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BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION ETHICS IN MAJOR RELIGIONS
By H. S. A. YAHYA
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 H. S. A. YAHYA
All right reserved.
The sustainable existence of our planet is largely dependent on well balanced ecosystems and healthy environment. However due to persistent over exploitation of natural resources, degradation of the environment and loss of biodiversity have taken place all over. Some of the evident reasons for such losses are habitat alteration, invasion of exotic species, genetic pollution, hybridization, global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, the green house effect, etc. Thus there is a pressing need to try to avert such a situation that could be disastrous for the survival of human being vis-à-vis other life forms. Though belated, it is a promising sign that many individuals and organizations have realized the importance of conservation of biodiversity but the general understanding and support as well as required political and public will are still inadequate. If the general public does not understand the urgency of biodiversity conservation and does not tackle it with more effective policies and actions, later efforts may be futile. If the present trend of depletion of biodiversity continues, the future of this planet will be in jeopardy.
Being hetrotrophs, the humans have been dependent on natural resources whether they being living (renewable) or non-living (nonrenewable) since our existence. Biodiversity is manifested at gene, species, habitats and ecosystem levels. It is often used as a measure for the health of biological systems. As per certain estimation, present diversified life-forms, inhabiting mega, macro or micro biodiversity zones on earth, consist of many millions of biological species which are products of four billions of years of evolution.
In a larger perspective, conservation means wise use of natural resources. Although terms like 'Ecosystem', 'Biodiversity', 'Wildlife Sciences', 'Protected Areas', 'Biosphere Reserves', 'Natural Heritage', etc. are relatively new phrases, conservation of nature or biodiversity is not a new concept. During the course of human civilization many religions and cultures have prevailed on this planet and almost all of them emphasized maintaining a balanced ecosystem and peaceful lifestyle. There have been conflicts and wars but peace has been the catalyst to human progress. Despite a gradual decline in importance, religion's role in shaping the history of mankind has been tremendous. In the philosophy and doctrines of all religions, in addition to moral building and firm belief in divinity of mankind, peaceful living and compassion towards other creatures, including animals and plants, has been the basic code of conduct. Despite civil advancements, religious teachings, by far, are the most biding guidelines for human beings. "Live and let others live" has been the motto of all religions. Besides humans, 'others' include all life forms that coexist with us. Our planet is a complex garden and no garden can remain beautiful and productive without its diverse life forms and a suitable environment. All living forms play an important role in the upkeep of harmony and productivity of nature. Through food chains/webs and biogeochemical cycles there is enormous interdependence among human and other biotic and abiotic factors. Humans have remarkable capacity to harvest resources and alter their environment for needs and comfort. But as a dominant species we also have great responsibility and accountability for maintaining a balance in our need and greed. However, due to our shortsightedness, natural resources have been overexploited resulting in the present ecological crisis. Although there is much more emphasis on conservation of biodiversity now, many scholars such as W. C. Lowdermilk (1940: "The Eleventh Commandment", American Forests 46:12-15); Aldo Leopold (1949, A Sand Country Almanac, Oxford University Press); White Lynn Jr. (1967: "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis", Science 115:1203-1207), Hossein Nasr (1964, 1997 - The Problem, in Man and Nature eds; Kazi Publications, Chicago); Rachel Carson (1962-Silent Spring), Junathan Schell (1982 — The fate of the Earth), Bill Makibben (1989 — The End of Nature), Tucker and Grim (1994 — Worldviews and Ecology), etc. have given illustrative account of abuse of nature by humans and have had adequately warned mankind to restrain from unsustainable developments. But alas, our unwise actions of destroying natural resources continue rather has intensified gradually.
Therefore, considering the importance of biodiversity conservation all out efforts — scientific, cultural, social, economical, political, ethical, etc., are being tried to create awareness of its conservation under the aegis of various national and international organizations. There also has been considerable research and documentation on religions' ethics for the safety of the environment vis-à-vis conservation of nature that includes all life forms whether tamed or wild, agriculture or forests, terrestrial or aquatic and so on. In fact religious and traditional concept of biodiversity conservation is much older than present day scientific approach. However, during last five to six decades there has been remarkable growing emphasis on environmental awareness under the aegis of International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Worldwide Fund of Nature Conservation (WWF), United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP), Birdlife International (BLI), Wetland International (WI), BONN & RAMSAR CONVENTIONS, RIOJEDEINARO EARTH SUMMIT, KEYOTO PROTOCOL, Forum of Religion and Environment (FORE), Alliance of Religion and Conservation (ARC), etc. In addition many treaties, legislations and policies have been formulated for restoring balance of ecosystems and for the safety of the environment. Many illustrative and informative publications have also come out that illuminate our understanding of nature conservation in general and with respect to religious instance. Among several useful publications, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology edited by Roger, S. Gottlieb published by Oxford University Press USA in 2006, is a very useful publication on this subject containing definitive overviews of exciting new developments on environmental crisis and biodiversity conservation.
From administrative point of view perhaps first of all, the Indian Government took a wise step as back as in 1972 creating a separate federal as well as provincial Ministry of Environment and Forests with the mandate of conservation of biodiversity and safety of environment, creating a very sound Protected Areas System. Rehabilitation Programs of Crocodiles, launching of Project Tiger, Project Elephants, Chipko Movement, Save Silent Valley Movement and many Flagship species conservation programs have been carried out by the Government as well as non-government organizations. Considering its importance, now many countries have shown growing concern for environmental safety though outcome of their efforts are rather deficient, more so in developing countries.. Most recently the documentary film AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH on the environmental issues by Al-Gore et. al, has illustrated this point quite effectively and they have been duly awarded a Nobel Prize as well as an Oscar Award for their efforts. Similarly the forum 'Ecology and Religion' has been highlighting biodiversity conservation issues on global scale for quite some time. Establishment of Harvard School of Ecology and Religion and subsequent conferences organized by this forum in many parts of the world has arose increasing responses on this important issue. Dialogues created through internet forum of The World Bank Group have opened a new vista for conservation of ecology/biodiversity as emphasized by different religions. In addition, several other useful websites are now available on similar topics that can be contacted for further information. Among many others (see Bibliographies), the writings of Hussein Nasr, Richard Foltz , Kensky, Peterson, McFague, Christopher, Ian Harris, O. P. Dwivedi, Thomas Aquinas, Hafiz Yahya, Schwarzschild and many others (see bibliographies) have highlighted the biodiversity conservation issues under the jurisprudence of world major religions. However, this book is dealt with more scientific temperament and fervor. Encouraged by positive reviews on my earlier book 'Importance of Wildlife Conservation from an Islamic Perspective' published in 2003, I am optimistic that my present effort will be also equally useful and interesting, more particularly for the students, research scholars and managers of protected areas dealing with wildlife, biodiversity or nature conservation issues.
Earlier some clergy members and preachers were of the opinion that scientific discourse is against divine designs and plans. But as realistic inputs on the issue have revealed, now it is affirmed that there is hardly any contradiction between science and religion. The concept of evolution (not necessarily Darwinian theories) of biodiversity under the process of natural selection is in accordance with the creativity of God and modern developments of science support this view. The famous physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Einstein has rightly said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." Scholars, preachers, leaders, and propagators of almost all religions are now unanimous that their religious ethics strongly support biodiversity/wildlife conservation. One interesting link between science, ethics and praxis has been illustrated by Calvin, B. Dewitt (2006; in The Oxford Handbook of World Religion and Ecology) under the heading 'The Science and The Shepherd'. However, available theories and doctrine of religious in support of biodiversity conservation should be applied practically. That is my focal premise in this book.
There are several other emerging religions, such as Bahai, Mormon, Utah, Karsna, Neo-Paganism, etc. (Table 1) in the world, other than those I have dealt in this book. As stated by Foltz, their philosophy also supports conservation of biodiversity but considering marginal influence as well as unavailability of adequate reading materials on the issue, I have not described about all of them separately. Nevertheless, it is expected that the followers of these faiths and traditions are aware of the importance of biodiversity conservation and thereby will participate in safeguarding the health of the environment with similar enthusiasm and commitments as others. Among contemporary emerging religions the Bahai's appear to be more nature oriented. Palmer & Finlay (2003) have given a good account on this aspect:, "Bahai's Scriptures teach that, as trustees of the planet's vast resources and biological diversity humanity must seek to protect the 'heritage of future generations'; see in nature a reflection of the divine; approach the earth, the source of material bounties, with humility; temper its actions with moderations; and be guided by the fundamental spiritual truth of our age, the oneness of humanity. The speed and facility with which we establish a sustainable pattern of life will depend, in the final analysis, on the extent to which we are willing to be transformed, through the love of God and obedience to His laws, into constructive forces in the process of creating an ever advancing civilization" (Faith in Conservation: World Bank: 2003).
After Introduction Chapter 1, the 2nd and 3rd chapter of the book contains brief account of importance of biodiversity and major religions respectively, while 4th to 13th chapters encompass biodiversity conservation ethics in major religions of the world. In the last chapter an account of present trend of biodiversity conservation issues and various measures to tackle them has been discussed. Some of the very relevant information, list of websites, organizations and available bibliographies has been appended for the benefit of readers and for further references.
Chapter TwoImportance of Biodiversity
Though the concept of biodiversity conservation is rather new, systematic account and illustrations of natural history comprising wildlife and other organisms was first given by Aristotle as far back as 384-322 BC. As the readers would find in subsequent chapters of this book, the Scriptures of most religions also have illustrated availability and utility of various biological elements for the mankind. Many scientific literatures and books are also available on various aspects of biodiversity conservation. However, in this chapter a brief account of importance of biodiversity is given with a view to familiarizing the readers with the essence of the subject of discussion.
Evolution of the term:
The term "Biodiversity" was first used by E.O.Wilsonin 1988 which is a derivation of "Biological Biodiversity" used by Robert E, Jenkins and Thomas Lovejoy which was originally coined by W. G. Rosen in 1985. Earlier, terms like "natural diversity", "natural heritage", "diversified flora and fauna", etc was in practice for similar meanings. The use of the term has been more widespread among biologists, environmentalists, political leaders, and concerned citizens since the last decade of 20th century.
The term 'biodiversity' is a neologism word that has been variously defined. The simplest definition given by Gaston and Spicer (2004) is: "variation of life at all levels of biological organization". Another definition can be: "the sum total of all the different species of animals, plants, fungi and microbial organisms living on earth and variety of habitats". A third definition given by ecologists is the "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region". This definition gives a unified view of all three traditional levels at which the biodiversity manifests:
Genetic diversity — diversity of genes within a species. There is a genetic variability among the populations and the individuals of the same species. Species diversity — diversity among species in an ecosystem. Ecosystem diversity — diversity at a higher level of organization, the ecosystem. This could also be seen as diversity of habitat in a given unit area.
Yet another definition given for the term is, "the range of organisms present in a particular ecological community or system". However, the most legally and widely accepted definition of 'biodiversity' is the one given in the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity as, "the variability among living organisms from all sources, including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic systems, and ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems". Though a part and parcel of biodiversity, humans are not considered in its domain and any discussions about them is separately conducted under anthropology. As quoted by Christopher Hakkenberg (Worldviews 12 (2008:74-79), Xu and Wilkes (2004 — Xu Jianchu and Andreas Wilkes 2004. Biodiversity Impact Analysis in Northwest Yunan, Southwest China — Biodiversity and Conservation 13(5):959-983) have given an interesting explanation of biodiversity. According to their view "the biodiversity may be defined as the dynamic, multifaceted and complex product of the interactions between natural and soil systems, encompassing global ecology (hydrological cycles, food chain and climate regulation), economy (food, medicine, handicraft, fuel, and timber) and culture (religious/symbolic and aesthetic/recreational)".
According to E.O Wilson, a renowned entomologist, the real biodiversity is genetic diversity. The geneticists consider biodiversity as the diversity of genes and organisms govern through the process of mutations, gene exchanges, and genome dynamics that occur at the DNA level and generate evolution. For ecologists, biodiversity is also the diversity of durable interactions among species and with their immediate biotope and larger eco-region. Wikipedia Encyclopedic interpretation is: "in each ecosystem, living organisms are part of a whole, interacting with not only other organisms, but also with the air, water and soil that surround them".
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Table of Contents
Prologue and Acknowledgements....................ix
Chapter 1. Introduction....................1
Chapter 2. Importance of Biodiversity....................7
Chapter 3. Major Religions of the World....................23
Chapter 4. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Christianity....................29
Chapter 5. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Islam....................39
Chapter 6. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Hinduism....................67
Chapter 7. Biodiverssity Conservation Ethics in Daoism....................73
Chapter 8. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Buddhism....................79
Chapter 9. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Sikhism....................89
Chapter 10. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Judaism....................95
Chapter 11. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics In Jainism....................101
Chapter 12. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Shintoism....................105
Chapter 13. Biodiversity Conservation Ethics in Zoroastrinism....................109
Chapter 14. Biodiversity Conservation and Worldorder....................113
Appendix i) Society for Conservation Biology Code of Ethics....................119
Appendix ii) Barcelona Commitments....................122
Appendix iii) The Earth Charter....................123
Appendix iv) Recommendations of ARC & WWF to manage sacred sites....................133
Appendix v) Highlights of Copenhagen Summit (Copenhagen Accord) 2009 on Climate change....................135
Appendix vi) Major organizations and their websites dealing with biodiversity conservation issues based on religions ethics....................136
Appendix vii) List of major international biodiversity conservation organizations....................139
Appendix viii) Bibliographies....................140
1. Christianity and Ecology....................140
2. Islam and Ecology....................174
3. Hinduism and Ecology....................183
4. Daoism and Ecology Bibliography....................195
5. Buddhism and Ecology....................204
6. Jainism and Ecology....................228
7. Judaism and Ecology....................234
8. Shinto and Ecology....................254
About the Author....................259