By Naeem Baig
Climate change is undeniable by any sane individual. It is evident everywhere around us unless we deliberately choose to ignore it.
Last month I joined over 150 faith leaders and environmental activists at a Climate Change conference organized by Religions for Peace USA and GreenFaith at the UN Plaza Church Center in New York City.
Scientists, environmental specialists and faith leaders spoke at the daylong conference to urge the UN to adopt a strong climate change treaty. The conference was also the launch ground for ourvoices.net, an international multi-faith campaign in support of the treaty.
As the current moderator of the Executive Council of Religions for Peace USA, of which ICNA is a member, I was asked to speak at the program on its behalf. I also shed light on the subject from an Islamic perspective.
When we speak of climate change we are not talking solely about our neighborhoods, our cities, or our nations. We must look beyond our immediate surroundings and understand the sheer scope of the problem and its global impact. As citizens of this world, we have a vested interest in climate change. Any change to the planet affects all those who live on it.
For the conference I drove to New York from my home state of Virginia. I had reserved a small car for myself at the local rental company. As a special favor, the employee offered me an enormous SUV for an additional $10/day. I laughed at the irony and told him that I was on my way to a conference on climate change and here he was offering me this massive gas guzzler. He smiled and tried to sell it to me anyways by suggesting that the SUV was much larger, much safer, and more luxurious and beautiful.
Content with my small car, I left. However, his sales pitch continued to echo in my mind and I began to think more about what he had said.
The culture to consume beyond your means or needs, and to seek luxury, comfort and looks, is what makes each of us responsible for the sad condition of our climate.
We are not ‘eating to live’ but rather ‘living to eat’. Food chains market tall cups instead of small. A regular can of soda is cheaper than a smaller can. We have become obese and sick in our drive to consume bigger and better. The latest list of the top 10 fattest nations in the world includes five Muslim countries and the United States.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ taught us to leave one-third of our stomach empty when eating a meal. We love our Prophet. But we love our super-size burgers more.
Corporations exploit and destroy agricultural land and water resources in their drive to increase production. We can no longer drink water directly from our wells. Coal mining, fracking and shale extraction emit enormous amounts of lethal gases in the fraying atmosphere.
While the conversations on climate change must include mega corporations and their irresponsible practices, such talk would be futile unless our lifestyles of ever increasing consumption are also critically examined.
Almost 85 percent of our electricity is produced by burning coal. While electricity is integral to our modern existence, the waste is enormous. We leave our A.C.s on when we leave the house. We artificially light up our skies to the point where our children no longer know what ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ is.
My faith teaches me to practice moderation. Neither to be wasteful and extravagant, nor to be miserly.
In the chapter titled the Criterion, God says, “And [the righteous are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly] moderate.” [Saheeh International 25:67]
In the Qur’an God also tells us that He has made us inheritors of this earth. It is a cycle – today we are the caretakers of this earth, tomorrow it will to be our children.
How well are we fulfilling our responsibility to take care of this earth? What condition are we going to leave it in for our children?
The poor and marginalized members of our communities suffer from the effects of climate change the most. Be it the coal mining capital of the world – West Virginia – which ranks the lowest in almost all major aspects of basic human living, or the flood ravaged lands in northern Pakistan, it is the disadvantaged who are least able to escape the effects of our privileged lifestyles.
Politicians will not do much. Their primary concern is to win their next elections and they cannot afford to lose the corporate donors who oil their path to high positions.
Religious and faith leaders must take the lead in protecting the environment. They must use their influence in raising awareness in their communities, starting with their places of worship. Together, their voices can make the difference. Politicians will listen and corporations will act if sermons change the consumption habits and lifestyles of society.
Are you worried about soaring temperatures and dropping water levels? The sharp fall in honeybee populations and the extinction of many plant and animal species? The melting of glaciers and the flooding of land?