Air pollution in India’s capital is known to be generally more than 20 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit. The population struggles to breathe at the best of times, without the added catastrophe of a new wave of Covid-19. The spectre of mass cremation can only make matters worse. Environment and health go hand in hand.
It is a pity that Muslims have been coopted into supporting the hyper-capitalist and ecologically destructive agendas of Muslim governments, while leftist atheists, with their inherent anti-establishmentarianism, stand in defence of the environment and the poor.
This Muslim nation’s rapid economic development comes at a price — to its environment and natural beauty — a stark reality now hitting home.
Sadly the government — which in earlier times shared roots with the environmentalist movement — is now too much in thrall of big business and the construction industry to anymore take the side of the people, who cherish the land and traditional livelihoods.
The nation will continue to grow ever more powerful and prosper economically. New transport networks will be established, tunnels piercing through vast mountains, huge bridges spanning ravines. It will ultimately benefit the nation as new hospitals, schools, social housing and jobs follow in their wake.
But this modern obsession with progress is yet to appreciate the value of its areas of outstanding natural beauty. These great reserves of wild beauty are the sacrificial lamb on the alter of economic development — and the scars are already there to prove it.
The proudly confident ruling class — celebrating the resurgence of a semi-imagined glorious past — are too quick to forget their roots as rebellious champions of the people. Too proud to recall those maxims we are called to live by.
“And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility…”
A difficult struggle lies ahead.
With ever-worsening climate conditions, those of us who live in temperate regions are just going to have to get used to increased incoming migration from regions hit by intense drought.
Conflict over scarce and dwindling water resources is on the increase, though few of us notice, so used are we to the simplistic apocalyptic binary narrative of good and bad, us and them.
We see fanatics waging insane ideological wars, and no doubt many a foot-soldier believes in the cause; we do not see the control of dams, skirmishes over shrinking lakes, the abandoned dust-bowl farms that lead and feed into these battles of epic proportions.
Here in temperate regions, for ordinary people, climate change is still a theoretical phenomenon to be debated in religious terms: we are either believers, disbelievers or agnostics. But for many elsewhere it is already a stark reality.
If we are to understand today’s geopolitical environment we’ll need to start looking beyond ideology at conditions on the ground. There is nothing new in ideologues invoking religion in times of hardship. This is from SOAS Professor, Paul Gifford:[1. P Gifford, Christian Fundamentalism and Development (Review of African Political Economy 52, 1991), p.11.]
“In 1989 I heard a pastor in Greenville, Liberia, preach on Revelation 6, 1-8, a passage which deals with four horsemen given authority over a quarter of the earth ‘to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague and by wild beasts’. He claimed that this text was being fulfilled at that very time. He linked the prophecy of famine with Liberia’s food shortages.”
Today, ISIS in Syria and no doubt others in Nigeria and Somalia, invoke similar apocalyptic hadith from the Islamic tradition, but they are by no means alone. The debate about increased migration into Europe is also clothed in mythology: amongst the Right wing, as a Christian heartland under attack from marauding barbarians; amongst the Left, as a battle between secular modernity and religious backwardness. Realities on the ground are infrequently recalled.
But if we are to understand the years to come — and view our brothers in humanity through more compassionate eyes — we’ll need to equip ourselves with the tools to cut through the propaganda of ideologues on all sides. Most people in the world are in a battle for survival: against environmental degradation, failing crops, diminishing water sources, rising sea levels, flooding, dwindling rainfall, rising food prices, intense heat… and the violent conflict spawned by these conditions.
Simplistic narratives of a war of worlds, of a clash of civilisations or of a battle of ideologies simply leads us towards blaming victims, instead of addressing their needs. There must be a better way to spend 5 trillion dollars than on bombing and maiming people on the wrong side of the ideological divide.