International Environment Forum
24th General Assembly
22 August 2020
The 24th General Assembly of the International Environment Forum was held over the Internet on the Zoom platform on 22 August 2020 with 23 members attending: Phil Breuser (USA), Rama Krushna Chary (Kuwait), Daniel Zonneveld Coltro (Germany), Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Cynthia Diessner (USA), Carole Jorgensen (USA), Khondker Mustafiz Imran (Bangladesh), Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands), Winnona Merritt (USA), Laurent Mesbah (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Keith Metzner (Malawi), Wendi Momen (UK), Christine Muller (USA), Ben Mutukwa Musole (Zambia), Gary Reusche (Ukraine), Michael Richards (UK), Mojgan Sami (USA), Sabine Schlenkermann (Germany), Chandan Sharma (India), Rafael Amaral Shayani (Brazil), Halldor Thorgeirsson (Iceland), Stephen Vickers (UK), Raihan Zobayer (Bangladesh)
1. Opening of the General Assembly by the IEF president
The IEF President, Arthur Dahl, opened the General Assembly and welcomed the participants who attended despite the time differences in their home countries.
2. Introduction of members present
The members participating were invited to give their names, the countries they were from, and a little about themselves.
3. Selection of officers of the General Assembly
The participants agreed that the IEF President should preside the General Assembly and the IEF General Secretary, Christine Muller, should serve as secretary.
4. Approval of the agenda
The agenda was approved as presented.
5. Results of the election of the Governing Board
Members voted by email on 8-21 August. The teller, Michael Richards (UK), reported that 36 members had voted and all the ballots were valid. The Governing Board for the coming year consists of Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Christine Muller (USA), Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands), Laurent Mesbah (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Victoria Thoresen (Norway), Halldor Thorgeirsson (Iceland), and Wendi Momen (UK).
6. Presentation of the Annual Report
The main points of the Annual Report 2019-2020, already circulated to all the members, were summarized by Christine Muller, IEF secretary, and the report was approved.
7. Consultation on activities and priorities for the coming year
To launch the consultation, Sione Tu'itahi of New Zealand, one of the organisers of the IEF conference in 2019, provided a video contribution in which he showed how the COVID-19 pandemic had put public health and the environment at the top of the global agenda, and asked how this should be reflected in the strategic goals of IEF, how these should relate to the goals of the Bahá'í community, what social spaces we could influence, and how to bring in the ethical and spiritual dimension as the missing link in much public discourse on these topics? Mojgan Sami from California also raised questions for discussion, such as how the complexity of biological, social, economic and political issues require new conceptual frameworks for global governance. Each plague in history triggered a fundamental change in the system of social organization and governance. Even a journal like the Lancet called for re-imagining values and conceptual frameworks, acknowledgeing the limitations of the human system to address ecological destruction. We have a crisis of imagination as we need to reorganise ourselves to see sustainability as much more than some adjustments to economic parameters, but valuing health and well-being. The environment is our protective shield against emerging diseases, so we need to look beyond a narrow health perspective in an interdisciplinary approach to human and planetary health, which already exists in indigenous and African conceptual frameworks.
The general consultation raised a number of related issues. IEF could raise awareness that the problems caused by COVID are minimal compared to climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, the looming food crisis etc. These crises require rethinking our lifestyles and production processes. The IEF should emphasize the need for global governance based on spiritual principles which could unite all the themes of environment and sustainability. This topic is not sufficiently addressed and IEF could fill that niche. Even the WHO said governments should collaborate and not be so selfish.
An important role for IEF is to participate in discourses on environment and sustainability by contributing a combined scientific and ethical or spiritual perspective at multiple levels including individuals, communities and institutions. For individuals this can start as simply as a meaningful conversation relating the environment and values, showing how issues interact and require solidarity, and how we are all interdependent at the global level. The IEF could produce policy briefs to guide such conversations, challenging assumptions and suggesting community-driven social action, or how to put spiritual thoughts into action in daily life.
The IEF already has experience in contributing to global discourses, and this is an important role to continue, especially in the context of global governance and UN reform. It takes time to build ties of friendship with other organizations and to be accepted as credible with something to contribute. Relationships need to be cultivated until finally it becomes possible to change policies and demonstrate new courses of action.
Participation in discourses is important, but this should also lead to social action. Solidarity demands that we think beyond individual behaviour change and aim for community and institutional transformation. There is often a gap between international objectives and local action. We should consider joining with like-minded organizations to extend our impact. The International Tree Foundation, descended from the organization created by Richard St.Barbe Baker in the 1920s, was one possibility. There are other platforms that could extend our reach, including other faith groups, to educate more people about the issues. One focus could be on community resilience, or on activities like community gardens.
The challenge is how to articulate hope? People need to be able to do something to feel in control of their destiny. The virus is opening a window of opportunity, as health is a powerful crystallizer in peoples’ thinking. We cannot separate conversations on health, climate change and biodiversity, for example, as all are related. Our network can identify positive ways forward, perhaps selecting 5-10 areas of focus that are not well thought through, such as the role of money in the system or a broader perspective on agriculture, where spiritual values are needed. Too often people are trapped in one cultural perspective, when indigenous peoples may have a totally different way of understanding the world and our place in it. Common to many cultures is that the attitude accepting violence toward women is often reflected in a similar attitude of violence toward nature. We should try to understand what are the limiting factors that keep people from caring for the environment, such as their need for jobs. Many professions need to be rethought for the coming transformation of society. Members were invited to consult on some of these issues and to form working groups to take them forward.
Two specific opportunities were mentioned. In Iceland one of the first Baha’is began planting trees in the 1950s long before anyone thought that this would be useful. Now one beautiful tree on the Baha’i national endowment has been selected as the Tree of the Year, creating an opportunity to explore its spiritual significance. Another member has been invited to edit a special journal issue on global governance in a post-pandemic world.
8. Other business
There was no other business.
9. Closing of the General Assembly
After an hour and three quarters of rich consultation, the President thanked all those that had participated and contributed, and closed the General Assembly.
The video recording of the General Assembly is available at https://youtu.be/qVyTuyRzdds
Last updated 25 August 2020