Academic journal article Islam & Science

Environmental Crisis or Crisis of the Heart?

Academic journal article Islam & Science

Environmental Crisis or Crisis of the Heart?

Article excerpt

On December 7, 1972, three human beings found themselves at a distance of some 45,000 kilometers from Earth. Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Jack Schmitt had left their planet that day at 05:33:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in spaceship Apollo 17. Five hours and six minutes later, one of them took a photograph which was to become the most widely distributed photographic image of the Earth in the years to come. The Blue Marble, as the photograph was unofficially called (official designation AS17-148-22727), was the first clear image of a fully illuminated Earth. The South Pole, incidentally, was at the top of the photograph, which is how al-Idrisi (492-560/1099-1165) had drawn his famous Tabula Rogeriana in 1154.

The Blue Marble tied to an image the ethos of the newly realized environmental crisis and the activism of the early 1970s and extended the range of human understanding of the planet. The Earth appears in extreme isolation in its full frailness and vulnerability in a vast galactic expanse. The already known fact that, out of the eight planets of the Solar System, the Earth is indeed the one and only planet where life is possible gained new meaning.

Despite its importance and beauty, humanity did not need the Blue Marble to know that Earth is the only planet providing the delicate combination of water, the right temperature, and other parameters for life to be possible. The distance of the Earth from the Sun as well as its orbital eccentricity, the rate of its rotation and its axial tilt were already known to have been critically mapped to allow a sustainable atmosphere and a protective magnetic field for life to exist and flourish on this planet.

It was also known that approximately 71 percent of Earth's 510,072,000 square kilometer surface is covered with salt water oceans; that its interior consists of a thick layer of a relatively solid mantle made up of a liquid outer core and a solid inner core about 2,890 kilometers thick; that the Earth interacts with other objects in space; that it orbits the Sun once for every 366.26 times it rotates about its axis; and that the axial rotation of the Earth, tilted at 23.4[degrees] away from the perpendicular to its orbital plane, produces seasonal variations on the planet's surface.

This basic information about Earth is theoretically available to every one of the 6.8 billion human beings who now lives on this planet in 201 independent sovereign states. More than half of these men, women, and children now live in urban areas where the utilization of non-renewable resources leaves a very large environmental footprint. By 2030, the soaring cities of South America, Asia, and Africa are expected to become home to 81 percent of the population in those regions of the world. This means that the accumulated urban growth of that part of the Earth during the whole span of its history will be duplicated in a single generation! The UN forecasts that today's urban population of 3.2 billion will rise to nearly 5 billion by 2030, when three out of every five people will live in cities.

This is a uniquely contemporary phenomenon: In 1800, only 3 percent of the 978 million people then living on Earth inhabited cities. By the end of the twentieth century, the world population had increased to 5.97 billion and 47 percent lived in cities. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; by 2007, this number had risen to 468. The emerging megacities are mostly in that part of the world where urban planning is at its lowest level of sophistication: Mumbai (33 million), Shanghai (27 million), Karachi (26.5 million), Dhaka (26 million) and Jakarta (24.9 million people). These cities contain hugely overpopulated slums and disease-ridden epicenters of suffering where every sixth person lives in unsanitary conditions.

This was not the case prior to the emergence of the modern world. Baghdad, Cordoba, and many cities in Imperial China of previous centuries each had over a million inhabitants who lived surrounded by green pastures and orchards. …

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