Op-Ed: Climate change challenges, a faith-based response
Baha’is believe that humanity has been passing through successive stages of an ever-advancing civilization and that there is a coherence between the spiritual and the material (the body needs the spirit, the lamp is useless without the light). Every human has a right to the material and spiritual benefits of civilization but also has an obligation to contribute towards its construction. The societal changes needed to combat global warming and other modern problems will need much capacity building of individuals, communities and institutions.
A framework for collective learning in action using “action, reflection and consultation” has been developed by Baha’is over the past 3 decades. (OSED Social Action 26 Nov 2012). As Shonghi Effendi has said: "We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world." Fixing the material only will not suffice. The following paragraphs will outline some Baha’i initiatives that relate to social and climate change issues.
Solutions to these difficult global problems require changes to thoughts and behaviors: “…in the face of the destructive impacts of climate change — exacerbated by the extremes of wealth and poverty — a need for new approaches centered on the principles of justice and equity is apparent… The challenge before the world community, then, is not only a technical one but a moral one, which calls for the transformation of thoughts and behaviors so as to allow our economic and social structures to extend the benefits of development to all people.” — Baha’i International Community, Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the challenge of climate change.
To get the needed changes depends on world wide solidarity and grass roots involvement: “Baha’is believe that progress in the development field depends on and is driven by stirrings at the grass roots of society rather than from an imposition of externally developed plans and programs… Different communities will likely devise different approaches and solutions in response to similar needs. It is for each community to determine its goals and priorities in keeping with its capacity and resources. Given the diversity of communities around the world, the plan encourages innovation and a variety of approaches to the environment appropriate to the rhythm of life in the community.” — Baha’i International Community’s Seven Year Plan of Action on Climate Change, 2009
Sustainable growth must consider justice and human rights: “Until justice is valued over greed, the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to widen, and the dream of sustainable economic growth, peace and prosperity will elude our grasp.” — BIC, Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, 1994)
In his 2004 Book, “Beyond the Culture of Contest”, Michael Karlberg talked about the problems with our tripartite system of contests (Legal, Political and Economic) and that protest movements may prove to be inadequate: “The socially unjust and ecologically unsustainable nature of the culture of contest has given rise to an internal culture of protest; yet as a strategy of social change, this culture of protest has reached a point of diminishing returns because it legitimizes and reinforces the codes of adversarialism that underlie the prevailing culture of contest.”
In order to make the needed transformation, Michael Karlberg suggests that a new non adversarial social system is needed to deal with these global problems: “In an age of increasing interdependence, social change can be pursued more effectively in a non-adversarial manner by withdrawing time and energy from the old cultural models and investing that time and energy in the construction of new, more just and sustainable models which will serve as a source of attraction to increasing numbers of people as the old models decline not through war or protest but through attrition.”
Baha’is believe that new principles to aid in this transformation have been provided by the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. Some examples of these principles are listed below:
1. The necessity for independent investigation of truth and not blind imitation.
2. The Oneness of Humanity; “The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
3. The Oneness of God/Truth/Religion “Knowledge is one point, which the foolish have multiplied”
4. Religion must be in harmony with science and reason, else it is just superstition.
5. Religion must be the cause of unity and love, not hatred and discord.
6. The Equality of Men and Women. Men are not superior to women.
7. Prejudice and fanaticism are destructive to solidarity and must be eliminated.
8. Need for universal education: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can alone cause it to reveal its treasures.”
9. Universal Peace will come in time due to the bounties of the Word of God. “Noble have I created thee, yet thou has abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou was created.”
These global problems may remain unfixed until we see all humanity as one. “The fundamental spiritual truth of our age is the oneness of humanity. Universal acceptance of this principle – with its implications for social and economic justice, universal participation in non-adversarial decision making, peace and collective security, equality of the sexes, and universal education – will make possible the reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind.” – BIC, Sustainable Development and the Human Spirit, 1993.
Both here in Samoa and around the world many are working on solutions to these world wide problems. Among the first Baha’is in American Samoa were Suhayl and Lilian Alai in the late 1950’s who labored to teach non-adversarial ways. Another early Baha’i, Arthur Dahl (Keith’s brother), first came to American Samoa in 1969 to help with its environmental problems and monitor its coral reefs. He went on to organize the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) to raise environmental awareness in the Island Nations, encourage sustainable development and values-based education, and address challenges such as climate change. Baha’is in American Samoa run more than 30 children’s classes and 20 junior youth empowerment groups teaching love for, and service to, humanity, and respect for the environment, and all races and religions.
Many thanks to the 350.org and our local 350 club for your sincere efforts in raising grass roots consciousness of the existential threats related to climate change and high carbon emissions and for initiating discussions about these issues in our island community (especially with the youth). As Earth Day approaches, our young Baha’is will surely stand shoulder to shoulder with your club in planning local sustainable solutions to these evolving climate change issues.
To Continue this Discussion
John Ludgate at email@example.com or 252-1301 (retired from ASG Dept of Ed)
Edda Wyberski – chairperson of the Regional Baha’i Council of Am Samoa — Island Jewelers
Titi Afoa Nofoagatotoa — Chairperson of the National Spiritual Assembly of Samoa – IBC