Climate Change Course 2015: Learners Find Unique Ways to Save the Planet and Engage in Discourse about the Moral Ramifications of the Degradation of the Planet

Rebecca Deerwater, an artist working mostly in paper mache now and a veteran of ten Wilmette Institute courses, hails from Mendocino, Californian, USA, a rural Northern California coastal town, where she enjoys the splendor of a dramatic shoreline and is surrounded by an ancient redwood forest. She lovingly refers to her home as “the edge of the planet, on the way to nowhere.” She writes that she loves the Wilmette Institute, for it provides a venue for an interesting and deeper conversation about the Bahá’í writings. In each Wilmette Institute course she looks forward to getting to know each participant and sharing gifts of understanding, vision, and wisdom. Her response to the 2015 Climate Change course is a unique request for saving the resources of the planet.

RebeccaDeerwater1“The Climate Change course was one of the best presented by the Wilmette Institute [she had taken nine courses previously]. It was so good and the impact so strong, I am requesting that you DO NOT send a certificate to me for the completion of any of the courses. No need to use any of the resources of the planet, including your time. They just end up in file cabinet drawer. The knowledge gained, the connection to the Bahá’í community are all I need! Thank you so much for all that you do. The Wilmette Institute is an amazing learning venue, and I am truly grateful for it.”


Ellen Hartwell, from Florence, Massachusetts, USA, is a first-time Wilmette Institute learner. Her interest in the environment goes back to her youth and a family active in the many issues of social change and justice of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s she and her husband designed and built (by themselves) a home with the latest techniques for energy efficiency (Ellen has a background in architectural design). They have since added active thermal and Photovoltaic solar panels on their south-facing roof. Ellen has a small vegetable garden. A few years ago she attended a weekend introduction to climate change at Green Acre Bahá’í School in Maine, given by Wilmette Institute faculty member Christine Muller. Since that time she has been busy taking care of her ailing mother. She now has a little more time to return to the subject of climate change and her interest in learning how to have conversations with her community about the moral aspects of environmental degradation.

“This course [Climate Change] has been truly inspiring, in particular this last set of readings. I now see the link between the ‘severe mental test’ of climate change and the role that religion can play to help communities face the needed sacrifices and adaptations to come. I’ve decided that my final project will be a personal-action plan that will include new activities and some of the actions I already do, but with more purpose and devotion.

“In the last week, I went to a meeting on divestment, a permaculture workshop, and a talk on sustainable development given by Jeffery Sachs (director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University). Today I will attend a neighborhood sustainability fair, tomorrow I will co-host a devotional gathering on caring for the earth in what I hope will be an on-going series. A friend who is taking this class with me and I brainstormed yesterday ideas for further actions: hosting a study circle based on these materials for our neighbors, helping a local youth gathering to open up a discussion on the environment and their relationship with nature, hosting a movie/discussion night, putting together a library (and/or list) of environmental books that can be used with children, learning more about permaculture gardening, writing letters to representatives expressing my concern about climate change, making it clear to my alma mater that I want them to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and continuing my education and deepening of my faith.

“The biggest challenge will be maintaining momentum. And I think this is where conviction, as George Marshall (author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change on our expanded reading list) says, can play a role. Like religion, which requires discipline (obedience to laws, such as daily prayers) is a model for the kind of effort needed when the goal is not immediate and or tangible. I also see how important it is for me to have a friend accompany me through this process. That support is invaluable.

“I am humbled by the efforts of my fellow students and amazed at the beauty of this course that was put together with the dedication and obvious love of our teachers. Thank you.”

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