Here in Alberta, much ado has been made about the Premier’s recent climate change plan. Generally it seems to have gone over well, with major gas and oil companies like Shell and Suncor supporting it—except for a few (sometimes absurd) outliers. But I’m not here to talk about politics and plans. Instead, I’m here to talk about our shared inheritance: our planet.
The shared place in our hearts
Even though I grew up in a small city, I was blessed to have a childhood outside (even if most of my free time was spent with a controller in my hand—which I don’t regret). Both of my parents had grown up in the countryside, and so I was the first of our family to be born and raised in a city. But my favourite place was always, always, the mountains.
In the summer, my parents, brother and I would pack up and drive to Radium, BC, and tucked away in the mountainous Columbia Valley was a sizeable trailer park where we spent two weeks of our summer. Some days we would spend driving through the scenic back country; others I would spend hiking through a trail close to our lot. Though we went there every year, I never tired of seeing the mountains or even the same trails we cross each time we were there. I grew up with an appreciation for nature. From the insects that crawled on the ground, to the mountains and plains and landscapes, to the stars in the sky—all of it resonated in that shared place in our hearts, that only some nowadays listen to, which humbles us and reminds us of our insignificance amongst creation. Instinctively, we’re connected to this earth.
Which is why it’s so troubling that we’re killing it.
The Earth is an anomaly.
A lone and living planet, surrounded by 7 others that are lifeless. While discoveries like Kepler 452B let us know that other Earth-like planets are out there, as of right now this is the only home we have; as of right now, this is the only home in the known universe to support complex life. Earth is made up of a multitude of ecosystems that all live in a perfect balance, and each one is interconnected and affects the other in ways both subtle and profound.
As of right now, this is our only home.
Unfortunately, the greed of the industrial revolution carried over for a century too long. Profits took precedence over gratefulness as our desire for more and more drove us to fill our stomachs even when we weren’t hungry. Our hunger for expansion and material progress became as mechanical as the machines we used to harvest the earth, “… and all our machines and skyscrapers could do nothing to restore the broken wholeness of our souls” (Road to Mecca, Muhammad Asad).
From an Islamic point of view, the Earth and everything on it is here for our benefit. But with it comes a responsibility. Though God says in the Qur’an, “He is the One Who created everything in the earth for you” (2:29), He also says right after that mankind was placed on earth as a calipha (2:30). Among the many meanings of the term “caliph” is “trustee” or “ambassador”. As such, the responsibility of proper stewardship of the planet falls on us.
We can take advantage of our planet’s resources—in fact, it could be said we were meant to do so—but only as long as it is done so in a way that is both sustainable for the planet and beneficial to us. One of the most profound Islamic traditions related to this comes from Caliph Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin of Prophet Muhammad (p), where he said to a man who had reclaimed and developed land, “Partake of it gladly, so long as you are a benefactor, not a despoiler; a cultivator, not a destroyer.” It’s a reminder that every oil, logging and mining company should have pinned above their entrances.
So now we have to ask ourselves: which category do we fall into?
The Earth and everything on it
The Earth and everything on it would not weep if mankind were suddenly removed. Compared to everything else on the planet, our existence here has only been for a small blip in the stream of time. In fact, if mankind were suddenly wiped off the face of the earth, within a few years, the forests and plains would reclaim the cities, animals would take residence in our dwellings, and eventually all of our achievements and all of our monuments would not even be a memory.
The next few weeks will set the political agenda for climate change for years to come. As the world sees firsthand the effects of climate change, we’re already dangerously close to tipping past the point of no return, if we haven’t done so already.
For us, actions start at home. It can be simple things: turn off the lights when you’re not home, lower the thermostat at night, walk more, drive less. We’ve become so comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, in our modern way of life that anything less than rapid consumption is seen as oppressive.
As we stand poised to go down an uncertain future, it’s time that all of us partake in our collective duty and embrace our roles as caretakers of the Earth and everything on it.