INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
9TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE
The electronic version of the
9th Conference of the International Environment Forum
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD):
The Spiritual Dimension
in support of the
UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)
18 November- 4 December 2005
Every year, the IEF holds an electronic conference (prior to or parallel with the physical annual conference), which is a free, virtual conference, where people share their thoughts through emails, distributed by a moderator. It is for the participants, by the participants. This means that everyone registering for the electronic conference can enjoy each others' contributions as well as write contributions.
The format of the electronic conference was different this year since the 9th IEF Conference in Orlando, Florida, USA, on 14-16 December 2005 consisted entirely of interactive sessions, and there were no presented papers that could be discussed in advance. The e-conference therefore had two aims: to collect success stories or case studies to be shared with the main conference, and to consider the themes on the agenda of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, for which the IEF would like to develop statements. 15 people participated in the e-conference, all sharing a joint interest in the subject of cultivating sustainable lifestyles, either due to their chosen profession, their studies, or their aim to lead a more sustainable life. They included a doctor, a businessman, students, a biologist, a farmer, consultants, a computer scientist, teachers, an architect and a trustee. The participants worked at the local, national and global levels, and represented 7 countries: Barbados, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, United Kingdom, and the U.S.A. Each member introduced him or herself, usually providing some background on their specific field of work and service or their specific studies or interests. Some interesting projects were mentioned in these personal introductions. Then there was a discussion of the themes. All the contributions were shared by e-mail, and later compiled and distributed to all the participants.
This year there were two themes for the electronic conference which both relate to the theme of the 2005 IEF conference in Orlando: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): The Spiritual Dimension.
Theme 1. ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: YOUR SUCCESS STORIES.
Participants who were professionally or voluntarily active in the field of sustainable development, specifically environment, and who were involved in or heard of developments which addressed our spiritual nature, shared these to provide inspiration and practical ideas.
Theme 2. THE ROLE OF EDUCATION FOR ADDRESSING ENERGY, INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT, AIR POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE.
In the years 2006 and 2007 the Commission on Sustainable Development, the primary institution in the United Nations which addresses the implementation of the Rio and Johannesburg Summits, will consider these themes: energy for sustainable development, industrial development, air pollution and climate change. The IEF hopes to be present at these meetings with a delegation and be able to present statements with our contribution to the issues. It also works with other organizations who are focusing on the role of education. Participants were asked for comments or success stories related to these topics.
The exchange of stories, ideas and studies was sent to the Board of the International Environment Forum, and selected success stories were shared with the participants in the Orlando Conference, where they were greatly appreciated.
A snap shot collection of some of the comments is presented below:
“I can tell you that I consider it a success whenever I see a child's eyes light up or her face become suffused with a sense of wonder when she encounters an interesting or bizarre feature of nature “
“Treading Lightly - an environmental education and conservation project - developing a puppet show for the Barbados Green Expo in March. We will seek, through scripts that highlight the teachings of various Faith communities, to educate the public as to why it has a spiritual responsibility for the environment. Participants will be asked to make a commitment to address at least one environmental issue in their own lives”
“The world must have a "special regard" for agriculture; a recognition of the interactions of the life of the soil and the life of plants; the creation of gardens for special needs - even on concrete: production of a safe source of food: wise water use; utilization of problem waste products; raising questions about land-loss; providing outlets for youth and those with disabilities.”
“The task at hand is to find better means of communicating and sharing the wealth of technology and knowledge at our disposal, and arise unitedly to turn them into practicable and efficacious solutions, based on shared moral values, responsibilities, and spiritual ideals which are the cornerstones of civilization.”
“Among the models developing educational actions in these villages, one of the most important is the initiative of Bayan Organization ..... thus a programme of alternative education is starting using a flexible methodology through the Tutorial Learning System, SAT, which by developing contents relevant to the aspirations and real needs of the rural population, has shown itself to be adapted to the special conditions of rural people.”
“The Chinese culture is intrinsically spiritual and they have very close relationship with nature. With values deeply entrenched in their traditions - have long held such views, ethics and moral values even under communist rule. Their advocating 'Spiritual Civilization' as the ethos for is a testament of this - despite the threat of increasing materialism and the evil of its excesses. There is an astounding opportunity, therefore, for training and education projects for environmental sustainability and awareness.”
“EBBF promotes "stewardship of the earth's resources". To do this we collaborate closely with IEF”
“To paraphrase Einstein, Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
“True development, which would improve the ability of individuals to take responsibility for the development of their societies and their world, will come about through our ability to use a level of thinking above that which created the problem, a level of thinking which incorporates the spiritual dimension of man in finding solutions, a level of thinking which we have only to read the Writings to have access to”
“How excellent, how honourable is man if he arises to fulfil his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages. Supreme happiness is man’s, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavour in the arena of civilization and justice. - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”
“Since the international protocols of global warming regulation have a legal binding force (not only a declaration), the developed countries have to do something which effectively improve the environment.”
Some success stories and case studies from the conference are presented in edited form below.
Barbados in the eastern Caribbean is a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), only 14 miles by 21 miles with a population of around 265,000. The loss of land to housing and industrial development and to erosion is increasing daily. Dependence on petroleum is ever increasing in order to bring in tourists, import food, run the power plants, pump water and much more. With this in mind, food security, water conservation and preservation and conservation of green space are vital interests. Treading Lightly - an environmental education and conservation project - is developing a puppet show for the Barbados Green Expo in March. It seeks, through scripts that highlight the teachings of various Faith communities, to educate the public as to why it has a spiritual responsibility for the environment. Treading Lightly hopes to inspire Barbadians to take responsibility for their environment - appealing to their minds through science and their emotions through texts of their religions.
The plan is to create an interactive, dramatic and artistic time line that gives the scientific creation story of the universe. The science of the creation story is inspired by "A Walk Through Time" which can be viewed at http://www.globalcommunity.org/wtt/index.shtml. We will interlace the visuals with texts of the creation story from various religions - primarily Christian because that is the majority Barbadian religion. An emphasis on the five previous extinctions on the planet will lead to a supposition that we may be involved in a sixth unless we drastically change human behavior. The puppet plays which accompany the exhibit will illuminate the issues in a humorous way.
Participants will be asked to make a commitment to address at least one environmental issue in their own lives - for example, to take the bus and leave the car at home when practical. This is no easy sell. Barbadians have recently become more affluent. For instance, there are 125,000 cars on this small island. The polluted air hangs in the school classrooms near the highways to the extent that one school was recently shut down for a few days by a teacher protest. Traffic jams are frazzling the public nerve which nevertheless does not want to give up the car for the bus. The number of asthma cases is soaring, especially among children. We hope to find statistics which will tie the health issues to the transportation issues.
If this exhibit is successful, it will be enlarged into a "roadshow" which will travel to schools, festivals and such. It is already successful in unifying the diversity of religious opinions toward a common goal.
Additionally, the All-Terrain Gardens program will be holding workshops on growing food organically in stacks of tires. This project aims toward several outcomes: a recognition of Baha'u'llah's teaching that the world must have a "special regard" for agriculture; a recognition of the interactions of the life of the soil and the life of plants; the creation of gardens for special needs - even on concrete: production of a safe source of food; wise water use; utilization of problem waste products; raising questions about land-loss; providing outlets for youth and those with disabilities.
The Bahá’í Agency of Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK) is particularly supporting rural education projects, mainly in Honduras and India. One of those projects is the Bayan Association for Indigenous Socio-Economic Development in Honduras. The System of Tutorial Learning (SAT), developed by FUNDAEC in Colombia, is now being mainstreamed in the form of a gradual expansion into a national programme by the Government of Honduras with funding from the Inter American Development Bank, Ford Foundation, Canadian CIDA and Pestalozzi Foundation, Switzerland. There are currently about 3,600 SAT students studying. This is due to increase to 6,000 next year and 17,000 by 2009. SAT currently operates in 7 of Honduras' 19 Departments, with collaboration of 7 other NGOs as well as the Ministry of Education. SAT is getting increasing recognition, for example: a 2005 Ministry of Education report on the development of alternative education models in Honduras notes that: "among the models developing educational actions in these villages, one of the most important is the initiative of Bayan Organization ..... thus a programme of alternative education is starting using a flexible methodology through the Tutorial Learning System, SAT, which by developing contents relevant to the aspirations and real needs of the rural population, has shown itself to be adapted to the special conditions of rural people." The SAT curriculum materials are now available in English from FUNDAEC, Colombia: go to http://www.fundaec.org (click on English version), and Bayan's website now has an English description of SAT: http://www.bayan_hn.org.
A sustainable development project that you probably have not thought about is the development of a cemetery.
In the big metropolis called London, population growth and land price increases have gone hand in hand. The city continues to grow unsustainably, putting pressure to develop every piece of vacant land, in particular for moneymaking uses such as housing and office buildings. Luckily, governmental and non-governmental pressure groups made sure some of the land was also developed into, for example, parkland and sports facilities.
Unfortunately, the need of those people whose voice was no longer heard was neglected, i.e. the voices of the dead. London is rapidly running out of burial space. Some areas no longer accept burials, and other areas have no plan whatsoever to assign new sites as cemeteries, with grave space running out in a few years time. We seem to live in a time where - when space is in short supply - improving our personal living conditions is preferred over some of our more spiritual needs such as respecting the wishes of the person that has died.
Many people will not flag this issue as being important, assuming that burials are a thing of the past. We all should opt for much cheaper and more efficient cremations. However, this viewpoint does not take into considerations that many cultures and religions such as the Bahá’ís prefer burials very strongly. A cemetery outside of London is not an option for those who wish to bury their loved ones in the same area where they grew up or lived for a long time. Neither is it an option for Bahá’ís, who believe that the dead should be buried no longer than one hour’s travel from the place where they died (please note, it takes a full hour to drive to the perimeters of London alone from some parts).
In 2001, a Cemeteries Strategy was commissioned, following a pan-London report prepared by the London Planning Advisory Committee (LPAC) on the diminishing burial space in London. One local authority of East London set up a Cemetery Strategy, outlining the options open to the Council. It put forward a series of proposals, which included consulting with residents as to whether a new cemetery/cemetery extension was something they wanted their council to spend its money on. The overwhelming majority of those residents consulted requested additional space for the deceased.
The site chosen was a derelict piece of land which at some time was used for gravel extraction, and was later contaminated with landfill debris, most of which came from World War II bomb-damaged buildings from elsewhere in the London area. The landfill site was then declared unsuitable for redevelopment, due to contamination and due to unstable conditions for buildings.
The local authority is now in the process of cleaning up the site. The development will include a detailed remediation scheme of excavation, partial landfilling and partial recycling of soil by sorting and cleaning on-site. After this inspection and clean-up process is complete, a new cover layer of soil will be placed in order to complete the process of "making the site suitable for use" and therefore safe for grave diggers, cemetery visitors and park visitors. After the earthworks are complete, the site will be landscaped with grass, trees and hedges, interspersed with an access road and footpaths. The estimated completion date of the Cemetery Extension project is late summer/early autumn 2006 and will cost £1.7 million. The cemetery will satisfy the local burial demand for the next 50 years.
As part of the development, an impressive amount of 1,400 trees and 300 m of hedges are being planted. This new woodland will absorb carbon dioxide counteracting the emissions of a modest order of magnitude of 800 cars (using calculations from www.carbonneutral.com). This area of East London is therefore the only area that immediately meets its target of fighting climate change by increasing its inner city woodlands. This target would not have been achievable without the cemetery development.
The cemetery development helped address several sustainability objectives:
- Combating climate change through intensive tree planting;
- Enlarging ecological habitats within the urban environment;
- Increasing biodiversity;
- Encouraging cultural and religious expression in a multicultural society.
Bahá’í schools in Swaziland (Roxanne Lalonde)
The Bahá’í schools in Mbabane, Swaziland, (the capital city) are involved in many aspects of moral, spiritual, environmental and social education. I consider it a success whenever I see a child's eyes light up or her face become suffused with a sense of wonder when she encounters an interesting or bizarre feature of nature. If there aren't opportunities to take kids outside, the next best thing is watching Animal Planet or any nature programs on TV, especially those about interesting animals. Some of the children I know would rather watch those programs than cartoons and are growing up with a deeper appreciation of nature than many adults.
Sustainable living in Virginia (Robert Rogers)
An architectural firm in southwestern Virginia has a strong interest in "green building" of various types, with work including community revitalization planning, lots of renovation projects, and a co-housing project. The firm is involved in a volunteer effort called SLEC (Sustainable Living Education Center) in Floyd, Virginia. SLEC is an evolving model of education focusing on the multiple aspects of "sustainable living". Hands-on exhibits are being developed, such as straw bale construction, wind power, solar power, etc.
Catastrophes or opportunities in China (Sam Sate-Askew)
Without a doubt the Chinese (at all levels) are very proud of their fatherland, and have a profound sense of responsibility. On local and individual levels the environment is seen as subservient and as a limitless pool of resources (or sink for waste). Appropriate education strategies are therefore of absolute necessity - particularly since the great majority of the inhabitants of China are peasants. On the other hand, the Chinese philosophy is more integrative and holistic than traditional western approaches (which we are beginning to address). What may be damaging or may seem expedient now may present opportunities for later input. The interesting aspect that presents itself (from our perspective) is that the culture is intrinsically spiritual and they have very close relationship with nature. With values deeply entrenched in their traditions - have long held such views, ethics and moral values even under communist rule. Their advocating 'Spiritual Civilization' as the ethos for development (adopted years ago - but remains to be seen to what extent this has been effective) is a testament of this - despite the threat of increasing materialism and the evil of its excesses. With the level of international interest in China, such opportunities are coming faster than would otherwise have been the case. There is an astounding opportunity, therefore, for training and education projects for environmental sustainability and awareness.
Sustainability and business (George Starcher)
The whole issue of education for sustainability is one that is very relevant to the work of the European Bahá’í Business Forum (EBBF) (see http://www.ebbf.org) which relates it to corporate social responsibility, business ethics, responsible entrepreneurship, values-based leadership, etc. EBBF is a network of some 350 members (business executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, and students) residing in 60 countries. Its vision is to enhance the well-being and prosperity of humankind, and its mission is to promote ethical values, personal virtues, and moral leadership in business. Its activities include publications, an annual conference, a monthly e-magazine, collaboration with like-minded organizations, lecturing in business schools, and a very popular web site at www.ebbf.org. One of the core values it promotes is "stewardship of the earth's resources". To do this we collaborate closely with IEF. Arthur Dahl, President of IEF, for example, is a member of the Governing Board of EBBF.
Multi-stakeholder processes (Minu Hemmati)
Governments, business, international bodies and local groups are turning to multi-stakeholder processes to find practical ways forward. They can help to get beyond adversarial politics and achieve positive results in resolving complex issues and for sustainable development. Three things that contributed to the concept are:
* Bahá’í principles of consultation;
* Social and organizational psychology and what we know about working in teams; and
* Sustainable development as a concept and goal that requires the diversity of stakeholders to collaborate.
A book on this can be looked at and downloaded from: http://www.minuhemmati.net/eng/msp/msp_book.htm.
CONTRIBUTION ON CSD THEME
After the second world war, especially in the 1960's and 1970's, Japan experienced serious air pollution problems. Some people even died from breathing problems caused by air pollution. At that time, there was an extraordinary rapid economic growth occurring, and environmental regulation did not catch up with the economic growth. In general, Japanese were much more interested in economic growth than air pollution control (of course there were inequalities, for example, the victims of air pollution were mainly low income people).
Air pollution in Japan has improved significantly since the 1980's. But, the point is that people have become affluent enough to have environmental awareness or consciousness. Of course, many people complained about air pollution before the 1970's, but the economy was more important than the environment at that time.
Through the history, air pollution management in Japan has heavily depended on 'environmental technology' and direct regulation by the local government. Such environmental technology has come from technological progress (Japanese manufacturers have become affluent enough to develop environmental technology after the 1980's). A big problem is that Japanese manufacturers have moved the majority of the factories to developing countries where environmental regulations are loose (so they produce cheaply, but environmentally less friendly).
Some economists generalize the relationship between economic affluence and environmental consciousness like above as 'environmental Kuznets curve'. This theory can explain why the quality of air is much better (cleaner) in developed countries than developing countries (on the other hand, the environmental Kuznets curve does not agree with the relationship between economic affluence and CO2 emission).
Our question is that "Do we have to wait until the developing countries become a developed country to settle air pollution problems as Japan has experienced? Or, can we do something more than that?".
This is, in my opinion, a very difficult question. When I look at serious air pollution in developing countries, such as in Mexico and China, I feel almost hopeless. I feel we can do almost nothing until they ultimately become a developed country and the problem is automatically settled. To give an example, the Japanese government has spent a lot of money for air pollution reduction in China, but the effect is very small.
The point is that even China is an optimistic example. Since the GDP of China is developing at about 8% per year, there is a good chance for China to be a developed country. But what about other countries which experience serious air pollution problems but have almost no hope of becoming a developed country? That the reason why I sometimes feel almost hopeless.
One hope is the CDM (clean development mechanism) in the Kyoto Protocol. CDM is to help the development of developing countries with no/small CO2 emission increase instead of the emission reduction in own country. I think this should work also for reducing air pollution (the technical term is ancillary benefit). Since the international protocols for global warming regulation have a legal binding force (not only a declaration), the developed countries have to do something which effectively improves the environment.
As usual the outcome of the electronic conference was shared with the IEF conference which took place in Orlando, Florida, 14-15 December 2005 (see Conference Report).
Last updated 24 January 2006