Reflections on the Climate Change 2016 Course

“Reflection,” over the past twenty years, has become a standard part of Bahá’í vocabulary. Wilmette Institute online courses have always begun with a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) and ended with a Learning Self-Assessment. But in February 2016 the Wilmette Institute, drawing on letters from the Universal House of Justice, revised its guidelines for PLPs to focus on personal transformation, community building, and formal class projects. Immediately Learning Self-Assessments took on a new character. Follow Lee Brocius, a learner from Brunswick, Ohio, in the Climate Change 2016 course (faculty Christine Muller, Gary ColliverArthur Lyon Dahl, and Carole Flood) as she assesses what she learned in the course and how she plans to use her new learnings. At one point in the Learning Self-Assessment, Lee says that it is important to develop “elevator pitches” about climate change to “plant the seeds of doubt about continuing with business as usual.” Some of what she records below can be seen as embryonic “elevator pitches” on the topic. But some of her comments are perfect for more in-depth conversations. Some of Lee’s comments have to do with actions faith communities should take; others concentrate on what she, personally, can do. Read all the way through to see why she ends with this statement: “Thank you for providing us with such an important, relevant, and exciting course.”—THE EDITORS

Changes in My Thinking about Climate Changes. “After taking the Climate Change course, my understanding of global warming is that we are running out of time to avoid catastrophic consequence and must accelerate our understanding and take appropriate actions regardless of how bleak the future looks. Climate change affects everything and everyone. We live in a closed system biosphere that is being poisoned with CO2 and methane gases. The effects are transforming our planet in ways never before experienced, and the rate of destruction is swiftly accelerating. We already have created conditions that will take centuries to overcome. First comes knowledge, then the wisdom to take appropriate actions. We must rise above our material wants and desires and be willing to make personal and societal sacrifices in order to restore balance in our biosphere.

“Living a materialistic lifestyle of self-indulgence based on our physical appetite blinds us to our true reality. We must learn that ‘more’ is not necessarily better and that ‘more’ does not necessarily lead to happiness. True peace and happiness can only be found in love of God, worship, and obedience to His laws. Giving up our quest to have more of everything and living within our means can greatly reduce the amount of stress in our lives and stress on the planet’s resources.

“Our spiritual traditions teach us that we are all connected, and we are a part of nature, bound by natural laws. We cannot just care about our own personal welfare but must be concerned with the welfare of all peoples and the earth. Justice can only be achieved by including all people in the dialogue on climate change and allow each person and community to make meaningful contributions, knowing they are appreciated and needed as part of the solution. International tribunals must be able to get buy-in from all nations and have the power to carry out agreements and implement the necessary changes to mitigate the destruction of our natural and human resources.

 Actions on Climate Change That Faith Communities Should Take. “We should all have endorsed and signed the interfaith statement that was presented to the President of the UN General Assembly in April 2016. We can still sign the Parliament’s Interfaith Call for Action on Climate Change. Now faith communities are especially equipped to address the moral and ethical implications of climate change and to understand our lack of urgency in addressing these issues. Faith communities can be a catalyst for change by taking immediate social action that is compassionate and just for all peoples, especially in their own communities.

“Faith communities should all have study sessions at places of worship to study their own holy writings as well as the writings of other faiths (creating interfaith study groups) to understand the moral and ethical principles that need to be applied in the study of climate change. These investigations should consider personal responsibilities as well as community responsibilities and should address things like reducing our energy footprint, questioning our food choices, purchasing more efficient and appropriately sized homes and cars. In general, we should learn how to live a more sustainable lifestyle personally and culturally. My personal area of interest is in promoting a plant-based diet as the optimal choice for humans —confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as well as by scientific evidence.

Personal Actions about Climate Change. “I plan to make PowerPoint presentations to Bahá’í and community groups; incorporate information into a book in progress; and work as a health coach to encourage and give support to others attempting to change their lifestyles.

“The most important skill I learned is how to create “pictures” that summarize facts that people can easily understand. We can get lost in words, but using visual pictures, graphs, and so on allows people to understand complex issues in a manner that makes sense and can be mentally retained. Also, developing “elevator pitches” to summarize climate-change issues in a few short sentences to plant the seeds of doubt about continuing with business as usual behavior.

“I feel a renewed sense of urgency to act upon this new knowledge and share it with others. Unless people are introduced to the science of climate change, they will cling to old ideas, refuse scientific evidence, and find it comfortable to continue with business as usual. As we know, that will only lead to catastrophic consequences for the present and future generations of people on this planet.

“As a Bahá’í, I don’t think my values or beliefs have changed while taking this course, but I am certainly more aware of the obstacles others face in dealing with climate change issues—disbelief, lack of awareness, fear of change, procrastination and complacency, not knowing who to believe or what to do, and so on. The general population perhaps does not relate climate change to moral and ethical action. We can help them make the connections.

“In addition to just wanting to have a deeper understanding of the science of climate change, I also wanted to understand the obstacles that keep individuals, cultures, and institutions from accepting the urgency for action now to avoid a future catastrophe. As Bahá’ís, I think we have an obligation to educate ourselves and then share what we have learned with others, both inside the Bahá’í community and with the general population. We must be leaders in this area. First, we, as individuals, we must model the behavior we want to see in the world. Then we must offer and teach these concepts and be available to encourage others to take action in their own personal lives.

“Thank you for providing us with such an important, relevant, and exciting course.

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