Wilmette Institute Supports International Academic Efforts during Global Climate Change Week 2016

by Christine Muller

The Wilmette Institute was one of 288 institutes of higher learning that participated in Global Climate Change Week (GCCW), October 10–16. The Institute’s contribution took the form of a Forum on Global Climate Change on its Learning Center Home Page. It provided a link to an Activity Page filled with basic information and a number of videos on climate change and invited Wilmette Institute learners and faculty, past and present, to participate in the Forum. You can access the Forum by clicking on “Forum to Discuss Global Climate Week (Click to Read and Subscribe),” located below the icons for Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. This was the first time in its twenty-one-year history that the Wilmette Institute has participated in a collaborative effort with other colleges and universities.

The Wilmette Institute was pleasantly surprised to find that it is listed with a link on the main page of the website of Global Climate Change Week (the listing is in the second grey box titled “Latest”; click on “Read More,” or go there directly by clicking here). Fourteen other universities from around the world are mentioned, including ones in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the UK. It is interesting for Bahá’ís to see among those participating the University of Zanjan in Iran, a town of great significance in Bábí and Bahá’í history.

The aim of Global Climate Change Week, a yearly event, is to raise awareness and to call for action around the world. The website of Global Climate Change Week explains why it is extremely urgent to take strong climate action:

in Paris in 2015, the international community agreed to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [2.7°F]”. If current climate policies around the world continue, though, the expected result will be around 3.6°C  [6.5°F] warming. If we factor in the current pledges or promises governments have made, assuming they will all be met, global warming would still be likely to reach around 2.7°C [4.9°].

As things stand, then, the international community does not appear to be prepared to take the measures necessary to limit global warming even to 2°C [3.6°F]. This is profoundly shocking, given that any sacrifice involved in taking those measures is far overshadowed by the catastrophes we are likely to face if we do not: more extinctions of species and loss of ecosystems; increasing vulnerability to storm surges; more heatwaves; more intense precipitation; more climate related deaths and disease; more climate refugees; slower poverty reduction; less food security; and more conflicts worsened by these factors. . . .

Responses from Participants in the Wilmette Institute’s Climate Change Forum. As of the completion of this article, twenty-three Wilmette Institute learners had subscribed to its Forum on Climate Change, and eighteen had participated in the discussions. They discussed a wide variety of topics ranging from the great threat of climate change to spiritual perspectives and everyone’s moral obligation to take action. They also included many practical approaches. The Forum contained nine discussion threads:

  • Side effects of Climate Change in the human spirit and/or emotional stability
  • Measure to control
  • What can we do? Tree management in cities
  • Reality of climate change in an Atoll Nation
  • Solar energy as a solution to the energy problem
  • NOAA Climate Stewards education project
  • Paris Climate Agreement Enters into force today
  • Action: sequestering carbon
  • Actions in GCCW

Reflecting on the scope of the climate crisis, Peter Haug wrote:

The predicament humankind is approaching is made abundantly clear by astrophysicist Adam Frank, a professor at the University of Rochester. According to Frank, enough of us have not yet understood “the meaning of what’s happening to us and the planet. . . . What we don’t get is the true planetary context of the planetary transformation human civilization is driving.”

He [Frank] observes that, “on a fundamental level we don’t really understand” the problem of climate change.” Man’s cumulative impact is so significant, Frank states, that we’ve pushed Earth “out of the Holocene and into the Anthropocene, an entirely new geological epoch.”

Carol Curtis, a Bahá’í living in the Marshall Islands, wrote about the reality of climate change in an Atoll Nation. People in the Marshall Islands, as well as on other Small Island States, are seriously threatened by sea-level rise. The islands are getting smaller, and their freshwater supply is becoming increasingly contaminated by salt water. Some people have already left, but many are reluctant to leave because they understandably do not want to abandon their homes, their land, and their culture. Carol suggested this beautiful, and heart-breaking, seven-minute video.

The topic that engendered the most discussion was action. Candyce Ricco, from East Branch, New York, wrote that

We all need to be individual moral barometers for those around us, setting an example of better stewardship. I try to change the spot I’m standing on in order to, hopefully, witness a ripple effect around me. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to set an example for others to follow. If everyone makes small changes, larger changes will occur.

Judith Russell, who lives in Prescott, Arizona, shared this: “I have determined to walk rather than drive to work every day and compost/recycle in an organized manner.” Another participant shared her positive experience volunteering in a community garden coordinated by Minnesota Interfaith Power. Yet another participant is supporting a carbon tax in his state because he sees that voluntary individual actions will not be sufficient to address climate change, that we need a deep systemic change.

Some participants talked about the usefulness of measuring energy as an effective tool to reduce our energy consumption. A participant from Brazil, a professor at the Universidade de Brasilia, shared an article he wrote (in Portuguese) on Solar Energy as a Solution to the Energy Issue. Some friends discussed the importance of trees and shared resources about Richard St. Barbe Baker, a Bahá’í who dedicated much of his life to reforestation.

One of the most interesting discussions centered on sustainable agriculture and how it can help “sequester carbon,” which means taking carbon out of the atmosphere and returning it into the soil. The discussion included many topics such as the importance of the soil; the role of animals in soil fertility; the many problems with factory farming; the harmful effect of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is emitted by ruminants (cows); the benefits of a vegetarian diet; and the necessity that global meat consumption must be reduced significantly.

In the Global Climate Change Forum inside the Wilmette Institute’s course on Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind, Maria Roca, one of the organizers of a forum on “Climate Change to Climate Action” at Florida Gulf Coast University, made this exciting report:

The forum was conducted as a World Café. We had 6 tables with “expert” table hosts including scientists, representatives from local environmental organizations, political scientists, and permaculture experts. The goal of the dialogue was not just to identify possible actions but to create a plan to implement some of these ideas. After the first forum we hosted the second part of this dialogue where Honors students came together to synthesize the ideas from the original dialogue and to craft the plan of action. This plan will be shared with appropriate members of our administration to move action forward. I have already committed to teaching a one-credit Sustainability Lab next Fall where we will take on some part of this plan.

Actions were clearly motivated by spiritual values, which was reflected in a conversation about the relationship of spirit and matter. Our view about the world informs our actions. That is why it is so important to see our interconnectedness not only with people around the world but also with the Earth. Dr. Mukesh Sikarwar, a participant originally from India but now living in Malaysia, stated this clearly in his post: “We are not separate from nature; we are a very, very small part of it. Yet we humans behave as the ruler of nature.” In another post, Mukesh observed that

We humans have damaged our environment and are not concerned about future generations. We live as if no one is going to live after this generation. We are exhausting fish in the ocean and oil in the earth, damaging biodiversity, and engaging in many other destructive activities, and yet we call ourselves civilized.

He went on to agonize over the fact that many Bahá’í communities have not yet made the connection between their faith and their consumption and waste production. The discussion highlighted the importance of education, for example, on how our meat consumption contributes to deforestation, species extinction, and climate change. It is also difficult for many people to see that their consumption of stuff supports an unjust economic system and contributes to the suffering of the very people they profess to love—people in other parts of the world who are producing their clothing, electronic gadgets, and so on under slave-like conditions and are being harmed by the pollution caused by the manufacturing process.

Another participant, John Krochmalny, from Sylvania, Ohio, reported that some communities are making progress: “We have been implementing the principles of the Bahá’í Commonwealth as we understand them toward all aspects in our locality. Also included are the actions with the core principles associated with the United Nations Global Compact as well as the Earth Charter.”

In the area of education, Arthur Lyon Dahl reported that he “gave a lecture to ninety students at Núr University in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on individual responsibility for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including on climate change.” The lecture followed the Twentieth Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum at the University of Núr, the only other Bahá’í-inspired academic institution that participated in Global Climate Change Week.

Erika Keller Rogoff, from Waban, Massachusetts, emphasized the importance of education by sharing two resources:

The Truth About Climate Change” is a document written by seven well-known senior scientists. Its lead author, Sir Robert Watson, said “Climate change is happening now and much faster than anticipated.” The report is set up in question-and-answer format and makes clear what has happened, what is happening, and what needs to happen in clear and understandable parlance. The second resource is a short article describing the Report. It is only one page and doesn’t have the specifics of the report, but it summarizes one major purpose of the Report. “Leading scientists say most people remain unaware of the truth that climate change is a stark reality now and will continue to get worse without drastic action.” 

How You Can Support Global Climate Change. Global Climate Change Week 2016 is over, but it will return next year, and we will be dealing with the effects of climate change for a long time to come. The Wilmette Institute’s GCCW Forum will stay open year round. You are welcome to read the discussions and even participate yourself. To access and subscribe to the forum, click here.

Why You Should Learn More about Climate Change. Besides the nuclear threat, climate change is the most urgent issue humankind must address without delay. Spiritual perspectives are vital in that effort. The participation of universities around the world and of Bahá’ís in the annual Global Climate Change Week offers beams of hope in an increasingly darkening world. Everyone is invited to take part.

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