Saturday, October 24, 2009

Climate Change and Religious Communities

This morning I had the pleasure of attending part of a conference on the religious response to climate change. As port of this I was asked to give a 5 minute introduction to the Baha'i approach to these questions. I'm going to print my short talk below, but please be aware that this is not some definitive statement. This is merely my limited understanding of some of the Baha'i teachings on this issue:

We stand at a unique moment in human existence. It was only a few decades ago that we, the human race, acquired the capacity to completely destroy ourselves through nuclear war. And in this decade we have come to a certainty that continuing to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere will derange the equilibrium of the global climate. These are not age old problems taken to a new level. They are fundamentally new because they are global.

Writing in the nineteenth century, Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote: 'The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

This unity has an outer, material, organisational aspect. It also has an inner, ethical, spiritual aspect. The solution to the problem of climate change must include both these aspects.

If the problem of climate change were restricted to one city, Leicester for example, if we were producing all the greenhouse gasses and the pain of global warming were to be visited on us alone, then we would undoubtedly do all in our power to find a solution. Every individual, every household would make the needed changes in lifestyle. Because all would know the terrible consequences of inaction.

And if the problem of climate change were confined to one nation – similarly, the government and the people would work together to solve it. Passing laws, changing lifestyles. Knowing that if we didn’t, our water supply would run out, our crops would wither, our low lying cities would be inundated by the rising sea.

But the problem is global and the nations are at present failing to combat it. They are not acting with the unity required to solve this problem. They are acting like the last cowboys of the Wild West, accepting no law higher than themselves and their own guns.

Achieving a degree of material, organizational unity sufficient to combat global climate change requires new institutions and a new way of thinking. The Baha’i writings call for the establishment an international legislature and a comprehensive code of international law to regulate the global problems that we now face. In the words of Baha’u’llah: “The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”

But that alone is not enough. Indeed, without an inner unity it would be quite impossible. This inner unity requires us all to widen the circle of our own loyalty beyond our race, beyond our gender, beyond our nation and even beyond our religion. It calls us back to the fundamental meaning of the word 'religion' – to bind together in common cause. In this day the highest manifestation of religion should be our being bound together as one human family, to be waves of one sea and fruits of one branch, unified in all our rich diversity.

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