LEGAL ACTION FOR THE CLIMATE GOAL: TOWARDS EQUITY, SURVIVAL AND THE RULE OF LAW
“PRESIDENT TRUMP MAY HAVE HIS ALTERNATIVE FACTS,
BUT ALTERNATIVE FACTS DO NOT WORK IN A COURTROOM”
Faith declarations on climate change
Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change
God – Whom we know as Allah – has created the universe in all its diversity, richness and vitality: the stars, the sun and moon, the earth and all its communities of living beings. All these reflect and manifest the boundless glory and mercy of their Creator. All created beings by nature serve and glorify their Maker, all bow to their Lord’s will. We human beings are created to serve the Lord of all beings, to work the greatest good we can for all the species, individuals, and generations of God’s creatures.
Our planet has existed for billions of years and climate change in itself is not new. The earth’s climate has gone through phases wet and dry, cold and warm, in response to many natural factors. Most of these changes have been gradual, so that the forms and communities of life have adjusted accordingly. There have been catastrophic climate changes that brought about mass extinctions, but over time, life adjusted even to these impacts, flowering anew in the emergence of balanced ecosystems such as those we treasure today. Climate change in the past was also instrumental in laying down immense stores of fossil fuels from which we derive benefits today. Ironically, our unwise and short-sighted use of these resources is now resulting in the destruction of the very conditions that have made our life on earth possible.
"The pace of Global climate change today is of a different order of magnitude from the gradual changes that previously occurred throughout the most recent era, the Cenozoic. Moreover, it is human-induced: we have now become a force dominating nature. The epoch in which we live has increasingly been described in geological terms as the Anthropocene, or “Age of Humans”. Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet. This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost. As we humans are woven into the fabric of the natural world, its gifts are for us to savour. But the same fossil fuels that helped us achieve most of the prosperity we see today are the main cause of climate change. Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah – gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans. But our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them. What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?"
In the brief period since the Industrial Revolution, humans have consumed much of the non-renewable resources which have taken the earth 250 million years to produce – all in the name of economic development and human progress. We note with alarm the combined impacts of rising per capita consumption combined with the rising human population. We also note with alarm the multi-national scramble now taking place for more fossil fuel deposits under the dissolving ice caps in the arctic regions. We are accelerating our own destruction through these processes.
Leading climate scientists now believe that a rise of two degrees centigrade in global temperature, which is considered to be the “tipping point”, is now very unlikely to be avoided if we continue with business-as-usual; other leading climate scientists consider 1.5 degrees centigrade to be a more likely “tipping point”. This is the point considered to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change, which will expose yet more millions of people and countless other creatures to drought, hunger and flooding. The brunt of this will continue to be borne by the poor, as the Earth experiences a drastic increase in levels of carbon in the atmosphere brought on in the period since the onset of the industrial revolution.
We recognize that we are but a miniscule part of the divine order, yet within that order, we are exceptionally powerful beings, and have the responsibility to establish good and avert evil in every way we can. We also recognize that –
We are but one of the multitude of living beings with whom we share the Earth;
We have no right to oppress the rest of creation or cause it harm;
Intelligence and conscience behoove us, as our faith commands, to treat all things with care and awe (taqwa) of their Creator, compassion (rahmah) and utmost good (ihsan).
وَمَا مِن دَآبَّةٍ فِي الأَرْضِ وَلاَ طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم
There is no animal on the earth, or any bird that wings its flight, but is a community like you.
Qur’an 6: 38
لَخَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ أَكْبَرُ مِنْ خَلْقِ النَّاسِ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لا يَعْلَمُونَ
Finally, we call on all Muslims wherever they may be –
Heads of state
Religious leaders and scholars
Islamic endowments (awqaf)
Educators and educational institutions
Civil society activists
Communications and media
وَلاَ تَمْشِ فِي الأَرْضِ مَرَحًا إِنَّكَ لَن تَخْرِقَ الأَرْضَ وَلَن تَبْلُغَ الْجِبَالَ طُولاً
Do not strut arrogantly on the earth.
You will never split the earth apart
nor will you ever rival the mountains’ stature.
Qur’an 17: 37
We bear in mind the words of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):
The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves
Hadīth related by Muslim from Abu Sa‘īd Al-Khudrī)
Papal Encyclical, Laudato si ('on care for our common home')
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
14. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.
23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. As these gases build up in the atmosphere, they hamper the escape of heat produced by sunlight at the earth’s surface. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.
26. Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.
A response to Laudato si by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si marks a critical moment in the history of life itself. It is rare than anyone has the wisdom and courage to propose to a massive audience a comprehensive agenda for humanity, at once spiritual, moral, social, economic and environmental. It is done with love, knowledge and humility. Whatever our faith or philosophy, we owe the Pope our gratitude. We also owe a duty to respond, because the letter calls for everybody’s participation and no less is at stake than the survival of life on earth.
Pope Francis’s understanding of the world is profoundly rooted in the Hebrew Bible. ‘The earth is the Lord’s’ and all life has intrinsic worth before God, a value irreducible solely to utilitarian quantification. The human task is not to exploit but ‘to work and protect’ the earth and all life on it.
In the remarkable rabbinic phrase, we are ‘partners with God in creation’. The appeal to humanity to act faithfully and responsibly within that partnership is deeply familiar. It seems radical only because the illusion of independence from nature and the delusion of unlimited economic growth at its expense have caused us to forget.
Equally Biblical is the outspoken coupling of social with economic justice, the insistence that we must ‘hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. In the sabbatical year when ‘the earth rests unto the Lord’ gates must be opened and barriers come down. Whatever grows must be shared between poor and rich, citizen and refugee, domestic and wild animals. It is a model for how we might re-imagine a more just and integrated economy, not dominated by what Pope Francis describes as the consumerist, throw-away, self-seeking ‘technocratic paradigm’.
The force and authority of the encyclical derives both from love and from knowledge. It is inspired by that deep love of nature as the expression of God’s sacred oneness, known to mystics of all faiths. It is equally animated by an unremitting commitment to knowledge. Like for Maimonides in the twelfth century, science is not regarded as a hostile discourse but rather as the essential partner of religion in seeking to comprehend and cherish God’s world: to love God is to study God’s works.
Laudato Si sets the results of such scrutiny before us with unsparing, comprehensive frankness, including the state of oceans, forests and farms; cities, buildings and transport; and above all the fate of the poor, the first to pay the price of our spiritual and moral disorientation.
The rabbis put into God’s mouth the blunt demand: ‘Do not destroy my world, because there is no one to repair it after you’. The same warning was brilliantly encapsulated on a placard at the recent Climate Action rally: ‘There is no planet B’. What then are we leaving for those who come after us? This concern with what we pass on to our children has always been a central Jewish pre-occupation. The Pope’s plea for ‘intergenerational solidarity’ may be his most powerful, painful appeal.
The rabbis taught that ‘Learning is great because it leads to action’. The encyclical indicates the necessary spheres of action: enforceable international agreements; governmental commitments to responsible, long-term policies; the full engagement of every sector of society, business, community and family. This call to personal and collective responsibility is familiar to Judaism, which understands God’s first question to us all as ‘Have you acted in good faith?’
In the last public lecture of his life, the moral philosopher Hans Jonas was asked to address the subject of racism. Instead, he spoke of the ‘endangered global environment’ and how it rendered racism ‘anachronistic, irrelevant, almost farcical.’ A new solidarity was needed: ‘A common guilt binds us, a common interest unites us, a common fate awaits us, a common responsibility calls us’.
That call is compellingly expressed in Laudato Si. It is a summons to ‘a conversation which includes everyone’, and to actions in which we must all participate.
It concludes with a universal Prayer for the Earth:
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
I believe that alongside Christians those of all faiths will be glad to say ‘Amen’.