Spiritual Principles Relevant to Climate Change

SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES RELEVANT TO CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change represents an enormous challenge to world society and our present civilization, and raises fundamental ethical questions. This compilation gives some of the relevant spiritual principles from the Bahá'í writings. More quotations can be found in the compilation on sustainable development.


CONTENTS

Spiritual Principle
Global approach
Preserving the ecological balance
Mitigation
Adaptation
International action


REFERENCE TO SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE TO SOLVE PRACTICAL PROBLEMS

Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CVI, p. 213)

There are spiritual principles, or what some call human values, by which solutions can be found for every social problem. Any well-intentioned group can in a general sense devise practical solutions to its problems, but good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough. The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature, it also induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration, which facilitate the discovery and implementation of practical measures. Leaders of governments and all in authority would be well served in their efforts to solve problems if they would first seek to identify the principles involved and then be guided by them.
(Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, 1985. p.13)

...until material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained.  For although, on the one hand, material achievements and the development of the physical world produce prosperity, which exquisitely manifests its intended aims, on the other hand dangers, severe calamities and violent afflictions are imminent....  Progress and barbarism go hand in hand, unless material civilization be confirmed by Divine Guidance... and be reinforced by spiritual conduct...
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 225, p. 283-284)

Reality is one, and when truth is investigated and ascertained, it will lead to individual and collective progress. In the quest for truth, science and religion – the two systems of knowledge available to humankind – must closely and continuously interact. The insights and skills that represent scientific accomplishment must look to the force of spiritual commitment and moral principle to ensure their appropriate application.
(Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998)

Through [Bahá'u'lláh's] revelation, the principles required for the collective coming of age of the human race have been invested with the one power capable of penetrating to the roots of human motivation and of altering behaviour.
(Bahá'í International Community, One Common Faith, p. 39-40)


CLIMATE CHANGE IS A GLOBAL PROBLEM

Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for the reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind.
(Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, 1985, p. 13-14)

...all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day. Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 15, p. 32)

Laying the groundwork for global civilization calls for the creation of laws and institutions that are universal in both character and authority. The effort can begin only when the concept of the oneness of humanity has been wholeheartedly embraced by those in whose hands the responsibility for decision making rests, and when the related principles are propagated through both educational systems and the media of mass communication. Once this threshold is crossed, a process will have been set in motion through which the peoples of the world can be drawn into the task of formulating common goals and committing themselves to their attainment.
(The Prosperity of Humankind, Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, Haifa, 1995)


PRESERVING THE ECOLOGICAL BALANCE AND NATURAL ORDER

In addition to the problem of how to ensure peace, and all the implications of such a step, it is clear that the economic and social development of all countries is of vital importance and is a matter on which the Teachings have much to say in principle if not in detail. In this area, agriculture and the preservation of the ecological balance of the world are of fundamental interest....
(Universal House of Justice, 31 March 1985 to an Association for Bahá'í Studies)

Bahá'í Scriptures describe nature as a reflection of the sacred. They teach that nature should be valued and respected, but not worshipped; rather, it should serve humanity's efforts to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. However, in light of the interdependence of all parts of nature, and the importance of evolution and diversity "to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole," every effort should be made to preserve as much as possible the earth's bio-diversity and natural order.

As trustees, or stewards, of the planet's vast resources and biological diversity, humanity must learn to make use of the earth's natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time. This attitude of stewardship will require full consideration of the potential environmental consequences of all development activities. It will compel humanity to temper its actions with moderation and humility, realizing that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. It will also require a deep understanding of the natural world and its role in humanity's collective development - both material and spiritual. Therefore, sustainable environmental management must come to be seen not as a discretionary commitment mankind can weigh against other competing interests, but rather as a fundamental responsibility that must be shouldered - a pre-requisite for spiritual development as well as the individual's physical survival.
(Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998)


MITIGATION

Removing the causes of climate change is called mitigation, which basically involves reducing the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural vegetation, methane from livestock, natural gas and decaying vegetation, and nitrogen oxides from fertilizers and fuel combustion. These in turn result from our consumption of the goods and services of material civilization as it has developed over the past two centuries. The rich and industrialized countries have caused most of the problem. What is a spiritual perspective on this civilization?

Excessive civilization

The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.... If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.... The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities...
(Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CLXIV, p. 342-343, and Bahá'í World Faith, p. 138-139)

The consumer lifestyle

Consumer culture, today's inheritor by default of materialism's gospel of human betterment, is unembarrassed by the ephemeral nature of the goals that inspire it. For the small minority of people who can afford them, the benefits it offers are immediate, and the rationale unapologetic. Emboldened by the breakdown of traditional morality, the advance of the new creed is essentially no more than the triumph of animal impulse, as instinctive and blind as appetite, released at long last from the restraints of supernatural sanctions.... Tendencies once universally castigated as moral failings mutate into necessities of social progress. Selfishness becomes a prized commercial resource; falsehood reinvents itself as public information.... Under appropriate euphemisms, greed, lust, indolence, pride - even violence - acquire not merely broad acceptance but social and economic value.
(Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith, 2005, p. 10)

Consuming far beyond our needs

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.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Súriy-i-Mulúk §19, in The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 193. Haifa, Bahá'í World Centre, 2002)

Overstep not the bounds of moderation, and deal justly with them that serve thee. Bestow upon them according to their needs, and not to the extent that will enable them to lay up riches for themselves, to deck their persons, to embellish their homes, to acquire the things that are of no benefit to them, and to be numbered with the extravagant. Deal with them with undeviating justice, so that none among them may either suffer want, or be pampered with luxuries. This is but manifest justice.
(Bahá'u'lláh [to the Sultan of Turkey], Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXIV, pp. 235-236)

The benefits of technologies (like fossil fuel use and energy-consuming appliances)

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.
(The Prosperity of Humankind, Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, Haifa, 1995)

Eating meat (livestock for meat production are a major source of methane)

As humanity progresses, meat will be used less and less, for the teeth of man are not carnivorous.... It is, therefore, quite apparent according to the implements for eating that man's food is intended to be grain and not meat. When mankind is more fully developed, the eating of meat will gradually cease.
(`Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pages 170-171)


ADAPTATION

While we need to do everything possible to reduce climate change, it is already happening and producing many victims. The poor are usually the most affected.

The poor are the first victims of climate change

[The true seeker] should be content with little, and be freed from all inordinate desire.... He should succour the dispossessed, and never withhold is favour from the destitute.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Iqán, p. 193-194)

No deed of man is greater before God than helping the poor.... Each one of you must have great consideration for the poor and render them assistance. Organize in an effort to help them and prevent increase in poverty.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)

The technologies and resources exist to meet the basic needs of humanity and to eliminate poverty. Equity in the use of these technologies and resources, however, will come about only with certain understandings and commitments. While individuals must do their utmost to provide for themselves and their dependents, the community must accept responsibility, when necessary, to help meet basic needs. Access to development programs and their benefits must be ensured for all. The economics of food production and distribution will have to be reoriented and the critical role of the farmer in food and economic security properly valued. With regard to health – the physical, spiritual, mental and social well-being of the individual – access to clean water, shelter, and some form of cheap energy would go a long way toward eradicating the problems that currently plague vast numbers of individuals and communities.
(Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998)

Solidarity

Since the body of humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the race is born into the world as a trust of the whole.
(The Prosperity of Humankind, Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, Haifa, 1995)

Voluntary giving

And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is voluntary sharing of one's property with others among mankind. This voluntary sharing is greater than equality, and consists in this, that man should not prefer himself to others, but rather should sacrifice his life and property for others. But this should not be introduced by coercion so that it becomes a law and man is compelled to follow it. Nay, rather, man should voluntarily and of his own choice sacrifice his property and life for others, and spend willingly for the poor....
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 227, p. 302)


PRINCIPLES FOR INTERNATIONAL ACTION

Changing the economic system (climate change is the greatest market failure in history)

A challenge of similar nature faces economic thinking as a result of the environmental crisis. The fallacies in theories based on the belief that there is no limit to nature's capacity to fulfil any demand made on it by human beings have now been coldly exposed. A culture which attaches absolute value to expansion, to acquisition, and to the satisfaction of people's wants is being compelled to recognise that such goals are not, by themselves, realistic guides to policy. Inadequate, too, are approaches to economic issues whose decision-making tools cannot deal with the fact that most of the major challenges are global rather than particular in scope.
(The Prosperity of Humankind, Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, Haifa, 1995)

Society must develop new economic models shaped by insights that arise from a sympathetic understanding of shared experience, from viewing human beings in relation one to another, and from a recognition of the central role that family and community play in social and spiritual well-being. Within institutions and organizations, priorities must be reassessed. Resources must be directed away from those agencies and programs that are damaging to the individual, societies and the environment, and directed toward those most germane to furthering a dynamic, just and thriving social order. Such economic systems will be strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature; they will provide meaningful employment and will help to eradicate poverty in the world.
(Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998)

Unity necessary to solve environmental problems

Until such time as the nations of the world understand and follow the admonitions of Bahá'u'lláh to whole-heartedly work together in looking after the best interests of all humankind, and unite in the search for ways and means to meet the many environmental problems besetting our planet, ...little progress will be made towards their solution....
(Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat, from a letter dated 18 October 1981 to an individual believer. Quoted In "Conservation of the Earth's Resources". Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)

Need for a new world order

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system.... The economic resources of the world will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized, its markets will be coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated....

A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources..., and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet... - such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203-204)

Decision-making based on justice

At the group level, a concern for justice is the indispensable compass in collective decision making, because it is the only means by which unity of thought and action can be achieved. Far from encouraging the punitive spirit that has often masqueraded under its name in past ages, justice is the practical expression of awareness that, in the achievement of human progress, the interests of the individual and those of society are inextricably linked. To the extent that justice becomes a guiding concern of human interaction, a consultative climate is encouraged that permits options to be examined dispassionately and appropriate courses of action selected. In such a climate the perennial tendencies toward manipulation and partisanship are far less likely to deflect the decision-making process.
(The Prosperity of Humankind, Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, Haifa, 1995)


Did 'Abdul-Bahá know about global warming?

“Should the fire of the love of God be kindled in Greenland, all of the ice of that country will be melted, and its cold weather become temperate...”
('Abdu'l-Bahá (1916), Tablets of the Divine Plan, 5, p. 28)



International Environment Forum - Updated 6 October 2009