Our environment comprises all the living and non-living creatures on this planet and around it which are all interconnected and interdependent, and it is sustained as a whole and in all its elements by the laws of God, the All-Wise, the Most Merciful. The environment is a unified system, operating through a fine balance of energy and matter. Our survival in it depends on the extent to which this fine balance established by our Creator is sustained. Man is responsible, through the powers of knowledge and intelligence with which he is endowed above all other creatures, as a guardian and trustee. This responsibility entails personal accountability for all his deeds, including his treatment of this world around him in which the seeds of the Hereafter are sown. Creation is pre-planned, with calculated proportion, meaning, purpose, systematic order and balance where man has a special place and duty, namely to preserve the vital system he depends upon and needs for his survival. However, he has not been faithful to his trust throughout a major part of history and has, more often than not, attacked the life-line which supports him.
The environmental crisis humanity faces at this stage in their development is an outward manifestation of the internal crisis arising from the break with traditional beliefs and values, and their surrender to the disease of ‘problem denial’ characteristic of modern urban, industrialized societies. This state of mental and spiritual sickness takes man down a vicious and destructive spiral. Human-centred, short-term gain and economic surplus-oriented societies have led people to put their trust in science and technology to solve their problems, regardless of the cost to ‘others’. This way of life is not sustainable and creates new and worsening problems, doing perhaps inevitable long term damage to ‘other’ people, other species, the environment as a whole.
Industrialization has led to a simplified, throw-it-away world view which encourages people to dominate and manipulate all available resources in a frantic race for growth in levels of self-indulgence. The causes of environmental overload or degradation are pollution of water, air and land, and depletion of resources. Urbanization and industrialization where large amounts of pollutants are concentrated in small volumes of air, water and land have led to the overloading and disruption of the natural dilution, breakdown and recycling of the chemicals essential for life. The effluent of fertilizers, pesticides, toxic heavy metals, and (partly or wholly) treated industrial waste, is allowed to run off into lakes and streams. The effects are already very tangible: nauseating smells and tastes, smog causing reduced atmospheric visibility, corrosion of metal work, erosion of buildings; reduced tree and crop production; a decrease in biodiversity-each year at least 51,000 species in all become extinct, often as direct consequence of human activity; serious damage to human health-as in the spread of infectious diseases, irritation and diseases of the respiratory system, genetic and reproductive defects, and cancers (for example of skin and liver).
The scale and rate of environmental degradation demand serious and urgent reform. We desperately need to change our attitudes and concepts conform more with the laws of nature as ordained by God. Only if we do it so can we hope for true success in this world and the Hereafter.
As noted, excessive and wasteful use of material resources is a major factor in environmental degradation. We have three types of material resources. First, deep-mined non-renewable (exhaustible) resources such as petroleum, coal, natural gas, and minerals such as copper, aluminium, iron, and uranium which are purified from ores supplied by the earth’s crust. Fossil fuels are finite and could be exhausted quite quickly at present rates of consumption; further, when burned, these fuels are converted to waste heat and exhaust gases which are serious pollutants.
Second, there are perpetual resources, namely solar energy, wind power, geothermal energy, and flowing water. These must become our main future sources of energy.
Third, the potentially renewable resources so-called because, they can be replaced through natural processes on a human life-time scale. Examples are trees in forests, grasses, wild animals, fresh surface water, in lakes and streams, and most ground water, the earth’s most valuable resource. If these resources are used at a rate that does not reduce their availability, they can yield a sustainable source of energy. However, when the natural replacement rate is exceeded, then the supply is depleted and environmental degradation results. Some examples are typified by the covering of productive land with water, concrete, asphalt, or buildings to such an extent that crop growth declines and wildlife habitats are lost. Excessive removal of fresh water from aquifers and from surface waters leads to water scarcity. Deforestation without adequate replanting causes destruction of wildlife habitats where timber-growth cannot be sustained.
Alarmingly, nearly half of the world’s original expanse of tropical forests have been cleared. Each year, about 171,000 km2 of tropical forest are destroyed. These losses reduce biodiversity because niches for thousands of plants and animals are destroyed with the trees.
Around 35% of the world’s coastal and inland wetlands have been drained, built upon, or seriously polluted (e.g. the ‘Golden Horn’ in Istanbul). Most of our wastes accumulate in the oceans. Oil slicks, floating plastic debris, polluted estuaries and beaches, contaminated fish, are just a few of the ugly scenes that result. However, man’s carelessness not only affects other species: world-wide, an estimated 16 million people lose their homes and land due to environmental degradation alone.
Resource depletion or scarcity can be absolute or relative. Absolute scarcity occurs when supplies of a resource .are insufficient or too expensive to meet present or anticipated future demands. For example, the world’s finite supplies of petroleum oil may be used up within the next 50 years decades at present rates of consumption. Relative scarcity occurs as a result of unbalanced and inequitable distribution of a resource which, if equitably distributed would meet the demand of everyone in need.
Relative scarcity dominates the world scene at present: industrialized economies of the West, the United States especially consume a huge disproportionate share of material and energy resources at the expense of other nations. This further widens the gap between the rich and the poor countries. It is a fact that the rate of damage inflicted upon the environment, and hence the damage to the stability and security of others’ lives, has been greater in this past century than since the beginning of man’s history. The Muslim World today, once the pioneer of true civilization is being steadily corrupted by serving the lifestyle of the Western powers. The balanced, traditional lifestyle which conforms with the law of God and hence is more environment-friendly nature is being eroded at alarming speed. The Muslims and other victims of modern civilization lack control over their lives, once self-sustaining, and are forced into the global ‘cash economy’ manipulated by a small, cynical elite who gamble, quite literally, with commodity and stock prices without the least concern for the millions of human lives disrupted and destroyed as a result.
Mankind are heading toward an abyss of anxiety and insecurity while the natural world deteriorates around them. Unless we make a concerted and sustained effort to recover the fitrah state, a life-style that accords with the balance and order of creation, destruction and disorder on a hitherto unimagined scale await us in this life and, in the next, the torment of knowing we failed our responsibility. For in that life we shall be questioned in detail about what we did in this; each of our senses and limbs and organs will bear witness against us; and we will account even for every drop of water we used well or wasted.