The World Resource Forum highlights: “Due to continued growth of the global economy, the demand for natural resources, such as fossil fuels, metals and minerals, and biomass from agriculture (crops), forestry, fishery, etc, provided by Planet Earth is rapidly increasing, and they are being exploited without metres and bounds. This results in serious environmental damages through the extraction process itself, but also due to the ever longer transport distances between extraction, processing and final consumption.”
Since the industrial revolution, harnessing energy has been critical to the functioning of modern civilisation. Initially, coal was used to power engines and then WW1 brought oil as an energy source to the world. Transport, industrial processes, petrochemicals and agriculture all use oil as an energy source and its importance to the global economy remains critical. The age of coal and steam was the backdrop for the British Empire and the age of petroleum has been the backdrop for the American Empire from the end of the 19th to the early 21st century. The age of oil, produced its own technology, its balance of power, its own economy and its patterns of living.
The continued growth in energy use has had serious consequences for the world. Extracting mineral wealth from the earth is a toxic process and this growth over the last century has had devastating results. Corporations, backed by their states have destroyed forests, rivers and endangered numerous species. Today millions of tons of waste is shipped from the western industrial countries to the so-called third world countries, which is now a lucrative business in itself. The consequence is that land areas and rivers in these countries are contaminated, as a large proportion of the waste is toxic, such as batteries and lead, which has a direct effect on the human nervous system. All of this has caused many deaths among workers and caused extensive harm to thousands of others.
The scale of the problem has grown to such a colossal level that it has caused serious concern amongst many in the world who see their planet being devastated for corporate gains and for the maintenance of a standard of living many in the West have become accustomed to. For many, the rising temperatures, the level of waste, slave labour and the devastation caused to the environment has led to calls for the last decade for action to be taken to halt the devastation being wrought to the planet. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations to assess the scientific knowledge on global warming.
From this, various global treaties focusing on reducing global emissions have taken place; these targets are voluntary and with no way to hold any nation to account for failing on their commitments. The increasing public knowledge on the damage resource-extraction is creating has forced governments to assuage public opinion, but nearly three decades on, the battle for the earth’s finite resources continue and the devastation that has worried many continues unabated.
Islam and the Environment
The Islamic view of life is based on the absolute belief that man, life and the universe are created by a Creator, Allah (swt). Islam does not view man’s relation to nature as one of conflict or contradiction. As the universe and life itself, just like man, are all Allah’s creations, Islam treats their relations as being mutually complementary. Also, Allah has put the universe in man’s service and He assigned man to cultivate the land. There are an ocean of Shariah texts which concern the environment. These texts give a unique picture of how Islam focuses on nature. Furthermore they illustrate that Allah has created nature and put it in service for man, and made man its guardian to enjoy and not ruin.
Muadh ibn Jabal (ra) narrated from the Prophet (saw): “Avoid the three actions that bring people’s curses: defecating in water sources, on roads, and in the shade.” (Abu Dawud and ibn Majah)
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Whoever cultivates barren land, it belongs to him.” (Abu Dawud)
These explicit texts, amongst many provide direction and rules on protecting creation and not harming or wasting it. These texts amongst many are clear that the earth’s resources are a means for us to use and progress, there is no conflict here. But Islam provides a framework that balances man’s need for resources and taking care of the environment.
Most of the Shariah principles which are related to the environment to a great extent are the principles concerning harm that are derived from a series of narrations, including the Prophet’s words: “No harm and no harming” (Daraqutni). Examples of these principles are: “the essence of harm is prohibition”, “harm is removed” and “any permitted (mubah) element that is harmful or leads to harm, is prohibited, but the matter remains permissible”.
Dealing with the environment should therefore be done in a way that is not harmful or leads to harm. According to these principles, any relationship with nature which leads to something that the Shariah has prohibited will also be prohibited, even if there is no text with a specific prohibition. It is therefore forbidden according to the Shariah to pollute the environment so that it is harmful, or leads to harm, or leads to something forbidden during the process of manufacturing, economic development or exploitation of natural resources, such as contaminating the water, air and soil, with poison, disease and destruction of the soil, animal resources and fisheries. This is regardless of the cost there may be to avoid this, which means that the Shariah has ignored the discussion of economic losses related to countering environmental harm and combating pollution.
Practically the future Khilafah should look to the use of renewables which depends on climatic and geographical conditions. Wind is the most mature of all the renewable technologies, while biomass generation is the most stable. The most ideal situation is where every building is itself a power source. This could take place via the Khilafah adopting building standards whereby all new buildings must have a certain percentage of its energy needs met through micro-generation i.e. through solar and combined heat and power units. Pakistan and Bangladesh have huge hydropower potential, whilst Indonesia and Malaysia have large wind power potential, at the same time the Middle East has huge solar potential. All of this ensures fossil fuels do not dominate the energy mix, which causes so many issues to the environment.
The Muslim world possesses all the necessary ingredients to fulfil the Ummah’s energy needs, Allah (swt) has endowed the Muslim lands with many minerals that are more than sufficient for the Khilafah to launch an industrial revolution. The Khilafah would in fact from some perspectives be in a much better position on the eve of its development than many of the industrialised nations were. Germany, Japan and China all lacked the necessary resources, it was this challenge that led Germany and Japan to colonise resource-rich nations. The US and Britain lacked the necessary population for industrial development, this was overcome through enslaving the people of colonised nations. This Khilafah will not have face problems as the Ummah number over one billion and the Islamic lands posses more than enough mineral resources for an industrial revolution.
The use of energy has global ramifications and the current system of carbon targets has failed miserably as they are mere targets, with no regulation or global police force to enforce them. What is needed is a new global rules based system which the world submits to, otherwise the damage caused by unrestricted mineral extraction will further exacerbate the already ravaged rainforests and atmosphere.