Our Children and Sustainable Development

by Christine Muller

Christine Muller wrote the following article to draw attention to the upcoming Wilmette Institute course Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind, which begins on September 10 and runs through October 28, 2017. It was edited by David Langness and published in BahaiTeachings.org. We are publishing a version of the article edited for the Wilmette Institute’s eNewsletter. We hope that considering sustainable development from the perspective of your children and their futures will give you much to think about—and perhaps encourage you to sign up for the course.—THE EDITORS

We all try our best to take good care of our children so that they will grow up physically healthy, spiritually minded, and guided by good ethical values. We also make many efforts to provide them with a good education so that they will be able to earn a living and serve the common good.

But let’s step back, and think for a moment: What will the future of our children look like? Will they be able to find meaningful work that allows them to develop their capacities, serve the common good, and earn enough money to meet their and their families’ needs? Will they be able to enjoy art and music and get together to discuss spiritual matters? Will they be able to provide their children with a quality education? Will they even have sufficient food?

What can we do today so that we can look toward the future confidently and answer these questions positively?

Facing Reality. First, we must educate ourselves about the reality of the world in which we live right now. We must learn about the many changes happening in society and in the environment. Then we must find ways to help society move in a direction that will assure our children a decent future life. One fancy phrase for that direction is this: sustainable development. It means any ongoing development that can be continually sustained into the future.

Much of the economic development we have seen during the past one hundred years has brought numerous blessings and prosperity to many people—but not to all. Such development, we are learning, is no longer sustainable. One example—car ownership—illustrates this perfectly: Car exhausts emit many toxins, and people in big cities around the world are already getting sick and dying prematurely because of them. Moreover, cars’ carbon emissions are a major contributor to global warming, which causes harmful changes in the Earth’s climate system.

The problem is not only with our cars. We have transgressed the natural limits of our planet in other ways as well. The Earth no longer has the capability of replenishing the resources we take from it (fish, seafood, lumber, and water, for example) or of absorbing the waste we humans produce. The environmental crisis, especially climate change, seriously threatens the future of our children.

At the same time we must acknowledge that the benefits of material civilization have not reached all people. While the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has declined, almost a billion people go hungry each day. Too many children die from preventable causes, including malnourishment. Hundreds of millions do not have access to clean and safe drinking water, and the majority of the people in Africa do not have access to electricity.

Such poor populations should have the right to develop, too. That is why wealthy developed countries must assist poor countries with clean technology development, for, in many instances, wealthy countries have used natural resources from poor countries for their own development and, in the process, have polluted the global atmosphere, causing climate change. Poor people are suffering first from such pollution’s devastating impacts.

Choosing Sustainability and Justice for Our Children. Applying the spiritual principle of fairness or justice should be sufficient cause for such assistance. Another important reason is that the future of our children depends on environmentally sustainable development. Our children and their children will need a healthy Earth that can still provide them with the life-support systems that we have enjoyed in the past. They will need clean water and a climate that will allow them to grow food. With the current trajectory of human economic activities, even if the nations implement the reductions of emissions promised in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the prospects do not look promising.

The wealthy countries of the world also need development. They need clean-energy development and sustainable agricultural practices that will not destroy the soil. They need to find ways to reuse everything they throw away. Last, but not least, they must learn to be “content with little,” as both Bahá’ulláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá advised a century ago. Each of us must drastically reduce our consumption of meat, especially beef; acquire much less stuff; and be mindful in avoiding waste and conspicuous consumption. We must also teach our children these important concepts so that they themselves will become part of building a sustainable future.

Much social development needs to happen as well. The gap between rich and poor is not only increasing between countries but also within countries. The equality of women must progress, and all people—women and men—must become empowered to play an active role in the improvement of their societies. Most important is that we learn to work together in unity. That is one more reason why we must address the problems of poverty and climate change—because they are both issues of justice. There will be no unity and no peace without justice. Bahá’u’lláh writes that “The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men” (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh 66). Working for social justice and unity is an essential part of sustainable development. Our children’s lives will not only depend on a healthy environment but also on a just and peaceful society.

Bahá’ís support sustainable development all around the world. On the individual level, Bahá’ís foster educational activities such as classes for children, youth, and adults that aim to lay the spiritual foundation for positive change and to empower people to tackle their local challenges by helping develop their capacity for service. On the societal level, Bahá’ís build Houses of Worship that not only serve as the focal point of spiritual communion but also the foundation for future social service and educational institutions.

Learning More about Sustainable Development. Sustainable development, in short, is a complex issue. You can learn more about it in the Wilmette Institute’s online course Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind. The course will discuss the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development, examine the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and explore the profound implications of the Bahá’í teachings for sustainability. For Bahá’ís believe that the Bahá’í teachings provide humankind with the guidance needed to make sure that our children will have a viable future, which is, according to Bahá’u’lláh, our mandate: “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh 215) .

While presented from a Bahá’í perspective, the Wilmette Institute course on Sustainable Development is interfaith in tone. Everyone is welcome. The seven-week course begins on September 10, 2017. You can let your own schedule dictate when you study the written and video materials and participate in the online discussions. More information and registration is at your fingertips.

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