By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
23 February, 2014
With over seven billion humans on the planet earth, it is increasingly being questioned whether the planet earth is capable of sustaining the current rate of increase of human population!
Man-made causes, such as unbridled energy consumption, overuse of natural resources, land degradation, air and water pollution are issues said to be affecting sustenance of life, not just human but the entire diversity of life on earth.
The best two definitions of sustainability are given as:
“Sustainability is a concept which promotes equality between the people of today and the people of tomorrow. …. Our needs of today must be taken care of in such a way that it does not negatively impact the needs of the next generations”
And, “stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth’s two most complex systems—human culture and the living world.”
But the above is countered by the argument that natural phenomena that have always been part of the earth’s environment like volcanoes, forest fires, earthquakes and floods are far more devastating. They site Noah’s flood to support the argument.
In many learned and scientific quarters, sustainability has gained heightened awareness. But like many other things that are taken for granted in nature, this issue in public domain remains the least talked about, particularly in the third world which is largely poor and as a result mostly illiterate; a concomitant outcome.
What little attention has been given to the issue in the third world is the initiative of the first world. For example by honouring individuals, the West has raised the profile of those brave souls that have and are striving to draw attention, on at least a few aspects of sustainability for their country.
One such person that comes to the fore is the recipient from Kenya, activist, environmentalist and Nobel Prize Laureate, late Dr. Wangari Maathai. She had made the following statement:-
“This recognition in many ways endorses the campaign and brings it to the forefront so that leaders in this country can really realize that protecting the forest in this country is a matter of life and death". She could have added ‘and the world’.
The accolades saved her from further trauma. Such is the fate of activists in many countries, where the wealthy and elite wish to be left alone to plunder the resources with impunity.
Religious teachings In many societies too play a major role on this particular issue. It is believed that the Creator of the universe, in his infinite capacity is able to correct on an ongoing basis all the damage mankind can inflict on the planet. And that He has put no responsibility on humans, the same as animals, to care for the earth.
An interesting example of this was aired on a high profile Urdu TV channel that illustrates this point.
The panellists were a group of “all male priests” on one hand and mixed young adult students on the other.
An honest labourer, from the studio audience, was recounting his life experiences. He lamented how hard his life was, to earn enough just to feed his family, let alone to send children to school.
The Compare asked—Aap Kay Kitnay Bachhey Hain? How many children have you?
Sheepishly and a bit embarrassingly he replied—Jee, Giyaarah! Sir, Eleven!
There was muffled laughter and giggles from the students and the audience, but a loud chorus of “Masha Allah” from the priests’ bench!
Thy Will shall be done in heaven as on Earth, rolled out into one holy cacophony.
In religious terms it is believed that Mankind has no control over reproduction of the species as “God gives life and takes it away…10-56” and can do no harm to the planet earth’s environment, as its contribution is miniscule compared to natural disasters.
This is endorsed somewhat by the Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gayaa/Gau the mother of universe principle, proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to “maintaining” the conditions for life on the planet.
Whether or not all religions concur with this theory; but it can be said with reasonable certainty that Muslims believe that large family is a gift of God and to interfere to restrict it is going against the Will of God and hence considered as blasphemy.
Therefore to raise this subject is a taboo, both within and without the Muslim ‘religions’ and communities at large.
The Catholic Church too for centuries grapples unsuccessfully with the issue of birth control among its flock.
To give an example of connectivity in animal terms of over breeding; the early British settlers introduced Rabbits in Australia and some other animals too. The open vast lands and lack of natural predators to control their population, they exploded in plague proportions. They bred like….well like rabbits know best.
This has resulted in degradation of large tracts of farmland and bush-land, with flow-on effect on other living creatures too and issues including economy, particularly agricultural productivity.
Of course rabbits are not intelligent like humans to comprehend such complexities!
What was introduced without considering the consequences of the action taken in ignorance is now being reversed, with controlled and knowledge-based science, with the use of chemicals even; sort of chemical war declared on rabbits!
In the Quranic context it is argued here that mankind has been given responsibility of control and managing the universal gifts of nature -verse 45-13. Poet Iqbal translates this verse as:-
Haq Nay A’lam Iss Sadaaqat Kay Liye Paidaa Kiyaa,
Oar Mujhey Iss Kee Hifaazat Kay Liye Paidaa Kiyaa.
The truth is that Mankind is given the management of the earth.
There are various verses in Quran with regard to conservation, which forms an essential part of this management.
Issues such as procreation, using the land sustainably, and sustained use of resources and not to waste, abound in it.
Conservation of animal life is specified, prohibiting hunting in breeding season.
Sharing with others is the essence of the teaching of Quran, coupled with keeping of one’s wealth and means of sustenance free flowing for the benefit of all of mankind.
Importantly, land is given as a trust and so Iqbal again translates:
Zahe Khudayaa Yeh Zameen Teree Nahin’ Meree Nahin’
Teray Abaa Kee Nahin’ Taree Nahin’ Meree Nahin’.
Glory to God, this land is neither yours nor mine
Not your ancestor’s, neither yours, nor mine.
“The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth”, is the common wisdom in many indigenous communities where there is no such thing as “freehold” title to land.
Myriads of other interconnected issues are touched upon in the Quran and to be acted upon knowledgeably. Acquiring knowledge is a repeated ordinance there in.
Hence, it is not only individual’s but communities’, the State’s and in today’s terms an internationally imposed responsibility.
Although, what damage the poor man inflicted upon himself and his family, was of his own doing; but it is also the community’s and the whole country’s problem. The misguided labourer may not have known of the consequences, but that does not exonerate the rest in the chain of collective responsibility.
Unpalatable as it was, “China’s one child policy” and India’s “Hum Doe Hamaaray Doe” is an example of authorities exercising their responsibilities for the greater good. And indeed there are many other countries in the world which deserve such intervention today. Though, the religious brigade and the vested interests may find it very unpalatable.
Nature does not recognize national or international boundaries for implementing the reactions to human’s acts.
An example of this is; decades ago the denuding of forests was attributed to the acid rain that fell over the northern countries of Europe. It was realized that Europe’s fossil fuel fired industries and power stations, bellowing out toxic smoke in the air was carried by the Southerlies to the northern parts. It turned into defoliant as acid rain and was responsible for the problems there.
The problem of air pollution has not quite disappeared yet. - “EU Commission launches legal action over UK air quality”.
The same is the case with America’s air pollution causing damage to the Canadian environment.
And the same applies to all such industries and deforestation round the world too.
Consider this, the USA is said to have dropped over seventy five million litres of ‘agent orange 2,4,5T defoliant’ during its one sided Vietnam war on that country alone; with devastating effects, which the small and poor nations of the region are still suffering from!
The rest of the world is not spared either, as it has been consuming agricultural and marine products from there since!
Mankind has been given the choice to use its “knowledge” for good or bad.
The truism holds that Knowledge is noble only in the hands of the Noble souls!
It is not in jest that the planet earth is called “global village”. All in the global village have the responsibility thrust on them by the Creator, to take care of it and make it sustainable for generations to come.
With the knowledge mankind has now, there is no option to breed in an unplanned manner, even for a family let alone in the context of the whole world.
Because “mankind is but one community…2-213”, says the Good Book.
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is a (Retd.) Engineer