IEF Conference 13 Programme

Submitted by admin on 17. August 2010 - 23:56
13-16 August 2009
Washington, D.C., USA

The 13th Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum

integrated into the
33rd Annual Conference of the Association for Baha'i Studies - North America
on the theme

Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C., USA
13-16 August 2009


including abstracts, papers, presentations and mp3 audio recordings for downloading
(see Session Abstracts and Presenter Bios below)
Conference Report
Conference blog with detailed reports on sessions
Photographs on flickr 


Afternoon - "Workshop on Values-based Indicators of Sustainable Development” - Arthur Dahl

Evening – Opening Plenary with welcome by representatives of National Spiritual Assemblies of the Baha'is of Canada and United States

Keynote: “ Transforming Environments from the Inside Out” - Arthur Dahl  [full paper]  [powerpoint presentation 18.2mb]  [mp3 audio recording 88mb]  [on ABS web site]

"After Hours" Arts


Morning – Plenary -- “Collective Consciousness, Human Maturity and the Challenge of Sustainability” moderated by Tahirih Naylor

Keynote 1: “The Essential Role of Religion in Fostering a Sustainable World” by Peter Adriance [powerpoint presentation as pdf]  [mp3 audio recording 52mb]  [on ABS web site]

Keynote 2: “Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy” by Dr. Peter G. Brown [powerpoint presentation as pdf]  [mp3 audio recording 84mb]  [on ABS web site]
Response and Dialogue: Dr. Arthur Dahl [mp3 audio recording 22mb]  [on ABS web site]
Question and answer session [mp3 audio recording 39mb]  [on ABS web site]


Afternoon -- IEF BREAKOUT SESSIONS (descriptions linked below) were held concurrently with other ABS BREAKOUT SESSIONS

Introductions of participants and discussion of key sustainability issues they are facing

"Green" Starts With the Letter "S" - Robert L. Rogers [powerpoint presentation as pdf]
   S6: Six Elements of Sustainability [pdf]  - What is Green Anyway? [pdf]

Environment and Its Effects on the Spiritual Life of Man -- Dr. Hamid Farabi and Ruhiyyih Farabi [powerpoint presentation as pdf]

Evening – IEF Annual General Assembly during dinner

ABS Arts Plenary
After Hours Arts


Morning - ABS plenary on the built and social environment

Lunch and annual ABS general membership meeting

Afternoon - IEF BREAKOUT SESSIONS (descriptions linked below) were held concurrently with other ABS BREAKOUT SESSIONS

- Assisting the World’s Transition to a Sustainable Energy Future -- Anne Gillette and Lawrence Staudt [powerpoint presentation as pdf]  [full paper] [full paper as doc]
- Faith in Environmentalism - Samuel Benoit
- Climate Ethics  – Carol Curtis, Tahirih Naylor; facilitated by Peter Adriance, Duncan Hanks
Naylor: Climate Ethics [powerpoint presentation]
Case studies for workshops and instructions [doc]

Dinner and Special Interest Group meetings

Evening – Balyuzi Lecture – The Artist and the Grammarian, Otto Don Rogers

After Hours Arts


Morning - ABS Plenary - Environments: Perspective from young scholars, Adam Ludwin, Maame Nketsiah and Anisa Khadem Nwachuku

Closing musical presentation



"Workshop on Values-based Indicators of Sustainable Development" This workshop, led by Dr. Arthur Dahl, welcomes participation by anyone with an interest in learning about and contributing thoughts to an EU-funded project to develop values-based indicators of sustainable development. Dr. Dahl is senior consultant to the project which is being jointly undertaken by a number of interested European-based organizations. Inspired in part by the Baha'i International Community's statement, "Valuing Spirituality in Development", the project was launched in early 2009 and is just getting underway. All the partner organizations in the project strive to apply spiritual principles and values in their work with communities, schools, businesses and other groups, but it is often difficult to demonstrate the results of such efforts in values-based education. In this project, academic researchers are helping the Earth Charter Initiative, the Alliance on Religions and Conservation, Peoples' Theatre, and the European Baha'i Business Forum to find indicators of these important but intangible factors that they can use in their work.

Opening Plenary  – Arthur Dahl, keynote: Transforming Environments from the Inside Out” – Climate change and the financial crisis are symptoms of an unsustainable world economy hitting planetary limits. The necessary rapid transformation faces barriers deeply rooted in our psyche, values and institutions, requiring spiritual as well as scientific solutions. The Baha'i concept of oneness requires an integrated perspective and a profound reconsideration of every dimension of our lives, society and environment. Rather than falling into a doomsday depression, we need to see the present chaos as an opportunity to provide spiritual and intellectual leadership to transform our personal lives, families, communities, nations and the emerging world society from the inside out.


Morning Plenary -- “Collective Consciousness, Human Maturity and the Challenge of Sustainability” moderated by Tahirih Naylor -- The upsurge in environmental, social and economic challenges confronting humanity in the 21st century -- climate change, species extinctions, deforestation, food security, inequality, growing extremes of wealth and poverty, and an unstable world financial system, to name but a few – are forcing the collective consciousness of humankind to evolve.  These challenges are ever-present reminders of humanity’s essential oneness and the interconnectedness of all life systems.  Learning to successfully grapple with them will require new levels of human maturity and narrow self interest will have to give way to a wider concern for the well-being of the planet.

Keynote 1: “The Essential Role of Religion in Fostering a Sustainable World”  by Peter Adriance --  A reflective multimedia presentation on environmental stewardship from a faith perspective introduces this talk on the essential role of religion in advancing a sustainable world.  Religious communities are experiencing a vital reawakening to the moral imperatives that ensure sustainability including the recognition that religion and science must work harmoniously to resolve pressing environmental problems. A variety of responses are evident, including examples from the Bahá'í community. The processes of expansion and consolidation, currently the major focus of the community, lay the essential foundation for even greater levels of social action. 

Keynote 2: “Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy” by Dr. Peter G. Brown - The book, Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, co-authored by Peter Brown in 2009, begins with the idea that human well-being is entirely dependent on the well-being of the whole commonwealth of life.  “Right relationship,” “commonwealth of life,” and “whole earth economy” are defined.  Answers to five key questions further illuminate these concepts: What is the economy for? How does it work? How big should it be? What is a fair distribution of its benefits and burdens? How should it be governed? The answers offered provide a fresh perspective and hopeful guide that resonates well with diverse faith traditions.

Response and Dialogue: Dr. Arthur Dahl -- Reflections were offered from a Bahá’í perspective on the themes and ideas presented in Dr. Brown’s talk, followed by moderated discussion with questions submitted from the audience.



FRIDAY, August 14

Afternoon -- "Green" Starts With the Letter "S" -- Robert L. Rogers  -- Are there methodologies of building design based in nature which can utilize Baha'i principles for their implementation? The construction of buildings and communities requires huge investments in energy, materials, land, finances, and commitments to the future. This presentation focuses on 5 elements of sustainability: seed, sky, soil, skin and systems. These 5 elements are broken into components which seek to encompass all aspects of building and site design. Baha'i principles such as honesty, justice, and a world-encompassing perspective are added as a means of helping to ensure a project which follows through with green design commitments.

In the commitment and rush to “green everything”, there is a need to step back and take a more holistic look at buildings and how they relate to the larger ecosystems. Since nature builds many structures, can we learn design and building process from nature's approach to creating trees and other life forms? The author is dissatisfied with current building design methodologies, even though programs such as LEED have helped bring new levels of commitment to environmental considerations in building design and construction. There is still a need for a more “organic” approach which recognizes the vast laboratory that is called nature. The Baha'i input is important in helping us to be accountable in translating what we say into what we do. Rather than 3rd party certification processes as a way of ensuring compliance with green design principles, incorporating principles of integrity and world-embracing perspectives into the process itself is a more important and lasting way of changing the way our environments are conceptualized, designed, and then built.

Environment and Its Effects on the Spiritual Life of Man -- Dr. Hamid Farabi and Ruhiyyih Farabi -- Mankind has been created with a spiritual and material nature, which is designed to exist in harmony with the environment. When an imbalance occurs and material greed increases, this is reflected in the environment, which is gradually destroyed.  The spiritual nature is also weakened and the overall effect is a further increase in selfishness and greed, as individuals seek to acquire for themselves the ever decreasing resources of the environment, which consequently undergoes further destruction. The balance must be rectified by developing mankind’s spiritual qualities.

Spirituality and the environment-how are they inter-related? Everything in nature has been created by God for the benefit of mankind.  Mankind has been created with both spiritual and physical needs which are satisfied when he lives in harmony with his environment.  However, if either side of his nature is neglected, he will become unbalanced and the environment will also be disturbed. Human beings rely upon nature for their survival. God has created them with free will and the power of rational thinking, thus enabling them to control and change the environment.  This power is a tremendous responsibility, which humanity has abused.  In a vicious downward spiral, mankind’s perverted spiritual nature manifests the qualities of greed, selfishness, ignorance and excessive materialism and as a result, most of the people of the world are contributing towards the destruction of the environment.  Consequently the cycle of nature has become unbalanced and polluted and is no longer conducive to man’s spiritual development.  This leads to a further increase in materialistic and individualistic sentiments and more destruction of the environment results in order to satisfy unquenchable desires. There is therefore, a need to develop the spiritual side of man’s nature, for only then can the imbalance of nature be halted and reversed.

SATURDAY August 15
Afternoon Breakout Session

Assisting the World’s Transition to a Sustainable Energy Future – Lawrence Staudt and Anne Gillette - This paper seeks to create a vision for a sustainable energy future based on Bahá’í teachings.  It then looks at some of the practical steps and processes required on the way to achieving that vision, considering a stakeholder-driven California initiative as a case study.

Faith in Environmentalism - Samuel Benoit -- This presentation will review the findings of an honors thesis in Environmental Studies that explores the role that the faculties of faith and hope may play in the modern environmental movement in the face of catastrophic climate change. What motivates activists to practice and advocate environmental stewardship in the face of the looming thresholds for runaway climate change? This interplay between faith, hope, reason and rationality is paralleled to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings on science and religion as the role of religion in the history and thinking of the modern environmental movement is explored. 
The presentation reviews some of the recent conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change so championed by the movement and how the faculty of reason or rationality might dictate defeat.  The faculty of faith is defined with the help of Paul Tillich and others as we see signs of faith and hope in the behaviour, words and actions of environmentalists according to their leaders, history and other studies.  If faith and hope do motivate environmentalists, how did they pervade this apparently secular social movement?  Religion may serve an essential role in the coming period to nurture the motivating faith and hope that might be humanity’s last chance not to cross the critical thresholds for catastrophic climate change.

Climate Ethics  – Carol Curtis, Tahirih Naylor; facilitated by Peter Adriance, Duncan Hanks -- The discourse on climate change is now a core part of informed debates concerning humanity’s future. Authoritative assessments of its potentially catastrophic nature and scope have seized the attention of governments and peoples alike. The search for solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change has revealed the limits of traditional technological and policy approaches and raised difficult ethical questions about justice, equity, responsibility and obligation. Concurrently, the issue has provided humanity with a tremendous opportunity – to take the next step in the transition from state-centered governance to approaches that embrace humanity’s oneness and the global nature of the challenge. This interactive session will highlight the Bahá'í International Community’s work on climate ethics and explore the issue through selected case studies.


*Peter Adriance has served as NGO (non-governmental organization) liaison for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the U.S. since 1990, focusing primarily on issues of environment and sustainable development. He serves on the boards of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and the International Environment Forum.

Samuel Benoit recently graduated from the Environmental Studies program at Carleton University where he also served as chair of its ABS.  He has worked as a field researcher for the Olinga Foundation in Ghana and at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharwad, India.   He blogs at

Peter G. Brown is a professor in the School of Environment, the Department of Geography, and the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University. Before coming to McGill, he was Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland's graduate School of Public Affairs. While at the University of Maryland, he founded the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, the School of Public Policy itself, and established the School's Environmental Policy Programs. He is a graduate of Haverford College, holds a Master's Degree in the Philosophy of Religion from Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from Columbia in Philosophy. He is the author of Restoring the Public Trust: A Fresh Vision for Progressive Government in America (Beacon Press, 1994), and Ethics, Economics and International Relations: Transparent Sovereignty in the Commonwealth of Life, Second Edition (Edinburgh University Press, 2008). It is published in North America as The Commonwealth of Life: Economics for a Flourishing Earth, Second Edition (Black Rose Books, 2008). (Click here to read a review of The Commonwealth of Life from the Journal of Sustainability.) Peter Brown is actively involved in conservation efforts in the James Bay and Southern regions of Quebec, and in Maryland. He operates tree farms in Maryland and Quebec and is a Certified Quebec Forest Producer, and in 1995 was Tree Farmer of the Year in Garrett County, Maryland. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends.

*Carol Curtis has had intimate contact with life in the Marshall Islands during the last 40 years.  Fluent in the language and culture, she was adopted into and lived with a large family on Lae atoll.  She currently serves as an interpreter for the Marshallese community in the United States.

*Arthur Dahl is a retired Deputy Assistant Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and now Coordinator of the UNEP/University of Geneva Programme of Advanced Studies in Environmental Diplomacy. He is a consultant to UNEP and other international organizations on indicators of sustainability, environmental assessment and observing strategies, coral reefs, biodiversity, islands, environmental education, and social and economic development. A specialist on coral reefs and small island developing States (SIDS), he spent many years in the South Pacific and organized the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. He lectures widely, and has published many scientific papers and books including: "Island Directory", "Unless and Until: a Baha'i Focus on the Environment" and "The Eco Principle: Ecology and Economics in Symbiosis".

Hamid Farabi is Director, Centre for Environmental Studies, University of the West Indies, Trinidad with specialized knowledge in Environment Engineering and Management, Toxic and Hazardous Wastes, Health and Safety issues in the Caribbean and Latin America. With 31 years of experience, he has a thorough understanding of the special problems and requirements of the region.

Ruhiyyih Farabi, has a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical and Process Engineering from the University of South Florida, Tampa and a Master’s in Environmental Engineering from the University of the West Indies, Trinidad. She has been working at the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago, PETROTRIN for the past two and a half years as a Process Engineer.

*Anne Gillette is a Policy Analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.  She received a M.A. from the University of San Francisco, and a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.  Anne has served in the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly’s Office of External Affairs and as a consultant to the World Bank.

*Duncan Hanks is the Executive Director of the Canadian Bahá’í International Development Agency (, and representative of the Bahá’í Community of Canada in the areas of environment, sustainable development and climate change. He has a Master’s degree in International Development and has lived and worked internationally for over twenty years.

Táhirih Naylor serves as a representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations in the areas of social and sustainable development and human rights.  She graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School having specialized in international, comparative and transnational law and has participated in volunteer service in over twenty-five countries.

*Robert L. Rogers, RA. is owner of Architectural Alternatives, an architectural firm located in Blacksburg, VA. Bob's 38 years as an Architect and 9 years as a Baha'i have led him to explore ways the Faith can be applied to his profession, especially in the arena of sustainable (green) design.

*Lawrence Staudt is the Director of the Centre for Renewable Energy at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ireland.  He received is BSc and MEng from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  He has been involved in renewable energy since 1978.  He and his family pioneered to Ireland from the USA in 1985.

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Last updated 10 January 2010