Anyone who reads anything about climate change knows that opposing camps exist, composed of absolute climate deniers and those who see climate change as catastrophic.
In the news media, these diametrically-opposed positions are often portrayed as falsely equivalent, with each “side” given equal time and consideration—despite the fact that large majorities of people in most countries, and the overwhelming preponderance of the world’s scientists, and the leaders of almost all the world’s nations, believe that climate change is real and that it is caused by humans.
Then, because controversy sells newspapers and increases audiences and advertising revenue for electronic new outlets, people often become polarized, aligning themselves with one faction or the other, leaving no room for nuance, compromise or moderation. This same polarizing approach, used for decades in the political sphere, can result in a tribal separation of groups—and the consequent disagreement and disunity that leads to division, anger, hostility and even violence.
When the Universal House of Justice, the global Baha’i administrative body, weighed in on the issue with their letter on climate change in November of 2017, they pointed out the dangers of this dynamic, and in one trenchant paragraph asked the world’s Baha’is to do all they could to avoid it:
Specific concerns about possible extremes on one side of the debate, therefore, must be addressed without appearing to advocate the other extreme. On the matter of climate change and other vital issues with profound implications for the common good, Baha’is have to avoid being drawn into the all too common tendencies evident in contemporary discourse to delineate sharp dichotomies, become ensnared in contests for power, and engage in intractable debate that obstructs the search for viable solutions to the world’s problems. Humanity would be best and most effectively served by setting aside partisan disputation, pursuing united action that is informed by the best available scientific evidence and grounded in spiritual principles, and thoughtfully revising action in the light of experience. The incessant focus on generating and magnifying points of difference rather than building upon points of agreement leads to exaggeration that fuels anger and confusion, thereby diminishing the will and capacity to act on matters of vital concern. – The Universal House of Justice, 29 November 2017, to a group of individual Baha’is.
Here the Universal House of Justice recommends a three-step process for eliminating such divisive conflict and contention—setting aside partisan disputation; pursuing united action informed by both science and spiritual principles; and then thoughtfully revising that action in light of experience. Let’s examine those three steps.
- Setting Aside Partisan Disputation
“The incessant focus on generating and magnifying points of difference rather than building points of agreement,” the Universal House of Justice pointed out, “leads to exaggeration that fuels anger and confusion …” It actually diminishes our “will and capacity to act on matters of vital concern.”
Have you felt that way? If you’re confused or even angry about the contending claims you hear regarding climate change, aren’t you more likely to have a “diminished will and capacity” to do something about it? Of course you are—and some of the factions that lobby, advertise and try to influence the public mind on the issue of climate change know that confusion can only help further their agendas. Injecting doubt, sowing uncertainty and connecting a scientific issue to a partisan political agenda usually makes the issue too confusing and difficult for most people to understand, and that diminishes our collective will to act.
If we can manage to see beyond the motives of those who would divide and intentionally confuse us by diligently and independently investigating the truth of the matter, and by setting aside anything designed to provoke partisan disputation, we can form a much more rational and truthful view of the facts.
- Pursuing United Action Informed by Both Science and Spiritual Principles
Only when we do form that rational and truthful view of any science-based issue can we unite with others and act. On the issue of climate change, hundreds of actions, from tiny to massive, can make a difference.
Ranging from the easiest, simplest level of environmental awareness and personal activism to the highest and most ambitious levels of concerted and unified social action, everyone can do something. We can all make efforts to lower our carbon footprint by recycling, using less energy and educating ourselves about the issue. We can join coalitions and community groups that unite to work for change. We can ask our elected representatives to take policy measures that benefit the Earth. We can work on a global level by becoming active members of the worldwide Baha’i community, united in its determination to bring humanity together in pursuit of harmony, peace and environmental justice—all based on a set of spiritual principles newly revealed by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith. These spiritual principles, the Universal House of Justice and the Baha’i writings suggest, are equally important as the science itself:
Scientific knowledge is the highest attainment upon the human plane, for science is the discoverer of realities. It is of two kinds: material and spiritual. Material science is the investigation of natural phenomena; divine science is the discovery and realization of spiritual verities. The world of humanity must acquire both. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 136.
- Thoughtfully Revising Action in the Light of Experience
This final step recommended by the Universal House of Justice suggests that action and activism are not ends in themselves—but instead, part of a continuing pattern and practice of review and revision we each can commit to over the long term. Rather than seeing one particular action or policy or law as the end goal of our commitment to do something for the Earth’s environment, we can then start to see ourselves as permanent instruments of an ongoing process of change and growth. With that permanent commitment, we become true climate change agents:
The people have to be made conscious of the fact that without a complete change in our outlook and a total reform of the guiding principles of our life, such as the [Baha’i] Cause advocates, our social and economic problems cannot be solved nor our conditions ameliorated. – Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 429.