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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 4    Issue 08   01-15 September 2009

The Environment: Challenges and Vision

Some key issues, success stories and a road map to a safe, prosperous, sustainable future

By Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam

Allah made man His vice-regent (Khalifah) on earth, to be master of all he surveyed. He made the earth for man and man for Himself and His ibaadat. “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: I will create a vicegerent on earth” (Quran: 2:30). Allah further says, “I have only created jinns and men that they may serve Me”. (Quran: 51:56).

In fact, earth could be just only one of the planets and stars on which God intended humans to rule on His behalf. Already men and women are going to the outer space. After the moon the nearby planet Mars has received spacecraft from the earth, which have brought back pictures and soil.

However, it must be kept in mind that so far humans have been living on the earth only, the physical abode of Adam and Eve. No other planet or star has the life-supporting environment of the earth, its perfect mix of gases, its huge water bodies, its cold and hot zones, its forests and snow-clad mountains, its amazing diversity of plant and animal life. Earth alone has everything that can sustain human life in such large numbers.

Sadly, the environment that has supported us for hundreds of thousands of years is degrading quickly. Successive generations have come and gone, leaving the earth and its resources for future generations almost as they had inherited them from their forefathers. However, today, we are facing a situation where we would not be able to pass the earth on to our children and children’s children in the condition we got it from our parents. Our children are going to get a sick, weakened and degraded earth from us.

The earth is getting warmer because of industrial and economic activity; the great ice caps that maintained the world’s temperature and its climate are melting; deforestation is destroying the earth’s green cover; rice, wheat and corn production are stagnating because no new farm technologies are coming up, and no new land is being brought under cultivation; world’s great oceanic fisheries are crashing because of overfishing and wrong fishing methods; mutton and beef production are stagnating because of shrinking open pasture lands (as most of the land is used for farming now); the quality of air we breathe is deteriorating because of high rate of carbon emission, suspended particles and other gases; the water bodies are being poisoned with pesticides and assorted chemical, physical and biological pollutants; availability of water for drinking and farming is shrinking quickly; every year hundreds of plant and animal species are getting extinct, disappearing for ever.

The earth is barely able to provide pure air, water and food for us. It is an emergency situation. We must begin to understand the problem to fix it: its economics, politics, sociology, biology, its chemistry and physics. And also the moral imperative of doing so.

The situation today is pretty grim. We have always to keep in mind that environmental damage mainly results from one source: human economic activity. We are not suggesting that all economic activity must be stopped. All that we want is introduction of cleaner technologies, curbs on deforestation, replacement of organochlorines and organophosphates with less toxic ways of dealing with pests, conservation of water bodies and curbs on activities that pollute them. And, of course, a few other measures.

These challenges have been taken up in right earnest by governments and people’s groups like NGOs. Of course, every country has not been equally keen on coming to grips with these issues, nor has every country got the political will or the required technological and financial resources to meet these challenges.

  • Energy use choices and global warming
  • Urbanisation
  • Water resources: sharing, scarcity and quality degradation issues
  • Food security
  • Carbon emission, capture, sequestering, trade off and related issues
  • Habitat loss, extinction of animal and plant species at a high rate
  • Resurgence of infectious disease

These are only a few of the focal points in the contemporary environmental movement. There are a lot of others which have a bearing on the quality of life of future generations. The solution of such issues hinges on a knowledge of economics, politics, physics, chemistry, bio-sciences, governance and policy-making. That is why it is a collaborative effort from experts of different fields, government and private sector, civil society and international organisations like the UN, WHO and WWF. Here I am dealing briefly with just a few of the issues, some success stories and a vision for future action.

Energy Use Choices

Fossil fuels today are mired in all kinds of controversies. These fuels (coal, petrol, gas and diesel) are the sources of energy that have brought the industrialised world to where they stand today. First it was coal that drove the Industrial Revolution of Europe, fuelling their big factories, ships and railways. Then came petrol, diesel and gas. Electricity, which came later, has been produced with these fuels traditionally. Even hydro-electricity generating plants use these sources at critical points. Nuclear electricity generation and the use of nuclear energy for other purposes is a still later development.

Most of the atmospheric pollution and industry-related other pollutions have been the handiwork of these industrialised countries, which have been using these fuels for production, transportation and household warming (and, later, for cooling) for nearly 250 years. Their use of these fuels is still quite intensive. Now that the rising big economies like India, China and Brazil are coming up fast and their energy use is increasing quickly the industrialised world is asking them to curtail carbon emission.

The industrialised world insists that countries like India, China and Brazil must cut their carbon emission to slow down global warming. To that these countries argue that the industrialised countries have advanced economically by contributing heavily to global warming, burning fossil fuels for over two centuries. Now that it is the turn of the developing countries to grow, all manner of conditions are being imposed upon them. The developed countries are also investing heavily in research on alternative fuels. Pressure from US and Europe on countries like China is not fair, because even today the US uses on a per capita basis 13 times more oil than China does (2005 estimates). Also US use of energy is one-fourth of the whole world’s put together.

However, as the Chinese economy expands, this country has begun to use more coal for its growing energy needs. The Chinese now use more coal than the US, Russia and China put together. Incidentally, coal happens to be environmentally the most damaging fuel. As fossil fuels–oil, coal and gas – provide 80 percent of the world’s energy needs, efforts are on to increase output of non-conventional energy–nuclear, wind, solar and bio–fuel.

The non-fossil energy sources are growing steadily. However, they are not always as advantageous as they are generally claimed to be. Also, one has to remember that the disposal of nuclear spent fuel is one of the long-term environmental hazards, their toxicity being intact for thousands of years. The production of biofuel from farm produce has a direct bearing on food security. Both these sources are expanding.

According to Worldwatch, in 2005 solar power production grew by 45 percent, wind power by 24 percent and biofuels by 22 percent. This expansion would continue.

It must be recognised that the debate over energy is no longer confined to scientific, economic and environmental considerations alone, but has become deeply involved in international power politics.


The first city of human history was built 6,000 years ago (in 4000 BC) in the Tigris-Euphrates valley. By then humanity was quite old. After that, over the centuries, cities started getting built in Egypt, India, China, Latin America and elsewhere. Today, within this relatively short span of 6,000 years, the process of urbanisation has picked up so much speed that 50 million people are migrating to cities every year. That is equivalent to the entire population of France.

For the first time in history, the urban population (that includes suburbs and smaller towns) became equal to rural population last year. That was a civilisational milestone. Expansion of urban areas, especially such a rapid expansion, has its environmental, social, economic, political and health costs. One of the most important environmental NGOs, the Washington-based Worldwatch, says that the fate of humanity now depends largely on urban areas more than the rural.

While cities are the centres of excellence in education, science, technology, business, trade, health services and housing, these are precisely the areas that put the maximum stress on environmental systems. Cities are also the hatcheries of violent crime, terrorism, unemployment and social unrest. These things are quite understandable. The main reason of environmental degradation is economic activity, and cities are the hubs of that activity. It requires more cars, trucks, different motorised vehicles, railways, aircraft, home and office equipment, including heating and cooling devices to keep cities going. It also needs mills and factories. All that leaves a massive fort print on the environment.

The social unrest of cities stems from unjust, iniquitous economic growth. A lot of people feel cheated and left out. They grudge the system and are easy to recruit in criminal gangs and terrorist outfits. If we look at the terror attack sites of the last few years we find these locations at the heart of the battle: New York, London, Madrid, Al-Khobar, Riyadh, Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Delhi, Mumbai, Dhaka, to name just a few. Cities are also vulnerable because they are centres of power and decision-making authority. Slums in cities are also conducive to the spread of infections diseases because of population density, unhygienic conditions and lack of access to clean water.

The greatest battles of the 21st century will be won – or lost—in the cities: battles to overcome AIDS, water scarcity, joblessness, homelessness, environmental degradation, crime and climate change. It is important to note that as late as the early decades of the 20th century an extremely small population used to live in the cities. Even in 1950 there were only two cities with a population of over 10 million: New York and Tokyo. Today there are 20 such cities, a majority of them in Asia and Latin America. Imagine the environmental burden of such a concentrated population and the intense economic activity in a relatively small area.

Now most of the expansion is taking place in the satellite towns of megacities and in what builders and developers call “Tier-2 cities” like state capitals. In India most of the new development has not been in the capital Delhi, but its satellite towns like Ghaziabad and NOIDA (Uttar Pradesh state) and Gurgaon and Faridabad (Haryana state). A similar pattern is evident in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Although the present economic slow down has retarded the process of expansion, it will gain momentum once the economy is back on the rails. However, the problems of fast urbanisation are already evident in Gurgaon’s water shortage and falling water table, while NOIDA is dogged by violent crime.

The entire block called NCR (National Capital Region) that consists of Delhi-New Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, NOIDA and Ghaziabad is facing the usual environmental problems of urbanisation: air and water pollution, water shortage and crime. It is interesting to note that over the last 100 years more than 100 villages around Delhi have been swallowed by the relentlessly expanding capital.

The environmental costs of this expansion are quite visible. Wildlife has shrunken and there are fewer bird and animal species around. What were once open farmlands are now blocks of residential, office and factory buildings. The remaining open spaces have largely been turned into paved roads. Now there is far less ground recharge of rain water (buildings and roads cannot absorb water like open fields), and a perennially falling water table. That is just one of the many environmental issues with which India’s capital is engaging.

The relentless urbanisation of the world will pick up more speed in the years ahead. According to demographers, by 2015 there will be 59 cities in Africa with a population of between one million and five million, 65 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 250 in Asia. By 2030 out of five people living in urban areas, four will be from today’s developing world. The environmental cost of all this, needless to say, will be forebidding.

Water Resources

One of the major areas of concern is the growing inadequacy of water resources globally, and the possibilities of armed conflict over the sharing of these resources. Within countries, and between countries, this remains a major concern. Violent confrontations between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India are an example of internal strife over sharing of river waters. It is interesting to note that even the word “rivalry” comes from the root “river”, and the tension associated with sharing this resource. Rivalry over women, or something else, is only later usage.

Careless, reckless use of water has led to serious problems in India and elsewhere, and careful, sustainable use of water resources in India and elsewhere has produced commendable results. Needless to say, recklessness in water use is frought with serious environmental and health risks. Islam’s disapproval of wasting water is not confined to water-scarce areas alone.

Canal irrigation system in India is a fine example of such risks. When canal irrigation was introduced in the state of Punjab (India) in 1904, an outbreak of malaria was the immediate result. So much surface water available in the vicinity (especially in the irrigated fields and nearby ditches) provided a fertile ground for breeding malaria-causing anopheles mosquitoes.

Silting (and resultant shallowing) of rivers because of soil erosion in the catchment areas causes floods and overflowing in rivers, damaging villages and crops, disrupting life, while seepage and over-irrigation has turned soil saline and barren. These issues, too, have to be addressed.

There is another side to this story. Over the last 100 years or so farmers in Punjab (India) have mined so much groundwater that water tables have fallen precipitously. If they go on mining at the present rate Punjab will run out of groundwater within the next two decades, leaving nothing for the future generations. This is a frightening prospect for this state, known as the leading grain producer of India, which depends largely on canal and tubewell irrigation for farming. Such terrible consequences of excessive mining of water are fairly well-known everywhere, because water in the underground aquifers takes thousands of years to collect, but people mine that much water within a single lifetime. That creates a huge deficit.

Water misuse can be worrisome in other ways as well. Cheerapunji in Assam state (India) is one of the areas in the world recording very heavy rainfall throughout the monsoon. Yet, it does not have enough drinking water for six months, because most of the water flows down the hills into the rivers and away into the sea. On the other hand, the semi-desert areas of Jaisalmar district in Rajasthan state (India) record only a tiny fraction of Cheerapunji rainfall, but they have enough drinking water for the entire year, because they manage their water resources better.

Internationally, water sharing is a complex issue. The maintenance of water quality is even more difficult in the international context. The water-sharing arrangements worked out within countries and between countries have more to do with politics and power, rather than environmental issues alone. The differences on sharing Indus waters between India and Pakistan, and sharing Ganga waters between India and Bangladesh are only a mild case compared to the sharing of Jordon river basin between Israel, Palestine and Jordon. Israel gets about 300 cubic meters of water, Jordon around 100 cubic meters and Gaza and West Bank (Palestine) less than 100 cubic meters. Now, it is quite obvious how “equitable” this water-sharing arrangement is.

Water-sharing between countries is so complex because often more than one country shares waters of major rivers. The Danube waters are shared by 17 countries, Congo and Niger by 11, Nile by 10, Rhine and Zambezi 9, Ganga-Brahamputra-Meghna, Shatt-al-Arab (Tigris-Euphrates) by 6 each. These are just a few examples of river-water sharing. A lot of environmental issues like disputes on quality of water (the countries at the upper reaches pollute the water that has to be used by the countries on the downward flow) and its quantity are associated with it.

Middle East and Africa happen to be the most water-scarce areas in the world. Less than 1,000 cubic metres is regarded as water-stressed. These issues have to be worked out, the sooner the better.

Food Security

As world population is surging ahead and food production technologies are growing older, food security threats are increasing. Today more than 875 million people are hungry worldwide. Roughly, that is about one-seventh of the human population.

Again, there are certain ironies at play here. Think about the epidemic of obesity in the United States, and the rich West as a whole (even China’s obese population is growing fast) and remember these more than 875 million hungry people. There are a lot of people who are eating 4,000-6,000 calories a day, while others can’t get even 1,500 calories. Also, those 4,000-6,000 calories are coming largely from proteins (seven times costlier than carbohydrates that the poorest eat). That shows many of today’s food issues are “political” in nature, related to distribution and consumption, rather than food production shortfalls.

Today obesity afflicts 300 million people. Obesity strains the heart, bones and ligaments, significantly increasing risks of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory disease and cancers of breast, colon, prostate, endometrium, kidney and gallbladder. In industrial countries 12 percent of health care costs are attributed to obesity. The European Union’s annual cost of obesity is $ 40 billion (33 billion euros). If all costs of overweight are counted, it is $ 155 billion (130 billion euros). In the US it is $ 75-118 billion annually. All this looks particularly galling when you consider the case of more than 875 million people who are hungry. It indicates a great imbalance in access to food: one section is getting too much food while another is stricken by hunger. It is important to note that there were 800 million hungry people at the beginning of this century. Seventy five million have been added to it only recently. It also shows that the number of hungry people has increased quickly as wealth has grown and accumulated in a few hands. It also shows why Islam in riots on equitable distribution of resources.

Climate Change

With the average global temperature recorded at 14.6 degrees Celsius in 2005, it was the warmest year ever recorded on earth’s surface, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. All the warmest five years after record keeping began in 1880 occurred since 1998.

The average global temperature rose by one degree Celsius over the 20th century. Fears of climate change have begun to come true as higher temperature provides greater energy to cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes and assorted storms to blow at higher velocity. Heat being energy, such high-velocity winds get the power to wreak massive damage.

A larger part of the one degree Celsius rise in average global temperature came within the last 30 years, which shows an accelerating trend in this rise. 2005 was also marked for the highest ever recorded annual increase in carbon dioxide(CO2) concentration in the atmosphere since recording began in 1959. From then till 2005 the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere rose by 20 percent.

The higher temperature caused massive forest fires in Europe, torrential rains and devastating storms. Kuala Lumpur witnessed a drastic fall in tourism as its largest harbour was shut because of drought and extreme heat. In September 2005 sea ice in the northern hemisphere was at its lowest level in recorded history. Greenland’s glaciers lost 53 cubic miles of ice in 2005 alone.

Melting ice caps have disturbed warm ocean currents that have regulated global climate for thousands of years. Changing weather patterns have led the Gobi desert to expand rapidly by 26,000 square kilometres, forcing Chinese farmers to retreat. Inuit communities, traditionally living in a frigid climate, have been forced to move northward because of the warmest winter recorded in the Arctic.

A large part of all this is attributed to CO2 emissions. In the United States and China coal-fired electricity generation units are the heaviest polluters, followed by cars and other motorised vehicles. In its economic expansion China is building a large number of coal-fired electricity-generation plants to meet its growing need for energy. Still the US remains a far bigger polluter of the earth than China in terms of per head CO2 emissions.

Success Stories

The above scenario looks grim. When we consider the fact that agriculture began around 10,000 years ago as the climate stabilised after the last Ice Age, we find the present situation extremely bothersome. Food security came only after agriculture, which requires a climatic pattern similar to what we have witnessed over the last 10,000 years. Any major climate change means that agriculture will be seriously hit, creating unprecedented food shortages.

Yet, concerted action on these issues does bring positive results. CO2 emission control and allied regimes in the Kyoto Protocol have produced results. The biggest-ever polluter, the United States, has not signed it, and is thus not bound by its regulations. However, Europe is part of it and has made some progress.

Countries like Germany, China, Japan, Spain and Israel have created a massive solar energy infrastructure. The year 2005 saw a 42 percent rise in the photovoltaic (PV) cells that generate electricity directly from the sun. In India and the United States, too, this trend is catching up. Many countries have connected it to their main electricity grid, which means the normal electricity supply can be tapped into when the solar power is insufficient.

In 2006 California passed a 3.2-billion, 11-year plan to install 3,000 megawatts of solar energy. Now two million Germans live in homes with solar water and space heating system, and 12,500 people are employed in the industry in Germany. In Shanghai, China initiated a plan in 2005 to install PV systems on 100,000 of the six million rooftops.

It is obvious that these are very small figures, but solar energy production and use are growing fast. The same holds for wind energy. From a modest ten megawatts in 1980 wind energy grew to 59,600 megawatts in 2005. Nuclear energy, too, is growing. From one megawatt in 1960 it rose to 369 in 2005. However, for obvious reasons, its growth is extremely slow.

If we look around we find a lot of environmental success stories virtually everywhere in the world. One of the better-known names in the environmental movement is that of 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya. The movement led by her has planted 30 million trees, helped the establishment of democracy in Kenya and spread the message across Africa and rest of the world. She is a woman.

Maathai, who was beaten and jailed by the Kenyan dictatorship, is assistant environment minister in the democratic government that took over in 2003. In India we have environmental heroes like Anna Hazare and Rajendra Singh who have changed the local landscape and the lives of the people in areas where they operate.

Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi movement in Maharashtra is a picture of prosperity where milk and milk products, grains and other agricultural products are in plenty. Before Hazare began work a few decades earlier this area was mired in poverty and indebtedness, the landscape barren and the men addicted to alcohol. The landscape is thoroughly green today, indebtedness a matter of the past, economic scarcity a forgotten nightmare. Since then the movement has spread to a large number of villages.

Magasaysay award winner and Tarun Bharat movement leader Singh began from the severely water-scarce Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan. The state itself is largely covered by desert. Singh’s movement is a wonder of environmental regeneration and local prosperity.

Till the first couple of years of this decade you could not walk on Delhi’s roads as heavy clouds of exhaust fumes made you cough and your eyes welled up because of irritation. There was clear relief when lead was removed from petrol and petrol pumps started selling unleaded fuel. Soon CNG buses followed that reduced CO2 levels.

In Europe “acid rains” were regular affairs in the 70s, but better emission standards (Euro-I, Euro-II, Euro-III) progressively brought the problem under control. Now car manufacturers are following those standards worldwide as governments are enforcing pollution control standards.

The revival of the dying oryx by the Saudi is yet another major success worth mention, so is the expanding green cover of areas in UAE. Citizens’ efforts to build their own sewer system in the poorer areas of Karachi (Pakistan) without government help is yet another example of a successful initiative to improve the environment through better sanitation.

Way to a Prosperous, Sustainable World

Before envisaging a prosperous, sustainable world one has to keep in view the road so far travelled. The contemporary environment protection movement had its beginning in the work of a visionary, Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring created the awareness of environmental issues like never before. The book came in the 60s of the last century and drew attention to the fast disappearing bird species because of extensive use of pesticides.

In her time the most widely used pesticide was DDT that farmers and orchardists used to kill pests harming agricultural and horticultural produce. Compared to today’s larger array of more powerful pesticides (including familiar products like Gamaxin and Thymet) there were fewer and less powerful pesticides available then.

Pesticides have a way of thinning the egg shells of birds that eat insects poisoned by pesticides. When these birds sit on eggs to hatch, the soft egg shells break much before the hatching. Thus there is no future generation of such birds. This is one way for birds to get extinct. Carson envisaged a future when no bird song would be heard in spring as birds would gradually get extinct. Hence the Silent Spring.

That was a grim reminder of the state of the environment. Pesticides were not killing just pests. Birds that ate the poisoned pests showed that the pesticides were potential killers of humans and other animals as well. One example of how it affects humans was: Agriculturists sprayed their crops with DDT to kill insects. Then they cut the grass growing around the crops to feed their cows and buffalos. The microscopic amount of DDT on the grass landed in the bodies of the cows and buffalos, from where they found their way to their milk. When lactating women took that milk as part of their daily diet, the DDT reached the mothers’ bodies, from where it travelled into their own milk. When they suckled their now-born babies, the DDT reached the babies’ bodies and settled in their bone marrow to trigger cancer in future.

That is just one of the several ways pesticides create havoc. The ultimate irony was that Carson was vindicated in a tragic way: she died from cancer, which she suspected was caused by pesticides in the immediate environment. Nearly three decades later, the co-founder of India’s premier environment organisation Centre for Science and Environment and its first director, Anil Agarwal, died from cancer, which he suspected was caused by pesticides. Ironically, like Carson he had been campaigning against reckless use of pesticides in agriculture and horticulture and for controlling mosquitoes, cockroaches and other household bugs. His remarkable work Homicide by Pesticide had come only recently when he was diagnosed with cancer of the eye.

Carson’s book was a reminder of our precarious state. That also happens to be the point from which the present environment movement began. Although it is not the number one environmental concern of today, it is certainly the starting point of the environment movement.

Let us decide to have a pesticides-free future, say, by 2025. Our vision has to include a gradual reduction in use, avoiding its use where alternatives are available, and a complete phase-out in the next 16 years. That is not impossible. After all, we have phased out CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) gases completely, and worldwide, although the deadline given for it was shorter than this one.

Even CFC was “essential” for refrigerators, airconditioners, perfume sprays, and pharmaceutical drug-delivering inhalers like Asthalin and anti-inflammatory sprays like Iodex. It was phased out from the West by the end of the 20th century. India followed within the next couple of years. By 2005 it was eliminated from industrial processes and substitutes replaced it. CFC being the main cause of the tear in the ozone shield protecting all life on earth, a major risk has been eliminated with its phase-out.

The Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Millennium Summit contain targets to be achieved by 2015. The world community has reached a consensus on these goals and most countries are moving towards the attainment of these goals.

However, some countries have not been progressing as consistently. Quite a few Millennium Development Goals targets may not be met by 2015. One of them is reducing extreme poverty by half. Countries are falling behind in this crucial area. Poverty being one of the major sources of environmental stress, this is going to have a far-reaching negative impact. Our vision here has to be focusing our national energies and resources in meeting these goals. A renewed commitment on the part of governments, people’s groups, corporates and NGOs is in order. Government and private sector collaboration and implementation of the ideals of Corporate Social Responsibility must be effected. International cooperation is already a reality. Reviews and course correction has to be a regular affair.

Energy still remains at the core of national as well as international economy. It is the focal point of policies and politics and the hidden agenda behind all wars and every bid for peace. There are too many energy issues that have to be clarified like: who owns the sources, whose technology and marketing skills make it worthwhile, whose military assets protect these resources, what role these issues play in geopolitics, and who will be allowed how much access to these resources.

The IOS vision on these issues may be somewhat different from that of others. First, we would like the search for new energy sources and the expansion of existing non-conventional energy production and use capabilities to be completely delinked from politics. One of the avowed aims of the search for new non-fossil fuel sources is to weaken the Muslim oil and gas-owning countries of West Asia to make Israel invincible. It is very much like the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is not about Weapons of Mass Destruction, but about weakening an Arab state against Israel.

Such strategy is aimed at Russia also, which has over the last few years become more self-confident because of its new wealth derived from oil and gas production. Russia will continue to get stronger unless new sources of energy are discovered and developed by the West.

The West’s commitment to cutting down on carbon emission is suspect for so many reasons. Even now the US is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and feels free to pollute the atmosphere as it likes. It has to be convinced to sign a revised protocol that accommodates its concerns while keeping the core goals of the Kyoto Protocol intact. Global warning has to be addressed more sincerely to meet carbon reduction goals through better technologies, alternative sources of energy, carbon emission trade-offs, carbon capture and sequestering and other means. It should be part of the targets meant to be met by 2025. However, one must keep in mind that these problems are too pressing to be extended beyond that.

We envisage the expansion of democracy (the involvement and participation of ever larger number of people in decision-making regarding their lives) with the expansion of the environmental movement. The environment concerns everyone. All of us – all children of Adam Eve – have the responsibility of keeping the earth healthy and in fine fettle to sustain our future generations.

The spread of democracy, advancement of human rights, gender equity and local conflict resolution are all part of the larger environmental movement at grassroots level. All this can only bring good in the form of a just and more humane order.

There are a whole lot of environmental issues that, in our vision, have to be addressed at multiple levels. Deforestation, desertification, spread of infectious diseases, growing resistance to, and ineffectiveness of, the current armoury of antibiotics are major concerns that have to be addressed soon enough.

Already we have technologies, products and methods available that seek to replace (albeit in small doses) the highly toxic pesticides. More people are using neem (Margus indicus) powder, cake and oil as pest-repellent in agriculture. This has no dangerous effect on humans and animals unlike organochlorines and organophosphates. New pest-resistant crops are reducing the need for toxic pesticides in agriculture. Innovative, non-toxic ways of curbing pests inside homes are being resorted to. This effort, we hope, would expand in the years ahead.

A major source of environmental damage is overproduction and over-consumption, over-extraction of water and excessive utilisation of the earth’s resources. The Quran clearly says that natural resources, including food and water, have to be used carefully. “Eat and drink, but don’t be extravagant”, says the Quran: (7:31). Conservation, happily, is a salient point both in Islam and in the environmental movement.

We have only briefly touched upon a few of the issues and shown that if we work consistently we can achieve goals, and tried to point to the future, according to our own vision.

Finally, we must admit that we do not have much time left. We have to act, and act now. The holy prophet (PBUH) said, “If you know that the Doomsday has arrived, but have a sapling in your hand, then do plant it right away” (Musnad Ahmad, Volume-3). We have to work to restore the environment to health in that spirit.

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam is Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi.

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