Overpopulation, Overconsumption and Climate Change: An Islamic Perspective

Overpopulation- and incipient overconsumption- are the twin products of the capitalist system. Consumerism is characterized by the desire for material goods. It is the dominant ideology of our times and holds responsibility for the Climate Crisis. This is as consumerism is intimately linked with anthropocentrism, environmental destruction and global inequality Moreover, Islam can provide a thoroughgoing critique of the prevailing socio-economic system.  As such, it is necessary to develop a strong Islamic platform in order to work towards economic justice and sustainability.

Overpopulation can be better understood through analysis of overconsumption and resource depletion. The scale of the problem can be evidenced by high birth rates in the developing world as well as the global increase in life expectancy. Indeed, capitalism and development have fueled medical advances and raised the average standard of living. Nonetheless, the notion of continuous development and human progress raises serious ethical concerns.

Hence, the necessity of challenging, “the premise of perpetual growth in consumption, which puts it on a collision course with the natural world”. [1] Consequently, Islamic thought and practice can help shift the status quo. This is especially pertinent in the developed world. Therefore, much of blame goes to, “those in rich countries currently responsible of overconsumption”. [2] Also, this relates to Islamic practice. More specifically, “the focus will be on the individual’s spirituality…rather than working solely on the outer material world”. [3] Thus, Islam can mitigate the worst effects of resource depletion by emphasizing moderation and self-reflection.

In the long-term, restructuring individual behavior can influence the outcome of the Climate Crisis. This is as Islamic teachings can encourage good citizenship and motivate people to be less materialistic. On the whole, such individual transformation can curb overconsumption and reduce the effects of Climate Change.

In addition, overpopulation and overconsumption link with Islamic concerns around environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability relates to, whether environmental resources will be protected and maintained for future generations. As a result, “any transition towards a sustainable world can only be effective if societal changes complement technological advancements”. [4] Islam is well equipped to lead the way. Islamic teachings can act as a revolutionary tool for social transformation and cut the cycle of overpopulation and overconsumption.

As the Qur’an stresses individual accountability, Islam has, “no conceptual difficulty in addressing questions of regulating population in the light of available resources”. [5] On the whole, such social concern is also reflected in the Islamic response to Climate Change. Sustainability must be embedded within the wider Islamic framework in order to raise consciousness of Climate Change. Hence, Muslim scholars (ulama) are obligated to, “issue fatwas on the environment”. [6] Taking decisive action is also an educational requirement.

Therefore, “governments could introduce curriculums in schools highlighting themes found in the Quran such as the importance of nature, treating animals compassionately and the prohibition on wastefulness”.  [6] If this advice is heeded, then young people will be better prepared to deal with the long-term consequences of Climate Change. On the whole, new Islamic initiatives are necessary to inspire eco-consciousness and encourage systemic change.

Moreover, overpopulation and overconsumption link with Islamic concerns about inequality and poverty. To a certain extent, this discourse also relates to Climate Change. Although, “average living standards have risen… the gap between the very rich and the very poor has broadened”. [7] Hence, citizens of low income countries are ill equipped to face the challenges to come. This is as, “poverty and environmental issues are interrelated”. [7] Furthermore, environmental problems are more severe among the poor and marginalized in the Global South.

Environmental degradation is fueled by overconsumption in the Global North and adds to structural problems in the developing world. Meanwhile, a growing population in the Global South- and the prevalence of large families- puts strain on natural resources and negatively impacts quality of life.  Subsequently, the Climate Crisis “increases the impact of floods and other environmental catastrophes” [7]. Islamic teachings offer a powerful alternative. Consequently, “Islamic microfinance holds tremendous potential to tap into … Islamic donor streams – zakat, sadaqat, and waqf – and channel them toward strategic, impact-oriented goals” [8].

To conclude, Islamic teachings offer a practical approach to overpopulation and overconsumption. By providing a visionary perspective on socio-economic problems, Islam is useful for engaging with the Climate Crisis.

Bibliography

[1] Lent, J., 2018. What Will It Really Take To Avoid Collapse? | MAHB. [online] MAHB. Available at: <https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/avoid-collapse/> [Accessed 10 August 2020].

[2] Russell, R., 2017. Let’s Talk About Overpopulation… | DW | 10.02.2017. [online] DW.COM. Available at: <https://www.dw.com/en/lets-talk-about-overpopulation/a-37481009> [Accessed 10 August 2020].

[3] Samsudi, S., 2017. Islam And Sustainable Consumption. [online] The Star Online. Available at: <https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/ikim-views/2017/05/09/islam-and-sustainable-consumption-if-we-recognise-that-the-ecological-crisis-is-a-reflection-of-a-sp> [Accessed 10 August 2020].

[4] Koop, Fermin. 2020. “Overconsumption Is The Bane Of Sustainability, New Study Concludes”. ZME Science. https://www.zmescience.com/science/overconsumption-is-the-bane-of-sustainability-new-study-concludes/.

[5] Baig, Naeem. 2014. “Climate Change: A Muslim Perspective | Islamic Circle Of North America (ICNA)”. Icna.Org. https://www.icna.org/climate-change-a-muslim-perspective/.

[6] Casey, Michael, and Karl Ritter. 2012. “Some Wish Islam Would Inform Climate Talks”. News.Yahoo.Com. https://news.yahoo.com/wish-islam-inform-climate-debate-064710450.html.

[7] Bharadwaj, Niranjan. 2016. “The Relationship Between Poverty And The Environment”. Voices Of Youth. https://www.voicesofyouth.org/blog/relationship-between-poverty-and-environment.

[8] Kustin, Bridget. 2015. “Does Islamic Finance Reduce Poverty?”. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/10/does-islamic-finance-reduce-poverty/.

About Nibras Malik

Nibras Malik is a second year Politics & IR student at Cardiff University. Her poetry has been published in Acumen and the Trouvaille Review. Her latest work is forthcoming with The Scarlet Leaf Review. Many of her poems incorporate environmental themes. Furthermore, she has been long-listed for the Felix Dennis Young Poets Competition 2020- an environmentally focused poetry contest. In her spare time, she enjoys nature and watching documentaries.
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