On 13 May, at the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 70,000 people in Birmingham calling on the G8 leaders meeting in the city to 'Drop the Debt', the Midlands Islamic Network for the Environment (MINE) and the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC, www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk ) organised an evening with food for thought: debt & climate change – a Christian and Islamic perspective.
Debt and climate change, not two topics that many people would immediately associate with each other, but unfortunately they are related and affecting the poorest countries thus twice over: poor countries are often saddled with illegitimate debt accumulated by irresponsible lending by Western countries and institutions (like IMF and Worldbank), then grown out of control by the extortionate interest rates charged (collectively poor countries pay rich countries some 118 MILLION USD PER DAY!). To pay these debts, poor countries forego crucial expenditures on health and education, condemning future generations to higher presence of illiteracy and ill health. Also, to pay for the debts, poor countries need international currencies and are thus regularly forced to chop down and sell cheaply tropical forests (making animals homeless and depriving forest peoples of their livelihood), or turn their field into intensive monoculture farms to grow food for export (something Ethiopia was still forced to do even during the terrible famines of the 80s!).
And due to our greed and indulgence, our addiction to fossil fuels, man-made climate change is now with us (or more precisely: especially with the poorest of the poor on the planet): increased weather-related disasters in the form of floods, hurricanes … from 60 per year in 1980 to 240 in 2006.
David Wetton, sharing his personal reflections from a Christian perspective reminded the audience of amongst others the following verses:
“See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-9) and “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps 104:24)
And on debt forgiveness: “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.” (Leviticus 25:10). “No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:19-24). Or as Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) explained: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth….but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…..For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
From an Islamic perspective, I almost wanted to stop after sharing the following verse from the Qur’an on my first slide: “Surely the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of man; but most people know not” (Chapter 40 [The Forgiver], verse 57) … surely if we truly take this to heart, then we would not be in the environmental mess we are in? And on debt (and climate justice): “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both.” (Chapter 4 [Women], verse 35)
As people of faith, with our clear guidance and advice from our scriptures, can we continue to let this happen? Ask the poor to pay us illegitimate debts, especially while we leave our much larger ‘carbon debt’ unpaid? On our watch? No deed is too small or too late: “He whoso do good an atom’s weight will see it. And whoso do ill an atom's weight will see it.”(Chapter 99 [The Earthquake], verse 7-8) and quoting from Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him): “If the Hour (Day of Judgment) comes while one of you holds a palm seedling in his hand and he can cultivate it, he should do so.” (Al Aini)
PS: due to interest generated, the talks were repeated (in slightly updated forms) in recent event at the Botanical Gardens on 'Faith in our Environment' by Faiths in the City. Also, a similar 'duo talk' will be aired soon on Unity FM, a community radio station in Birmingham.