Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Going beyond prayer to save our environment

During the recently concluded National Week of Prayer, one day was assigned to pray for the environment. With the Beetham landfill fires belching inescapable toxic fumes, oil spills polluting our coasts and smothering our wildlife, and devastating floods and landslides at the slightest rain, it is obvious that our islands are increasingly unable to sustain us.

It is good that religious bodies and the Government recognise that Trinidad and Tobago’s environment needs a miracle, but now that the prayers have been said, what’s next?

T&T’s major religious denominations (Christianity, Hinduism and Islam) all call on believers to take responsibility for the earth and its creatures. The Bible is full of teachings that call upon Christians to fulfil their role and responsibility as caretakers or stewards to God, the rightful owner of the earth. Stewardship is a moral obligation and environmental destruction is the destruction of God’s creation. Hindus believe that the Divine is everywhere and we are not separate from nature. The Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, contains many verses that speak to environmental protection. The Islamic approach to the environment involves Tawhid, the unity principle; Fitra, the principle of the natural state; Mizan, the balance prin­ciple; and Khalifa, the responsibility principle. Internationally, many religious groups have issued a call to act on such environmental principles.

The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) is an international organisation bridging religion and the environment. Based in the UK, it was founded by His Royal Highness Prince Philip in 1995. ARC’s aim, according to their website, is “to assist the major religions of the world to develop environmental programmes based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices”.

ARC works to help faiths turn their ecological teachings into action. Working with representatives of the world’s major faiths, they focus on developing “long-term commitments for a living planet”. These are faith-based commitments to environmental action to address pressing global environmental issues such as climate change.

ARC has worked on projects that include transformation of a municipal rubbish dump to an urban green space, a green guide to Hajj, sacred sanctuaries for wildlife, reduction of soil erosion in the Sahara, Africa, and organic agriculture initiatives.

Another inspirational organisation is GreenFaith, one of the most widely recognised religious, environmental organisations in the US. They have been hard at work since the 1990s, implementing programmes to address environmental issues.

According to GreenFaith, for the religious community to make a difference to the environment, religious institutions and individuals must live out stewardship in everyday action. They provide congregations from multiple faiths with approaches to religious-environmental engagement.

GreenFaith’s programmes include energy conservation and the use of renewable energy in religious institutions, environmental health and justice programmes, and religious-environmental training programmes for clergy and layleaders.

These international organisations demonstrate that faith-based action can help us achieve a clean­er, healthier environment.

In T&T, many citizens are moved by a profound faith, but given the path we are on, prayer can only take us part of the way. The question remains: how do we turn our faith into a cleaner, greener, safer T&T? It requires more than just a sermon here and there, a yearly tree-planting exercise or changing a few light bulbs. Our environmental problems are not easy fixes. They are ongoing, so the solutions have to be ongoing as well.

If prayer alone can solve our problems, then prayers should include an urgent request for an improved human respiratory system that can breathe toxic fumes, a tough integumentary (skin) system to safely swim in waters that are about as clean as a toilet bowl and an improved human stomach that can digest toxins and plastics.