“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”
— from a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha’i Faith from 1921 to 1957
The Baha’i International Community wrote in 2009: “Baha’is believe that the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the nature and purpose of human life. An understanding of humanity’s relationship to the natural environment is an integral part of this vision.” That vision is the basis for a seven-year plan of action for Baha’is worldwide concerning climate change. The plan encourages the study of the Baha’i teachings on the environment, and aims to stimulate a range of effective grassroots responses to this issue.
It was one of numerous global seven-year plans presented that year by representatives of the world’s major religions, in cooperation with the Alliance on Religion and Conservation (ARC) and the UN Development Program. To download and read the Baha’i plan, click here; for more information, see the Baha’i World News Service story.
1. Why is climate change an issue the Baha’i Faith should address?
Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, admonished His followers, “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” The Baha’i International Community, in a 2008 thought piece, entitled Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change, noted, “The discourse on climate change has become a core part of informed debates about the future direction of the affairs of humankind. Authoritative assessments that global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and directly linked to human activity; that it constitutes the ‘widest-ranging market failure ever seen’; and that it represents the ‘defining human development challenge of the 21st century’ — have seized the attention of governments and peoples alike.”
It further pointed out that climate change is more than a technical or scientific challenge. At its core, it is a moral challenge raising questions of equity and justice. These difficult questions must be addressed if humanity is to devise an effective and lasting solution to the problem. The paper emphasized, “The principle of the oneness of humankind must become the ruling principle of international life.” It is described in an authoritative Baha’i statement as “the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve.” It implies the need for profound changes at the level of the individual, the community, the nations and the institutions of the world.
2. How strong is the evidence for climate change?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the leading body established by the United Nations to provide the world with a clear, balanced view of the present state of understanding of climate change — concluded in its Fifth Assessment Report that climate change is “unequivocal,” that “human influence on the climate is clear ” (at least 95% probability) and that limiting climate change will require “substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions”. The same basic conclusion regarding climate change is endorsed by more than 40 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries. No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of these main points. (For further information see Climate Change Evidence and Causes – An overview from the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences, particularly Q&A #s 4, 5, 6, and 7.)
In the face of such strong evidence, it is critical that the world act in a unified way to prevent future climate change and to help humanity to adapt to the changes already set in motion.
3. How does involvement in climate change action fit with Baha’i law concerning avoidance of partisan politics?
There are a number of ways Baha’is can be, and are, involved while staying clear of partisan and divisive politics. On the international level, Baha’is are cooperating with a range of organizations addressing the ethical and moral dimensions of the issue, and the Baha’i-inspired International Environment Forum has been developing a wealth of resources on the environment and on climate change in particular, including a compilation of Baha’i writings and study materials.
On the state and local level, Baha’is are joining forces with interfaith groups that promote and provide resources for energy conservation, cleaning and restoring natural habitat and vegetation, education and other practical action. Some communities are taking often-simple steps to reduce their usage of resources and their impact on the Earth.
4. How can individual Baha’is and Baha’i communities act on climate change issues while still focusing on sharing the Baha’i Faith with others and growing the Baha’i community?
Far from distracting from the processes of growth underway in our community, attention to environmental practices that respect the earth and the oneness of its inhabitants can support and sustain these processes. The action plan presented in 2009, in fact, envisions the community developing capacity for responsible action in light of the challenges of global climate change. A central line of action in the plan is integrated with the institute process. It envisions development of “a course to explore the relationship of humans to the environment as articulated in the Baha’i Sacred Writings”; the course would “build the capacity of participants to engage in acts of service related to environmental sustainability.” Similarly, it says, “programs for children and junior youth would include material on climate change and the contribution that the younger generation can make to address the climate crisis.”
Leaving open the question of what kind of service activities such a training course would stimulate, the plan illustrates the point with examples of current activities such as “devotional gatherings in local communities that have chosen as their theme ‘care of the earth’ or ‘the environment’” or “children’s classes…planting a community garden or cleaning up a stream or river.” Regarding study materials, it states, “There already exists a wealth of information on the International Environment Forum’s website, which individuals and communities can draw upon and surely further resources will be developed and become available.”