In May, London saw protests staged by Extinction Rebellion, a socio-political movement, that brought parts of London to a standstill. The direct action organised by the group and the subsequent arrests were designed to draw attention to the plight of the environment and the perceived possibility of the extinction of the human race due to climate catastrophe.
Although, on the issue of climate change the jury is still out as to whether global warming is a natural part of the cycle of warming and cooling that has been a feature of the earth’s climate since its creation, or whether it is the disastrous result of man’s addiction to fossil fuels: there is no doubt that man’s actions – and especially those of the corporate sector – are the cause of massive environmental damage and destruction and governments seem unwilling to tackle this issue. Hence Extinction Rebellion felt the need to take direct action to force governments to respond to these issues.
Although well intentioned, the contradiction in their thoughts are highlighted by the example of their celebrity sponsors. When asked whether she flew economy class to join the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, the British actress Emma Thompson replied with an expletive prefixed NO. The mockery that she had flown 5,400 miles first-class, creating a carbon footprint of 6.04 tonnes of CO2 – whilst flying economy class on the same aeroplane would have created a carbon footprint of only 1.51 tonnes – was apparently lost on her whilst she pontificated about the detrimental effects of air travel, and urged people to protest outside Heathrow airport.
Herein lies the great conundrum of Western environmentalism, whereby the attitude that you can have your cake and eat it has been manufactured by the capitalist elites. Just like the case of Emma Thompson, where the gratification of 30cm of extra leg room and porcelain dishes justified a nearly six-time increase in carbon emission, for the rest of the population the instant gratification of the latest technological trinket concocted by corporations in their quest for perpetual growth, is also justified no matter how trivial the upgrade or increase in utility.
But this attitude is simply a natural consequence of the secular capitalist ideology, which primes the masses for their exploitation by the capitalist elites and their corporations. When secularism relegated all concepts about what came before life and what will come after our existence in this universe to simply an irrelevance, it created a spiritual and existential vacuum. Man’s innate need to sanctify and have purpose in life, left unfulfilled and directionless, has turned to the sanctification of celebrity and self gratification. Consumption thus becomes the new religion, shopping its primary religious ritual and Saturday its holy day.
These facts are not lost upon the guru’s of secular capitalism, who created, promoted and profited from these belief systems. The essentials of life aside, the essence of marketing success is to create a need and desire for a product where one did not exist before and then expand this need and desire to cover further iterations of essentially the same product with albeit minor and inconsequential improvements, and the measure of success in design is to create a product whose obsolescence is manufactured into the product. The corporate media, with their celebrities and influencers – who constitute the high priests of this new religion – redefine happiness and fulfilment as the ownership and consumption of the product or service that they are paid to promote. Obsolescence, if not manufactured into the product, is generated by the desire to have the latest iteration promoted by celebrities and slick marketing.
Production, however clean, produces waste and consumes natural resources. The collective guilt of consumers may be eased somewhat by the mirage of recycling, but this constitutes a tiny fraction of what is produced and the recycling process often creates more waste that the equivalent production from virgin materials and does nothing to mitigate the initial pollution. The only real solution is to simply produce less and more durable products, but the entirety of the economic model of capitalism is based upon the promotion of consumption, economic activity and wealth is measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). Economic forecasts are predicted on the basis of consumer confidence and the interest based economics of the capitalist world demands perpetual growth to keep its wheels turning. Producing less is simply not an option. Nor is it championed by political authorities, whose response to the needs of global capital exceeds its concern for people or the environment.
What is needed is not a mitigation of the harms of capitalism, because the wholesale exploitation of the natural world to fill the coffers of the billionaire elites is enshrined in its basic viewpoint on life and the intricacies of its economic solutions. Rather, what is needed is the replacement of secular capitalism from its very creed, to its economic and political systems.
Islam represents that alternative. Islam defines for man a world-view where the consumption of goods and services does not constitute the reason for existence and sanctification is reserved for the Creator of the universe rather than a superficial celebrity. This creates a resilience in society which shields it from the excesses of a consumer culture in which the use and disposal of products creates continent sized patches of waste.
Islam Abhors Waste
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What is this extravagance?” Sa’d said, “Is there extravagance with water in ablution?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.”
Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 425.
Hence even when there is an abundance of resource, conserving it for the use of others is still encouraged. This creates demand for durable products, which are used, reused and are only disposed of when the utility in them is exhausted.
Furthermorem unlike the political systems of secular capitalism, Islam does not prioritise the demands of global capital over the needs and wellbeing of people and the environment. In the Islamic political system, the Khaleefah is immune from the influence of the owners of capital. Hence it is not the case that consumers are charged five or ten pence for a carrier bag but corporations are left free to fill those bags with single use plastic packaging. Rather, Islam prioritises the wellbeing of the community over the profits of the business classes and ensures a sustainable future for mankind.