Climate Change, Religion, and Planetary Well-being

Conference on Religion and Climate Change - Southeast Asia (CORECS) 2023 held in Jakarta, Indonesia (photo: Kompas/Stephanus Aranditio).

This is a recapitulation from the Conference on Religion and Climate Change - Southeast Asia (CORECS) 2023, organized by the Muslim Council of Elders, 3-5 October, 2023 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The planet and its inhabitants are facing an increasingly changing and challenging environment, causing damage to their livelihoods. This phenomenon, often referred to as climate change, should be understood as changes in all aspects of activities and forces taking place in our surroundings.

Climate change is characterized by the prevailing trend affecting all aspects of planetary life, encompassing deteriorating weather, insufficient food, and degraded lifestyles, all of which are interrelated. Climate change is occurring globally, affecting the economic, social, and psychological aspects of society. Inhabitants of the planet are now suffering from the adverse consequences of climate change, including heat-related illnesses, reduced agricultural productivity, and high energy demands for cooling human spaces.

Floods, droughts, and storms have resulted in various detrimental effects on human life, infrastructure, and agriculture.

Although the impacts of climate change are massive, many people believe it is only related to weather changes or pollution of the physical environment. Climate change also involves increasingly changing social aspects, encompassing deteriorating human values, unhealthy lifestyles, or hazardous actions. In this regard, the root cause of the change goes back to human factors. Many parties have a direct contribution to causing damage to the planet. They have been in competition with each other for ostensibly scarce resources, driven by their greed for resources, to the detriment of not only the current generation but also future generations.

Hence, more efforts should be organized to address the factors contributing to climate change and the issues resulting from it, especially when many have lost their income due to disruptions in weather. This warrants the formulation of strategies to regulate the wise use of resources in the current time without jeopardizing, neglecting, or compromising the ability of our future generations to meet their needs. There is a critical need to restore a healthy climate and prevent the erosion of the environment, both of which are essential for the quality of living and the well-being of all species on this earth. It's important to be aware that the absence of affirmative actions would place the safety, security, and well-being of the planet and its inhabitants at stake.

Though the discourse on protecting the planet has received ample attention, not many people in society understand the real meaning of climate change, including scholars and religious scholars who have significant roles to play. They are instrumental in capacity building to support and substantiate the development of society, particularly in empowering people to change the way they think and act to protect the planet, enhance human prosperity, and ensure a sustainable future.

As such, there is a dire need to focus on the development of individuals and create a conducive environment that fosters the sustainable well-being of people on this earth. This effort is achievable if there is a good synergy between subject matter experts from different backgrounds, including religious scholars, for religion provides guidelines on ways to deal with the environment aimed at bringing about holistic well-being on this planet and in the hereafter. Stated another way, there should be a strategic set of informed interventions to deal with climate change issues, based on data about the current and future condition of the environment and the ways it will affect humankind, as provided by scientists.

Religion has an influential impact and should be referred to when dealing with human activities concerning the environment. Religious scholars should play more active roles in providing information about climate issues, for they have the ability to unlock the principles that regulate the man-environment relationship in religious texts. For example, scholars in Islamic Studies could help the community understand the aspects of the environment addressed in the Quran and Hadith. In short, there must be special attention given to integrating religious perspectives into the efforts to deal with the environment, consume produce from nature, and protect the rights of future generations.

From a religious perspective, despite having been given the purpose of life, many of us do not have the real knowledge about our existence. In effect, many of us go against the teachings of religion, which provide a comprehensive guide for people on this earth. Religious perspectives must be approached not only as information to know but also as principles to be applied in taking care of this world and its people. Religion does not address the human condition in isolation from the rest of the surroundings but promotes the best ways of dealing with others, including the environment. People have to be guided in developing sound consciences when dealing with the environment or others in their surroundings. There should be a good link between the roles of intellect and the state of belief system in guiding humans to act towards the environment. A good blend between knowledge and faith is crucial to manifest good behaviors in life, including our actions towards our environment.

There are significant roles of religious scholars and leaders in addressing the issues of climate change. Concrete steps should be taken by religious leaders to promote the right understanding of climate, its causes of changes, and understanding the roles of humans on this earth. Religious scholars could play their significant roles by:

1. Staying updated on the changes taking place in the environment, including engaging with scholars of knowledge and relevant professional community.

2. Designing religious education content or curriculum that stresses the real roles of humans as vicegerents of God, who carry the responsibilities to manage this world. Men are created to lead good lives and manage the world based on the guidance provided.

3. Relating the knowledge and principles taught in religion to the current context, to bring about good conditions in life.

4. Emphasizing or edifying people on the right ways to deal with people and the environment; and the resources granted to us.

5. Deriving the many religious principles from the Quran and Hadiths that guide people to have a good relationship with the surroundings or climate; and the obligation to avoid disaster.

6. Guiding humans to balance their reliance on intellectual state and emotion when dealing with resources, conditions, or actions that could cause destruction to the environment.

7. Working with political leaders and policy makers to provide them with the input that could inform the formulation of policies, regulations, strategies, or laws to protect the rights of the public for a healthy life, prevent pollution, and manage its negative consequences.

8. Initiating engagement with various parties to join force with them in equipping the public with knowledge of climate change, its emergence, and effects.

9. Highlighting knowledge and principles derived from the religious sources to remind people of the right ways to deal with the environment; and the consequences of ignoring the idea of having a healthy environment, hence leading to the development of the right attitudes towards climate-related matters; and in turn, nurturing the right actions towards the environment.

Given that climate change is an agenda addressed in the framework of sustainable development goals, several pertinent issues concerning the planet's health and people's livelihoods require attention. There should also be initiatives to empower people to regulate their actions that can contribute to a healthy planet, necessitating the formulation of strategic initiatives to enhance awareness and concern over the environment and climate change. These initiatives could take the form of campaigns organized to create awareness of dealing with climate change.

There should be continuous synergized efforts of all groups to increase the right understanding of the importance of managing climate changes. Strategies should be formulated to communicate the importance of protecting the environment. Besides, there should be collaborative efforts of various parties, representing policy makers, politicians, professionals, and leaders of civil societies. Appropriate interventions should be put in place to enhance the understanding of relevant scholars, intellectuals, professionals, and leaders on issues related to climate change, and in turn, improve the measures to deal with climate change. Hence, there must be judicious efforts to:

1. Inform them of the impact of climate change, warranting strategic platforms to deliberate the issues vis-a-vis cultural, political, governmental, economic, and social forces.

2. Increase understanding of climate changes among relevant groups of people, creating awareness of the need to protect the long-term value of the environment while maintaining current economic advancement and progress.

3. State the position of religion on the essentiality to care for the environment, fight against environmental degradation or erosion.

4. Address the issues of a healthy planet, and in turn, suggest necessary initiatives to deal with the phenomena, in all forms and at all levels.

5. Formulate strategies to preserve the health of the planet and its inhabitants, engaging the involvement of governments, agencies, civil societies, and educational institutions.

6. Pave the way for a higher level of collaborative strategies with all parties in the efforts to bring about a healthy planet and human well-being.

Dr. Shukran Abd Rahman is professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology at AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia.

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