International Baha'i Environment Conference
24-26 October 1997
De Poort, The Netherlands
DAY ONE, FRIDAY 24 OCTOBER
The first International Baha'i Environment Conference was opened on Friday after lunch with devotions, and words of welcome from Les Gornall who chaired the meeting. Some 20 participants had gathered in the beautiful main hall of De Poort Conference centre.
The session started with Arthur Dahl giving a talk on the theme " Sustainable Development and the Environment in the World: An Overview". His presentation outlined the efforts world-wide specially on the international level to address environmental and sustainable development issues, from the Stockholm Conference in 1972 and onwards and the opportunities that these have offered for Baha'i participation.
Michael Richards' presentation entitled "A Baha'i Perspective on Sustainable Development" followed and addressed the fundamentally spiritual approaches to the issues that the Baha'i teachings imply. He also read the speech "Environmental Education for and by Baha'is" written by Irma Allen who at the last minute was unable to attend in person.
Then followed a longer consultation among all participants, reflecting on the contents of the presentations and their implications for the proposed association. A summary of these consultations is found in Appendix 1.
The evening programme consisted of a session where everyone shared experiences from their Baha'i communities related to environment or sustainable development. It became a truly positive hour that showed how much is happening around the Baha'i world in this respect. The view was also put forward that such positive examples need to be shared with a greater audience so as to inspire others.
DAY TWO, SATURDAY 25 OCTOBER
The second day's session were chaired by Arthur Dahl. Following devotions and a short presentation by Sylvia Karlsson on the "Purpose and structure of the proposed Baha'i Environment Forum", Les Gornall and Arthur Dahl discussed how the European Baha'i Business Forum works in order to help us in our deliberations. This proved very illuminating. Among the activities of the EBBF have been the organisation of seminars, particularly in Eastern Europe (especially Bulgaria), a regular newsletter, and some very effective (and cheap) booklets. It was mentioned how EBBF member have often been asked to chair at important meetings, as for example at one of the sessions at the HABITAT II conference in Istanbul, 1996, and that there has been direct contact with some very influential organisations like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. There are about 100 members of the EBBF and their annual dues are about US$100. It was mentioned that a few people have worked very hard to make EBBF successful. EBBF also has national chapters like here in the Netherlands.
Then participants split up into three groups and discussed the purposes of the IEF. The subsequent plenary discussion resulted in the revision of Article 5, there was quite a lot of rewording and some new clauses were added. One interesting discussion was on the possibility of setting up regional and/or national/local branches or chapters, working under the umbrella IEF.
After lunch two members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, Bert Karsten and Marga van Luijtelaar were welcomed. First they read a letter to the conference from the Assembly. They further confirmed that the National Spiritual Assembly would be very happy to 'sponsor' the IEF, as long as this has no financial implications. We went through the statutes with them and they made several important suggestions on the wording.
Then followed discussion of the name of the association. No less than nine different names were suggested, and eventually a vote was taken: Baha'i Environment Forum was the clear favourite, while there was also some support for Global Baha'i Environment Forum, World-wide Baha'i Environment Forum, Baha'i Environment and Sustainable Development Forum. [The name was later changed to International Environment Forum as the name selected was considered inappropriate for an organization not under the direct authority of a Baha'i institution.] One advantage of a simple and short name is that it would be very simple to add regional or national chapters or branches without it being too cumbersome - as for example IEF-Latin America, IEF-Germany, etc. It was also felt that the Baha'i vision is global anyway, and that any approach to the environment must take account of sustainable development. Sustainable development figures strongly in the statutes and among the purposes.
In the evening the first General Annual Assembly of the International Environment Forum was opened. After prayers, votes were cast for the IEF Board. Then the revised IEF Statutes were adopted (see Appendix 2), pending further negotiation of the legal details. It was also decided to hold open the Annual General Assembly until the end of the Conference to allow the means and activities (to be discussed on Sunday morning) to be included. The Assembly was adjourned until Sunday at 9 am.
The day's programme was appropriately closed by enjoying Arthur Dahl's slide presentation on the theme "Coral Ecosystems: Lessons for Humanity".
DAY THREE, SUNDAY 26 OCTOBER
Michael Richards chaired the meeting which opened with prayers including a moving prayer sung in three part harmony.
The result of the election of the interim board of the International Environment Forum was presented by the tellers. There were 20 votes cast of which four were absentee votes via email. The members elected were:
Consultation on the activities of the IEF in its first year of existence followed. It was initially recognised that valuable guidance for the consultations was given in the letter from the Office of Social and Economic Development dated 30 September to the working group for the IEF and from the purpose stated in the Statutes.
The consultation brought forward a lot of ideas for consideration by the Board on issues such as communications, furthering knowledge, development projects, conferences and seminars, membership and fees, relationship with other Baha'i institutions and agencies, and youth. For a summary of suggestions and other comments see Appendix 3.
In the closing session of the conference the message to the Universal House of Justice was read. With the addition of the information that we have 9 countries represented in the room and including the email group 23 countries, it was accepted.
The conference ended with a prayers and the singing of 'Allah'u'Abha'.
PROCEEDINGS OF THE ELECTRONIC VERSION OF THE CONFERENCE
Beforehand 59 individuals had registered for the electronic version of the conference. A special web site with access only for these had been created by Paul Maloney in Montreal. It was envisioned that the speeches and summaries of consultations would regularly be put up on this web site during the tree days. However, due to problems with email access at the conference site and lack of human resources these postings were delayed for many hours which made it difficult for email participants to send in comments. However, in the weeks preceding the conference, a number of comments on for example the proposed statutes of the Forum had come in to the web site and these were printed out and shared with friends present at De Poort.
On Friday evening an email was sent to all email participants with instructions for taking part in the vote for the Board of the Forum. On Sunday morning the tellers at De Poort collected the email votes that had come in via Paul Maloney (four). On Sunday, after the closure of the conference, the summaries of all three days consultations and including the result of the election of the Board were posted on the web site.
SUMMARY OF CONSULTATIONS DAY ONE
Here follows a condensed summary of the major points that were brought up during the consultation. The comments are somewhat arbitrarily categorised under five subjects.
Values and religion
Our values come from our spiritual beliefs, the same for our economic system. In general there is no recognition of our real human nature. If we recognise our spiritual being we will have a different political and economic system. - so first of all it is important to understand the spiritual nature and decide on the values. We have to move the discussion first towards what is human nature.
Many people don't agree that humans have a free will and thus a responsibility but there is indeed an individual responsibility. We cannot segregate our individual beliefs and attitudes from the world around us.
Religions give the basic set of values¡the ground rules to work on all problems, the foundation rules by which all interactions take place and in recent years meetings between different religions have recognised many spiritual values that are shared among them.
Concern was raised about the norms dictated by the western world which will exclude the indigenous people. Much of the drive of sustainable development comes from the western world based on their own mistakes. The UN does not want to make a world based on western values¡but the problems is that the weight of different point of views is so small from the small groups and there is not equal time given to them. We have work at bringing the cultures together.
The point was put that often the western lifestyle is described as bad and the rest of the world pictured as living in harmony, but this raises a lot of guilt also for those in the west who are trying to find more harmonious lifestyles.
In recognition that 20% are so well off that they use 80% of the earth's resources¡ we should however feel responsible although not guilty.
Concerning the problem of the rising population it is like other problems, none of which can be managed in isolation. It is a matter of choosing how to live, rich like Hollywood stars and therefore with only a few people or with less luxury and place for more people.
All creatures operate according to the will of God. But our free will makes us different, it is prosperity we should aim for. However we have to think about what kind of prosperity. Most people only have a material perspective of prosperity.
The meaning and application of the concept of sustainability was discussed. It was made clear that nobody really knows exactly what sustainability is. If we don't know what sustainable development means how do we know how to proceed?
It was mentioned that even if the concept is much liked in some industrial sectors today the concept of sustainable development was coined in the meetings of the World Conservation Strategy. They started using this concept in their discussions on the issue of the development of the human species when they understood that they could not separate it from the natural surroundings.
Do Baha'is understand sustainable development? We don't, so a primary task for this forum is to bring this more known amongst Baha'is. The Baha'i teachings provides instructions that could lead to solutions. If we seek justice in the world and then naturally will follow a sustainable attitude. It is a process and not a target.
The issue of knowledge of the processes of the earth and why we should measure them was consulted upon. Can we for example measure the carrying capacity of the earth? Or sustainability? We can instead try to measure what is unsustainable. and measure the reduction in levels of (for instance) forests, this approach to measurement is practical and achievable. The demand for measuring the state of the environment comes from politicians. They want to show results and their mentality is driven by numbers so they want to show results in numbers. In the present period of transition we can use measurements to bring into consciousness other human issues that are ignored until now. Unemployment is an example. It was not an issue until there were unemployment statistics. But it is important to see the measurement of indicators of sustainability only as a tool.
The UN has listed over 130 indicators which can be used to evaluate programmes but finally we have to come to a concept of what is human development. Are there universal or situational values? For instance you cannot measure the amount of love in a community but you can see what we are doing. These actions say something of the moral or social state of a community in this group (and thus of the amount of love).
We are effecting every part of the ecosystem and we are now conscious that we are the managers of the whole natural environment. For instance. we now control the genetic structure of the earth, its atmosphere, its water resources, however, we are managing it with little knowledge of the processes we are managing¡ we have to raise our knowledge of the processes. Our goal is to understand what we are managing. There is no wilderness any more - even the breeding success of penguins in the Antarctic is dependent on our pesticide use in agriculture on other continents. Nature no longer exists in wild isolation¡we are managing it all. Therefore our goal should be the successful and sustainable management of all the world resources.
What could then be our contribution in the world towards managing resources and development in a sustainable way, as an association aiming at implementing the spiritual principles of the Baha'i Faith?
- We have to offer the process of consultation.
- We have to develop values leading towards sustainability.
- Having or gaining a notion of sustainability is something we could work on with the Baha'is.
- We should not focus always on Baha'i points of views. We have to build partnerships with other groups that work the same way as this organisation.
- We can help to formulate the goal for human development, something which many other groups are not able to do.
- There are fundamental issues an environment Forum could focus on in debate and consultation. This is one of the key functions of coming together. One of the elements of the Forum should be how do we keep this level of discussion and keep it rich and organic?
- On the issue of changing the hearts of the people. if you want to work on problems of global issues you have to change behaviour,¡ hearts. The only way to solve these problems is by religious commitment. The Baha'i Faith does not exclude anybody.
- It is all in the Baha'i writings. We have to work at the micro level and do some good projects in the field combining spiritual and ecological principles. we have to demonstrate a model and other people can pick it up.
We are consuming and exploiting a vast amount of the earth's productivity up to a quarter of the planets fish for instance, we are reaching the limits. we have challenges that we never had before...
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Extracts from the Draft STATUTES as revised after the conference
[provisions for the administrative and legal articles are still under discussion]
Whereas the Baha'i Writings warn of the dangers of material civilization carried to excess,
enjoin moderation, and emphasize ecological principles such as the interrelatedness of all things,
unity in diversity, and the fundamental reality of increasing levels of cooperation, complexity and
reciprocity across the vast extent of creation;
Whereas the Baha'i Faith considers the preservation of the ecological balance at all levels in the world to be of vital concern to all humanity, and urges action for the environment and sustainable development from the local to the global level in ways that are in harmony with the rhythm of life in the community;
Whereas our inner life cannot be separated from the environment around us, the two being intimately interrelated, requiring that environmental and sustainable development issues also be addressed at the level of fundamental ethical and moral values and principles;
Whereas the international community of nations has recognised the importance of the protection and wise management of the environment, through the declaration and action plan adopted at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972), through those of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), and through other international and regional conferences and conventions, and has encouraged the involvement of non-governmental organizations;
Whereas the environmental and sustainable development principles and goals recognised and adopted internationally are largely in accordance with the principles and goals pursued by the Baha'i International Community, a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations;
We hereby constitute an international environment association as a Baha'i-inspired agency through the following Articles:
ARTICLE 1 - CONSTITUTION
1.1 The undersigned parties and all other parties who shall accept the present By-Laws, as described in Article 7, do establish an international not-for-profit association under the law of <COUNTRY>.
ARTICLE 2 - DENOMINATION
2.1 The Association shall be known as and called the "International Environment Forum".
5.1 Because the International Environment Forum shares and upholds the ideals of the Baha'i Faith and wishes to participate in its efforts to establish and promote peace, unity and a world civilization, its purposes are:
5.2 To provide a forum for those who carry out environment or sustainable development activities, or who have a special interest in these areas, and who are also familiar with the ethical and social principles in the Baha'i Writings, to deepen their appreciation and understanding of the guidance enshrined in those Writings, to contribute to the body of knowledge and experience, and to explore the ways and means of applying those principles in the practice of such activities;
5.3 To share those universal principles and concepts as expressed in the Baha'i Writings, and to collaborate on projects, with organizations and individuals who are active in areas of environment and sustainable development;
5.4 To be available in an advisory capacity to governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses in promoting the sustainable use of resources and protecting the environment;
5.5 To stimulate a process of awareness and education amongst the Baha'i community, especially children, to contribute more effectively to practical actions;
5.6 To provide a forum for the exchange of environment and sustainable development experience gained in Baha'i communities at the local through global levels;
5.7 To stimulate, facilitate and support environment and sustainable development initiatives taken by Baha'i communities as part of the process of social and economic development;
5.8 To support networking for local, national and regional environment forums under the responsibility of Baha'i institutions or associated with Baha'i communities;
5.9 To encourage and advise young people who plan to study or work in the fields of environment or sustainable development in the spirit of the Baha'i teachings.
ARTICLE 6 - MEANS
6.1 In order to attain the goals stated in the preceding article, the undersigned parties have agreed to use the following means, among others:
6.2 To organize a yearly conference which shall also serve as the Annual General Assembly of the International Environment Forum;
6.3 To collaborate with associations and agencies in other fields of expertise, as well as development agencies;
6.4 To organize seminars and institutes on specialized subjects;
6.5 To encourage environmental research and scholarship;
6.6 To exchange information through periodical publications and by electronic media;
6.7 To create an annotated directory of the members of the International Environment Forum.
ARTICLE 7 - RULES OF MEMBERSHIP
7.1 Any interested person may become "adherent member", who, on the one hand, is professionally engaged in environment or sustainable development, or is involved in teaching or advisory activities in fields related to environment or sustainable development, or is a student in one of those fields, as well as any other person with a legitimate interest in the aforementioned fields, and, on the other hand, is sympathetic to the Baha'i teachings.
ARTICLE 10 - ADMINISTRATION
10.1 The International Environment Forum is governed by a Governing Board composed of at least five members elected by the Annual General Assembly. In order to be eligible for election to the Governing Board, one must be a voting member.
10.4 The Governing Board shall elect from among its members by secret ballot, a president, a general-secretary, a treasurer and any other officer which it judges necessary for the good functioning of the International Environment Forum.
ARTICLE 13 - ANNUAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY
13.1 The Annual General Assembly is composed of all voting members as defined in article 7 of these By-Laws. It shall meet once a year, make recommendations to the Board on the International Environment Forum's activities and work plan, and elect the elected members of the Governing Board.
SUMMARY OF CONSULTATIONS DAY THREE
Here follows a condensed summary of the suggestions for concrete activities and other comments that was brought up during the consultation. The comments are somewhat arbitrarily categorised under seven subjects.
There has to be a legal register of members and the working address of the Forum will have to be identified by the Board.
Make a list of environmental organisations and other NGOs of interest and make sure the IEF is put on relevant mailing lists.
Send a letter to the Baha'i Institutions about the existence of the Forum.
Make a web calendar of events organised by others would be useful to make priorities of events to take part in.
Making a publications programme of for example brochures would be useful in an early stage. The board could ask for individuals to write brochures on specific subjects.
Possibilities that internet provides need to be explored. Should we have our own web site with our own name and address? We could ask a suitable person to develop the web site. If we had a site with the name IEF it would be good for purposes of search engines being enabled to find the IEF.
Establish a newsgroup like Noble Creation, it has to be managed and the membership would be open only to IEF members.
The IEF should provide material for institute courses on the Faith and the Environment. This could be announced widely in the form of a call for information in the first instance as there is a lot of information already available but it has to be collated and made more widely available in printed and email form. The printed form is quite important as there are many without email facilities. The Ruhi institute materials and the participatory learning approach are working all over the world and we could get the Board to take up this idea.
Establish a work group on ethics and the environment.
Can we develop a proposal to do research on the experience to date on the effect of the Baha'i Faith on the environment around the world? This should be sponsored and would be a good demonstration of what we can do.
We might be able to get money from Canada judging from literature in hand.
In The Netherlands it may be possible to arrange Doctoral studies on Baha'i plus environment subjects.
To collect the annotated bibliography of relevant litterature on the issues and compile and publish we need a single point of reference. We could use the web site to accumulate the data for the bibliography. Collecting references can be sent to the web site by submissions allowing for a gradual organic development.
The Office of Social and Economic Development suggested to look into the prospect of social and economic development in a European context and it was suggested that a committee could be formed to explore this.
Could we make one activity in the developing countries and one activity in the developed countries in the first year? Starting projects will not be possible at the present stage of the development of the IEF but we will stimulate grass roots initiatives (see the Statutes).
Anything we do to compile and share experiences of projects in Baha'i communities will stimulate ideas in the development of projects. The projects will happen quite naturally. When we say projects what are we thinking about. building something? Projects need long term commitments to be sustainable so if there is no such commitment from people it is almost worse than doing nothing. We might assist say a certain government to make policy. We should think of the end result. The IEF should stimulate others. To act in an advisory capacity will work out naturally as a result of networking with government officials etc. who might ask for assistance.
Eco Teams are local projects that are already there in many places and we could link to these.
We are still embryonic and we should not go and look for new areas of work. The Office of Social Economic Development may be telling us that the community is not ready for our skills yet. But if there are existing grass roots activities working that could use our skills, we can offer them. We should learn to respond to other opportunities. There are scientific congresses and meetings we can participate in.
Conferences and seminars
Offers were made by individuals to initiate a conference on the role of religions in sustainable development in the Netherlands, and another offer was made to make a workshop in Canada. The Dutch friends already planned for their first meeting to consult on the idea further.
After proposals to plan for an international conference concern is raised about the balance between national vs. international action in the initial phase of the Forum's existence. It was suggested that if several conferences were held at different localities at national level in the coming two years we can then make an international conference taking the best elements of the national conferences. The IEF can find international speakers for the national conferences. It may be more realistic to start on a small national scale and work up to the international. It was suggested that at these conferences the proceedings should be published, members could be invited to write papers and one has to go further than merely stating spiritual principles.
To make a Youth Year of Service register for environmental programmes around the world. First one could try to find out from the Youth Year of Service committees etc. what channels are used today to give information to the youth and we cold ask them about environmental projects.
Relationship with other Baha'i institutions/agencies
Concern was raised regarding that a number of the goals of the IEF may overlap with the Office of the Environment. But this is not the case since the primary mandate of the Office of the Environment is representing the Baha'i Community at the international level towards the United Nations and Governments. The important thing is to communicate with them and to compliment their work.
The Board might ask the Office of Social and Economic Development for lists and bibliographies for use in this area... also the Board should be in contact with Office of Social and Economic Development on a regular basis. The Office of Social and Economic Development says in their letter that they look forward to having a dialogue with us.
Establish a relationship with the Association for Baha'i Studies.
Membership and fees
How do we expand membership? Membership is by nomination and every member is encouraged to invite members. We need many members. News of the conference will be a help in dissemination.
Fees should be scaled.
We could gear fees to the per capita CO2 production for the country.
We could say this is what it costs and leave it to others to decide.
We might have a special fee for friends of the IEF, or honorary members.
The board will look into this.
It will take a little time for formal incorporation. The membership fees cannot come to an unincorporated body... the Board will need two months for these processes. We should encourage everyone to record interest in membership during this time. Then we can at the right time make a formal list of members.
Activities of individual members
Make an inventory, such a data bank on the human resources in the IEF.
Referring to the use of the name of the Forum by individuals in their activities, care is required and the Board needs to be consulted. One of the roles of the Board is review to maintain standards of the actions taken in the name of the Forum.
Individuals are free to contact anyone but the IEF name should not be used without permission of the board. News items of this meeting should be sent freely by individuals to NSAs and others noting above the use of IEF. Guidelines will be provided later.