Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change

The United Nations Climate Change conference held in Poland concluded on December 12 with a commitment from participating governments to formulate a global and effective response to climate change. The Baha'i International Community issued a statement titled "Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change". I have summarized the main points below, but I would encourage you to read the entire text of this powerful document.

According to the statement, the challenge of the destructive impact of global warming has also brought with it tremendous opportunity: "It is the opportunity to take the next step in the transition from a state-centered mode of interacting on the world stage to one rooted in the unity which connects us as the inhabitants of one biosphere, the citizens of one world and the members of one human civilization."

A need for new means to finding solutions is clear and calls for approaches based on justice and equity. Ethical questions include: Who is responsible for consequences of climate change? How do we determine target levels of greenhouse gas emissions? How can we maintain fairness in decision making? Our challenge is not only technical but moral, and we must transform our thoughts and behaviors to create economic and social structures which benefit all people.

The Baha'i International Community proposes that "the principle of the oneness of humankind must become the ruling principle of international life." This is more than a call for cooperation, it requires a remolding of unjust patterns of human interaction that "reflects the relationships that bind us as members of one human race."

In order to respond to climate change, profound changes are required from individuals, communities, and nations, along with progress in science, technology, economics, and policy. The statement then addresses some of the changes required.

On the individual level "a fundamental component of resolving the climate change challenge will be the cultivation of values, attitudes and skills that give rise to just and sustainable patterns of human interaction with the environment." It is critical to engage children and youth in this process, because during this time new ways of thinking and habits can be cultivated. In fact, principles and practices of sustainable development must be incorporated into all aspects of education and learning. More than just an abstract exercise, youth must be given concrete skills which will enable them to translate awareness into action. Public service should be an integral part of curricula, thereby encouraging students to "to initiate projects, to inspire action, to engage in collective decision-making and to cultivate their sense of dignity and self-worth." Individual progress must be linked with service to the community.

On the community level we must provide a setting which encourages peaceful decision making and channeling individual capabilities into action. The gender dimension of climate change cannot be ignored. Scarcity of resources usually impacts women more, but we must not forget that women are a source of untapped potential in meeting our challenges because of their role and responsibilities in families and communities and as stewards of natural resources. Our solutions must include and encourage the participation of women in all areas of human endeavor.

Religious communities also have an important role to play because of their capacity to mobilize public opinion and their reach to all corners of the globe. Indeed, faith communities are already lending their voice and efforts to mitigating the effects of climate change by educating their members, providing a scriptural basis for action, and leading and participating in environmental activities. We must encourage an increasing conversation between science and religion because both are needed to direct human energies to a solution. Science provides an objective and systematic approach to the problem, and religion can motivate action for the common good. We must examine religious doctrines: those which encourage social exclusion, passivity, and gender inequality will fail to inspire solutions, while qualities of "justice, compassion, trustworthiness, humility and generosity" will be urgently needed.

At the national and international level our perspective "must now evolve to reflect the essential connectedness and common fate of humanity that for too long has struggled against a worldview that emphasized sovereignty, ascendancy and competition". We need a shift in consciousness towards a realization of global solidarity inspiring the full cooperation of all nations, each according to their capacity. Developed nations need to commit to significant emission reductions and developing nations must transition to cleaner development pathways.

If we follow these suggestions, not only will we effectively respond to the climate change crisis, but we will usher in a new paradigm of an interconnected world and a true realization of our membership in one human race.

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