Translation of Climate Change Course into French in Time for December UN Conference

by Christine Muller

The Wilmette Institute’s course called Climate Change, first offered in February 2013, has existed since 2009 in a version similar to a Ruhi book. Called “Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change”, Christine Muller, lead faculty for the Wilmette Institute’s course, prepared the nine-unit class, which was posted on the website of the International Environment Forum (IEF), where it is still available. In 2012, when Dr. Robert H. Stockman, asked Christine to design a course for the Wilmette Institute, she based it on the IEF course, which she expanded, adding other topics and optional resources not available in the IEF course. Now the English Ruhi-format course has been translated into French by a collaborative effort involving seven translators residing in several countries. The new course is called “Les dimensions scientifiques et spirituelles du changement climatique.” Why, you may be asking, was so much effort put into a French translation? Christine shares her thoughts about that below.—THE EDITORS

Humankind is finally waking up to the danger of a warming Earth with its devastating impacts on the climate now being experienced in all corners of the world. Droughts are becoming more severe; rainfall patterns are changing; and precipitation, floods, and storms are becoming more extreme. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of the warming, is becoming more urgent because the window of opportunity to prevent a climate catastrophe is quickly closing.

International climate negotiations have been going on for decades, but bringing about major change on a global level has proven to be extremely difficult. Short-sighted national and corporate interests have so far obstructed global commitment to greenhouse-gas reduction that would be adequate to the threat.

From November 30 through December 11, 2015, France is hosting and presiding over the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), a very important international conference. The goal of COP21 is “to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.” The stakes are high as time is fast running out to prevent a climate disaster. Therefore, climate change will be a major topic of discussion this fall everywhere, especially in France.

Because Bahá’ís are encouraged to apply the Bahá’í teachings in the public discourse of current issues, they felt it was necessary to have some educational materials about climate change available in French to offer to the general public and interfaith groups.

The new French version of the climate-change course, with five units, is designed for individual or group use and interfaith gatherings. The course covers the relationship of science and religion and introduces the basics on the causes and impacts of climate change. It then focuses on the spiritual and ethical teachings found in the Bahá’í Faith and other religions. These spiritual teachings are the foundation for the necessary fundamental transformation of our worldview and of our relationship with nature and with other human beings.

Public discourse by itself, though, is not sufficient and clearly needs to be accompanied by actions. Course participants discuss individual actions to reduce their own carbon footprint and what they can do as a community to tread lighter on the Earth. They also engage in simple service projects designed by themselves according to their interests and resources and especially attuned to the particular needs of their communities.

The objectives of the French and English climate-change courses are the same as those for Ruhi courses. As climate change is becoming a topic of general interest, the courses may be a way to engage new people in interfaith study circles. In Rhode Island, for example, a small interfaith group studied a draft version of the English course several years ago. After the group finished the course, one participant who was not a Bahá’í, asked whether there were any other study courses so she could continue to get together and have conversations. The group continued with Ruhi book 1, which led to her eventually becoming a Bahá’í.

Seekers who are concerned about the environmental crisis are looking for spiritual solutions and will be attracted to a community that exemplifies in practical ways the spiritual teachings in terms of environmental responsibility.

The activities of the climate-change courses support and do not distract from Bahá’í core activities. Some participants of the English versions, both on the IEF website and the Wilmette Institute course, have been inspired to create devotionals on creation and the relationship of humankind with nature. Many are using their new insights in children’s and youth classes.

Other faith communities have also begun to see the moral dimensions of climate change and are taking action. Led by Interfaith Power and Light, many religious communities around the United States, for example, are committing to a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 and to being carbon neutral by 2050. These steps are being taken to set an example for leaders in Paris as they make their carbon pledges.

The translation of the Bahá’í/interfaith course on climate change into French is one of many endeavors undertaken by the interfaith community to mitigate climate change.

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