Global Warming and Hajj in the Coming Decades

Sun shining over a high detailed view of planet Eearth, focused on Middle East and Arabian peninsula (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change, are on track to rise one percent in 2022 to reach an all-time high, scientists said at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Emissions are now five percent above what they were when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Barely 1.2 C of warming to date has unleashed a crescendo of deadly and costly extreme weather, from heat waves and droughts to flooding and tropical storms made more destructive by rising seas. To achieve the ambitious Paris target, global greenhouse emissions must drop 45% by 2030, and be cut to net zero by mid-century, with any residual emissions compensated by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

And a UN report released to coincide with the COP27 climate summit revealed that the past eight years were the hottest on record, leaving the climate goals set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords “barely within reach.”

Produced by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a body of the UN, the report said the rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1993, and that the global average temperature in 2022 is about 1.15°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

The Greenland ice sheet, located 3,200 meters above sea level, lost mass for the 26th consecutive year, and, in September, rain, rather than snow, was recorded on the ice sheet for the very first time.

The arid Middle East is a global climate hotspot where temperatures are increasing much faster than the global average; and where declining rainfall will exacerbate existing water shortages and raise the dangers of water wars.

And now UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns humanity is choosing “collective suicide” with its failure to act on climate change saying: “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction,”

A recent study projecting future summer temperatures in the region around Mecca finds that as soon as 2023, summer days in Saudi Arabia could surpass the United States National Weather Service's extreme danger heat-stress threshold, at (104.3 degrees Fahrenheit).

At the extreme danger threshold defined by the National Weather Service, sweat no longer evaporates efficiently, so the human body cannot cool itself and overheats. Exposure to these conditions for long periods of time, such as during the 5-6 day Hajj, could cause heat stroke and possibly death.

Middle Eastern temperatures are rising because of climate change and scientists project them to keep rising in the coming decades. In the past 30 years, the temperature surpassed the danger threshold 58 percent of the time, but never passed the extreme danger threshold. Passing the extreme danger threshold for extended periods of time means heat stroke is highly likely.

In the coming decades, Hajj pilgrims will have to endure extremely dangerous heat and humidity levels in years when Hajj falls over summer. Their projections estimate heat and humidity levels during Hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold six percent of the time by 2020’s, 20 percent of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42 percent of the time between 2079 and 2086.

How should religious people react to this challenge? The Torah states: “The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest." (Leviticus 25:1-5)

Thus the land is not to be exhausted or abused for short-term gains of private individuals, religious institutions, or government officials.

“Do you not observe that God sends down rain from the sky, so that in the morning the earth becomes green?” (Qur’an 22:63). The color green is the most blessed of all colors for Muslims and, together with the value of nature as God’s most fruitful plan, provides a charter for a green movement, a “green jihad” appropriate for addressing the global environmental crisis.

The rabbinic Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabba 7:13 demands human responsibility toward nature as follows: “God took the first humans before all the trees of the Garden of Eden saying: ‘See my works, how fine and excellent they are. All that I created, I created for you. Reflect on this and do not corrupt or desolate my world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’”

Precisely because the natural world is God’s creation, the value of nature in Judaism cannot be simply utilitarian: the natural world does not belong to humans, but to God, and must be cared for and just be exploited for greed or comfort.

“Corruption has appeared in both land and sea because of what people’s own hands have brought” (Qur’an 30: 41)

Environmental stewardship is an integral part of Islam. The Quran says, “It is He who has appointed you vicegerent on the earth…” (Quran 6:165). The Prophet said, “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, the exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves” (Saheeh Muslim). The Quran tells us, “The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk gently upon the earth…” (Quran 25:63).

There should always be justice in resource distribution; as Islam instructs us using the example of the tribe of Thamud: “And let them know that water is to be divided between them, with each share of water equitably apportioned” (Quran 54:28).

  Category: Featured, Highlights, Middle East, Nature & Science
  Topics: Egypt, Global Warming, Hajj, Interfaith
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