INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 19, Number 5 15 May 2017
Article submission: firstname.lastname@example.org Deadline next issue 13 June 2017
Secretariat Email: email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please share the Leaves newsletter and IEF membership information with family, friends and associates, and encourage interested persons to consider becoming a member of the IEF.
News from ebbf - Ethical Business Building the Future
The International Environment Forum has a close partnership with ebbf - Ethical Business Building the Future, another Bahá'í-inspired organization bringing values into business and the workplace. ebbf held its Spring event in Geneva, Switzerland, on 4-7 May on the theme "Beyond Diversity" (http://ebbf.org/event/ebbfdiversity-annual-conference/#ebbf). 130 participants were encouraged to hold meaningful conversations after short keynotes, and participated in many parallel learnshops. IEF President Arthur Dahl gave the opening keynote on "Systems Science Beyond Diversity" (video at https://www.facebook.com/ebbf.mindfulpeople.meaningfulwork/videos/10154…, and paper at https://iefworld.org/ddahl17e), and a number of other IEF members participated. At the ebbf Annual General Meeting, IEF board members Wendi Momen and Arthur Dahl were also reelected to the ebbf Governing Board. You can see the videos of all the keynotes at https://www.facebook.com/pg/ebbf.mindfulpeople.meaningfulwork/videos/
News from PERL/UNITWIN
(based on PERL/UNITWIN Newsletter May 2017)
From 1 January 2017, Hedmark University of Applied Sciences merged with Lillehammer University College to become “Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences” (HINN). The university includes the newly established Center for Collaborative Learning for Sustainable Development, which houses the UNESCO Chair for Education about Sustainable Lifestyles held by IEF board member Victoria Thoresen, and coordinates the PERL/UNITWIN network in which IEF is an active partner. The Center has established an intern programme for students looking for some practical experience. Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences has also established a new position of deputy director at the Center in order to further develop the work being done at the Center and by the PERL/UNITWIN network. The post will be taken up by Robert Didham of IGES, Japan, from August 2017.
The Center for Collaborative Learning for Sustainable Development was invited to participate in the UNESCO international week for peace and sustainability in Ottawa, Canada 5 to 10 March 2017. "Education is the driving force behind the global Sustainable Development Goals" stated the Director- General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, at the meeting. The Center for Collaborative learning, through the PERL / UNITWIN Network, organized a panel discussion including IEF members Victoria Thoresen (Norway) and Fabiana Méndez Raya (Bolivia), had an exhibition, and distributed learning materials to the 400 individuals from 90 countries who took part in the week. The week focused on the achievements and challenges related to education for sustainable development and education for global citizenship. A mid-way report on "The Global Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development" was presented and discussed in the light of the objective of improving the quality of teaching. A new booklet from UNESCO describing Learning Objectives for ESD was distributed.
Course on Greening Consumption & Production
Submitted by Laurent Mesbah
Laurent Mesbah will be co-facilitating (in French) a Massive Open Online Course on Greening Consumption and Production in a partnership between UNDP, The Nature Conservancy, The Convention on Biodiversity and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan Forum.
In a finite planet, with limited natural resources, unlimited material growth cannot be realistic. Sustainable consumption and production are essential for a sustainable future for humanity. What are current practices and in what direction do we need to go? What is the international legal framework? How do we ensure sustainable production in agriculture, forestry and fisheries? How can supply chains contribute to sustainability and how can these contribute the mainstreaming biodiversity into national planning? Experts from around the world are going to address these questions in this online course. The course includes, webinars, access to information, assignments, and forum discussions.
The online course is free; it will take place simultaneously in English, French and Spanish; it will last 6 weeks and starts on 31 May 2017. http://nbsapforum.net/#read-thread/2576
Submitted by Charles Boyle, Coordinator, email@example.com
Why do you imagine that the privilege of license to extract, refine and sell oil should be a presumed right? Those who made rotary dial phones, typewriters, who mined mercury, who divined animal entrails as a source of their daily news, tasted the King's food, made sash windows, who lit theatres with magnesium powder and streets with gas lights, who collected the "night soil", pressed vinyl records and hand-cranked cinema projectors, brewed beer in wooden barrels, shaved their faces with obsidian stones, who hand-fired clay bricks and cut stone to build houses and cut trees by hand, who cobbled streets and built stage coaches, who had to find a bush, an outhouse to keep clean and bathed once a year, who crouched over open wooden fires making soup from their own garden, who believed 64k was big enough for anyone, who hand-made chain mail, who scribed ideas on tablets of clay and bought wine in skins, who lit great fires in the stone castles of Europe, who spent months travelling from China to Italy to trade goods, who plowed fields with ox-drawn ploughs, who fought the plague with spells and potions, whose idea of weapon of choice was a steel blade or an assemblage of bent wood and animal guts, who built hand-set printing presses, who rode furiously between staging posts to make sure you got your letter within three weeks, whose epic hand-written transcriptions bespangled libraries, who built wooden ships and wove great sails, who boiled whale carcasses for lamp oil, for whom a roughened stick served as toilet paper, who soldered shut steel cans for arctic exploration, who supplied sheep skin and tapestries to close off window openings, whose opium trade was their central economic activity, who collected rainwater to survive and wove cloth by hand, for whom live performance was the only option, who made pencils and make-up of lead and quill pens of split feathers, and those who once shaped the spectacles of the emperor - all have gone, not because they were inherently bad, but because something better, cleaner, safer, more efficient came along.
And so it will be with fossil fuel industries.
“Blessed Is the Spot” in Unitarian Church
Submitted by Christine Muller
In honor of Earth Day, Channing Memorial Church in Newport RI, USA, held their service on the theme “Blessed Is the Earth – Baha'i Perspectives” on 23 April.
The service contained two excerpts from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha on the interconnectedness in nature, read expressively by two members of the congregation. The choir sang the prayer by Baha'u'llah “Blessed Is the Spot” with very nice intonation. IEF member Christine Muller gave a talk on “Blessed Is the Earth – Baha'i Perspectives” which was well received. The “Message for All Ages” consisted of a skit played by a junior youth and two older members of the congregation telling the story of the king who met an old man planting trees. The story is from “Walking the Straight Path”, a book used by the Baha'i Spiritual Empowerment Program for Junior Youth.
The Systems Science of Disintegration and Integration
Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
Paper presented at
The Justice Conference 2017
From Disintegration to Integration: Navigating the Forces of Our Time
de Poort, The Netherlands, 14-17 April 2017
also the International Environment Forum 21st International Conference
(see report at https://iefworld.org/conf21)
If we are to explore the processes of disintegration and integration as they are affecting our society today, we first need to be clear as to what we mean by integration. A dictionary definition might include: making whole or entire, to unite into a perfect whole, and harmony with one’s environment. But is that sufficient? Do we see integration as something static, like a well-mixed collection of different entities, or a crowd where different races and cultures are all together?
Integration, and its opposite disintegration, refer more to dynamic processes, of coming together with increasing interactions, or breaking down again into component parts. Does any whole last forever? In this material world, nothing is permanent. Everything goes through cycles of integration and disintegration. Our sun coalesced out of cosmic dust, and will eventually burn out or explode. We were born, will grow and mature, and eventually age and die. Religions are born and decline, civilisations rise and fall. Everything is faced ultimately with disintegration. This is one of the subjects of systems science, and it can shed light on the processes involved.
What, for example, are some of the qualities of young integrating systems versus old disintegrating ones? Young systems are flexible and adaptive, while old ones tend to be rigid. Young systems are characterised by innovation, while old ones are resistant to change. The components of young systems diversify, whereas old ones reject differences.
The coral reef ecosystem is a good example of a highly evolved complex integrated system. Some of its characteristics are:
- high diversity and specialisation of functions;
- cooperation, symbiosis and complementarity among the component species;
- inclusiveness with each species contributing something the the well-being of the whole system;
- efficiency of exchanges, communications and networking within and between species;
- increasing the capital stock of the system, with economy in resource use, efficient cycling of materials, and little waste; and
- high energy capture and effective use of the flow of energy through the system.
What causes disintegration? Sometimes there are internal causes for a system failure, like imbalances escaping from homeostatic mechanisms which usually maintain an equilibrium. There may be failures in resilience, or excessive rigidity and overspecialization. Inadequate diversity within the system can lead to instability. Often there is an accumulation of dysfunctions with age. A system can also be upset by external causes beyond its own control, such as changing environmental conditions beyond the limits to which it is adapted, or sudden shocks or damaging events. There may be competition from a more dominant system or one with new potentials. Conditions may arise that create new potentials for which the system is not well adapted.
Complex systems do not usually follow a smooth evolutionary curve towards greater integration and complexity, but experience what is called a punctuated equilibrium, with periods of stability interrupted by times of rapid change with bursts of creativity and reorganization.
graph of punctuated equilibrium
Nature provides many examples of the variable paths towards greater integration. Dominant entities like the dinosaurs, that over-specialized and lost the capacity to adapt when an asteroid strike disrupted the planetary system, died out, to be replaced by the early mammals that could control their body temperature and were capable of rapid change. Mammals had new potentials for increased efficiency and integration. No complex system lasts for ever, and they all ultimately break down or transform rapidly to make way for a new cycle of integration.
Human social systems follow a similar pattern with corresponding mechanisms. For example, Peter Turchin has mathematically modelled the rise and fall of civilizations. The creation of a civilization or empire depends on social cohesion, for which Turchin took internal collective violence as an indicator. Population growth and the discovery of new technologies generate wealth for an elite, and the civilization advances until some limit is reached. Since the population is still growing, there is an oversupply of labour that increases poverty while enabling a greater concentration of wealth at the top, but it is never the poor that revolt. Only when wealth concentration reaches the point that the young of the wealthy are falling into poverty, they become the revolutionaries, with a rise in factionalism and ultimately anarchy, leading to the collapse of the social system. Civilization building may restart again, with about a 200 year cycle. Turchin predicted political instability and an impending crisis in Western Europe and the US peaking in 2020, unless there was an effort to reduce social inequality (Turchin 2010).
The process of integration is similar for natural systems and human systems, but the mechanisms are often different. Research has shown that cooperation is more efficient than competition (Nowak 2011), despite what most economists believe. In humans, the internal control of behaviour by ethics and values is more efficient than reliance on laws and regulations. Reward is more effective than punishment. In fact, recent research suggests that the higher levels of human organization that allowed great empires and civilizations to emerge encompassing many diverse peoples and cultures can only be explained by the ethical principles of religion, that produced leaders motivated by more than self-interest and a disinterested civil service (Turchin 2016). It follows that new values such as those embodied in the Bahá’í Faith can become the catalysts for a new cycle of integration, this time at the global level.
At present, we are experiencing the accelerating disintegration of the old social and economic system and the embryonic development of the new more integrated system that will lead to a planetary civilization. This calls for us to build learning communities that are accustomed to a culture of change and founded on strong spiritual principles.
Nowak, Martin A., with Roger Highfield. 2011. SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. New York: Free Press.
Turchin, Peter, 2010. Political instability may be a contributor in the coming decade. Nature, vol. 463, Issue 7281, p. 608. (4 February 2010). doi:10.1038/463608a
Turchin, Peter. 2016. Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth. Chaplin, Connecticut: Beresta Books.
Science and Religion in the Climate Change Debate
bahaiteachings.org recently published a 4-part series by Arthur Dahl on Science and Religion in the Climate Change Debate to coincide with Earth Day.
Ethics and Climate Change: Scenarios for Justice and Sustainability
All too often, we see science and religion as antagonistic forces, with little to contribute to each other.
As the debate over climate change has intensified, and the scientific evidence has reached overwhelming levels, it has become increasingly apparent that scientific information alone may be insufficient to motivate the necessary action for the fundamental transformation of human society:
I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. – Gus Speth, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council
Religions and faith-based groups increasingly raise the ethical issues behind the climate change challenge, in complement to the scientific arguments.
You can find one example of this close cooperation between science and religion within the Baha’i community.
Scientific concepts of ecology, environmental responsibility and evolutionary social change are deeply rooted in the Baha’i writings, and the Baha’i International Community has been active on environmental issues at the United Nations and elsewhere for many decades. In parallel, the International Environment Forum, a Baha’i-inspired organization of environmental professionals from 70 countries, has organized international conferences on the spiritual dimensions of, and response to, climate change, as well as on education for sustainable development and lifestyle changes.
The Baha’i International Community represents the worldwide Baha’i community, whose members come from every national, ethnic, religious, cultural, and socio-economic background, representing a cross-section of humanity.
Active in various global fora, the Baha’i International Community maintains United Nations offices in New York and Geneva, as well as regional offices in Addis Ababa, Brussels, and Jakarta. The Baha’i International Community registered with the UN as an NGO in 1948, and currently has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as accreditation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI). The Baha’i International Community collaborates with the UN and its specialized agencies, as well as member states, inter- and non-governmental organizations, academia, and practitioners. The BIC, in their formal statement addressed to the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) in December of 2015, said:
Anthropogenic climate change is not inevitable; humanity chooses its relationships with the natural world … The current global order has often approached the natural world as a reservoir of material resources to be exploited. The grave consequences of this paradigm have become all too apparent, and more balanced relationships among the peoples of the world and the planet are clearly needed. The question today is how new patterns of action and interaction can best be established, both individually and collectively, through personal choices, social systems, and governing institutions.
With the adoption of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including its social, economic and environmental dimensions, momentum for meaningful change has been building. A universal, legally binding agreement on carbon emissions seems within reach for the first time. Yet sustainability is defined as much by human and social factors as ecological ones. Correlation has been found, for example, between inequality and environmental degradation, suggesting that the relationships linking human beings with one another have a direct impact on the physical resources of the planet. The global systems that have left many facing poverty and want, have similarly impoverished the natural environment.
A more balanced attitude toward the environment must therefore address human conditions as consciously as it does natural ones. It must be embodied in social norms and patterns of action characterized by justice and equity. On this foundation can be built an evolving vision of our common future together. And that vision, in turn, stands as a powerful mechanism for mobilizing action around the world and coordinating numerous efforts into mutually-reinforcing lines of action.
The Baha’i approach to the global climate crisis combines a scientific perspective on climate change with the resulting ethical challenges. It questions the dominant materialist society and consumer culture, emphasizing the necessary balance of the material and spiritual dimensions of human life. At the social level, it focuses on the unity of the human race founded on justice and solidarity. It explores the spiritual principles upon which any solution to the climate change problem and the larger challenges facing society must be based, and incites individual reflection and community action. Scenarios of the ever-advancing civilization that can result from a principle-based approach provide a positive focus to counterbalance the negative perspectives for our immediate future that the scientific facts demonstrate only too clearly.
The Baha’i Call for Religion and Science to Unite
Arthur Lyon Dahl 25 April 2017
PART 2 IN SERIES: Science and Religion in the Climate Change Debate
The world’s polar regions are melting—what does that mean for humanity?
While those of us in the environmental community have been raising concerns for decades about climate change due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, we never imagined that it would occur at the rates now being measured, especially in the polar regions.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently reported that our planet’s average temperature increased in 2016 to 1.1° Centigrade (2ᵒ Fahrenheit) above what was recorded in the pre-industrial era. Global temperatures have increased consistently since humans began burning massive quantities of fossil fuels when the industrial era began, at approximately the dawn of the 19th Century. The three hottest years on record—2014, 2015 and 2016—will likely be displaced in the record books by 2017, now on track to reach the highest average temperatures ever recorded.
While two degrees Fahrenheit may not seem like much, think about it this way: during the last Ice Age, global average temperatures only dropped by about 5° Centigrade—which covered much of Europe and North America with huge ice sheets. That’s why the Paris Climate Accords agreed to try and hold the rise in global temperatures to 2ᵒ Centigrade. We are already more than halfway there.
This rapid rise in the Earth’s temperature, explained by alarming evidence from the scientific community (IPCC 2007), combined with serious estimates of the economic cost of failure to act (Stern 2006), have now made this planetary issue a subject of serious debate at the highest political levels. The Paris Accords, ratified and in force more rapidly than any other such global treaty, amply demonstrated that fact. However, we know that scientific information, by itself, is inadequate to motivate action.
Faced with the inertia of economic, political and social systems, and powerful vested interests determined to maintain business as usual, the response to climate change falls far short of what scientists say is necessary. Economic and political thinking inherently focus on the short-term, while climate change happens gradually and has its most disastrous effects over the long term.
Unlike other global environmental problems like stratospheric ozone depletion, where the number of actors was limited and international agreement on control measures was possible, climate change threatens the very basis of the global economic system founded on the energy subsidy from cheap fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal. This makes action to fix the problem very difficult, as it requires a global unity of purpose to undertake a fundamental transformation of human society. In addition, there are not just a few responsible parties—everyone is to some extent responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, with responsibility increasing as relative wealth and the rate of carbon consumption rises. Everyone also risks being a victim of climate change, with the poor the most immediately vulnerable. This raises a fundamental ethical dilemma that touches everyone.
Faced with the limitations of science to motivate change, we must consider what the other great knowledge system, religion (defined in its largest sense), can contribute to the response to climate change. The Baha’i teachings offer an organic view of the world and all of its living things:
Regard ye the world as a man’s body, which is afflicted with divers ailments, and the recovery of which dependeth upon the harmonizing of all its component elements. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp. 79-80.
But science and religion are too often seen as antagonistic, with little to say to each other. Yet religion has traditionally given humanity its major source of motivation and ethical guidance. As the debate over climate change has intensified, and the scientific evidence has become overwhelming while sufficient action has not followed, it has become apparent that we need a broader approach. Religions and faith-based groups increasingly raise the ethical issues behind the climate change challenge, in complement to the scientific arguments. We need, then, an approach to this global conundrum that combines science and religion in one powerful force:
Given their tremendous capacity to mobilize public opinion and their extensive reach in the most remote communities around the world, religious communities and their leaders bear an inescapable and weighty role in the climate change arena. By many measures, increasing numbers of religious communities are consistently lending their voice and resources to efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change–they are educating their constituencies, providing a scriptural basis for ethical action and leading or participating in efforts at the national and international levels. This role, however, must now unfold in the context of an emerging conversation–a rapprochement–between the discourses of science and religion. The time has come for the entrenched dichotomy between these two systems of knowledge to be earnestly re-examined. Both are needed to mobilize and direct human energies to the resolution of the problem at hand: methods of science facilitate a more objective and systematic approach to problem solving while religion concerns itself with those moral inclinations that motivate action for the common good. In an age yearning for justice and equality, religious doctrines will need to be carefully examined. Those that encourage social exclusion, passivity or inequality between the sexes will fail to engage the peoples of the world while qualities of justice, compassion, trustworthiness, humility and generosity–common to all religious traditions–will be even more urgently needed to forge the patterns of progressive community life. – The Baha’i International Community, Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change, 2008.
The Revolutionary Baha’i Approach to Climate Change
Arthur Lyon Dahl 27 April 2017
PART 3 IN SERIES: Science and Religion in the Climate Change Debate
How do Baha’is approach the thorny, complex and difficult issue of climate change?
Scientific concepts of ecology, environmental responsibility and evolutionary social change have deep roots in the Baha’i teachings (BWC 1990). The Baha’i International Community has been active on environmental issues at the United Nations and elsewhere for several decades (Dahl 2005). Baha’is all over the world will take part in Earth Day observances this week—but the Baha’i approach to climate change operates from a much wider perspective than merely dedicating a day to remembering our planet. In fact, the global Baha’i community approaches climate change from a revolutionary perspective—one that begins with the human spirit.
For Baha’is, science and religion fundamentally harmonize, providing complementary perspectives on the same basic truths. Just as religion without science and reason can descend into superstition, so does science without religion tend towards materialism and destruction of the natural environment.
That principle of the harmony of science and religion means the Baha’i approach combines a scientific perspective on climate change with solutions that address the resulting ethical and spiritual challenges, as well. It goes beyond advocacy to question the dominant materialist society and consumer culture, by emphasizing the necessary balance of the material and spiritual dimensions of human life. By teaching contentment with little, and the need to eliminate the extremes of wealth and poverty often associated with excessive greenhouse gas emissions (the former through over consumption, the latter through deforestation and soil degradation), the Baha’i teachings encourage a wholesale reconsideration of our lifestyles and consumption patterns:
Take from this world only to the measure of your needs, and forego that which exceedeth them. Observe equity in all your judgements, and transgress not the bounds of justice, nor be of them that stray from its path. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 194.
At the social level, the Baha’i approach focuses on the unity of the human race founded on justice and solidarity. It explores the spiritual principles upon which any solution to the climate change problem and the larger challenges facing society must be based, and incites individual reflection, personal responsibility, community action and world citizenship.
For a complex issue such as climate change, where costs and benefits, immediate advantages and long-term risks are so unequally distributed, justice and equity will prove essential in achieving any global collective action. As the Baha’i International Community has put it in the context of development:
Concern for justice protects the task of defining progress from the temptation to sacrifice the well-being of the generality of humankind—and even of the planet itself—to the advantages which technological breakthroughs can make available to privileged minorities …. Above all, only development programmes that are perceived as meeting their needs and as being just and equitable in objective can hope to engage the commitment of the masses of humanity, upon whom implementation depends. The relevant human qualities such as honesty, a willingness to work, and a spirit of co-operation are successfully harnessed to the accomplishment of enormously demanding collective goals when every member of society—indeed every component group within society—can trust that they are protected by standards and assured of benefits that apply equally to all. – The Baha’i International Community, The Prosperity of Humankind, 1995.
Even though the world’s nations have now signed a universal agreement to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change, we have not put in place any worldwide mechanism to enforce that treaty. The present difficulty in enforcing global standards for greenhouse gas reductions arises in part because governments are still more concerned about defending their short-term economic interests, rather than justly and equitably distributing both the efforts required and the accruing benefits. The Baha’i teachings speak out strongly against world leaders who would frustrate human progress toward the justice, peace and unity that will ensure environmental sustainability.
Baha’is have a strong vision of a future global society, and see climate change as an important force compelling the nations and peoples of the world to give priority to their common interest. The Baha’i writings include scenarios of an ever-advancing global civilization that can result from a principle-based approach to world challenges like climate change, with a federated world government able to maintain collective security, to manage the planet’s vast resources and to distribute its products equitably. These unique, revolutionary perspectives of the long-term future of the human race provide a positive focus to counterbalance the negative concerns for our immediate future that the scientific facts of climate change demonstrate all too clearly.
Given this background, the Baha’i International Community (BIC) has actively engaged in the climate change debate. As just one of many, many examples, at the 15th UN Commission on Sustainable Development in New York in 2007, the BIC organized a popular side event in the UN building on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change, in partnership with the Missions of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, the UN, the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University, the International Environment Forum, and other NGOs. An essay on this topic was published in The Baha’i World 2005-2006, the public record of the Baha’i community’s activities.
Baha’i communities in every part of the world have taken up the call to battle climate change at its most basic level, by carrying Baha’u’llah’s message of the essential agreement of science and religion to every part of the planet.
One Global NGO that Unites Science and Spirituality
Arthur Lyon Dahl 29 April 2017
PART 4 IN SERIES: Science and Religion in the Climate Change Debate
How can we unite science and spirituality to fight climate change? One global non-profit organization—IEF—has answers to that question.
In 1997, a number of Baha’is and other like-minded environmental professionals organized the International Environment Forum (IEF), a Baha’i-inspired professional organization with a mission of addressing the environment and sustainable development.
Now with over 350 members in more than 70 countries on five continents, the IEF provides a platform for its members to explore the relationship between ethical and spiritual principles and the environmental challenges facing the world. The IEF functions as a virtual organization, using the Internet and the world wide web to network among its widespread global membership. It also organizes annual conferences on themes relevant to the environment and sustainability, and has been active in the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
In 2002, IEF was accredited to the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, where it participated in the Science Forum and organized several parallel activities. It has been a partner in various educational activities such as a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Sustainable Development at the University of Geneva, and contributes to the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL).
As an organization bridging science and spirituality, the IEF provides a forum that considers climate change from an ethical perspective, and supports the efforts of the Baha’i International Community and various national Baha’i communities around the world to make contributions to the debate on climate change and what to do about it at the United Nations and elsewhere.
For example: in 2006, the IEF organized an international conference at Oxford University on “Science, Faith and Global Warming: Arising to the Challenge” in partnership with the Baha’i Agency for Social and Economic Development of the United Kingdom. The conference considered climate change from economic, social, gender, development and community perspectives. Speakers included Dr. Halldor Thorgeirsson, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dr. Augusto Lopez-Claros, then Chief Economist at the World Economic Forum, and various scientists and academics.
The IEF annual conference in 2007 was held in Ottawa, Canada, in collaboration with the Baha’i Community of Canada, on the theme Responding to Climate Change: Scientific Realities, Spiritual Imperatives. The location was chosen because Arctic communities are some of the first to be severely impacted by climate change, and an ethical and spiritual approach can help them to cope with the forced transformation of their environment and lifestyle. The opening speaker, Professor John Stone, a Vice-Chair of one of the main committees of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had learned the morning of his talk that the IPCC had won the Nobel Peace Prize for their pioneering scientific work. The IEF also organized four side events at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2015 that adopted the Paris Accords.
Other IEF conferences have considered topics relevant to climate change, such as education for sustainable development and lifestyle changes that would help to reduce carbon footprints. In its 2016 conference, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the IEF focused on the United Nations 2030 Agenda and three of its most critical Sustainable Development Goals: responsible and sustainable lifestyles; values and education; and building sustainable urban communities. IEF believes that governments will not be able to reach these ambitious goals without widespread public support and involvement, accompanied by a bottom-up process of public buy-in and participation in places like Latin America.
In its two decades of activity, IEF has learned that the need to mobilize the world population to respond to the challenges of climate change requires new kinds of partnerships across all segments of society. In particular, the scientific community, which has marshalled the evidence for climate change in order to understand and project its impacts, must recognize and act on the fact that faith-based organizations have unique access to grass-roots populations all around the world. When religion’s inherent capacity to motivate change begins to communicate the ethical challenges arising from climate change and the need for a common effort to respond, the world will rise up to create change. This unification of science and spirituality will require sacrifices from many people, which will be more readily accepted with an ethical justification and spiritual motivation:
We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge.
Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth. Let us earnestly endeavour to be the means of uniting religion and science. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 130-131.
The Baha’i community provides one effective, working model that shows how to unite science and religion to raise public awareness of climate change—and motivate action towards sustainability based on justice and equity.
INTERNATIONAL JESUIT ECOLOGY PROJECT
The International Jesuit Ecology Project (IJEP) is a three-year collaborative project between Loyola University Chicago faculty and scholars from Jesuit institutions around the world. Learn more about the project and collaboration: http://www.luc.edu/ijep
Loyola University Chicago and the International Jesuit Ecology Project (IJEP) have launched Healing Earth, a free digital environmental science textbook. Available online at http://healingearth.ijep.net/, the textbook is intended for fourth-year secondary school students, first-year university students, adult learners, and independent learners worldwide. The text takes a global approach to environmental issues through Ignatian pedagogy—a method that challenges students to see scientifically, evaluate ethically, reflect spiritually, and act effectively. More than 90 scholars from Jesuit institutions across the world contributed to the project, which is already being utilized by educators in more than 40 cross-curricular classrooms teaching biology, theology, social science, fine arts, and public health courses.
Each of the textbook’s six chapters includes a case study that guides students through the Ignatian pedagogical approach, outlining the scientific, ethical, and spiritual issues raised in each example. There is also an online forum for students to discuss the intersection of environmental science and social issues highlighted in the book. Due to the dynamic nature of climate change and environmental science, the authors plan to make regular updates to the digital text, which will include updated resource links and video content. IJEP collaborators plan to move the project forward by creating additional resources for educators, which will include forums for lesson plan sharing and a teacher’s manual. To accommodate a global audience, the textbook is currently being translated into multiple languages.
Healing Earth is a free, online environmental science textbook for upper level secondary school students, beginning college students, and adult learners. We invite teachers around the world to use this resource in their classrooms and share their experience with us. Healing Earth is an ongoing project, so we hope that everyone—teachers, young students, adult learners—will join us in using and improving Healing Earth.
Healing Earth presents a unique approach to six major ecological challenges of our time:
• declining biodiversity
• natural resource depletion
• shift to renewable energy
• water quality and availability
• food quality and availability
• global climate change
Unlike any other environmental science textbook, Healing Earth presents an integrated, global, and living approach to the ecological challenges we face on our extraordinary planet.
By integrated, we mean that the scientific knowledge presented in Healing Earth is joined by ethical analysis, spiritual reflection, and a call to action. The authors of Healing Earth consider this approach critically important. We believe the wisest and most effective response to Earth’s urgent ecological challenges will come from people who are scientifically literate, ethically grounded, spiritually aware, and motivated to act.
By global, we not only mean that Healing Earth’s content, examples, and lessons are drawn from different cultures and regions around the world, but also that the users of Healing Earth will be members of these diverse communities. More than at any other time in the past, the range of today’s ecological challenges is planetary; thus, a global approach toward environmental science is necessary.
By living, we mean that Healing Earth will be monitored daily for content updates and postings on interactive forums. New knowledge about the Earth and its natural systems increases daily, so we aim to create an international network of teachers and students who are willing to join us in keeping Healing Earth current and alive.
The overall goal of Healing Earth is to help all of us grow into integral ecologists, people from every walk of life and region of the world who dare to imagine a healed Earth and are willing to put their hands, hearts, and minds to the task.
We sincerely hope that teachers will use this resource in their classrooms, that it will draw young students closer to nature, and that it will encourage fruitful discussions among adult learners worldwide. We invite all of you to link your imagination with ours and become members of the Healing Earth community.
Nancy C. Tuchman, Co-Director
International Jesuit Ecology Project
Loyola University Chicago
Michael J. Schuck, Co-Director
International Jesuit Ecology Project
Loyola University Chicago
Updated 24 May 2017