobilisation in history, with marches from New York to Paris to Rio.
Its an opportunity for Muslims to let people know about the true solution to Climate Change and other evils besetting our world and share our insights, as well as taking physical steps to do what we can to prevent this disaster.
“So fear Allah as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend [in the way of Allah]; it is better for yourselves. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.” The Qur’an, 24:16
Abdurraheem Green is the founder and Chairman of The Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA).