We all walk on this planet that sustains us, the Baha’i teachings say, and yet the Earth itself remains humble:
Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 44.
It’s hard to be proud or arrogant, Baha’u’llah seems to say, if we all acknowledge that the mere dirt beneath our feet give us everything we need to live and to thrive. So how, the Baha’i teachings ask, can we aspire to that same level of humility and service, and achieve the harmony we so badly need between human society and the natural world?
The Universal House of Justice, in their recent November 2017 letter on the issue of climate change, asks that important question in a new way:
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. Certain biological realities present themselves when an organism negatively affects or exceeds the capacity of its ecosystem. The limited availability and inequitable distribution of resources profoundly impact social relations within and between nations in many ways, even to the point of precipitating upheaval and war. And particular arrangements of human affairs can have devastating consequences for the environment. The question of the impact of climate change, and to what extent it is man-made and its effects can be ameliorated, is today a major aspect of this larger problem. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah directly and indirectly touches on a range of such concerns in a manner that speaks to a harmony between society and the natural world. It is essential, therefore, that Baha’is contribute to thought and action regarding such matters. – The Universal House of Justice, 29 November 2017, to a group of individual Baha’is.
That powerful goal—“harmony between society and the natural world”—defines one of the main principles of the Baha’i teachings:
For Baha’is the goal of existence is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Such a civilization can only be built on an earth that can sustain itself. The Baha’i commitment to the environment is fundamental to our Faith. – The Baha’i International Community, October 1987, The Baha’i Statement on Nature.
But how do we get there? How do we create a society that harmonizes with the natural world, rather than one that pollutes, fouls and destroys it?
First, the Baha’i writings suggest, we get there by spiritualizing our inner life:
Breathe ye into the world’s worn and wasted body the fresh breath of life, and in the furrows of every region sow ye holy seed … In the meeting place of life be ye a guiding candle; in the skies of this world be dazzling stars; in the gardens of unity be birds of the spirit, singing of inner truths and mysteries. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 271.
Second, we recognize the connection between the inner human reality—and begin to understand how that spiritual condition we all experience has a tremendous effect and influence on the world’s outer conditions:
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. – from a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual Baha’i.
Third, we do everything possible to bring about world unity, the foundational requirement of all global efforts to truly save our planet’s environment:
Until such time as the nations of the world understand and follow the admonitions of Baha’u’llah to whole-heartedly work together in looking after the best interests of all humankind, and unite in the search for ways and means to meet the many environmental problems besetting our planet, the House of Justice feels that little progress will be made towards their solution …. – The Universal House of Justice, 18 October 1981, to an individual Baha’i.