Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Muslim scholars take a stance on climate change

by Salman Hameed

In a symposium in Istanbul last week, a group of Muslim scholars have urged Muslim countries to move away from fossil fuel and greenhouse gases in favor of more renewable sources. Here is the full  text of Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. In some ways it is not hard to justify such a claim from a  religious perspective - and so does this declaration:
This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost. As we humans are woven into the fabric of the natural world, its gifts are for us to savour. But the same fossil fuels that helped us achieve most of the prosperity we see today are the main cause of climate change. Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah – gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans. But our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them. What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?
This is a positive step and comes at the heals of a similar - but much thorough - Encyclical by the Pope (read the 184 page document here). This is also good timings (most likely deliberate) as world leaders are supposed to gather in Paris in a few months for a major climate change agreement. But it is unclear to me the impact of this statement my Muslim scholars. For example, will oil-producing countries - many of them Muslim-majority - going to change their policies? The rhetoric of climate change is actually hip (unless you are a Republican Presidential candidate in the US) and we see leaders using that language. But what is happening on the ground? There is definitely a move towards solar energy in the middle east and in south asia, and that is certainly good. On a very local level, here is a fantastic example of a genuine "Eco-Islam" in Tanzania (also see this book on Green Islam).  But then, as Saleem H. Ali, notes in an article from 2012, genuine environmentalism has not taken much root in many Muslim communities. There are some high profile environmental project as well, such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. It is/was expected to showcase revolutionary renewable energy. While it is well behind schedule, it may still have an impact, if it is not seeking mere publicity of being a "zero-carbon-footpring" city.

All of this is to say, that it is fantastic that there is a discussion on Islamic position on climate change. If the world momentum is there for a broader action to combat climate change, such declarations will be a useful step for Muslim-majority countries that want to join in that effort.

Here is Bill McKibben on this Islamic Declaration:
By itself this declaration will not lead to much. Islam, for better and for worse, lacks a central governing body; there is no pope. And even the pope’s words are only words—happily he has no governing authority beyond the walls of the Vatican. But what they signal is an ongoing shift in the zeitgeist, to the point where most thinking people in our civilization realize that we have to take dramatic, even “radical,” action to blunt an emerging crisis. This is new. Ten or twenty years ago there was no significant religious environmental movement. Conservative religious leaders viewed concern about the environment as pagan, and liberal ones saw it as secondary to the battles against their traditional foes: hunger, poverty, war. Mostly it went ignored. 
But as the reality of climate change has grown steadily more apparent, all the thoughtful branches of humanity have begun to recognize that their philosophies and theologies need to be reconsidered in light of this new fact. Religion may be particularly prone to this rethinking: an understanding of God as all powerful and beneficent badly needs squaring with the reality that we are systematically dismantling our planet. The only ways out of this hole are to deny that it is happening, to insist that if it is happening God will intervene to prevent it, or to realize that as agents with free will we must take steps to rein ourselves in. The latter is obviously the mature course, and one that religious leaders across a variety of traditions are adopting. 
That adoption matters, at least in part because it throws into ever sharper relief the irresponsibility of the fossil fuel industry, which refuses to take seriously the climate challenge or to change its ways in any meaningful fashion. Oil executives may say that climate change is real, but their willingness to keep seeking out more hydrocarbons to burn exposes their true priorities. (If you thought climate change was an existential threat you would not go drill for oil in the Arctic, full stop.) Religious leaders (or scientists, or artists, or philosophers, or young people, or any of the other groups that have taken up this fight) may not yet have the power to break the fossil fuel companies’ political strength, but their insistence on reality provides a setting for possible quick change in the years ahead. Given the plummeting cost of solar power, for instance, the Muslim leaders’ call for 100 percent renewable energy need no longer be consigned to the distant future. 
and here is another reason for the importance of this declaration:
One of the things that makes this particular document so interesting is the fact that a large share of the world’s hydrocarbons lie beneath Muslim nations, be it Mideast oil or Indonesian coal. One doesn’t expect the Saudis to shut down the Ghazar oil field as a result, but in the past they’ve played an obstructionist part in international negotiations. Now that the Islamic Declaration calls on world leaders to commit concretely to a zero-emissions strategy, pressure may begin to grow on the Saudi monarchy, and the upcoming Paris summit will show if it is starting to soften. Already Abu Dhabi plays host to the UN’s renewable research center, and even Riyadh started signaling earlier this year that the age of oil may soon be past (replaced with sunlight, a commodity that the Gulf nations also have in quantity). The head of Indonesia’s Ulema Council, which represents the 210 million Muslims in the world’s most populous Muslim country, said he welcomed the declaration and was “committed to implementing all its recommendations,” potentially a big deal since his nation has some of the planet’s largest undeveloped coal reserves.
Read the full article here and the full text of Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change here

2 comments:

Don said...

Wow!

What's the significance of issuing this from Istanbul, I wonder...

Salman Hameed said...

More than the place, it depends on the participation of individual countries. I think Muslim countries will follow the consensus (if it is there somewhat) with or without such a declaration. However, these kinds of statements can potentially change attitudes of individuals - and that in itself is important.