IT is known that every society teaches wisdom to its next generation. Wisdom makes life easier as it contains experiences, knowledge, and guides people to distinguish the truth from falsehood. The virtue of wisdom lies in one’s ability to use reason, to act wisely for himself and for his surroundings. Or, perhaps, to judge correctly at the point of decision with regard to the application of experience and knowledge.
In environmental wisdom, it manifests in modest practice, revealing the many ways humans and their environment interact.
For example, the Turkana people feed their goats on trees, which were controlled by elders. The latter then decides who should be allowed to use them and for how long. This community control system allows the elders to regulate people’s behaviour towards their environment. In ancient China, the concept of harmony (he) and balance (bing) with nature isadesired practice. This includes anything, from not pulling crops up by force to keeping the water channel clean.
A study on traditional grazing practices in the Tibetan alpine meadows, which was published by the Journal of Agriculture Ecosystem and Environment last year, concluded that the light and moderate grazing resulted in sustainable yield to biodiversity.
In Islam, we learn environmental wisdom through the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As an example of modesty, the Prophet encouraged us to eat few bites to satisfy our hunger, and if there is a need for more, it should be one third for our food, one third for our liquid and one third for our breath.
These characteristics in different societies, taken in totality and individually, have enabled people to live in harmony with nature. In turn, the combination of leadership and ethical practices has provided stability to the community.
Eventually, those good characteristics have also merged to form philosophical bases, strategies, and systems to maintain the environment. In contrast, the power of wisdom is something that has been oblivious to so-called modern people.
The reason of for such ignorance is because traditional knowledge and its culture are seen by today’s generation as backward.
Ironically, the limitation of that view does not possess enough justification for us to understand the complex interaction between societies, their cultures and their environment.
What is of most concern, is that it has focused too much on the ways in which human societies have transformed their environment, but very little on how cultural elements help maintain the environment of the communities. Although many studies have attested to “the old ways” of solving environmental challenges, or perhaps, already appreciated the incorporation of religious teachings in natural resource management, the bias towards traditional wisdom is a hard nut to crack.
How do we get to the bottom of this problem?
The good news is there are learning benefits in environmental wisdom that can be brought into our environmental education programmes. Environmental sustainability is more likely to be relevant when the modern and developed world domesticates local wisdom, local knowledge, local experiences and religious teachings. To achieve this ambitious vision is to teach students the core environmental values of any society and to nurture them with leadership skills so they can work out environmental projects with the local way of doing things.
The narrower the gap between environmental wisdom and environmental education, the more effective the environmental and social outcomes would be. Therefore, the gist of environmental education programmes is to muster transformative knowledge to drive social change, to reinvent social systems through traditional ecological religious wisdom and knowledge.
The greatest challenge is not only to innovate technologies for today’s environmental problems, but to inculcate the richness of wise ideas into today’s minds.
When a man is trapped under a guise of an attitude that gives him the freedom to take as much living resources as possible, he has neglected morality, truism, justice and equality. Wisdom needs to be incorporated in environmental education, impart positive values, and ideas that teaches man to preserve nature.
To be wise, we have to cling on to the following wisdom: that humans are part and parcel of the universe, not above creation. He must live in harmony with the environment, not with arrogance towards it. He has to view the sky as his shade, the earth as his mat, the stars and moon as his light.
The breath that the air blows to him is a proof of existence and he must not stop the dialogue with it.
Environmental wisdom is a big umbrella that spreads over the planet, and it reminds us of wise people who took shelter from trees, and but also protect them, and people who drank from the river, but also kept it clean. That wisdom is highly likely to help our today’s generation and our future environment. It is time for all of us to land our ears to its momentous message.
DR ADHA SHALEH is a research fellow at International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia