The Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat, Addresses Climate Change—The Wilmette Institute Offers a Climate Change Course

The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, through its Department of the Secretariat, addressed climate change in an illuminating letter dated November 29, 2017. Below are some highlights from the letter, followed by an explanation of how the Wilmette Institute’s Climate Change course covers many aspects of the issues the letter addresses.

Highlights of the Letter on Climate Change. The Department of the Secretariat of the Universal House of Justice wrote the letter about climate change in response to three individuals’ concern about the extreme politicization of climate change in certain countries. The letter affirms that climate change is a “vital” issue with “profound implications for the common good” (par. 3). It also puts the climate crisis into the broad picture of humanity’s social and environmental problems, with an emphasis on justice: “One of the most pressing problems of humanity in the current century is how a growing, rapidly developing, and not yet united global population can, in a just manner, live in harmony with the planet and its finite resources” (par. 4).

After encouraging Bahá’ís to “contribute to thought and action regarding such matters” (par. 4), the letter then expounds, in paragraphs 5 and 6, on the fundamental importance of science:

           Among the Bahá’í teachings are those concerning the importance of science. “Great indeed is the claim of scientists . . . on the peoples of the world,” Bahá’u’lláh observed. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote that the “sciences of today are bridges to reality” and repeatedly emphasized that “religion must be in conformity with science and reason.” (par. 5)

In some countries, vested interests have intentionally shed doubts on climate science. It is, therefore, significant that the Universal House of Justice, through its Department of the Secretariat, elaborates in par. 6 on the importance of climate science and the “striking degree of agreement among experts in relevant fields about the cause and impact of climate change”:

           Scientific inquiry into the question of human contributions to global warming has gradually unfolded over a century of investigation and, more recently, with intense scrutiny. While there will naturally be differences of view among individual scientists, there does exist at present a striking degree of agreement among experts in relevant fields about the cause and impact of climate change. Sound scientific results, obtained through the employment of sound scientific methods, produce knowledge that can be acted upon; ultimately, the outcomes of action must stand the test of further scientific inquiry and the objective facts of the physical world. (par. 6)

Participants hold a banner during an Earth Day Rally in April 2012

Participants hold a banner during an Earth Day Rally in 2012.

The letter also points to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement as an important step in humanity’s development toward unity:

But while there may indeed be a localized and highly charged political component to the public discussion, more remarkable is the fact that at a time when nations have difficulty reaching agreement on many important issues, the governments of nearly every country on earth have reached political consensus on a joint framework, in the Paris accord, to respond to climate change in a manner that is anticipated to evolve over time as experience accumulates. More than a century ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá referred to “unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed.” The recently adopted international agreement on climate change, irrespective of any shortcomings and limitations it may have, offers another noteworthy demonstration of that development anticipated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The agreement represents a starting point for constructive thought and action that can be refined or revised on the basis of experience and new findings over time. (par.7)

The letter on climate change also reminds us that we need to avoid dichotomies and conflict and to concentrate on finding solutions and taking unified action:

On the matter of climate change and other vital issues with profound implications for the common good, Bahá’ís have to avoid being drawn into the all too common tendencies evident in contemporary discourse to delineate sharp dichotomies, become ensnared in contests for power, and engage in intractable debate that obstructs the search for viable solutions to the world’s problems. Humanity would be best and most effectively served by setting aside partisan disputation, pursuing united action that is informed by the best available scientific evidence and grounded in spiritual principles, and thoughtfully revising action in the light of experience. The incessant focus on generating and magnifying points of difference rather than building upon points of agreement leads to exaggeration that fuels anger and confusion, thereby diminishing the will and capacity to act on matters of vital concern. (par. 3)

As the letter draws to a conclusion, it provides a two-paragraph disquisition on how the Bahá’ís “should interact among themselves and how they participate in social discourses and social action” (par. 9). Part of the process involves Bahá’í consultation that is a “free, respectful, dignified, and fair-minded effort on the part of a group of people to exchange views, seek truth, and attempt to reach consensus” and to act in “unity” (par. 9). Another part of “such participation is greater appreciation and application of Bahá’u’lláh’s insights on moderation” (par. 10).

The letter on climate change concludes with encouragement for all to grow in their capacity and to contribute to addressing the many issues confronting humankind and the health of planet:

           The House of Justice trusts that, in pursuing the many facets of their work of community building, social action, and involvement in the discourses of society, individuals, communities, and institutions will continually grow in their capacity to make a distinctive and effective contribution to addressing the multitudinous problems afflicting society and the planet, including those associated with climate change. (par. 11)

The Wilmette Institute’s Course on Climate Change. The main objective of the Wilmette Institute’s Climate Change course is to empower participants to apply the Bahá’í Faith’s spiritual teachings to the climate crisis and to increase their capacity to reflect these insights in their personal lifestyles and to engage in meaningful public discourse.

Climate change graphice - the diverse effects of climate changeAfter a brief introduction, the course on Climate Change begins with a general reflection on science and religion and on humanity’s relationship with nature. The third unit explains the causes of global warming in a way that is accessible to everyone. The fourth unit explains how the Earth’s warming affects the climate in many different ways and provides answers to many questions: Why are dry regions even more susceptible to drought? Why are there more heavy rains and more heavy snowfalls? Why are storms getting more severe and floods more extensive? Why are sea levels rising all over the world and threatening low-lying areas, including many large cities? Course materials explain that climate change is not “merely” an environmental problem but also an enormous social problem. They show how many people around the world are already suffering greatly from the impacts of climate change and discuss the scientific projections for the future of our children on a warming Earth.

Climate change, moreover, is an enormous ethical challenge. Addressing it in a manner that is adequate to its threat requires a high degree of spiritual development. Hence the course discusses many Bahá’í spiritual and social teachings. Have you ever thought about how extremes of poverty and wealth play a role in warming our planet? Or how the consciousness of the oneness of humankind is a prerequisite to properly addressing climate change? Or how important gender equality and consultation are for climate-change mitigation and adaptation? Or what roles materialism and consumerism play—issues that the Universal House of Justice seriously warns us about in its March 1, 2017, letter Comments on the Path of Economic Well-Being?

Finally, course participants will reflect on the spiritual challenge of fundamental change and will discuss how they can make a difference in their personal lives, their communities, and their Bahá’í activities and how they can engage in social discourse and action.

The Climate Change course begins on April 1 and runs through May 26. Registration for the course is now open. Sign yourself up, or gather a number of friends, and signup as a group (from 2 to 20 people), which will reduce the cost per person.

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