It is said that there was once a ruler who was in the habit of taking weekly rounds to survey his kingdom. On one such occasion while he was surveying the countryside, he noticed an old man who was digging a hole. As he approached him, he saw that the old man was planting black walnut seeds (black walnut seeds are known to grow slowly and often take several years to mature). The ruler asked the old man “Uncle, what are you doing? This plant will take over 30 years to mature. Why are you doing this?”, implying that most likely the old man wouldn’t live to see the fruits of the tree. The old man shrugged off the question, planted the seed and then replied “I am not doing this for myself. I am doing this for my grandchildren and their grandchildren”.
In essence it is this concern for coming generations that is the motivation for moving towards sustainable sources of energy. We live in an energy intensive society. We just need to look around ourselves to get a sense of the magnitude. From the electricity that charges our laptops to the fuel that powers our cars. Our lives, businesses and economies, all depend on energy. In today’s age it is impossible to imagine any progress or any development to take place without energy.
How and where we get our energy from is of critical importance. Most of our energy today as has been the case for the past 100 years comes from fossilized fuels (globally over 80%, mostly coal and crude oil). These are non-renewable fuels which when burnt create massive levels of greenhouse gases, which result in global climate change. Sustainable Energy means energy sources that will allow the Earth to sustain balanced, healthy ecosystems and human life. These include energy sources such as hydroelectricity, solar energy and wind energy.
As I see it, we face two urgent energy challenges which if not addressed can seriously jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of future generations; climate change and “non-renewable” nature of our current energy sources.
Our planet is linked with energy. Energy transforms our planet- its climate, natural resources and ecosystems. There is a need to respond to the fast pacing growth of climate change and moving towards sustainable energy is at the centre of it. The majority of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy. Although deforestation, industrial processes, and agricultural practices also emit gases into the atmosphere, these are nowhere comparable in magnitude to the emissions from fossil fuels. Hence the climate problem is essentially an energy problem. Moving towards sustainable energy is the key to getting climate change under control.
Even if say for some hypothetical reason, we were able to control the changes in environment, fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are “non-renewable” energy sources. Although the quantities in which they are available may be large, they are nevertheless finite and so will in principle “run out” at some time in the future. If we continue to drain out the limited quantities of fossil fuels we have without making serious strides towards alternative sources, we are only making lives difficult for future generations, both economically and environmentally.
The single largest thing we can do to make a difference is proactive political involvement. Given the enormity of the challenge, our actions need to go beyond simply switching the lights off before leaving the room. Individual actions are no doubt important and reflect our attitudes towards the problem, but we can’t be under the illusion that these actions, even if done collectively, can alone solve our energy challenges.
Big decisions such as what energy source to choose or whether to tax heavy polluters, these are decisions that can be only made at a political level. It doesn’t serve the cause right when we have mainstream politicians who even refuse to accept that the problem of climate change exists, let alone try to solve it. Political involvement can entail a broad range of activities from simply voicing concerns to elected officials to being involved in grassroots advocacy and awareness initiatives. These actions can go long way in swaying the key energy related decisions by politicians.
Islam teaches us about our duties to the environment and the future. There is a consistent theme of respecting the environment and protecting the rights of future generations. Islam tells us that we’ve been given a responsibility by Allah on this earth and that we will be accountable to Allah for our actions and the trust placed in us. The nature of our current energy problems is such that the consequences of climate change and energy availability will have to be born by coming generations and not by the generations responsible for it in the first place. As Muslims and as members of the larger global community, it is incumbent upon us to strive towards making this world a better place than we found it, a cleaner and sustainable world for coming generations.
Musab Qureshi is an undergraduate engineering student at the University of Toronto and currently writes for The Muslim Voice (www.tmv.uoftmsa.com). He is passionate about leveraging clean energy technologies to improve people's lives in rural communities of the developing world.
Photo credit from SolarShop