Climate Change and Global Warming: A Bahá’í Perspective
Arthur Lyon Dahl (PhD)
International Environment Forum
Paper presented at "The Nexus between Climate Change, Faith & Science"
webinar organized on 16 September 2021 by the
All-Africa Conference of Churches
Baha'i International Community Addis-Ababa Office
United Religions Initiative
The Bahá’í Faith has been engaged for decades in public discourse about social justice and the environment, deeply rooted in the Bahá’í teachings. The Bahá’í International Community, its representative at the United Nations and other international organizations, has presented many statements on the issues, including climate change. Many individual Bahá’ís have also contributed professionally to the science and collaboration supporting climate action. Here is a brief summary of the Bahá’í perspective on climate change and global warming.
The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, has written:
One of the most pressing problems of humanity in the current century is how a growing, rapidly developing, and not yet united global population can, in a just manner, live in harmony with the planet and its finite resources. Certain biological realities present themselves when an organism negatively affects or exceeds the capacity of its ecosystem. The limited availability and inequitable distribution of resources profoundly impact social relations within and between nations in many ways, even to the point of precipitating upheaval and war. And particular arrangements of human affairs can have devastating consequences for the environment. The question of the impact of climate change... is today a major aspect of this larger problem. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh directly and indirectly touches on a range of such concerns in a manner that speaks to a harmony between society and the natural world.
(Universal House of Justice, letter of 29 November 2017)
The founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892) wrote about how Divine attributes are reflected in the natural world:
Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 142)
His son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921) said much the same:
When... thou dost contemplate the innermost essence of all things, and the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of thy Lord's mercy in every created thing, and see the spreading rays of His Names and Attributes throughout all the realm of being.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 41-42)
...co-operation, mutual aid and reciprocity are essential characteristics in the unified body of the world of being, inasmuch as all created things are closely related together and each is influenced by the other or deriveth benefit therefrom, either directly or indirectly.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, in Compilation on Social and Economic Development, p. 12)
Bahá’u’lláh also warned about the excesses of material 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.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CLXIV, p. 342-343)
Similarly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, speaking on science and religion at Stanford University in 1912, said:
The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life. Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection?
('Abdu'l-Bahá, talk at Leland Stanford Junior University, Palo Alto, California, 8 October 1912. Promulgation of Universal Peace. Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982. p. 350)
The present destruction of our planetary environment for short-term material gain is clearly contrary to the divine will, and our consumer culture driving climate change is far from the human purpose and ethical values at the heart of all our faiths.
The Universal House of Justice as written:
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)
Having penetrated and captured all significant centres of power and information at the global level, dogmatic materialism ensured that no competing voices would retain the ability to challenge projects of world wide economic exploitation.
(Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith, 2005, p. 5)
This is what we are up against as we try to transform our society towards climate justice and sustainability, and this is where our faiths can have an important influence. All our faiths talk about contentment, simplicity and detachment.
Take from this world only to the measure of your needs, and forego that which exceedeth them.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Súriy-i-Mulúk §19, in The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 193. Haifa, Bahá'í World Centre, 2002)
In its statement to the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015, the Bahá’í International Community wrote:
Anthropogenic climate change is not inevitable; humanity chooses its relationships with the natural world.... The current global order has often approached the natural world as a reservoir of material resources to be exploited. The grave consequences of this paradigm have become all too apparent, and more balanced relationships among the peoples of the world and the planet are clearly needed. The question today is how new patterns of action and interaction can best be established, both individually and collectively, through personal choices, social systems, and governing institutions.
A more balanced attitude toward the environment must therefore address human conditions as consciously as it does natural ones. It must be embodied in social norms and patterns of action characterized by justice and equity. On this foundation can be built an evolving vision of our common future together. And that vision, in turn, stands as a powerful mechanism for mobilizing action around the world....
Setting humanity on a more sustainable path to the future involves transformation in attitudes and actions.... Establishing sustainable patterns of individual and collective life will therefore require not only new technologies, but also a new consciousness in human beings, including a new conception of ourselves and our place in the world.
From where will this consciousness arise? And where will the volition and self-discipline needed to embody it in countless cities, towns, and villages be found? Qualities such as the capacity to sacrifice for the well-being of the whole, to trust and be trustworthy, to find contentment, to give freely and generously to others derive not from mere pragmatism or political expediency. Rather they arise from the deepest sources of human inspiration and motivation. In this, faith has shown itself to be key....
Of particular note is the role to be played by religious faith. Religion has been a feature of human civilization since the dawn of recorded history, and has prompted countless multitudes to arise and exert themselves for the well-being of others. Religion offers an understanding of human existence and development that lifts the eye from the rocky path to the distant horizon. And when true to the spirit of its transcendent founders, religion has been one of the most powerful forces for the creation of new and beneficial patterns of individual and collective life.
Religion therefore offers a vital source of commitment to new and potentially challenging patterns of daily life. It is notable that religious leaders and faith-based organizations have been increasingly active on environmental and justice issues as they relate to climate change.... Identifying the spiritual principles at the root of ecological challenges can also be key in formulating effective action. Principles – that humanity constitutes but a single people, for example, or that justice demands universal participation in the work of sustainable development – reflect the rich complexity of human nature. Just as importantly, they help foster the will and the aspiration needed to facilitate the implementation of pragmatic measures. Identifying the principles underlying given issues and formulating action in light of their imperatives is therefore a methodology that all can benefit from and contribute to – those in traditionally religious roles, but also leaders of government, the corporate sector, civil society, and others involved in the formulation of public policy.
Exploring new patterns of interaction among the actors of society, such as individuals and institutions, will be central to the task of building more sustainable relationships with the natural world and among various segments of the global family. The work of addressing global climate change ultimately revolves around the aim of human lives well lived, which is a goal cherished by people and cultures the world over. In it can therefore be found a powerful point of unity to support the work ahead.
(Bahá'í International Community, Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together, Statement to the Paris Climate Change Conference, November 2015)
While political and vested interests have tried to deny the existence of human-caused climate change, we have been advised:
Whenever Bahá’ís do participate in activities associated with this topic in the wider society, they can help to contribute to a constructive process by elevating the discourse above partisan concerns and self-interest to strive to achieve unity of thought and action.
(Universal House of Justice, letter of 29 November 2017)
With reference to science and climate change, the Universal House of Justice advises:
Among the Bahá’í teachings are those concerning the importance of science. “Great indeed is the claim of scientists … on the peoples of the world,” Bahá’u’lláh observed. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote that the “sciences of today are bridges to reality” and repeatedly emphasized that “religion must be in conformity with science and reason.”
Scientific inquiry into the question of human contributions to global warming has gradually unfolded over a century of investigation…. Sound scientific results, obtained through the employment of sound scientific methods, produce knowledge that can be acted upon….
...the governments of nearly every country on earth have reached political consensus on a joint framework, in the Paris accord, to respond to climate change in a manner that is anticipated to evolve over time as experience accumulates. More than a century ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá referred to “unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed.” The recently adopted international agreement on climate change... offers another noteworthy demonstration of that development anticipated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The agreement represents a starting point for constructive thought and action that can be refined or revised on the basis of experience and new findings over time.
(Universal House of Justice, letter of 29 November 2017)
There is much that our faiths can do to empower people at the local level to take practical actions in response to climate change. In children’s classes and youth activities, we can warn of the dangers of the materialistic consumer society that is trying to sell them endless material wants, and even addiction to social media for advertising purposes, while promoting alternative spiritual values and the satisfaction that comes from altruism and acts of service to others. They can learn love for nature and all the services it provides. In villages and neighbourhoods, we can help to build resilience to the effects of climate change, such as by planting trees to control erosion, hold water and support biodiversity. Each community can read its local reality and consult on the need for solidarity when faced with natural disasters, crop failures, drought, locusts, pandemics and other threats to local well-being. And we can all pray for the success of COP26. People need not feel helpless when faced with a global challenge like climate change, and faith can give them strength.
Last updated 6 October 2021