To Address Climate Change, Ensure Coherence Between Principle and Action
Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations
and a member of the International Environment Forum
New York, 20 September 2019
As thousands gather for the Climate Summit at the United Nations, we are confronted with the basic question of what is needed to make lasting progress on climate change. Views on this may vary, but one thing seems clear: coherence between principles and action is necessary to advance climate justice and environmental protection. Rhetoric articulating appreciation for the environment, concern for future generations, and well-being for all, rings hollow when unmatched by ethical behavior and policy. Achieving such coherence requires more than science and logic—it requires courage and sacrifice.
If steps in this directions are not taken, it is too easy to fall back into the well trodden paths that have brought us to this point. Compromises allow an unjust and unsustainable system to endure, expediency becomes valued over the needs of the most vulnerable, and the inertia of the status quo drives humanity to the limits of the earth’s resources. Given the degree of transformation required, we must not wait for more tragedy before taking the courageous steps necessary.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that setting humanity on a sustainable path would require “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” This includes transformations to technological, industrial, agricultural, and scientific systems, which in turn require unprecedented change in values, assumptions, standards, and patterns of thought and behavior.
The current economic order has promoted unsustainable patterns of consumption in pursuit of financial return. Its messaging has equated the status and value of the human being with the accumulation of wealth and luxury. And its logic of unlimited individual gain has enriched a privileged few while degrading the natural world and impoverishing masses of humanity. To varying degrees, far from advancing our highest values, the system before us rewards dishonesty, encourages corruption, and treats truth as a negotiable commodity.
A global order based on different understandings of human nature can be created. The proposition that human beings thrive when we cooperate, find fulfillment through harmonious and friendly relationships, and have transcendental longings that no stockpile of possessions can satisfy—these can be the foundations for serious and effective social systems. But efforts toward that end must draw on the very qualities they seek to promote. Noble aims must be sought through noble means.
Changing entrenched habits requires a host of qualities pertaining to character, especially from those who are benefiting most from the current system. Among them are the capacity to sacrifice one’s own privilege and comfort for the wellbeing of others, the humility to admit errors, the courage to make difficult yet important decisions, the discipline to overcome familiar yet destructive patterns of behavior, and the daily commitment to value every human life as sacred.
The climate crisis—one of the most pronounced symptoms of our ailing global order—requires genuine transformative change. Its various physical manifestations are an expression of the inaccuracy and insufficiency of our views of ourselves and the world.
We must find unity, solidarity, and even opportunity in the common struggle increasingly faced in every corner of the world. We must draw on the insights of science and the universal values of the world’s great religions to inform our next steps, and to guide our current trajectory. For religion without science becomes pure superstition, and science without religion becomes the instrument of materialism. Transformation will result from the insights gleaned when both systems of knowledge are judiciously applied to the crises humanity faces—climate foremost among them.
Last updated 24 September 2019