The Importance of Education for Social Change: A Statement by the International Environment Forum for the Talanoa Dialogue

by Christine Muller

The Wilmette Institute and two of its courses are mentioned by the Bahá’í-inspired International Environment Forum (IEF) in its eleven-paragraph contribution to the Talanoa Dialogue. The Talanoa Dialogue, launched at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017, will provide helpful input to the December 2018 Climate Conference in Poland (COP24) (more on that below).

After pointing out that it has “worked for more than twenty years to bring science, ethics, and spirituality together” to bear on the problem of global warming, the IEF asserts that it has created “comprehensive online courses on Climate Change and on Sustainable Development offered annually by the Wilmette Institute. These online courses have included participants from many countries including Afghanistan, Cameroon, Laos, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Singapore. Such initiatives would be easy to scale up with other partners.”

“One important objective of these courses,” the IEF statement explains,

is to impart basic knowledge about climate change and how it exacerbates many other environmental and social problems. But, as social science confirms, knowledge is only an essential prerequisite, not the decisive factor in motivation for action. People often despair when they are confronted with the immensity of the climate crisis and the seemingly insurmountable efforts needed to mitigate it. Despair results in a paralysis of will, if not denial. From the beginning[,] therefore, these courses have included a spiritual dimension from an interfaith perspective and discussed the ethical imperative for climate action and sustainable development. The faith perspective connects climate action with people’s hearts, with their values and world view. It touches people’s core, so that the motivation for action becomes strong and enduring. It also opens up a vision of a just, sustainable, and peaceful world, a goal worthy of effort and sacrifice. . .

Participants in the Wilmette Institute courses Climate Change and Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind have been reaching out to their local communities to find ways to integrate climate change awareness in their community activities. With the inclusion of their actions in the IEF’s statement, they can inspire others in their educational efforts to build momentum to effectively address climate change and to build a spiritual and environmentally sustainable civilization.

“All these courses,” the IEF concludes,

aim to elevate the level of knowledge, capacity, and motivation to take effective climate action among increasing numbers of people and to empower them to become strong protagonists of sustainable development. Governments should reach out to the many partners in faith-based organizations, indigenous communities and civil society who can help to spread values-based education about the science and ethics of climate change. This can inspire positive action in communities to begin the transformation to a carbon-neutral sustainable society from the bottom up, while encouraging ambitious climate leadership from their governments.

What Is the Talanoa Dialogue? Talanoa is a Pacific Island tradition:

Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. The process of Talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling.

During the process, participants build trust and advance knowledge through empathy and understanding. Blaming others and making critical observations are inconsistent with building mutual trust and respect, and therefore inconsistent with the Talanoa concept. Talanoa fosters stability and inclusiveness in dialogue by creating a safe space that embraces mutual respect for a platform for decision making for a greater good.

Talanoa Dialogue for Climate Ambition logoEveryone in Talanoa Dialogue is encouraged to participate: people representing businesses, investors, cities, and regions, as well as those in civil society. The method of the Talanoa Dialogue builds unity, trust, and a foundation for effective action. It shares some elements of Bahá’í consultation. The stories, positive experiences, and ideas shared will be summarized and submitted in a statement for the political leaders at the COP24.

The Significance of the Talanoa Dialogue. The international community is ready to take stronger action on climate change, but there are many road blocks. At the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, 195 nations committed to specific goals to reduce their carbon emissions. But, even if fully implemented, these Nationally Determined Contributions are expected to still bring us to a 3°C warming compared to pre-industrial times, a scenario we must absolutely avoid if we want to assure a human civilization in the future. These Nationally Determined Contributions must be significantly strengthened. At the end of this year, the world’s political leaders will discuss the strengthening of these goals at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland.

The statement of the International Environment Forum that refers to the Wilmette Institute’s courses is one of many contributions to the Talanoa Dialogue that will be included in a summary statement provided to the political leaders at the COP24 in Poland later this year.

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