Religious pilgrimages and accompanying festivals have forever been a staple of faith-based groups around the world. To embark on an arduous journey, solely for the purpose of connecting to a physical landmark that once served as an abstract pillar of something greater, carries with it the possibility to transform our soul in ways we never imagined.
From Chamayo in New Mexico to Hajj in Mecca, these expeditions are often a once in a lifetime opportunity given their exorbitant cost and physically demanding structure. Which may explain why we tend to disregard our usual sense of ecological responsibility, inadvertently trashing the areas we hold in such high esteem.
Oliver Balch explains in his article, ‘Religious Festivals: How Sustainable is Kumbh Mela, Hajj and Christmas?’, that these pious acts often leave in their wake a degree of trash and carbon emissions that rivals some coal plants. Rather than urging religious groups to end their sacred quests, Balch offers some helpful tips on how to continue these spiritually transformative experiences without transforming our ecosystem.
Religious festivals play an intrinsic part in people’s lives the world over, but their environmental impacts can be far from ethereal. We look at what actions are being taken to green some of the biggest events in the world’s religious calendar.
Hajj: Tread Kindly
Nearly three million Muslims head to Mecca in Saudi Arabia every year to complete the Hajj pilgrimage. However, the event’s spiritual benefits come at an environmental cost, with litter and transport-related emissions high on the list of impacts.
Muslim pilgrims can now obtain advice on how to reduce their environmental footprint in the Green Guide for Hajj. The guide is available in English, Arabic, Hausa, Bengali, and Bahasa Indonesian.
Published by the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation, the booklet encourages pilgrims to take jute or cloth bags and prayer mats to Hajj and to use reusable drinking bottles instead of plastic equivalents. They are also advised to select travel agents based on their sustainability credentials and to purchase only eco-friendly products in preparation. When visiting the holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat, pilgrims should ideally ditch their cars and travel by the Mecca metro rail service instead.