American Indians, whose great heritage of how to be in touch with the Universe we moderns miss in many ways, gave it the right name: ‘Mother Earth.’ They considered themselves part and parcel of Nature around them, and took of it only what they needed to survive. They cared about it as a mother. They cared about being in nature and were not obsessed with appropriating it. The Bedouins of Arabia also experience elevating moments in being walkers and wanderers in the vast spaces of the Desert. It is no wonder some Europeans fall in love with the Desert and romanticise the Orient for this reason. Some, like Charles M. Doughty (d. 1926), would travel to the Levant with Hajj Caravans to write two volumes of Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888), not only to revive the English language but also to revive the spirit of his religion as well. The pre-modern world lived in nature and with nature. Even the most devastating moments of wars could not do so much damage to nature as much as it did to human beings because the weaponry used was traditional and especially close to nature. Horses and elephants are elements close to nature, and they do not damage it (that much); warriors could see each other and know that numbers and their physique matter; physical fight was a strong component of warfare, since it was honorific to win physically first. The point here is not to glorify physical war but to make a point in relation to the distance human beings are making towards each other and towards nature. Modern warfare does not depend so much on personal physical prowess and honour gained through chivalry. The modern warfare terribly damages nature, besides damage to man himself. The chemical weaponry used, manipulated through computers and ‘invisible’ aircraft from far distances, is ravaging not only the ethics of war, if and only if entered in defence, but also ravaging from distance nature and its sources for generations to come. The chemical weapons and uranium radiation that is absorbed by earth, waters, and inhaled and consumed by man has future impacts on human health, wealth distribution, and natural catastrophes that leave entire populations in disadvantaged positions. Nature has become a ‘thing’ to be used and abused in many parts of the modern world.
The Iranian-American philosopher Seyyed Hussein Nasr says this: ‘for modern man nature has become like a prostitute – to be benefited from without any sense of obligation and responsibility toward her.’ That is why cries for a ‘global ethic’ have been raised since at least the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions second conference in Chicago, after its first one in 1883. Its declaration ‘Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration’, drafted by the renowned Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng (b. 1928) has become a reference in the field of environmental ethics, though it has received some critique. The Moroccan philosopher of ethics Taha Abderrahmane argues that the declaration remains abstract and unable to bring what empowers world religions in giving value to such a declaration; he sees that it is practice, besides faith, that makes agency of believers positive in the world, and he applies the same to such important declarations that do not emphasise religious practice, and keep the declaration void of the spirit of work (i.e. practice). For him, like many other fields, nature cannot be protected with a global ethic that is not practical, and this praxis is based first of all on individual practice. Good intents are good, but practised good intentions are much better. The fact of speaking of ethics instead of their applicability is what also drives scholars to critique political engagements like the United Nations Climate Change Conferences, the last of which was held in Paris (COP21), 30 November–12 December 2015. The Egyptian-Canadian theologian Jasser Auda says that religion – in his words ‘ethical religion’ – can play a substantial role in protecting the environment, if religious leaders and communities get involved, because their messages are still influential on human behaviour, unlike state politics that are more and more interested in ‘growth rates’ at the economic levels, and ‘social responsibility’ only as a charitable or additional act and not a deep ethical component of human conduct.