Three Perspectives on Sustainable Development: Small Steps That Anyone Can Implement

Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind 2018
Arthur Lyon Dahl, Laurent Mesbah, Christine Muller

The November 9, 2018, letter from the Universal House of Justice announcing its creation of a new Bahá’í International Development Organization provides a new context for study, reflection, and action on the important task of sustainable development. The letter begins with an instruction from Bahá’u’lláh to every individual:

This servant appealeth to every diligent and enterprising soul
to exert his utmost endeavor and arise
to rehabilitate the conditions in all regions and
to quicken the dead with living waters of
wisdom and utterance, by virtue of the
love he cherisheth for God, the One, the Peerless,
the Almighty, the Beneficent.

Three learners in the recently completed Wilmette Institute course on Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind give us suggestions about how easy it is to incorporate sustainable development into our lives.

Leslie Gottert, Ethiopia, 2017

Historic Preservation and Brownies. Leslie Gottert, an historic preservationist by profession, has spent almost a decade dividing her time between Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has “seen the impact of climate change in Ethiopia as well as in the U.S., where extreme weather conditions, such as drought and flooding, have affected the lives of millions of people.” In her work as an historic preservationist, she is “concerned about climate change causing changes in historical natural and cultural landscapes—for example, damage to historical buildings and old-growth trees and plantings from severe weather.” She explains that preservationists support UNESCO’S vision for the “management of historical resources” in order “to preserve them ‘for the enjoyment of future generations.’” Her goal in the sustainable-development course was “to understand the causes and effects of climate change” so that she “could better anticipate change and make sound decisions (and assist others to do the same) about the stewardship of historical properties, sites, and landscapes based on that knowledge.” She intends to share her “findings with colleagues in Ethiopia and the U.S.” where she continues to work in the preservation field.

On the macro level, Leslie gained a new appreciation for the work of the United Nations and its agencies. She came to appreciate how much “the institution offers to the world by providing a global perspective on issues, encouraging universal participation by all member-nations to identify and resolve problems, and bringing international expertise to bear on them.”

On the micro level Leslie’s goals include:

  • Developing a frame of reference for the information that comes through the media about climate change, social conflict, and development. She now has insights into how to share information about the UN Sustainable Development Goals with others and to encourage them to act on them.
  • Sharing her new awareness with her husband, children, and community.
  • Planning a devotional on the topic of sustainable development.
  • Updating her lecture on Sustainable Development Goals and World Heritage.

Here is how Leslie brought sustainable development down to the personal, local level:

The other day, when I was out shopping, I saw a Girl Scout bake sale. I wanted to buy a muffin, but, when I noticed that they were individually packaged in plastic containers, I hesitated. Then I saw that the brownies were only wrapped in plastic wrap and decided to buy one and explained to the girls (and their moms) that I was choosing the brownie over the muffin due to the packaging. It was a small point, but the girl who made the brownie cheered, and everyone began to talk about packaging, agreeing that the plastic cupcake holders represented a lot of waste per item. The main point is that, after I shared the reasoning behind my decision with the Scouts, they were appreciative and agreed that a plastic holder was not necessary for serving and transporting a cupcake.

Carol Curtis

Carol Curtis

From a Former Peace Corps Volunteer to Spokesperson for Sustainable Development. Carol Curtis graduated from the University of Utah and went directly to her Peace Corp post in the Marshall Islands, where she spent five years in an outer island village. Then she moved to a Navajo reservation, where she became a Bahá’í, and returned to the Marshall Islands for eighteen years. Next came the Hawaiian Islands, Guyana, Alaska, and, once again, the Marshall Islands.

Carol’s passion for sustainable development meshes with her passion for Ruhi courses, which she tutors, “learning more and more from each new study circle.” She says that she is “excited about the outreach going on in our neighborhoods around the world, because very exciting things are happening everywhere. . . . Social action is part of everything we are doing and learning, and for this reason I want to learn more.”

About decades in which climate change has mostly not been taken seriously, Carol has this to say:

My feeling about all this often times is anger that humanity, and especially governments, have been so very, very slow at acting, and yet I have hope, no matter what the challenges and suffering may be for humanity, that Bahá’u’lláh’s promise of the Most Great Peace will arrive someday, and the little part that each of us plays in the process is assisting the needed changes to happen a little sooner.

About the part all of us can play, Carol has more to say:

With each passing day the need to change our ways of thinking, our ways of living, and our ways of interacting together becomes ever more crucial. The need for moral, ethical, and spiritual change has to be in the forefront in order for humanity to be able to move toward equity, equality, and ultimately justice for all. Some of the readings [in the course] and comments by participants in this course increased my insight into this paramount issue. and yet the work that has to be done is very daunting! But it all starts by speaking with our neighbors, friends, and family in order to increase awareness that results in action and change.

Carol ends by singling out what she can do for youth: “Through my interactions with others, especially youth, I will share with them . . . the need for sustainable life styles and what that may mean, and facilitate discussions on this topic to increase awareness and possibly help implement some changes.”

Right to left: Julia Kitay, a Boy Scout committee member; son Scott Kitay, a Boy Scout; and husband, Robert Kitay, also a Boy Scout committee member

Getting Down to the Brass Tacks of Sustainable Development. To get down to brass tacks is an American idiom, meaning to concentrate on the facts or the essentials. It seems to describe perfectly Julia Kitay, a Bahá’í living in Concord, California, USA. She pioneered to Beijing, China, for two years, where she taught English. On two return trips, she was appalled by the pollution: “If you could see your hand in front of your face, consider that a good day!” She donates to charitable causes linked to protecting the environment and sustainable development, is active with Boy Scouts and the Sierra Club, is researching B corporations and plans to invest in some in the near future (“Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”)

Julia’s learnings about and actions to contribute to sustainable development are many:

  • I have learned to research the facts about climate change.
  • I am aware that there are alternatives to a consumer-driven economy.
  • I have learned a lot about recycling, reducing, and reusing and have gotten creative about repurposing things.
  • I have learned that sustainable development and climate change go hand in hand and that there are many facets to it.
  • I am learning a lot about sustainable gardening by volunteering in the sixth-grade environmental science class at my son’s middle school.
  • I have learned about conservation and protecting the environment through Boy Scouts and the Sierra Club.
  • I am learning how to invest in renewable energy and sustainable industries.
  • Waste not, want not. Consume only what you need, and reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose as much as possible!
  • I have learned that my personal consumer decisions do have an impact on others. I will think twice before buying something or investing and ask myself what kind of impact my actions will have on others.
  • We cannot be complacent about global warming. The natural disasters, like category 5 hurricanes, are becoming more frequent.
    I think that many climate change deniers are scientifically illiterate and selfish and that more education is needed.

Many thanks to Leslie Gottert, Carol Curtis, and Julia Kitay for sharing ideas about how to incorporate sustainable development in our lives and, at the same time, contribute to the prosperity of humankind.

At the end of its November 9, 2018, letter about the establishment of a Bahá’í International Development Organization, the Universal House of Justice ends with a passage from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that points the way to the kind of action that we need to undertake:

We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and
creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end.
How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfill his responsibilities;
how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and
wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages.
Supreme happiness is man’s, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and
in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavor in
the arena of civilization and justice.

Since January 2017, the Wilmette Institute has been providing a tip each month aimed at helping us to live responsibly and to make our lives beautiful prayers (as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said). These are courtesy of Christine Muller, faculty in both the Climate Change and Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind courses. The tips appear in the left column of each newsletter in the section called “Social Action and Public Discourse.” Below are topics and links to tips for 2017 and 2018:

Shower Less / Avoid Plastics / Purchase Mindfully / Why Eat Organic? / The Bees and We
Use Energy-Efficient Appliances / Shop Smart, Buy in Bulk /  Eat Lower on the Food Chain
Buy Second-Hand Clothing / Recycle Right!   /   Avoid Single-Use (Disposable) Items
Considering Social Justice in Making Food Choices

Choose Reusable Shopping Bags  /  Insulate Your House
Go for a Walk 
or Bike Ride or Car Pool to Meetings
Shop Locally, Support Local 
Agriculture  /  Give Up Bottled Water—Go Back to the Tap
Go Solar   /   
Hang Your Laundry Out to Dry  /  Ethical and Easy Lawns
Buy Clean Energy  /  Eat Less Beef  /  Home Energy Audit
Searching the Web (Use 
Ecosia and Plant a Tree)

Leave a Reply