Newsletter of the
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 17, Number 9 --- 15 September 2015
Article submission: email@example.com Deadline next issue 13 October 2015
Secretariat Email: firstname.lastname@example.org General Secretary Emily Firth
Postal address: 12B Chemin de Maisonneuve, CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland
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From the Editor, Request for information for upcoming newsletters
This newsletter is an opportunity for IEF members to share their experiences, activities, and initiatives that are taking place at the community level on environment, climate change and sustainability. All members are welcome to contribute information about related activities, upcoming conferences, news from like-minded organizations, recommended websites, book reviews, etc. Please send information to email@example.com.
Please share the Leaves newsletter and IEF membership information with family, friends and associates, and encourage interested persons to consider becoming a member of the IEF.
Families as Agents of Change to Build a Just and Sustainable Society
29 August 2015
A new set of study materials on Families as Agents of Change: Collectively Advancing Efforts to Build a Just and Sustainable Society, prepared by Peter Adriance of the U.S. Baha'i Office of Public Affairs (and IEF board member), is now available on the IEF web site.
Seventy-two quotations from the Baha'i writings and statements are organized for five days of study on:
• the natural world and our relationship with it;
• climate change;
• food, diet and agriculture;
• consumption and materialism; and
• agents of change - taking it home.
These materials would be useful for summer and winter schools, retreats, and community study.
Wilmette Institute Web Talk on Sustainability
As part of the celebration of its 20th year, the Wilmette Institute is organizing a year-long series of live web talks featuring some of its faculty. On 6 September 2015, IEF President Arthur Dahl spoke on "Navigating the Storm: The Transition to Sustainability". The pdf version (1.1mb) is now available on the IEF web site, and a video recording can be viewed on the Wilmette Institute youtube page: https://youtu.be/kxULSlF5gSQ. The talk outlines the challenges the world faces from its present environmental, economic and social unsustainability, and then lays out the approaches based on spiritual principles which will be needed to make the transition to a more sustainable world, drawing on the Baha'i teachings, the Pope's recent encyclical, the new Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, and the UN's 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
The IEF has long collaborated with the Wilmette Institute, established by the Baha'is of the United States to offer on-line courses over the Internet. Its course on "Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind" will be offered again starting on 15 September, for seven weeks. Click here to sign up. All the faculty for the course are IEF members. IEF also initiated the Wilmette Institute course on Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change, based on the recently updated IEF interfaith course of the same name prepared by Christine Muller, which is now also available in a French version.
Why Should I Care about Sustainable Development?
By Christine Muller 31 August 2015 from Wilmette Institute eNewsletter
The editors of the Wilmette Institute eNewsletter asked Christine Muller, lead faculty for our popular course Climate Change, to tackle the important question of why should we care about sustainable development. She digs into the Bahá’í writings to find reasons why everyone should be concerned about this important question that informs discussions of broad social concern. We cannot always control political discussion or actions, but we can start at home, making changes in our own lives and becoming informed about the topic so that we can talk about it with friends, neighbors, and more.
Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” 1 In our age, among the most urgent needs is sustainable development.
We have come to a critical point in human history: Today humans are using the Earth’s resources much faster than they can be replenished and are polluting water, soil, and air at a much faster rate than the pollution can be absorbed or cleaned by natural systems. In fact, it takes the Earth a year and a half (eighteen months) to regenerate what we use in a year.2 Some of the pollution will have extremely harmful effects for hundreds and thousands of years, especially the unprecedented increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that are changing the climate and acidifying the oceans. Continuing with the “regular” life we know will result in a collapse of human civilization and in a mass extinction of plants and animals.
At the same time, the disparity between rich and poor has widened to unthinkable proportions, and large numbers of people are being exploited to serve an unjust economic system. This situation is clearly unsustainable. It does not take much imagination anymore to appreciate the words of Bahá’u’lláh: Consider the peoples of the West. Witness how, in their pursuit of that which is vain and trivial, they have sacrificed, and are still sacrificing, countless lives for the sake of its establishment and promotion.3
There are many reasons why we should care deeply about the plight of humanity and promote sustainable development. Among them are four fundamental spiritual and practical reasons.
LOVE FOR GOD’S CREATION
Today creation is being destroyed by increasing numbers of people with growing demands on the Earth’s resources. All religious teachings call for stewardship of creation. Bahá’u’lláh explained that God “created the reality of all things,”4 that “Nature is God’s Will,”5 and that the reason for creation is God’s love: “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.”6
LOVE FOR JUSTICE
The poor, who contribute the least to the environmental crisis, are the first to suffer from the destruction of the environment. Here are a few examples: Poor people are more likely to live in contaminated areas. Many farmers, especially in Africa, already suffer from changing precipitation patterns and drought. And the poor everywhere are impacted the worst by rising food prices.
But we are also facing an intergenerational justice issue. Present generations are robbing future generations of the beauty of biodiversity, a diversity that is important for providing the life-support system for humans. In addition, this diversity has spiritual significance as in it “there are signs for men of discernment.” 7 Bahá’u’lláh said:
Whoso cleaveth to justice, can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. . . . 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. . . . If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.8
LOVE FOR HUMANKIND
Globally, there are almost a billion people who go hungry every day, 783 million people do not have access to clean water,9 and over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity.10 If we believe that humankind is one family, these facts concern us. Poor countries must have the opportunity to develop. However, if they repeat the developed countries’ mistakes, building their economies on fossil fuels, there will be no future for anyone on this planet. These countries must be helped with technology and funding for sustainable development. At the same time, the rich countries of the world also need to develop—but toward a civilization that lives in harmony with nature and that is just toward all the people in the world. They must build a renewable-energy economy, quickly phase out the use of fossil fuel, and cut down on waste and luxuries.
All efforts moving humankind toward sustainable development must happen on a global, national, and local level. Individuals have the responsibility to support such efforts and, at the same time, to change their own lifestyles. There is much we can do to use less of the Earth’s resources and to produce less waste. Many of these measures are easy to do and also make a lot of economic sense.
Such actions are imperative, if we want to live according to the ethical teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. They are also a prerequisite for our personal spiritual growth and hence for the fulfillment of our potential as human beings. Bahá’u’lláh says that a true spiritual seeker “should be content with little, and be freed from all inordinate desire.”11 He also says:
Take from this world only to the measure of your needs, and forgo that which exceedeth them. Observe equity in all your judgements, and transgress not the bounds of justice, nor be of them that stray from its path.12
He warns us: “Fear ye God, and take heed not to outstrip the bounds of moderation, and be numbered among the extravagant.” 13 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reminds us: “Content thyself with but little of this world’s goods!” 14 In essence, we should care about sustainable development so that we can all help “carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” 15 We can accomplish this by applying the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh in our personal and community lives and by infusing them into the life of society with public discourse.
To learn more about sustainable development and to prepare yourself for discussing this topic of broad social concern, you will find much information in the Wilmette Institute’s course Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind. The course begins on September 15. Click here to sign up.
1. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh CVI: 213.
2. See Global Footprint Network http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/world_footprint/.
3. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings XCVI: 196.
4. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings XXVII: 64–65.
5. Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Ḥikmat (Tablet of Wisdom), Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, 9: 142.
6. Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic #4.
7. Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Ḥikmat, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh 9: 142.
8. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CLXIV: 342–43.
9. See http://www.unwater.org/water-cooperation-2013/water-cooperation/facts-a….
10. See http://www.iea.org/topics/energypoverty/.
11. Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Íqán ¶214: 178–79.
12. Bahá’u’lláh, Suriy-i-Muluk, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts 193.
13. Bahá’u’lláh, Suriy-i-Muluk, Summons 188.
14. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Bahá’í World Faith 374.
15. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CIX: 215.
Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals
Video of a GEPP Policy Dialogue in Geneva
The University of Geneva Global Environmental Policy Programme (GEPP) held a two-week Executive Summer School 31 August-11 September, for which Arthur Dahl was one of the faculty, with participants from as far away as China, Nepal, South Africa and Ecuador. A public GEPP Policy Dialogue was held on 2 September at International Environment House in Geneva, Switzerland, on the topic "Implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Challenges and Responses", featuring the Swiss ambassador who negotiated the Sustainable Development Goals for the governmental perspective, an expert from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development for the business perspective, and Arthur Dahl, President of IEF, for the civil society perspective featuring IEF experience, chaired by the Director of UNEP's Regional Office for Europe. The University has posted a full video recording of the panel discussion at https://vimeo.com/138195156. [0:55:15] Arthur Dahl, President, International Environment Forum
Promoting a new international semester:
Education for Diversity and Sustainable Living
Hedmark University College offers a new international program "Education for Diversity and Sustainable Living - Nordic perspectives in a global context" (30 ECTS) to international students in line with our effort to promote education for sustainable and responsible living.
This study is especially suited for students with an interest in education for sustainable living. It is aimed at students who want to learn more about subjects related to nature, human and environmental diversity and sustainable development.
The program is offered in spring semester (from early February to the end of June). Teaching is in English and is organized as lectures, workshops, web discussions, excursions, practical laboratory work, seminars and student presentations. Excursions with Nordic features and a 5-day internship will be organized throughout the course. Click here for further information about the program.
We would greatly appreciate it if you could pass this along to faculty members and students who might be interested in program. If you need further information regarding the program, please contact the international coordinator: Cherry Chiuyi Lam (firstname.lastname@example.org )
Parliament of the World's Religions
People of faith working together
Every tradition views earth through a sacred lens and teaches adherents to protect the environment and the existence of life.
Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change: A Review
Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
After drafting work by a group of leading academics, and wide circulation for consultation, an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change was adopted at an international Islamic Climate Change Symposium, held in Istanbul, Turkey, on 17-18 August 2015(1) (see also on IEF web site). The document is a significant addition to other religious declarations on this critical issue for the future of humanity, alongside those of the Bahá'í International Community's statement in 2008: Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change (2) and the Pope's June 2015 encyclical Laudato Si': on care for our common home (3) reviewed on this web site (4), among others.
The symposium brought together leading Muslim scholars, diplomats and experts from across the Muslim world, as well as other leading experts from different faiths. One of the speakers at the Symposium was International Environment Forum member Dr. Halldor Thorgeirsson from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.
The Islamic Declaration is divided into three parts: a preamble that sets the scientific context, a set of affirmations of principles based on Qur'anic texts, and calls addressed to particular groups to take up their responsibilities for responding to climate change.
The preamble starts by setting the Islamic context, acknowledging Allah (God) as the creator of the universe, and human responsibility to serve the Lord of all beings. It then summarizes in several paragraphs the current scientific understanding of climate change and its human causes, causes which are in contradiction with our responsibility to be the caretaker of the earth and to maintain its equilibrium. It lists various reasons for concern, including the risks to the poor and disadvantaged, and risks of abrupt and irreversible changes. It notes with alarm that we are accelerating our own destruction and approaching the threshold for catastrophic climate change. It calls for a proactive approach to halt and hopefully reverse the damage being wrought. As with the Pope's encyclical and long-standing Bahá'í principles, this section demonstrates the new convergence of science and religion on environmental issues.
The affirmations of Qur'anic principles bring out the spiritual foundations of the need to act on climate change. Allah is the Lord, Creator and Sustainer of all beings, and He encompasses all of His creation. He created the Earth in a perfect equilibrium of natural resources and cycles in which all living beings thrive. Humans have corrupted the Earth in their pursuit of economic growth and consumption, causing climate change, pollution, soil erosion and deforestation, and damage to human health. Humans are exceptionally powerful, with a responsibility to establish good and to avert evil, with no right to oppress the rest of creation or to cause it harm. Our intelligence and conscience require us to treat all things with care, compassion and utmost good. We are accountable for all our actions. The section concludes with our responsibility to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, Who protected the rights of all living beings, conserved water, established protected areas, lived a frugal life free of excess and ostentation, renewed and recycled his possessions, ate simple healthy food with little meat, and took delight in the created world.
Such themes are common to many religious traditions. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, speaking at Stanford University in 1912, stated that "The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life"; then He asked, "Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection?"(5) He also wrote that "it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature."(6) He similarly set an example of a simple life.
Calls to Groups to Take Up Their Responsiblities for Climate Change. The third part of the Declaration issues calls to significant actors responsible for climate change. The Paris Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 30 November-11 December 2015, should bring its discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion, with the enormous responsibility to lead all of us to a new way of relating to God's Earth. The well-off nations and oil-producing states should lead in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions to stay within a 2°C or preferably 1.5°C limit for global warming, leaving two-thirds of the earth's proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and investing in the creation of a green economy. They have a moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit, to preserve the environment rather than profiting unethically from it, and to elevate the condition of the world's poor.
The Declaration makes a broad call to the people of all nations and their leaders to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and to commit to decentralized renewable energy. Economic growth should be pursued wisely and in moderation, with priority to adaptation and increasing resilience to climate-change impacts, especially for the most vulnerable. The Declaration calls for "a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality". Corporations, finance and the business sector should shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impacts, committing to and shifting investments into renewable energy while divesting from the fossil-fuel-driven economy. They should change from the current business model that is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable and more socially and ecologically responsible. All groups are invited to join in collaboration, cooperation and competition in good deeds, in particular welcoming the significant contributions of other faiths offering the best of their respective traditions, since all can be winners.
The final call is to all Muslims, with a long list from Heads of State to congregations and community activists, not to "strut arrogantly on the earth", and to bear in mind the Hadith that "The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves."
Conclusion. Common themes among the three declarations from Islam, the Catholic Church and the Bahá'ís are the link between poverty and climate change, and the fact that these are both symptoms of an underlying spiritual illness, requiring a significant transformation in the materialistic economy. Such declarations have the potential to take their messages of planetary responsibility far beyond what scientific declarations or even government efforts can reach. Their acceptance of the scientific reality of climate change, combined with an ethical and spiritual message of responsibility to act, will reinforce efforts to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The fact that many oil-producing nations are dominantly Muslim, and that the Islamic Declaration specifically targets these states and calls for the oil to be left in the ground, should have particular impact in the years ahead. The opening to interfaith collaboration is also welcome in helping to counteract growing religious intolerance in many quarters.
The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change can be another important milestone in the necessary planetary mobilization to try to head off catastrophic climate change.
1. International Islamic Climate Change Symposium. 2015. Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-clim… and https://iefworld.org/node/750#Islamic_Declaration
2. Bahá'í International Community. 2008. Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change. Statement presented at COP14, Poznan, Poland, 2008. https://www.bic.org/statements/seizing-opportunity-redefining-challenge…
3. Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si': on care for our common home. Encyclical (18 June 2015) http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-fr…
4. Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2015, Summary and Commentary on Laudato Si': the Pope's encyclical on the environment and poverty. International Environment Forum, https://iefworld.org/ddahl15d and https://iefworld.org/fl/LaudatoSi_commentary2015.pdf
5. '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
6. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 158-159.
Islamic Call on Climate Appeals to 1.6 Billion Muslims
Posted: 08/20/2015 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yonatan-neril/islamic-climate-change-de_b…
Muslim clergy issued a bold Declaration on climate change at the Islamic Climate Change Symposium this week, as the Huffington Post recently reported. I had the honor of participating in the Symposium in Istanbul and speaking as the Jewish representative in the interfaith session of the event.
Istanbul served as a fitting venue for the Symposium, since it reveals many of the causes of and solutions to climate change. Home to fourteen million people, it is Europe's largest city, the fifth largest city in the world, and has grown ten-fold since 1950. Its metro is the third largest in the world, with 800,000 daily riders, and a separate Metrobus system has 600,000 daily riders. Car ownership is low compared to elsewhere in Europe, with 75% of the population relying on alternative forms of transportation. Yet, according to the World Bank, Istanbul's sulfur dioxide combined with its vehicular and industrial air pollution makes it the seventh most polluted city in the world. Istanbul has been engaged in a fast rate of economic growth for the past 20 years and boasts the largest number of shopping malls of any European city.
Istanbul also likely has the greatest number of vendors standing between lanes of car traffic selling water on a hot August day. Undoubtedly, some of these vendors are among the 1.7 million Syrian refugees Turkey has absorbed due to the neighboring conflict. A recent scientific study contends that the war started in part due to a four-year drought exacerbated by climate change. Thomas Friedman reminds us today of the way climate change is impacting the Middle East in his eye-opening piece, "The World's Hot Spot."
A Muslim megacity that is growing rapidly in population and material wealth - two main drivers of climate change - therefore served as an apt site for an Islamic Climate Change Symposium. The Symposium centered upon the launch of the Islamic Climate Change Declaration. Muslim clerics gathered with clergy of other faiths to offer, in the words of the Declaration, an "urgent and radical reappraisal" of modern society. The Symposium delivered a moral call to change course. The Declaration stated, "We note with alarm the combined impacts of rising per capita consumption combined with the rising human population" (p. 2).
The Declaration was put forth as a Muslim teaching on care for our common home, exactly two months after the release of Pope Francis' groundbreaking Encyclical, Laudato Si. A Catholic symposium on climate change: People and Planet First, took place in late June, organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and CIDSE.
The Islamic Declaration reads with a similar air of spiritual richness and scientific calculation as Laudato Si, although it is less lengthy, and the world's 1.7 billion Muslims do not recognize a unifying religious authority like the Pope. Nevertheless, three Grand Muftis, clerics from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia endorsed the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change and spoke at the Symposium.
The Declaration was written by an international group of Islamic scholars, with a vision to draw on their ancient tradition to provide solutions to the modern crisis of climate change. These scholars include Prof. Din Syamsuddin, President of the Indonesian Ulama (Islamic Scholars) Council, representing Indonesia's 200 million Muslims, and Fazlun Khalid, founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environment Sciences (IFEES). The Symposium was co-organized by IFEES, Green Faith, and Islamic Relief Worldwide, and drew significant international figures, including the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Ibrahim Thiaw.
The Declaration incorporates this excerpt from the Koran: "Corruption has appeared on land and sea. Because of what people's own hands have wrought, so that they may taste something of what they have done; so that hopefully they will turn back" (30:41). Based on this, the Declaration states,
We recognize the corruption (fasad) that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption. Its consequences have been--
• Global climate change, which is our present concern, in addition to:
• Contamination and befoulment of the atmosphere, land, inland water systems, and seas;
• Soil erosion, deforestation and desertification;
• Destruction, degradation, and fragmentation of the habitats of the earth's communities of life, with devastation of some of the most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems such as rainforests, freshwater wetlands, and coral reefs;
• Impairment of ecosystem benefits and services;
• Introduction of invasive alien species and genetically modified organisms;
• Damage to human health, including a host of modern-day diseases.
Notably the Declaration also states, "We call on the people of all nations and their leaders to...Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation", and "We call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable."
I am impressed by the breadth and profundity of what is written in this Declaration. It is not only about climate change, but about 'care for our common home' in a broad sense. It reminds me of a teaching of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler: "Human beings believe, in their arrogance, that if they continue developing the world on the basis of an ever-expanding science and technology, they will eventually achieve an environment that will afford everyone unlimited gratification of the senses and a life of untrammeled ease and pleasure. There can be no greater error than this."
The organization that I founded and direct, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, will soon present the Arabic version of the Declaration to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
To quote Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, I was "witness to the dignity of difference and the power of faith to heal a fractured world." I am proud to have taken part in this significant step forward for the world's Muslims and all of humanity, and to find common cause with my Muslim brothers and sisters in faith to enable our children to inherit a livable planet.
Sarah Lyons and Dalia Gladstein contributed to this post.
ebbf - Ethical Business Building the Future
ebbf (http://ebbf.org/) is a Baha’i-inspired global learning community that accompanies mindful individuals and groups, through daily work and discourse to transform business and the economy, thereby contributing to a prosperous, just and sustainable civilization
ebbf’s seven foundational principles:
ebbf’s 2014 impact at a glance
• 50 countries with active ebbf members
• 250 events every year
• 30 publications
• 100 ebbf members every day of the year create a positive action in their workplace inspired by an ebbf speaker, meeting, article, idea
• 40 ebbf meaningful hangout online learning events
• 904 innovators in ebbf’s online members’ platform
• 10,000 people reached through ebbf events every year.
For the next three years our vision is to:
• identify emerging issues and opportunities
• engage in constructive discourse
• influence, by transforming thinking and action
• empower others to take action ensure continuity and replication
• applying spiritual principles to all of the above.
We aim to impact 100,000 people by 2019 and 1,000,000 people by 2024.
The 25th ebbf annual conference on "Unity and Collaboration" will be in Barcelona, Spain, on 1-4 October 2015, see http://ebbf.org/event/ebbf-annual-conference-celebrating-ebbfs-25th-ann…. IEF and ebbf collaborate closely and two IEF board members, Wendi Momen and Arthur Dahl, are also board members of ebbf.
Updated 12 September 2015