Prince Charles argued that the “environmental crisis” facing the world was due to “a deep, inner crisis of the soul” in his speech on Wednesday at the Sheldonian Theatre, entitled “Islam and the Environment”.
The prince, who received a standing ovation following his speech, argued that an attitude of unlimited consumption towards the world’s resources was the result of a “mechanistic and reductionist approach to our scientific understanding of the world around us”. He suggested that this led to “the imperative that [science’s] findings must be employed to maximum, financial effect”.
Citing a United Nations study of 2008 which estimated that the global economy incurs an annual loss of between 2 and 4.5 trillion dollars each year as a result of the destruction of natural systems, the prince also noted that a consumptive attitude towards the world was responsible for significant financial loss.
The solution, he suggested, lay in “the recovery of the soul to the mainstream of our thinking… Only sacred traditions have the capacity to help this happen”.
Hertford second-year Alice Thornton said, “It sounds like an argument for justifying religion rather than justifying environmentalism. If your aim is to do as much environmental good as possible you need to appeal to as many people as possible.
“Linking environmentalism to spirituality could be inadvisable and limits a campaign on an issue which affects everyone to specific channels, potentially alienating people.”
The Prince went on to call on people from “each of the sacred traditions” to consider questions such as birth control, arguing that “one of the biggest cases of high birth rates remains cultural”. He added: “It is surely time to ask if we can come to a view that balances the traditional attitude to the sacred nature of life… with, on the other hand, those teachings… that urge humankind to keep within the limits of Nature’s benevolence.”
Prince Charles also spoke in favour of women’s education in Bangladesh as a factor which controlled the birth rate, and issued a challenge “beyond this audience today” to “mobilise Islamic scholars… to identify the general ideas, the teachings and the practical techniques within the tradition which encourage us to work with the grain of Nature rather than against it.”
The prince acknowledged the impact of his last speech on Islam in Muslim countries at the beginning of his lecture, saying “I am still reminded of what I said, particularly when I travel in the Islamic world.” A second-year undergraduate commented “His whole speech was basically trying to prove to Muslims how green living was something totally in sync with the teachings of the Quran and therefore urging those countries to infuse their spirituality into their lifestyle to combat a global threat.”