Newsletter of the
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 1, Number 2 --- October 1999
"Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected to every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit no imbalance, nor any slackening whatsoever"
The challenges to the human and planetary environment have become a major preoccupation around the world. Scientific knowledge is helping to define solutions to many of these problems, but implementation is often hindered by a lack of motivation and commitment, suggesting that the problems are as much social, cultural and spiritual as they are technical or economic. Since environmental problems are both global and diverse, solutions must also be sought on a global but diverse basis, by exploring the many approaches and rich experience of different communities, peoples, cultures and faiths. It is against this background that the International Environment Forum seeks encourage such exchanges. It wishes to promote these noble ideas through the present technology (Internet), where a forum is created to reach far beyond any single gathering of people to promote the rapid flow of ideas and information. The IEF is now in its third year but has already made progress towards this endeavour.
THE GOVERNING BOARD
The new governing board that was elected on August 17th had its first meeting via e-mail 7-17 October. The board elected its officers, Arthur Dahl - President, Sylvia Karlsson - General Secretary and Peter Adriance - Treasurer, the other two members being Irma Allen and Maxwell Ayamba. We consulted on a number of issues: evaluating the 3rd conference, considering the proposals from the 3rd General Assembly, the process for the further revision of the statutes, initial consultations on the venue of the 4th annual IEF conference in the year 2000, and how to share the work between board members. An example of this work sharing is the newsletter which is produced through a collective effort by all board members. Early next year the board will have a special meeting devoted to making a long term plan for the development of the IEF and its activities. The editorial group reported on its initial consultations on its work, on the review process, and on criteria for papers and publications, and it will continue to work on this. The working group on education materials was given a lot of input from the workshop on this topic at our recent conference.
GLIMPSES FROM 3RD ANNUAL CONFERENCE
"Practical applications of spiritual principles"
This Bahá'í Development and Environment Summit, in the beautiful rural setting of Sidcot, brought together 44 participants from 13 countries on 5 continents, as well as Internet connection with an additional 70 "electronic" conference participants in 29 countries, for a total of 114 participants from 38 countries, including 8 in Africa and as far away as Nepal, China and Niue Island. The conference received a number of inputs from electronic participants. These included "Reflections on the Earth Charter An Earth Charter Update" by Peter Adriance (available as a separate paper with the others on the web www.bcca.org/ief), which was requested by the organizers to provide an update on this major theme from the second conference of the International Environment Forum. Other questions and comments came from participants in China and the United States, and were read out in summary form to the meeting. This broad geographic representation, as well as the involvement of specialists in both social and economic development and the environment, was particularly enriching in what was a dense but very stimulating programme.
Speakers in the various fields of development, and acted as a forum where presentations, discussions and workshops were held to reflect on how the Bahá'í Writings could be applied in more practical terms to promote the development and welfare of humankind. This is because, as Geeta Kingdon of BASED-UK succinctly put it, "the Writings do not provide direct technical prescriptions but spiritual principles. What then are the distinctive aspects of the Bahá'í approach? How as Bahá'ís, can we bring our experiences in achieving participation to development challenges? What are the implications of the recognition that human nature is essentially spiritual?"
It is indeed a challenge to Bahá'ís, according to Augusto Lopez-Claros, a distinguished economist formerly with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who spoke on "Rethinking Social and Economic Development and the Environment". This challenge for a Bahá'í economics will be to address the material and spiritual nature of humankind, recognising that our purpose is to acquire virtues. "Where economics start with present society and asks how we can maintain and increase it, the Bahá'í approach is to start with a vision of what institutions and principles can lead us to that objective".
He noted that Bahá'u'lláh teaches that the material world is an analogy for the spiritual world, and spiritual progress cannot be achieved in a vacuum but in the context of the family, work and market place. This is a very pragmatic approach, but diametrically opposed to that of the present economics, which seems to want to crucify humanity for the benefit of the economic system.
Hasan Sabri, formerly head of the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá'í World Centre, noted that the purpose of religion is to order all aspects of human life spiritual, social and economic. He said the Mashriqu'l-Asqar, for example, is the spiritual centre of the Bahá'í community, but surrounded by dependencies for humanitarian educational and scientific purposes. 'Abdu'l-Bahá applied this concept to society when, in 1912 in Alexandria, He said every nation has days that are set aside as holidays and holy days - days on which commerce and work are not allowed. These days are to foster national unity. For instance, if a community needs to improve morality, institutions should be founded that would improve morality of the people. If the need is commerce, then appropriate foundations should be formed.
Mr. Sabri explained that the Universal House of Justice called for the incorporation of development in daily pursuits, starting in the Bahá'í community itself, with the application of spiritual principles. Rectitude of conduct and exercise of the art of consultation are the basis for all Bahá'í endeavours. "Progress does not come from the imposition of plans and programmes, but from the grass-roots, responding to needs of the people, encouraging them to think and deciding for themselves what they need through their Local Spiritual Assemblies." He said there exists a strong connection between worship and service. Work rendered in the spirit of service is worship.
Mr. Sabri said the stirrings must be at the grass-roots, and with a network of 40,000 Local Spiritual Assemblies, the key approach will be to put the spiritual before the material. Because, as he put it, present development is a lamp that is not lit. Spiritual progress will give that lamp its light. Agenda 21 is therefore lacking because it doesn't have a spiritual focus, Bahá'ís can bring that focus to the work of Agenda 21. Mr. Sabri noted that it was not only the developing countries that needed development but the developed ones as well because their society is collapsing and they have their own set of problems: breakdown of marriage and the family, racism, substance abuse, lack of morality, lack of equality of men and women, inequality in the distribution of wealth and even to some extent illiteracy.
Dr. Arthur L. Dahl, President of the IEF, speaking on "Living within Environmental Limits: Implications of Bahá'í Principles for Sustainable Development" said the world is caught between wide-ranging technological possibilities and institutional market forces that determine how technology is used, with the primary motivation to generate profits rather than to be of service to society. He noted that besides the risks from new unproven technologies, great social and moral issues arise from the fact that present institutional structures are unable to respond to larger social needs.
Dr. Irma Allen, speaking on "Building Environmental Awareness in Bahá'í Communities" suggested the need for a strategic framework for action based on Bahá'í ideals, having a common vision, identifying resources and ensuring participation through a rational and systematic approach. She noted that few Bahá'ís appear to link environmental concerns or issues with religious "duties".
The third General Assembly of the International Environment Forum was held during the conference, on 17 August 1999, with 13 voting members present from Ghana, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA, and 2 observers. In addition, 29 non-present voting members with access to email could participate in the assembly discussions and vote for the governing board.
The conference ended with a suggestion that the role of BASED-UK and the IEF be incorporated to match the functions and needs of people and to help them focus on priorities that will promote the needs and interests of Bahá'ís and all other people.
EARTH CHARTER PROCESS UPDATE
Most IEF members will recall the Earth Charter as a major topic of discussion during the IEF annual conference in the Netherlands in 1998. Peter Adriance, who presented the topic along with Sylvia Karlsson, submitted the IEF-generated suggestions to the international drafting committee for use in developing Benchmark Draft II which was released in April, 1999. The April issue of LEAVES included the abbreviated version of that draft.
More recently, from October 19 to 29, 1999, Peter represented the Bahá'í International Community in an "On-line Global Forum on the Earth Charter" with representatives of more than 40 national Earth Charter committees and a dozen or so international organizations. In preparing for the Forum, Peter invited all IEF members to send him comments and recommendations from a Bahá'í perspective. Participants in the On-line Forum made recommendations on each section of Benchmark Draft II. With those recommendations and others, the drafting committee will produce the penultimate (next to last) draft of the Earth Charter in early 2000.
The discussions which took place may be viewed in threads posted on the web at www.earthcharter.org/forum. The Bahá'í International Community offered a number of suggestions for Benchmark Draft II, including the recommendation that the document make more direct reference to the term 'world citizen' or 'global citizen' - an increasingly used phrase found in various UN documents, but still needing clarification according to most governments. To view the discussions that took place on that topic, or any other, one may go to the web site and conduct a 'phrase' or 'author' search.
Benchmark Draft II of the Earth Charter is perhaps humankind's best attempt yet to capture the principles of sustainable development in a succinct and inspiring document. Nonetheless, it is still a document in process. Anyone wishing to submit individual suggestions to the drafting committee should do so before December 1999 by contacting Steven Rockefeller, who is coordinating the drafting process for the Earth Charter Commission, at email@example.com. For additional information on the Earth Charter, go to the website http://www.earthcharter.org.
Peter continues to seek IEF member's insights or inquiries on the Earth Charter. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENVIRONMENTAL INTEREST GROUP
ADVICE FROM THE BAHÁ'Í WORLD CENTRE
A letter from the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá'í World Centre dated 5 August 1999, prepared at the request of the Universal House of Justice, has provided useful guidance for the future development of the International Environment Forum. Some highlights of the letter are summarised here.
"...the Forum has chosen to structure itself as a Bahá'í-inspired, non-governmental organization,... [and] draws its membership from among professionals and interested parties in a wide range of countries. The distinctive nature of the Forum, namely, your status as a non-governmental organization with an international membership, will determine to a large extent the types of activity in which the Forum could most effectively engage...."
"With regard to the scope of your undertakings, we believe that the IEF has, in the past year, taken some important, initial steps toward becoming an organization that is capable of exerting a meaningful influence on like-minded non-Bahá'í projects and agencies...." "We envision that the two mutually-complementary objectives of all your activities -- the regular meetings and conferences; your publications; your collaborative work with other agencies; and the various networking activities -- would be 1) to generate and promote a discourse on how the Bahá'í teachings can be applied to the environmental challenges facing the world, and 2) to influence specific agencies, groups or individuals concerned with these issues."
"The editorial group will no doubt have an important role in this process, with the preparation of papers and materials that convey and illustrate the Bahá'í perspective and which can become points of discussion when shared with others. In this regard, because your focus will be the wider community, we suggest that you direct your efforts toward producing publications for the non-Bahá'í community-at-large, whether children, youth or adults. We feel confident that interested Bahá'ís will learn from what you make available to this larger audience."
The letter notes that "social and economic development is an important area of activity in and of itself", and "that teaching and development are distinct yet complementary aspects of the work of the Bahá'í community. Experience has shown that one way of dealing with those whose interest in the Faith is aroused by Bahá'í-inspired social action, is to set up, parallel to the development efforts, programs to present directly the teachings of the Faith, and not incorporate these in the development projects themselves."
In keeping with the need for Bahá'í communities to develop their own indigenous institutional capacity addressing their own specific needs and opportunities, OSED advised that it would not be appropriate for the IEF to promote the creation of chapters or other forms of affiliate organizations within its structure. It considered that the IEF would be most effective if it restricted its membership to individuals. With reference to our relationship with Bahá'í institutions in various countries, "the IEF is free to respond to specific requests for assistance from Bahá'í institutions just as it would respond to similar requests from non-Bahá'í institutions or groups."
"As the Forum will be composed of persons with specific professional expertise in environmental matters such as technical, training, fund raising, or managerial skills, it will naturally attract the attention of existing Bahá'í projects in different parts of the world. In such a case, however,... the transfer of skills and expertise must be based on the needs of local projects" and "the capacity of the projects to receive help and not the amount of resources available." Individuals from more materially prosperous countries should be encouraged to become involved in Bahá'í projects at home, and "in worthy endeavours outside the Faith in order to influence their professional fields and infuse them with the teachings of Baha'u'llah." "...The Forum has a potentially useful role to play in the promotion of a greater awareness of environmental issues and the provision of a medium through which interested people are able to share experiences and learn from each other."
The Governing Board is now considering revisions of our statutes to incorporate this guidance in the definition of our purposes and activities.
NEWS FROM MEMBERS
Under this headline we will report on interesting activities of members, participation in conferences, in environment projects etc. Please send your contributions to the secretariat.
POSSIBLE JOB OPPORTUNITIES IN BHUTAN
A World Wide Fund for Nature project in Bhutan as part of their "Forests for Life" campaign (http//www.panda.org/forests4life/ffl_initiatives.htm) may have job possibilities in connection with the project.
(SINCE APRIL 1999)
TO BECOME A MEMBER
The International Environment Forum is a Bahá'í-inspired organization addressing the environment and sustainable development. To become a member, just contact the secretariat which will send you a membership questionnaire.
PAST ISSUES OF LEAVES
Vol. 1, No. 1, April 1999