What Have We Learned?
First Event of the 27th Annual Conference
of the International Environment Forum
Implementing Solidarity – Global to Local
16 September 2023
In this event, IEF members and friends shared and discussed the environmental efforts in their communities. This interactive event allowed participants to interact with each other, ask questions, suggest ideas, chime in about how their community has tried something similar, etc.
View a video recording of the event here.
TOPICS AND PANELISTS:
Community Gardens as a Path to Service and Community Building - Anthony Vodraska, Maryland, USA shared how he is working to engage children and Junior Youth groups in the area on sustainability and climate change.
Intergenerational Panel Discussion on Climate Change - Elsa Deshmukh from Puerto Rico, a representative of our IEF youth task force reports about an event which took place at the Association for Baha’i Studies conference in August 2023.
Transitioning homes toward higher energy efficiency and away from fossil fuels - Bill and Aaron Kelly, Ottawa, Canada talked about their program to work with local homeowners to assist them in transitioning their homes towards higher energy efficiency and away from the burning of fossil fuels. They also shared their efforts hosting an online environmental cafe that includes education, devotion and discussion.
Environmental Retrofit Company in the rural Rocky Mountains of Colorado - Khela Baskett shared how she and her husband created an environmental retrofit company with spiritual principles guiding company operations.
MODERATOR: Khela Baskett
Summary of the Presentations and Discussion
written by Elsa Deshmukh, Puerto Rico
Community Gardens as a Path of Service and Community Building
Anthony Vodraska (USA) spoke about the service opportunities that have arisen from his local community garden. He described a growing interest in “unlawning”, the process of rebalancing lawns with native plants and transforming them into food sources. He explored how suburban gardening activities have aided in neighborhood outreach and community building as well as how animating principles, or applications of Baha’i Teachings, have led to meaningful conversations and action around climate change.
Through their garden, the community has been able to host garden tours and programs for different age groups, promoting biodiversity, renewable agriculture, appreciation for natural beauty, and food security. Drawing from the Universal House of Justice’s 2023 Ridvan Message, the community started these programs in the process of conducting home visits with families, where educational topics such as gardening practices and the importance of native plants were identified and adapted for different age groups. The programs are centered around families and have led to many community building efforts.
Anthony presented several of their programs, including one for children and junior youth on seed germination and another for junior youth and their parents on native plants. The programs combined engaging activities, such as scavenger hunts, with infographics and discussions on spiritual teachings about nature. Furthermore, he noted that infographics are helpful in large group gatherings and self-guided tours for sharing animating principles and learnings.
Anthony also described their parallel efforts to explore animating principles such as social and environmental justice, sustainable and intergenerational equity, and interconnectedness. These principles helped participants deepen their understanding of individual responsibility and focus their energies.
The community’s next steps are to develop more programs for all demographics and to explore intergenerational cooperation in service projects.
In the discussion, many appreciated the focus on involving entire families in service and education and emphasized the importance of universal participation throughout communities.
Reflections from the ABS Youth-Adult Collaboration for Climate Social Action Seminar
Elsa Deshmukh (Puerto Rico) reported on the ABS Climate and Environment Seminar held in August 2023, which she attended as a representative of the IEF Youth Task Force. The event was about Youth-Adult Collaboration for Climate Social Action. Each panelist presented different ideas and learnings, and then everyone formed groups to brainstorm and form a vision on the subject. The groups were asked to think about what youth-adult collaboration looks like in a vibrant, healthy, learning community that is thoughtful about climate change and the role of the Faith and the sacred. This exercise produced many helpful insights.
She mentioned the importance of creating an atmosphere of trust and loving companionship for youth through the concept of youth being bold and discerning and where their energy and ideas can combine in harmony with experience and wisdom. The Baha’i core activities, including the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program and the Ruhi Institute, provide a framework for this collaboration by uniting all age groups in service and spiritual growth.
She mentioned the positive impact of recognizing youth and children's powers of activism and insight and giving them opportunities to hone their capabilities for service and public speaking. She noted that transmitting awareness of reality along with confidence and faith in humanity can transform climate anxiety into empowerment.
There is also a need for a focus on education. One aspect of this is education on climate change in a way that makes climate action a coherent part of people’s lives. Better collaboration can also happen through educating youth and children on cultural and traditional knowledge and preserving diverse identities. Furthermore, a helpful educational activity is for a community to study the Writings, the Universal House of Justice messages, and the Bahá'í International Community publications to build knowledge and to inspire action. She also reflected on the importance of sharing resources and creating ways for youth to connect and help each other.
The discussion emphasized the importance of youth-adult collaboration as an aspect of cooperation crucial to climate action. It is important for adults to have a clear concept of the capacity of youth and children and to provide opportunities for service and education in order to accelerate capacity building for youth.
Energy Transition and Carbon Reduction
Bill Kelly (Canada) presented on the service of helping communities improve carbon reduction and transition to cleaner energy. Since 27% of carbon emissions come from building operations, he reflected on the need for more carbon-neutral homes in suburban and urban areas. He also mentioned the additional benefits, including health and savings. He described how sharing experiences and helping others work towards home sustainability can help build community and foster climate action.
Bill presented a process of six steps for empowering people to help and inspire others in climate action: (1) home assessment, (2) preparing for action, (3) applying for incentives, (4) getting proposals, (5) making decisions and proceeding, and monitoring and (6) evaluating outcomes He also framed climate action through the responsibilities of the individual, the community, and the institutions.
In his community, he has been able to offer services such as home energy assessments, which provide a clear set of goals to improve sustainability and help motivate people to action. Within the community, building relationships and experiences throughout the process can benefit local economies and lead to networking and efficiency. Bill also mentioned several publications his community created to help inform action.
The topic of climate action for home renters and urban settings was raised during the discussion. Several ideas for action include advocating for policies through condominium boards and creating dialogue in communities to consult about collective efforts. For clean energy, the idea of renting solar panels on public buildings and deducting their energy production from electric bills was also mentioned.
Environmental Café 613
Aaron Kelly (Canada) reported on his community’s environmental project, the Environmental Café 613. In this monthly event, people meet online to learn and reflect together on the interconnected issues humanity faces, with a focus on the environment. With a short devotional program with diverse readings and writings from different faiths, live music, presentations, and discussion, the community can unite people from all backgrounds in the interest of the environment. The atmosphere is both fun and educational and builds networks for more action.
Presentation topics from the Café have included pollination, indigenous knowledge, environmental justice, and sustainable transportation. This has allowed the community to address the exigencies of our time and consult about actions to take.
In the discussion, everyone appreciated the Café's wide-ranging format and all that it allows the community to achieve. Aaron welcomed anyone to join and mentioned the benefits of diverse participation.
Everlasting Earth Development
Khela Baskett (USA) spoke about an initiative she and her husband started that provides resources and services for retrofitting homes. Through the company Everlasting Earth Development, they have researched modern technology and businesses that provide services and means for improving the environmental footprint of homes and businesses. For the purpose of design consultation, they have compiled lists of products that improve insulation, lighting efficiency, water quality, air circulation, septic systems, and more. Through the initiative, they have learned more about environmental engineering and real-world problem-solving.
In the final discussion, participants shared resources and contact information.
Stories from Colombia in the early 2000s
Pascal Molineaux (Colombia) was unfortunately not able to present due to internet issues. However, an article he wrote for the August IEF Newsletter about Junior Youth Ecological Camps in Colombia is available at: https://iefworld.org/elcyouthcamps