Can we have hope with climate change?

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. April 2013 - 21:07

A question many of us are struggling with is whether, with the seeming inevitability of possibly catastrophic climate change, we can still have hope for the future.

Negative messages do not inspire people to action, but to denial or despair. There is not much we can say about the environment and especially climate change that is not negative. We know that the present materialistic economic system is disfunctional and that we need to make a transition to a new one. The question is, how much environmental damage will be done by the old system that we shall have to fix afterwards, and how much human suffering will be caused in the process. We can hope that it will not be a long, drawn-out series of catastrophes. This may be the critical decade to start the transition, as different problems come to a head simultaneously. The challenge is to reduce the human impact.

When we look at the acceleration in global warming and climate change at the moment, and the simultaneous rush of the world economy to find ever more sources of fossil fuels to try to keep the consumer economy growing, there is every reason for despair. The one thing that still gives me hope that a climate catastrophe can be avoided, or at least diminished, is the likelihood of a global financial collapse. This would seem to be the one thing (apart from a world civil war or a global pandemic), that could shut down much of the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels in time to keep global warming below 3° or 4° (most scientists think 2°C is now beyond reach because of the inertia in the system). There is a recent report from a UK brokerage house, "Perfect storm: energy, finance and the end of growth", available at http://ftalphaville.ft.com/files/2013/01/Perfect-Storm-LR.pdf, that makes a strong argument for the likelihood of a financial collapse. We cannot know whether this or accelerating climate change is the more immediate threat, but the response should be the same.

The best insurance against the freezing up of the global economy and its fallout, or any other catastrophe, will be strong community solidarity. When times get bad, people need to help each other to find solutions. The kinds of activities that Baha'i communities around the world are building through study, reflection and action are the best tools to build communities that draw on their diversity to work together. It is also important to mobilize the energy of the youth, and to prepare children and pre-adolescents in positive ways for the challenges ahead. Providing a spiritual foundation of prayer and devotional meetings is also necessary. The Baha'is themselves are still too limited in numbers to have much impact, but they can join with many others in acting to address problems at the neighbourhood or village level. Community building is inherently very positive and rewarding, and produces visible results. The focus on the next generation is also critical to preparing them to respond constructively to the problems they are inheriting.

The other positive approach is to learn detachment from the present system of materialism by focusing on the higher rewards at a social and spiritual level. We need to replace the superficial attractions of the consumer society by an alternative vision of a better future. If the "pull" of the new vision is strong enough, the "push" out of a collapsing material civilization will pale into insignificance. With the continuing waves of unemployment as the old system declines, there is an enormous challenge to steer that wasted human capacity in new and more constructive directions, but the best chance to do so will be at the community level, where many Baha'i principles are immediately relevant, such as voluntary sharing, creating a village fund for social solidarity, etc. As local Baha'i communities build their capacity to work together with others, we shall be drawn more and more to apply the same approaches to wider areas of social action.

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I am new to the IEF, so this post may appear late and, perhaps, somewhat out of context. I was moved to seek out this forum after recently completing a Wilmette Institute class on Baha'i Economics. Also, my wife, Julie, participated in the most recent WI course on climate change.

Having attended a couple of events featuring Bill McKibben (most recently the US SIF, Social Investment Forum conference in Chicago), I have observed that there appears to be significant momentum growing in the financial services industry to support fossil fuel divestment. Also, it appears as if many faith-based groups are actively making plans to divest from fossil fuels.

Last March 2012, I published a book titled "Low Fee Socially Responsible Investing, investing in your worldview on your terms" and have more recently been maintaining a website on the same topic (www.lowfeesociallyresponsibleinvesting.com). As an hourly fee only financial adviser, until the past couple of years, I did not have a practical solution for Baha'is to participate in the area of social/sustainable/impact investing. Many other faiths have established mutual funds that align with their values but the Baha'is, of course, did not. To make a long story short, I currently have a number of "mini-portfolios" that are my Baha'i-inspired attempt to reflect an assortment of Baha'i principles, including environmental stewardship. The information on the website is available to the public and available to do-it-yourself investors or for investors to use with the aid of a financial adviser that is willing to work with them on a low fee approach.

Whether or not, one is interested in a traditional medium to high-fee approach (mutual funds that are fossil free) or a low fee approach, I believe it would be helpful if Baha'i join other groups in the divestment campaign. There may be others in this group that are following this campaign as well and I would welcome your thoughts on the topic.

Kindest regards,
Tom Nowak, Grayslake, IL (Libertyville Township Baha'i community)