Newsletter of the
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 13, Number 5 --- June 2011
15 June 2011
Article submission: firstname.lastname@example.org Deadline next issue 9 July 2011
Secretariat Email: email@example.com General Secretary Emily Firth
Postal address: 12B Chemin de Maisonneuve, CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland, Tel: +41 (0)22 797 0211
From the Editor
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Request for information for upcoming newsletters
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INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM 15th ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Ethical Responses to Climate Change: Individual, Community, and Institutions/i>
First Conference Announcement
10 and 11 December 2011
Bahá’í Centre of Learning for Tasmania, 1 Tasman Highway - Hobart - Tasmania – Australia, http://www.tasbcl.com.au
Registration begins 1 July 2011 at: http://ief2011hobart.eventbrite.com
Registration fees of A$120 per person (9 -15 year olds A$40, children under 9 free)
Many respected concerned scientists now contend that that earth's climate system has reached and exceeded a tipping point due to human-enhanced levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. According to many such scientists, the planetary climate is now expected to change significantly. Many areas potentially will soon be experiencing a harsher, more variable climate than known before in all of human history. Such envisioned changes have great likelihood to impact food supplies, water resources, biodiversity, human lifespan, and national economies. This conference will focus on the ethical responses needed to cope with such changes, focusing on the roles of individuals, communities, and institutions. The format of the conference will be keynote speakers, expert panels, and workshops; it is intended to be a very participative conference, fostering an open sharing of ideas and strategies.
”Progress is of two kinds, material and spiritual. The former is attained through observation of the surrounding existence and constitutes the foundation of civilization. Spiritual progress is through the breaths of the Holy Spirit and is the awakening of the conscious soul of man..."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 226)
Dr. Tessa Scrine, Member of the International Board of Baha'i Counsellors for Australia
Dr. Arthur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum
Dr. Natalie Mobini-Keshch, Chief of the External Affairs Office of the Australian Baha'i Community
Dr. Arini Beaumaris, Member National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia
Mr. Todd Houstien, President - Sustainable Living Australia
Mr. Gareth Johnson, Founder of Future Forward
Mr. Peter Adriance, NGO Environmental Liaison for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the U.S.A.
Rev. Dr Miriam Pepper, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC)
Mr. Peter Boyer, Climate Tasmania and noted journalist
VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT - VALUES-BASED INDICATORS
The University of Brighton is recruiting a Research Fellow in Sustainable Development from £31,798 to £37,990 pro rata - 0.8 full-time equivalent
In this role, you will focus on developing values-based indicators (see http://www.esdinds.eu/ and http://www.wevalue.org/) and be involved in planning and managing research projects, in consultation with a Principal Investigator. You will develop a publication record, generate funding and supervise less experienced researchers. You will be willing and able to travel for several weeks at a time to China, have a good (1 or 2:1) degree and a postgraduate qualification (preferably a Ph.D). Specialism in at least one related research area and sufficient indicative breadth of knowledge to work in this multi-disciplinary field are also essential. The post is fixed-term for two years as funding is limited.
Call (01273) 642849 (24 hours) or visit http://www.brighton.ac.uk/personnel. Please quote
reference number SF4029
Closing date: 28 June 2011
UN Commission discusses ethics behind the environmental crisis
UNITED NATIONS, 17 May 2011 (BWNS) – Focusing solely on the material aspects of the environmental crisis, while ignoring its moral and ethical dimensions, will not ensure humanity's long term survival.
That was among the perspectives under discussion at this year's UN Commission on Sustainable Development, held from 2-13 May.
"We have passed beyond the global tipping point that we have been anticipating for decades," Jeffrey Sachs – director of the Earth Institute and a special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – told the Commission on 11 May.
"We are now living on a planet of environmental turmoil," observed Professor Sachs, noting an increase in the number of floods, droughts, and food and water shortages around the world.
"Fundamentally, we have a global ethics crisis," he said, because, "while we need to find a path towards sustainable development, we are scrambling instead for resources and advantage."
Ashok Khosla, a former director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), also highlighted the need to recognize the values underlying sustainable development. Gross Domestic Product "measures all the things that don't count in our real lives," said Mr. Khosla.
"Whatever it is we really care about – happiness and love – doesn't figure in the GDP at all," he said.
"Making the Invisible Visible"
A panel discussion – also held on 11 May and sponsored by the Baha'i International Community – sought to explore ways in which cultural, educational, and spiritual components can be brought into the sustainable development discourse.
Titled "Making the Invisible Visible: Values and the Transition to Sustainable Consumption and Production", the panel was moderated by Duncan Hanks of the Canadian Baha'i International Development Agency.
"There is no doubt of the importance of understanding and getting the material consideration of this discussion right – to adequately address the policy considerations, legal frameworks, financial mechanisms," said Mr. Hanks.
"However, to allow the discussion to focus merely on the material aspects...only covers part of the story.
"We are hearing new discussions and language about the dynamic coherence between the material and value-based or spiritual dimensions of sustainable consumption and production, between the hardware and the software – the physical and the spiritual – and we are witnessing an increased willingness to explore not only the policy and technical ramifications but the very values that ultimately influence attitudes and transform behaviours," he said.
Five other panelists from four continents offered thoughts about ways that the consideration of values can be brought into discussions about sustainable consumption and production, in order to motivate the changes in human behaviour needed to sustain life on the planet.
"The values debate is at the heart of what our future is going to look like," said Vanessa Timmer, co-founder and executive director of the One Earth Initiative, "Rethinking the Good Life".
She noted that values and behaviour are intimately connected, and that a discussion of values also frames the discussion – and the direction – of behaviour.
Researchers, said Ms. Timmer, have found that if the argument is made for buying a hybrid car on the idea that it will save money – instead of also saving the environment – the discussion is kept on material grounds.
"The idea is to use both – give numbers but embed them within a larger conversation about how this is going to help us move towards a new sense of community and affiliation with others," she said.
Victoria Thoresen of the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living in Norway analyzed a series of specific values that have a bearing on sustainable development – including detachment, moderation, trust, justice, and hope.
The concept of justice, she said, "provides us with the possibility to move from the self-centeredness that dominates our world to a way of being, a mode of sharing, a way of moving beyond our complicated, confused world where hope barely exists."
Also on the panel were: Luis Flores Mimica, Consumers International, Latin American Office (Chile); Elona Hoover, Researcher, ESDinds Project: Developing Values-based indicators for Sustainable Development, University of Brighton (UK); and Kiara Worth, Sustainable Development Specialist (Papua New Guinea). The meeting was co-sponsored by PERL, One Earth, and Consumers International.
As another contribution to the discussion at this year's Commission, the Baha'i International Community called further attention to its 2010 statement, " Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism."
IEF member Jon Church is in Azerbaijan on a UN fellowship to organize a large conference on economic cooperation between Central Asia and Afghanistan. For Earth Day, he organized a small IEF-inspired workshop at the American Council on “small things you can do every day for the environment” with about 30 young people.
Environmental Stewards – Champions of Justice
IEF members Lloyd ‘Dingo’ Brown, Ariane Bertrand, and Peter Adriance are part of a four person team organizing a Jr. Youth Sustainable Development Academy at Green Acre Bahá'í School July 22-27on the theme, “Environmental Stewards – Champions of Justice!” Fifty junior youth, aged 13 and 14, are enrolled in the program. During this special week designed for junior youth, we will explore the themes of justice and environmental stewardship and increase our capacity and sense of commitment to act for the wellbeing of humanity and the Earth. We will immerse ourselves in the Bahá’í Writings and join in creative and interactive learning exercises—both indoors and out—gaining a deeper appreciation for the natural world, our place in it and our impact on it. We hope that the Jr. Youth will come away excited to apply their learning at home and in the community.
Learning about ecology at the grassroots in the Baha’i community
by Samuel Benoit
(Article published in the March/April 2011 edition of the Peace and Environment News of Ottawa, Canada)
With the mandate to “be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center [their] deliberations on its exigencies and requirements”, the Baha’i community of Ottawa has steadily been gaining more and more experience in engaging in discourse and social action to address the environmental crisis. In Ottawa, the community of over 1,000 often holds regular functions within nine geographic sectors. One such function is the Feast. Held every nineteen days, this spiritual Feast offers Baha’is the opportunity to worship, socialize and consult together as a community on a regular basis.
At one Feast last year the topic of consultation was the environmental crisis and the challenge to further integrate sustainability into the rhythm of community life. Having identified the need to increase environmental literacy, the community agreed to integrate a series of brief presentations into their regular Feast gatherings on environmental action. Following this, I was “voluntold” to get it started as the resident ecologist in the room. Over a series of months I coordinated and delivered eight presentations and found it a great way to learn about how we can empower one another to take action for the environment at a local level. I was asked to share some reflections here on what seemed to work for anyone considering taking on a similar challenge.
Keep it short. Knowing the length of my own attention span, I knew that anything beyond about eight minutes would be dangerous. I found it helpful to break topics down into the essentials: the problem (costly, dirty landfills), why we should care (taxes, climate change-causing methane emissions), how we are involved (we throw out lots of organic material), solutions (Green Bin program, potential impact), how it works (what goes in, etc) and where to go to learn more (the City of Ottawa).
Interact. This not only supports the general aim of keeping people from zoning out, but also helps you to gauge where the community is at in their understanding of the topic. A presentation on recycling was concluded with a raucous quiz where everyone had to simultaneously shout which recycling bin iffy items are to be placed in. On another occasion, dangerous cycling maneuvers were enacted for individuals to critique and come up to show the proper way.
Freebies help. I know it seems counter to the ethic of sustainability to shower people with things, but what if those things are those that can be used as tools for positive change? Mountain Equipment Coop was happy to equip me with several bike bells and reflective bands to promote bike safety. Maps to local farmer’s markets and farms prepared by Just Food help to take steps towards local eating and Coco Camino chocolate is a great way to introduce people to Fair Trade and organic food.
Stand on the shoulders of local giants. Ottawa is crammed with local organizations who prepare material on local environmental challenges and solutions. Ecology Ottawa’s booklet The Ecology of Ottawa is a fantastic resource, Citizens for Safe Cycling has stacks of great pamphlets and the websites of TransFair and Just Food help too. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the best resource by far has been the websites and pamphlets of the City of Ottawa.
Samuel Benoit is former Chairperson of the Ottawa chapter of interfaith environmental organization Faith and the Common Good, blogs at samuelbenoit.wordpress.com and can be reached at samuelbenoit @ gmail.com.
African faith leaders: A renewed moral vision is vital to progress in climate talks
South Africa should stand again with Africa at COP17
Gigiri, Nairobi (8 June 2011) – Only a profoundly renewed moral vision is likely to end 20 years of effective impasse in the climate negotiations that will continue at COP17 in Durban, South Africa, in December.
This is the conclusion of 130 African faith leaders of many creeds, who met with Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoga and UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi this week (7-8 June).
The conference was initiated by the executive director of the South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), Bishop Geoff Davies, and hosted by SAFCEI, the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (Procmura).
Kenyan Vice President Musyoka said that the threat of climate change is so great that “all our skills and knowledge” may not be sufficient “to save the human race from catastrophic and potentially dislocating changes”.
Recent crippling droughts in northern Kenya have provoked new conflicts when pastoralists have been forced out of desert regions into farmlands, and the country’s supply of hydroelectricity has been compromised.
UNEP executive director Achim Steiner told delegates that it is vital that a spirit of cooperation, rather than competition, prevails in climate talks. “In the climate negotiations, the world’s people are being silenced by arguments, facts and figures that are disempowering... You have immense power to bring back a sense of responsibility to these negotiations.”
He said that humanity’s collective practice of economic development has become unsustainable, and is overly dominated by pursuit of GDP growth, an “extraordinarily simplistic” indicator.
The conference declaration outlines the moral immobility of the climate talks, and suggests specific and unusual measures that would greatly help to secure a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate treaty in Durban (this is currently considered an unlikely outcome).
Delegates also called on South Africa to stand again with its African peers and for the interests of Africa, in climate talks, rather than aligning itself with other blocs.
About climate change in Africa
Despite 17 years of negotiations to cut warming emissions, current global pledges to emissions cuts leave Earth on track for between 2.5–4 degrees of warming, widely agreed to be catastrophic.
There is little sign that the world’s nations are yet truly serious about making the emissions cuts that are so urgently needed. Short-term economic growth, profit and narrow conceptions of national interest dominate, threatening the prospects for global long-term human development.
Africans are responsible for a tiny proportion of global emissions, both current and historic, yet are highly likely to be amongst the world’s most affected people, threatened by unprecedented droughts, floods, extreme weather, diminishing food security, poverty, forced migration and increased conflict. Tragically, all too many Africans assume that the increasing hardships forced upon them are acts of God, not realising that these hardships are ever more the consequence of human actions.
For more information, please contact:
For SAFCEI: Bishop Geoff Davies, +27 83 754 5275, email@example.com, www.safcei.org.za
For AACC: General secretary Rev Dr Andre Karamaga (Nairobi): (254-20) 4441483, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.aacc-ceta.org For Procmura: Rev Dr Johnson Mbillah: email@example.com, www.procmura.org. Issued by David Le Page (SAFCEI): +27845 220968, firstname.lastname@example.org
IEF Website Migration Completed
After two years of work, all of the thousand files on the old IEF web site have been moved to the new web site (https://iefworld.org), and all of the pages on the old web site at bcca.org now have a note that the old site is no longer maintained, and giving the corresponding link on the new site. Those of you who have bookmarked the old site should update your bookmarks.
We have also updated the Compilation on Environment and Sustainable Development with new material, largely from the BIC statements of the last few years on poverty, climate change and rethinking prosperity. If you have suggestions for additional quotes to add, or additional compilations to propose, please send them to email@example.com.
Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, Book and Website
http://moralground.com/ and Editors Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P Nelson
The book, Moral Ground, released this spring looks like a ‘must read’ for all of us engaging in the discourse on climate change, especially from a moral and ethical perspective. Check out the associated web page and the questions that rotate through the masthead. It’s evolved into more than a book. The website and related events being held are a kind of ‘social space’ for the associated discourse on values to take place and evolve.
From the mission statement: MORAL GROUND began as a book and online publishing project. Over 80 visionaries – theologians, religious leaders, scientists, elected officials, business leaders, naturists, activists, and writers – address this challenge in their own voice, with their own unique perspectives. The book is the tool to understanding the moral dimensions of the planetary crisis, a resource to provide readers with the resources to frame effective arguments, to discover new ideas and approaches, and to help in your discussions with others. A series of town hall meetings and lectures has carried these ideas across the country, and additional events are being scheduled all the time.
Please join us on MORAL GROUND and invite your friends, colleagues, congregants, family, neighbors, students, well, everyone, to learn more and participate.
(book review by Arthur Dahl)
Harvard Professor Martin A. Nowak, with Roger Highfield, have written a remarkable book: Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed (New York, Free Press, March 2011) that summarizes two decades of research on the mathematics of evolution, and concludes that ethical and religious values of cooperation, not competition, are essential to succeed in resolving today's environmental, economic and social crises.
After long dominance of theories of human society and economics based on self-interest, competition and aggressiveness, Nowak and his colleagues have now established, with the support of mathematical models, extensive data and controlled experiments, that cooperation gives an advantage in natural selection and drives the evolution of increasing complexity and efficiency. Five mechanisms contribute to building cooperation: repetition of contacts allowing for direct reciprocity, reputation where sharing knowledge leads to indirect reciprocity, spatial selection of cooperating groups, multilevel selection of groups when they are in competition, and kin selection for close relatives. In a world of structure, cooperation can emerge, and natural selection promotes social intelligence. There is always a dynamic relationship between cooperators and defectors or free-riders; if cooperators become too dominant, they are vulnerable to defection, producing a cyclical rise and fall of cooperation, but if cooperators can move and group together, abandoning defectors, they can maintain themselves. Multilevel selection with competition between groups leads to growing clusters of cooperation and division of labour, and a cyclically advancing society. The collective effort of society depends in part on suppressing the ability of the individual to mutiny and defect. Transparency helps, as people conform more if they know that they are observed. Interestingly, punishment is costly and ineffective, and almost never leads to a positive outcome of increased cooperation, while rewards build cooperation and encourage creativity.
The research also shows the values and behaviours that successfully encourage cooperation. It pays to be nice first, to be predictable and to establish trust. If defectors dominate, a group will fail, but forgiveness is a necessary response to retaliation in order to re-establish trust. Successful groups show loyalty and empathy. It is necessary to be extroverted and follow the lessons learned from others who are successful, rather than introverted and placing one's own immediate goals first. Cooperation is fundamentally altruistic, in that the individual pays an immediate cost to give a benefit to someone else. It works when the whole group succeeds, providing reciprocal benefits. Happiness spreads through social contact, and altruistic cooperative behaviour also spreads through three degrees of contact. Nowak points out that religions teach the same values, and the first human communities may have come from religion. The fact that many religions teach that God sees and knows everything encourages honest and fair behaviour.
Language may have evolved as a tool for cooperation, both for individual reciprocity, and for communicating reputations. Indirect reciprocity would not work without language. The communication of information between people and institutions is fundamental to establishing and maintaining cooperation. The structure of relationships in a population is important. Networks that are star-like, with many radiating connections, or are funnel-shaped expanding outwards, amplify good qualities and cooperation, while hierarchical structures suppress cooperation. Small groups are better than large groups at achieving cooperation. We can therefore structure our communities and organizations to foster better cooperation. The benefit/cost ratio must be greater than the average number of connections for cooperation to dominate; defectors always beat cooperators in well-mixed populations. If the relative rate at which cooperators team up is greater that one (positive assortment), then cooperation wins in all evolutionary processes.
This work on cooperation highlights behaviours that encourage human evolution and success in daily life. The conclusions of a mathematical analytic approach are the same as those of ethics and religion. The Golden Rule is about reciprocity. Evolution is shown to encourage selfless, altruistic and saintly behaviour. Love, hope and forgiveness are essential to overcome selfishness and to solve our biggest problems. The teachings of world religions can be seen as recipes for cooperation validated by science.
Nowak puts his research in the larger framework of today's social challenges like climate change and resources limits. Unless people fully realize the danger through honest and reliable information without censorship and spin, they will fail to do enough. Cooperation has to come from the bottom up, not be imposed by leaders at the top. Creative cooperation comes from participation, friendship and reward. The problem is not technology but human behaviour. The public goods dilemma is solved by indirect reciprocity. We need a fundamental extension of morality, ethics and behaviour to overcome the tragedy of the commons and to achieve global cooperation. Common resource pools are best managed by the users' own rules and enforcement, with graduated sanctions for bad behaviour. Global cooperation means respecting the needs of others including future generations, being generous, hopeful and forgiving, and avoiding a wasteful lifestyle. Nowak concludes that we are on the brink of advancing to the next level of cooperation in a global society.
For IEF members, Nowak's research, now summarized in this book and accessible to the wider public, confirms what we have always understood. There is harmony between science and religion in their fundamental lesson for today: we must abandon the values of the materialistic society and economy and build new cooperative communities from the bottom up,
Updated 16 June 2011