Highlights from the 2014 Wilmette Institute Course on Climate Change

By Christine Muller

The Wilmette Institute’s course Climate Change, first offered in February 2013 and most recently offered in September 2014, has proved to be one of the Institute’s most popular courses. Christine Muller, lead faculty, shares with us comments from five of the forty learners who enrolled, letting them tell us in their own words how the course has changed their lives and actions. Climate Change will be offered once again in March 2015.   –THE EDITORS

“I think I understand more clearly the importance of facing the pain of our present moment. It is only when we see it directly and acknowledge it that we will free ourselves to act.” This was one of many profound statements in the forum discussions in the September 2014 Climate Change course as the learners grappled with the scientific, spiritual, ethical, and very practical dimensions of climate change.

Another student wrote that she was surprised about “the dynamic aspect of the course participants’ interaction. This created a depth of experience that I have never experienced in course work before.” Also, many responded to their fellow learners in very supportive ways. Especially noteworthy was the consolation a learner from Cameroon offered to an American.

Yet another learner reflected on “Why should we as faith communities take action on climate change?” He answered the question this way: “Quite simply, our faith/religion is generally where we get our deepest values and morals, and climate change has become a moral issue. If humans don’t change behavior, God’s creation will suffer—plants, animals, and many people. To not take any action to alleviate this suffering (current and future) is to neglect morality. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every individual of faith and every faith community to raise their consciousness on this vital issue, and also take practical steps towards making improvements.”

Taking action was at the forefront of many students’ thoughts, especially toward the end of the course. Actions discussed and reported basically touched all aspects of life, from life-style changes, such as reducing meat consumption, to the following acts of service:

  • Many reported their plans to integrate education about climate change into the core activities of their Bahá’í community.
  • Several friends mentioned devotional gatherings where they would read scriptures about God’s creation and human’s relationship with nature.
  • Some were planning to talk with their local Bahá’í youth group about climate change, to make a presentation, and to engage them with an artistic or with a service project.
  • Others (in the United States and in Cameroon) were reaching out to the adults within their faith communities—for example, with presentations on spiritual and ethical responses to the climate change challenge.

Other students are bringing the issue to the wider community.

  • One in Washington state is planning to offer a climate-change discussion course in his local Parks and Recreation Department. A highlight of this project was the collaboration of three other course participants in developing this course.
  • Another from Cameroon planned to “plant 40 ‘Green Trees’ in honor of the 40 people” with whom he took the course “(At The Greens, one Green Tree equals four trees: one for food, one for shade, one for beauty and one for medicine. 160 trees to plant)” and to “educate the people of the northwest region of Cameroon about climate change” through his “weekly environmental radio program known as ‘Green Radio’.”

Yet others decided to collaborate with like-minded organizations, such as the Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots organization that advocates for national policies to address climate change.

Some participants were able to use new insights gained in the course to enhance their service in their professional lives.

  • One incorporated some of the concepts in his course on agroclimatology that he teaches at a university in Puerto Rico.
  • A learner from Connecticut wrote: “I came into this course needing inspiration to re-engage in the path I’ve been pursuing, and embedded in the materials I found the means to do so. My company has established a set of ambitious sustainability goals to be met by 2025. The greenhouse-gas-reduction goal in particular is very challenging, and now that we’ve announced it and have laid out the path way on what it would take to reach it, we are in this period of trying to reconcile these espoused values with business commitments and goals. But this course has served as a very real reminder as to why it’s imperative to strive for change through ambitious goals. So, re-armed with the factual evidence and the ethical foundation, I feel very much re-engaged in the process. I may have to take this course again in the next few years though to get recharged! In early 2015 I am planning to develop a Web page devoted to energy and greenhouse gas reduction on our company’s intranet, and I hope to be able to offer links to some of the materials, such as Earth, The Operator’s Manual. ”

Wilmette Institute courses may have quite a large ripple effect on the development of the Bahá’í and wider community because of the learners’ actions. This 2014 course on Climate Change has certainly generated a number of large and small actions within and outside the Bahá’í communities. Many of the results we will never know about, but we can guess from the many hints of planned actions such as the examples above. The pebbles dropped into the pond will continue to take the concern about climate change far and wide.

Other courses in which you might be interested:
Climate Change, March 2015
Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind, September 2015
The Equality of Women and Men: Application in Private and Public Life, October 2015

Tagged with: , ,