INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 18, Number 7 15 July 2016
Article submission: email@example.com Deadline next issue 13 August 2016
Secretariat Email: firstname.lastname@example.org General Secretary Emily Firth
Postal address: 12B Chemin de Maisonneuve, CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland
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From the Editor, Request for information for upcoming newsletters
This newsletter is an opportunity for IEF members to share their experiences, activities, and initiatives that are taking place at the community level on environment, climate change and sustainability. All members are welcome to contribute information about related activities, upcoming conferences, news from like-minded organizations, recommended websites, book reviews, etc. Please send information to email@example.com.
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IEF 20th Annual Conference, 7-9 October, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
20TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Nur University, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, 7-9 October 2016
on the theme
Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals as communities and individuals
In this important year for the launching of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, the conference will focus on three issues that concern everyone, and are of particular interest to Latin America:
• Responsible and sustainable lifestyles (SDG12)
• Values and education (SDG4)
• Sustainable urban communities (SDG11)
English language registration is now open on the PERL/UNITWIN web site at https://eng.hihm.no/project-sites/living-responsibly/upcoming-conferenc…. Deadline for abstract submission is 15 August.
The IEF 20th Conference will provide an opportunity to dialogue and reflect about these elements of the SDG framework. It will be relevant to prominent personalities and opinion leaders, government officials, academics and students. It will include some keynotes and workshops, and also sessions for presented papers. If you are interested in participating in the conference or making a presentation relevant to one of its themes, please register at the address above. There is a registration fee of US$140 for international participants to cover meals, coffee breaks and other conference expenses on 8-9 October. The conference is co-sponsored by the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living PERL/UNITWIN network.
The conference will also provide a forum to consider key issues relevant to Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (https://www.habitat3.org/), to be held in Quito, Ecuador, on 17-20 October 2016. Some participants may also wish to combine it with the dedication of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Santiago, Chile, on 13-16 October.
For the latest information on the conference, see the IEF web site at http://iefworld.org/conf20.
The Human Side of Learning: Why Expertise Isn’t Enough
Saphira Rameshfar, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations
NEW YORK — 12 July 2016
I recently attended a conference in which a variety of speakers tackled a pressing contemporary problem from a diversity of perspectives. The presentations were informative and well-received. And yet it all felt somewhat less than the sum of its parts, for the proceedings often seemed to end up talking around the central issues as much as about them.
It’s a common challenge in UN circles. A theme is chosen, a panel of recognized experts convened, a succession of presentations delivered. The addresses are often enlightening and sometimes even moving. Yet rarely is there much discourse, in the sense of searching out truth that has yet to be found.
There is, of course, value in people sharing a portion of the expertise they have accumulated over a lifetime. But such contributions often end up proceeding largely in parallel to one another – similar, perhaps, but ultimately unconnected by any overarching sense of shared concern or collective inquiry.
Some speakers are quite up-front about the fact that their comments have been given dozens of times before – in other venues with other themes directed towards other objectives. Their contributions are understood to be largely pre-determined, and the onus is on organizers to choose experts whose message will reinforce the topic at hand.
This is not to fault the experts, for they are providing the service that was asked of them. Nor is it to criticize event organizers, for they must work within the culture of the spaces they inhabit. Yet it does seem timely to consider how new insights into humanity’s most pressing challenges are generated – and how current structures and systems contribute to or detract from this process.
The skills, experience, and analysis of recognized experts are clearly valuable. Yet it is becoming equally clear that synthesis is required as well. Put simply, humanity needs exploration as much as it needs expertise.
What would it look like to convene a group of individuals knowledgeable in related fields and ask them to wrestle with a challenge that none of them has ready answers to? What would it look like to ask them not just to share what they know, but to delve deeply into what they don’t know, what none of us know?
Methodologies along these lines exist today. “Fishbowl” panel discussions – where the emphasis is on dialogue between a number of experts, rather than individual presentations from any of them – are one example. Another focuses on small group formats where participants exchange experiences and views and then report insights back to the plenary group.
Approaches of this kind are not new, but they do ask more of moderators, experts, and even audience members. They can also require a willingness to be personally and professionally vulnerable. There is a certain comfort in operating within the bounds of recognized expertise, and stepping away from that paradigm opens one to uncertainty and potential criticism.
Adopting new approaches to the generation and application of knowledge, therefore, has as much to do with feelings and fears as it does with facts and statistics. It is an intensely human endeavor that cannot be divorced from the people giving of themselves to pursue it.
Steps in this direction will require effort, flexibility, and adaptation. Like any worthwhile endeavor, they will require an initial investment of resources in order to reap subsequent results. Yet the potential benefits, concerning nothing less than our collective ability to continually explore the world and our place within it, are great indeed.
Secretary-General Presents Report on Progress towards SDGs
30 June 2016: The UN Secretary-General has released the first annual report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provides a global overview of the current situation regarding the SDGs on the basis of the latest available data for indicators in the proposed global framework. The report also highlights the theme of the 2016 session of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF), 'Ensuring that no one is left behind,' through examples of disaggregated data that pinpoint where specific population groups lag behind.
Prepared by the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the report notes that one in eight people still live in extreme poverty, nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger, an estimated 5.9 million children die before they reach age five, more than one in four girls marry before their 18th birthday, 1.1 billion people live without electricity, and water scarcity affects more than two billion people.
The report is structured in four chapters: an introduction, which sets the stage; a chapter titled 'Measuring progress towards the SDGs,' which presents the latest data for each of the 17 SDGs, both with regards to achievements and remaining challenges; a chapter titled 'Ensuring that no one is left behind,' which contains the data on the groups of people and countries most left behind, and notes that only a few of the current indicators can be disaggregated for migrants, refugees, persons with disabilities, minorities and indigenous people; and a chapter on data and indicators, which includes information concerning the availability and compilation of data, challenges faced by national statistical offices (NSOs) and the international statistical community in producing the SDG indicators, and global initiatives to address the challenges.
In addition to the Secretary-General's report, a separate publication, titled 'Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016,' will be launched on 19 July, and will provide further analyses of selected indicators for a wider audience, using charts and infographics to highlight critical gaps and challenges, according to the Statistics Division.
Publications: [ Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals] [UN Statistics Division News]
Source: IISD Sustainable Development Policy and Practice http://sd.iisd.org/news/secretary-general-presents-report-on-progress-t…
Second Workshop on Sustainable Development Indicators
More than 50 people attended the second high-level workshop in Geneva, Switzerland, on 7 July 2016, organized by IEF member Joachim Monkelbaan of SDGhub.org. The topic was "Opening up knowledge to action on the SDGs" looking particularly at opportunities for peace, business and policy coherence. The workshop was hosted by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (http://www.gcsp.ch). The first panel on Governance: peace and security included Caty Clement and Joelle Tanguy of GCSP, Marika Palosaari of UNEP, and Eckhard Volkmann of the Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative. The second panel on Policy coherence as good governance featured Prof. Raymond Saner of the Centre for Socio-Economic Development, Moira Faul of Cambridge University and UNRISD, Joy Muller of International Federation of Red Cross, and Ruzanna Tarverdyan of Geneva Consensus Foundation. The last panel on the Private sector as an agent in SDG success was moderated by Antonio Hautle of Global Compact Switzerland, with talks by Arthur Dahl of ebbf - Ethical Business Building the Future and IEF, and Benoit Klein of Implenia, a big construction firm. The afternoon included parallel brainstorming sessions on various topics. Arthur Dahl of IEF led one on Engaging communities on the SDGs. The workshop series will continue in the autumn.
Wilmette Institute Course on Sustainable Development
The next Wilmette Institute course on Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind will take place on line from 10 September to 28 October 2016. The course will address the urgent need to make a fundamental transition away from a society and economy that are threatening our planetary security. From a Baha’i perspective, we will start with a general introduction to sustainable development and seek to understand its profound implications in achieving the prosperity of humankind. Our objectives include teaching ourselves how to think about sustainability by integrating both the material and spiritual dimensions of life into a long-term systems perspective; how to apply that thinking to questions of everyday life and lifestyle; how to use it to start meaningful and distinctive conversations; and how to incorporate it into our community action, reflection, and consultation. After studying the origins and definition of sustainable development endorsed by world leaders, we will review the economic, social, and environmental issues that humanity faces in achieving sustainability and discuss the spiritual principles that can help us find solutions.
We will then examine perspectives for the future, both those that show the unsustainability of the present system, including the constraints that have limited women's contribution, and those that show the need for fundamental change--all contrasted with the Baha’i vision of a new world order leading to the prosperity of humankind. We will explore the implications of the new Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda being adopted at the United Nations.
Finally, we will look at the importance, for sustainable development, of education reinforced with spiritual values as the basis for helping each of us detach ourselves from Western materialistic civilization; reexamine our present lifestyles; and begin to live more sustainably in accordance with the Baha’i teachings. The faculty of Arthur Lyon Dahl, Gary Colliver, Carole Flood, Christine Muller are all IEF members. For more information and to register, go to http://www.cvent.com/events/sustainable-development-and-the-prosperity-….
Urgent need to save the coral reefs of the world
IEF member Austin Bowden-Kerby, of Corals for Conservation, and of Sustainable Environmental Livelihoods for the Future, in Samabula, Fiji Islands, has recently attended the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu. He heard there of the deep concern at the state of the reefs, and the distinct possibility that we may now be approaching a tipping point for many reefs.
Coral Reefs are universally recognized as the most vulnerable of the planet's ecosystems to climate change. If we can save coral reefs then we can save the planet, but if this system goes, many more ecosystems will follow. Coral Reefs are therefore the system where we must make a stand. Of course the nations must reduce greenhouse gases, but we must also develop new ways to help corals survive and thrive in a warming world and into the future.
Austin has developed several novel ways to help facilitate natural processes of adaptation on coral reefs. Based on his Caribbean coral restoration work over the past 23 years, he wondered what could have been done then to prevent the corals from declining so badly. What if ecological restoration was started before the corals were ecologically extinct, and why are we not systematically restoring corals back into all of the established protected areas? In Southern Fiji, a mass bleaching in 2000 left more than 90% of corals dead on some reefs, but the few heat-resistant coral survivors were killed off within six months by coral predators left with little food, which wiped out any possibility that the reefs might adapt over time.
Austin suggests that the most important thing to do now is to collect samples of all the susceptible coral genera that did not bleach, and put them into nurseries to help ensure their survival and to serve as a local gene bank of bleaching-resistant corals. These could be grown large enough in about a year to plant back out onto the reef, in the hopes that they would spawn and reproduce in about their third year. The intention would be to encourage natural adaptation and recovery processes, with the larvae spreading resilience more widely throughout the reef system. Austin's TED talk on Coral Gardening: Frontline in the Battle against Climate Change, can be viewed at http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Coral-Gardening-Frontline-in-th
New Analysis: Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Tenure in the INDCs
Rights and Resources Initiative
In December, as world leaders came together to sign the Paris Agreement, new RRI analysis revealed that secure tenure for Indigenous Peoples and local communities — a key climate change mitigation strategy — is notably absent from the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The report was launched at the event, "Forests for Climate," hosted at the Ford Foundation.
What are the INDCs, and why do they matter?
In advance of the negotiations that resulted in the Paris Agreement, national governments were asked to submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UN outlining their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These INDCs provide an important tool for countries to hold one another accountable to meeting the Agreement’s ambitious goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
What did we find?
RRI conducted an analysis of 161 INDCs submitted on behalf of 188 countries, and found that just 21 countries included clear commitments to implement community-based tenure or natural resource management strategies as part of their national plans. Only one country, Cambodia, set a measurable target for expanding Indigenous Peoples and local community (IP/LC) tenure rights. Importantly, many of the largest forested countries— such as Brazil, DRC, and Indonesia — did not include significant commitments to expand tenure rights or natural resource management in their INDCs.
How do secure land rights actually help mitigate climate change?
By preventing changes in land use and land cover, Indigenous Peoples and local communities play a crucial role in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Research also shows that when IP/LCs have legally recognized and enforceable rights, both deforestation and carbon emissions can be significantly lower compared with areas outside of community forests. For example, community and indigenous forests in Brazil store 36 percent more carbon per hectare, and emit 27 times less carbon dioxide from deforestation than outside forests.
While studies have shown that securing community tenure rights is a low-cost strategy for significantly increasing the carbon storage capacity of forests, the vast majority of the global community is missing a major opportunity to commit to this proven climate change solution. However, countries still have time to strengthen their INDCs by including specific, measurable, and robust tenure and natural resource rights for Indigenous Peoples and local communities in their national climate change mitigation strategies. Concrete goals protecting the rights of IP/LCs in the INDCs are essential if the global community wishes to see progress on protecting our climate.
Read the report at http://rightsandresources.org/en/publication/indigenous-peoples-local-c…
Spiritual Approach to Ecology
Approche spirituelle de l'écologie
Présence, a Christian magazine at the meeting of spiritualities (in French), published its number 3 in May 2016 on the theme: Choose to live! A spiritual approach to ecology, with 49 articles by religious leaders and intellectuals. Arthur Dahl contributed an article on "The relationship with nature in the Bahá'í Faith", pp. 76-79. See more at https://revuepresence-leblog.com/.
Présence, Revue chrétienne à la rencontre des spiritualités, a publié son numero 3 en mai 2016 sur le thème: Choisis la Vie! Approche spirituelle de l'écologie, avec 49 articles des responsables religieuses et intellectuelles.
Ce numéro intitulé: “Choisis la Vie ! Approche spirituelle de l’écologie” explore les différentes dimensions d’une question à la fois brulante par son actualité et cruciale par sa dimension à la fois individuelle et planétaire. L’épreuve à laquelle notre humanité est aujourd’hui confrontée exige une approche et des réponses systémiques, car ses causes et ses manifestations sont multiples – économiques, sociales, environnementales…, mais aussi, spirituelles. C’est dans notre esprit que cette crise trouve ses racines et c’est, en ce sens, dans notre esprit – dans notre vision du monde et notre façon de nous y relier, que se trouveront les solutions. Cette prise de conscience implique une conversion personnelle et collective ; une conversion du regard, une conversion du coeur, une conversion de nos comportements…, et une nouvelle prise de responsabilité face aux défis de notre temps.
Ce numéro de Présence propose des pistes pour accompagner chacun sur son chemin de conversion à travers une approche transdisciplinaire et interspirituelle. Ainsi, tout au long des 144 pages, la revue donne la parole à des philosophes, théologiens, psychologues, artistes, personnalités de divers horizons et traditions spirituelles, mais aussi à des acteurs de terrains, une palette d’explorateurs avant-gardistes qui, par leurs témoignages, réflexions et inspirations inédites… seront nos guides sur le chemin. Parmi eux, le Patriarche Bartholomée 1er, Nicolas Hulot, Pierre Rabhi, Mathieu Ricard, Jean-Marie Pelt, Annick de Souzenelle, le rabbin Marc Raphaël Guedj, Michel Maxime Egger, Gauthier Chapelle, Bernard Boisson et bien d’autres encore. Arthur Dahl a contribué sur "La relation à la nature dans la foi baha'ie", pp. 76-79. Voir plus à https://revuepresence-leblog.com/.
Clean energy won’t save us – only a new economic system can do that
Jason Hickel, The Guardian Friday 15 July 2016
It’s time to pour our creative energies into imagining a new global economy. Infinite growth is a dangerous illusion.
Earlier this year media outlets around the world announced that February had broken global temperature records by a shocking amount. March broke all the records, too. In June our screens were covered with surreal images of Paris flooding, the Seine bursting its banks and flowing into the streets. In London, the floods sent water pouring into the tube system right in the heart of Covent Garden. Roads in south-east London became rivers two metres deep.
With such extreme events becoming more commonplace, few deny climate change any longer. Finally, a consensus is crystallising around one all-important fact: fossil fuels are killing us. We need to switch to clean energy, and fast.
But while this growing awareness about the dangers of fossil fuels represents a crucial shift in our consciousness, I can’t help but fear we’ve missed the point. As important as clean energy might be, the science is clear: it won’t save us from climate change.
What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we’re doing with fossil fuels
Let’s imagine, just for argument’s sake, that we are able to get off fossil fuels and switch to 100% clean energy. There is no question this would be a vital step in the right direction, but even this best-case scenario wouldn’t be enough to avert climate catastrophe.
Why? Well, first, the burning of fossil fuels only accounts for about 70% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The other 30% comes from a number of causes, including deforestation, and industrial livestock farming, which produces 90m tonnes of methane per year and most of the world’s anthropogenic nitrous oxide. Both of these gases are vastly more potent than CO2 when it comes to global warming. Livestock farming alone contributes more to global warming than all the cars, trains, planes and ships in the world. There are also a number of industrial processes that contribute significantly, and then there are our landfills, which pump out huge amounts of methane – 16% of the world’s total.
But when it comes to climate change, the problem is not just the type of energy we are using, it’s what we’re doing with it. What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we are doing with fossil fuels: raze more forests, build more meat farms, expand industrial agriculture, produce more cement, and fill more landfill sites, all of which will pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gas into the air. We will do these things because our economic system demands endless compound growth, and for some reason we have not thought to question this.
Think of it this way. That 30% chunk of greenhouse gases that comes from non-fossil fuel sources isn’t static. It is adding more to the atmosphere each year. Scientists project that our tropical forests will be completely destroyed by 2050, releasing a 200bn tonne carbon bomb into the air. The world’s top soils could be depleted within just 60 years, releasing more still. Emissions from the cement industry are growing at more than 9% per year. And our landfills are multiplying at an eye-watering pace: the by 2100 we will be producing 11m tonnes of solid waste per day, three times more than we do now. Switching to clean energy will do nothing to slow this down.
If we keep growing at 3% a year, that means that every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy
The climate movement made an enormous mistake. We focused all our attention on fossil fuels, when we should have been pointing to something much deeper: the basic logic of our economic operating system. After all, we’re only using fossil fuels in the first place to fuel the broader imperative of GDP growth.
The root problem is the fact that our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.
Our more optimistic pundits claim that technological innovations will help us to decouple economic growth from material throughput. But sadly there is no evidence that this is happening. Global material extraction and consumption has grown by 94% since 1980, and is still going up. Current projections show that by 2040 we will more than double the world’s shipping miles, air miles, and trucking miles – along with all the material stuff that those vehicles transport – almost exactly in keeping with the rate of GDP growth.
Clean energy, important as it is, won’t save us from this nightmare. But rethinking our economic system might. GDP growth has been sold to us as the only way to create a better world. But we now have robust evidence that it doesn’t make us any happier, it doesn’t reduce poverty, and its “externalities” produce all sorts of social ills: debt, overwork, inequality, and climate change. We need to abandon GDP growth as our primary measure of progress, and we need to do this immediately – as part and parcel of the climate agreement that will be ratified in Morocco later this year.
It’s time to pour our creative power into imagining a new global economy – one that maximises human wellbeing while actively shrinking our ecological footprint. This is not an impossible task. A number of countries have already managed to achieve high levels of human development with very low levels of consumption. And Daniel O’Neill, an economist at the University of Leeds, has demonstrated that even material de-growth is not incompatible with high levels of human well-being.
Our focus on fossil fuels has lulled us into thinking we can continue with the status quo so long as we switch to clean energy, but this is a dangerously simplistic assumption. If we want to stave off disaster, we need to confront its underlying cause.
Source: The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/20…
There’s never been a better time to be alive. So why the globalization backlash?
Written by Christopher Kutarna Fellow, Oxford Martin School, for World Economic Forum
Published Friday 8 July 2016
In aggregate terms, the human race has never had it so good. Life expectancy has risen by more in the past 50 years than in the previous 1,000. When the Berlin Wall fell, two-fifths of humanity lived in extreme poverty. Now it’s one-eighth. Global illiteracy has dropped from one-half to one-sixth in the same span of time. With a few tragic exceptions, a child born almost anywhere today can expect to grow up healthier, wealthier and smarter than at any other time in history.
And more connected, thanks principally to the end of the Cold War, fresh waves of democratization, China’s emergence from autarky, and the advent of the internet. The political map of the world has been redrawn. Market economics has circumnavigated the globe.
A divided world
At the same time, we have rarely felt so divided. While walls between countries are coming down, within countries they are going up everywhere. Statistical proof of overall well-being is cold comfort to a middle class whose real wages have stagnated, or to poor people in the US and other so-called “rich” countries whose poverty has deepened. The bottom-fifth of Americans were earning more money 25 years ago. They also had a greater chance of moving up the economic ladder, the lower rungs of which have now been sawed off.
And we have rarely felt so vulnerable. As populations, capital and production systems have shifted – massively and rapidly – we as individuals have become ensnared in a transnational tangle of choices and burdens, enablers and obstacles, interdependencies and conflicts. Pensioners and home-owners have seen their savings decimated by unforeseen financial risks. Workers have lost their jobs to overseas strangers escaping from poverty; those whose jobs stayed onshore are losing them to machines. Farmers suffer crop failure due to climate change. Citizens rage against elites who siphon off urgently needed public monies into foreign bank accounts.
Other people’s everyday choices on the other side of the world – about what energy they use, what products they consume, what medicines they take or how they secure their data – threaten us unintentionally. Equally, our choices impact them. In an increasingly open world, we’ve begun to blame more and more of our frustrations on each other.
Looking to the past for lessons on globalization
Europe’s “age of discovery” in the 15th and 16th centuries was likewise a time of historic connections and divisions, of singular achievements and shocking new dangers, of bold genius and violent rejection. Columbus’s ships found the New World – and spread conflicts and pandemics in their wake. Vasco da Gama found a sea route to the spice riches of the Indian Ocean – and caused the collapse of Silk Road economies that had flourished for centuries. The Gutenberg press shifted human communication to a new normal: information abundance, cheap distribution, radical variety and wide participation. But it also put scribes out of business and enabled a single disillusioned friar (Martin Luther) to ignite a century of religious wars. Copernicus flipped Europe’s very notion of heaven and earth with his new sun-centered theory; when Galileo pushed it, he was excommunicated.
Through three decades of feverish connecting, integrating and tangling together – from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the rise of social media – we have built a precious but, history tells us, fragile new world. In so many ways, we are starting to flourish. But equally, we are starting to fray. An age of discovery, then and now, is a time of upheaval. And upheaval makes both winners and losers.
But it does not make us powerless. This extraordinary age of discovery is not simply the condition of our lives, but the contest as well.
In the 1990s, many people bought into a simplistic fantasy that the benefits of greater openness and connectedness – of “globalization” – would trickle down to everyone equally. Today we've replaced such naïveté with a sober realization: when some walls are flattened, the world's precious resources pool into those places and into those hands that hold an advantage along whatever dimensions of difference remain. Popular usage of the term “globalization” has plummeted.
We've outgrown the fantasy. That's a healthy step. Now the question is: will we abandon the dream? One option is to seek to smash the global agreements, protocols, supply chains and exchanges we have built with one another, and in their place build new, higher walls. From the surging popularity of Donald Trump, to Britain’s shockingly close vote on Brexit, to the electoral successes of nationalist, protectionist and xenophobic politicians in democracies worldwide, this project is well under way.
Or we can seek to make our entanglement work. For ourselves. For poor people and poor countries. For the planet. The great service that Donald Trump, Brexit and similar campaigns in Germany, France, Greece, Brazil, Austria, the Philippines and other countries have performed is to shock us all into remembering that our new openness and connectedness cannot be taken for granted. Globalization was never merely a trend; it is also a test of the human character. In an age of discovery, change is rapid. How change unfolds depends on us. Will we allow the weight of unearned gains and undeserved losses to break society, or will we shape outcomes to deliver on the promise that opening and connecting with one another is in all our best interests? Not least because we need to work together to solve climate change, transnational crime and corruption, migration crises and other great global challenges.
Anxiety in a time of rapid change is understandable. Pessimism is in vogue. Anger and despair are infectious. Middle-class wage stagnation is real, and the list of fixes is difficult.
But courage is infectious, too. The present age isa contest. We’re all being drawn into it, more and more. Some are harnessing a prevalent pessimism to seize power for themselves, to tear apart the open society we've built and shorten our reach so that we do not exceed our grasp.
Who will dare to stoke our optimism? To accept responsibility, to start fixing the mistakes we've made, and with bold actions remind us all that, while we may be more vulnerable, our collective potential has never been greater?
This post draws on a new book, Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance, by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna. Published in North America by St Martin's Press and in the rest of the world by Bloomsbury.
Laudato Si Online Conference – Recordings
During the Laudato Si’ Online Conference, which happened during Laudato Si’ Week (June 13-17, 2016), prominent speakers from different backgrounds dialogued about the crisis affecting our common home and reflected on the Pope’s Laudato Si’ message on occasion of its first anniversary. Four webinars covered four key sections of the encyclical document, following the Pope’s “urgent appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” (LS, 14).
WEBINAR #1: “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME” (CHAPTER 1)
Expert panelists reflect on Chapter 1 of Laudato Si and the state of scientific knowledge about the environmental crisis and its impacts on the poor.
WEBINAR #2: “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME” (CHAPTERS 2, 3, 4)
This panel explores the encyclical’s analysis of the causes of the current ecological crisis, the responsibility of humankind, and the invitation to embrace an integral ecology; all the while keeping dialogue with philosophy and human sciences.
WEBINAR #3: “WHAT SHOULD WE DO FOR OUR COMMON HOME” (CHAPTER 5)
This chapter addresses the question of what we can and must do. This panel explores proposals “for dialogue and action which would involve each of us individually no less than international policy”.
WEBINAR #4: “INTERFAITH PANEL: ECOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND SPIRITUALITY (CHAPTER 6)
The final chapter invites everyone to the heart of ecological conversion. The roots of the cultural crisis are deep, and it is not easy to reshape habits and behaviour. Prominent faith leaders will comment on the perspective of their faith traditions about ecological education and spirituality of each faith tradition, and will reflect on the Laudato Si message and the Pope’s contribution.
WEBINAR #5 – EN ESPAÑOL: “A UN AÑO DE LAUDATO SI'”
May 2016 by Sonia Smith
Texas Tech’s Katharine Hayhoe is one of the most respected experts on global warming in the country. She’s also an evangelical Christian who is trying to connect with the very people who most doubt her research. Too bad the temperature keeps rising.
Fifteen years on, and the Cambodia Monks Community Forest captivates the next generation
27 June 2016:
It is nearly 15 years since Venerable Bun Saluth, the head monk of Samraong Pagoda in northern Cambodia, near the Thai border, started to walk his local forest asking illegal loggers and hunters to protect the local biodiversity. Since then, a sea change has occurred.
The best "mercy release" is not to eat meat. Chinese Buddhist leaders issue groundbreaking animated feature
22 June 2016
A vegetarian diet is the best kind of mercy release. This is the potentially far-reaching new message by the China Buddhist Association, backed up by an ingenious and moving cartoon animation released this month.
The Bahá'í Statement on Nature
by Bahá'í International Community, England: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1987
In September of 1986 the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched their Network on Conservation and Religion, bringing religious leaders representing Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims together with environmental leaders in Assisi, Italy.
Each of the five religions represented there issued a declaration on nature. As of October 1987, the Bahá'ís are the sixth major religion to join this new alliance, and put forward this statement in support of the Network's objectives.
"Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise." Bahá'í Writings
With those words, Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, outlines the essential relationship between man and the environment: that the grandeur and diversity of the natural world are purposeful reflections of the majesty and bounty of God. For Bahá'ís, there follows an implicit understanding that nature is to be respected and protected, as a divine trust for which we are answerable.
Such a theme, of course, is not unique to the Bahá'í Faith. All the world's major religions make this fundamental connection between the Creator and His creation. How could it be otherwise? All the major independent religions are based on revelations from one God - a God who has successively sent His Messengers to earth so that humankind might become educated about His ways and will. Such is the essence of Bahá'í belief.
As the most recent of God's revelations, however, the Bahá'í teachings have a special relevance to present-day circumstances when the whole of nature is threatened by man-made perils ranging from the wholesale destruction of the world's rain forests to the final nightmare of nuclear annihilation.
A century ago, Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed that humanity has entered a new age. Promised by all the religious messengers of the past, this new epoch will ultimately bring peace and enlightenment to humanity. To reach that point, however, humankind must first recognize its fundamental unity - as well as the unity of God and of religion. Until there is a general recognition of this wholeness and interdependence, humanity's problems will only worsen.
"The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established," Bahá'u'lláh wrote. "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."
The major issues facing the environmental movement today hinge on this point. The problems of ocean pollution, the extinction of species, acid rain and deforestation - not to mention the ultimate scourge of nuclear war - respect no boundaries. All require a transnational approach.
While all religious traditions point to the kind of cooperation and harmony that will indeed be necessary to curb these threats, the religious writings of the Bahá'í Faith also contain an explicit prescription for the kind of new world political order that offers the only long-term solution to such problems.
"That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightest instrument for the healing of the world is the union of all its people into one universal cause...." Bahá'u'lláh wrote.
Built around the idea of a world commonwealth of nations, with an international parliament and executive to carry out its will, such a new political order must also, according to the Bahá'í teachings, be based on principles of economic justice, equality between the races, equal rights for women and men and universal education.
All these points bear squarely on any attempt to protect the world's environment. The issue of economic justice is an example. In many regions of the world, the assault on rain forests and endangered species comes as the poor, legitimately seeking a fair share of the world's wealth, fell trees to create fields. They are unaware that, over the long term and as members of a world community which they know little about, they may be irretrievably damaging rather than improving their children's chances for a better life. Any attempt to protect nature, must, therefore, also address the fundamental inequities between the world's rich and poor.
Likewise, the uplifting of women to full equality with men can help the environmental cause by bringing a new spirit of feminine values into decision-making about natural resources. The scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith note that: "...man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with feminine ideals...."
Education, especially an education that emphasizes Bahá'í principles of human interdependence, is another prerequisite to the building of a global conservation consciousness. The Faith's theology of unity and interdependence relates specifically to environmental issues. Again, to quote the Bahá'í sacred writings:
"By nature is meant those inherent properties and necessary relations derived from the realities of things. And these realities of things, though in the utmost diversity, are yet intimately connected one with the other.... Liken the world of existence to the temple of man. All the organs of the human body assist one another, therefore life continues... Likewise among the parts of existence there is a wonderful connection and interchange of forces which is the cause of life of the world and the continuation of these countless phenomena."
The very fact that such principles should come with the authority of religion and not merely from human sources, is yet another piece of the overall solution to our environmental troubles. The impulse behind the Assisi declarations on nature is testimony to this idea.
There is perhaps no more powerful impetus for social change than religion. Bahá'u'lláh said: "Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein." In attempting to build a new ecological ethic, the teachings of all religious traditions can play a role in helping to inspire their followers.
Bahá'u'lláh, for example, clearly addresses the need to protect animals. "Look not upon the creatures of God except with the eye of kindliness and of mercy, for Our loving providence hath pervaded all created things, and Our grace encompassed the earth and the heavens."
He Himself expressed a keen love and appreciation for nature, furthering the connection between the environment and the spiritual world in Bahá'í theology. "The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies," Bahá'u'lláh said.
This dichotomy between spirituality and materialism is a key to understanding the plight of humankind today. In the Bahá'í view, the major threats to our world environment, such as the threat of nuclear annihilation, are manifestations of a world-encompassing sickness of the human spirit, a sickness that is marked by an overemphasis on material things and a self-centeredness that inhibits our ability to work together as a global community. The Bahá'í Faith seeks above all else to revitalize the human spirit and break down the barriers that limit fruitful and harmonious cooperation among men and women, whatever their national, racial or religious background.
For Bahá'ís the goal of existence is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Such a civilization can only be built on an earth that can sustain itself. The Bahá'í commitment to the environment is fundamental to our Faith.
Updated 17 July 2016