This past weekend my wife and I led an intensive educational session on the spiritual problem of climate change. You’re probably thinking: spiritual problem?
Yes, climate change, like so many other social issues we face, isn’t just a technological or political challenge—it goes to the heart of who we are as a species.
When humanity entered the Industrial Age in the 19th Century, we began to massively extract and burn carbon-based fossil fuels—coal, oil, natural gas, etc.—and they sparked the world’s rapid economic and industrial growth. They also brought our air a slowly-developing atmospheric change, by adding carbon–CO²—to the gases that surround the planet and protect it. Today, we have record levels of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere, which trap heat and warm the planet.
The world’s leaders have recognized those scientific facts, and in 2015 we witnessed an unprecedented level of international activism to combat climate change, when virtually all countries signed the Paris Climate Accords. They reached and signed a first-ever binding global treaty on the universal regulation of carbon emissions. That agreement determines and legally sets the world’s future “carbon budget,” the fossil-fuel pollution and greenhouse gas standards that determine how humanity addresses our quickly-mounting climate crisis.
This remarkable milestone in human history marks the very first time the nations of the world have agreed on anything, and fulfills one of the major principles and prophecies of the Baha’i teachings:
… at a time when nations have difficulty reaching agreement on many important issues, the governments of nearly every country on earth have reached political consensus on a joint framework, in the Paris accord, to respond to climate change in a manner that is anticipated to evolve over time as experience accumulates. More than a century ago, Abdu’l-Baha referred to “unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed.” The recently adopted international agreement on climate change, irrespective of any shortcomings and limitations it may have, offers another noteworthy demonstration of that development anticipated by Abdu’l-Baha. – The Universal House of Justice, 29 November 2017.
The Paris agreement happened in 2015 because the world has never faced a planetary environmental crisis like climate change. The magnitude, rapidity and potential dangers of significantly and irrevocably altering the Earth’s climate should deeply concern all seven billion of us—everyone, and everything, that breathes.
Why? Because such a major alteration in our environment and our climate, scientists calculate, will create global havoc. Crop failure, starvation, mass extinction of species, refugee crises, the inundation of coastal communities, increasingly catastrophic weather events, more wars over oil and a tremendous worldwide economic collapse represent just a few of the possible scenarios scientists and researchers have foreseen.
This universal problem challenges every one of us now alive on planet Earth. In fact, we’ve never faced such a far-reaching, universal global crisis before. From a Baha’i perspective, what does that mean? It means we not only have a long-term climate change crisis on our hands—it means we must also find ways to come together as one humanity to solve the problem:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.
It is our conviction that any call to global action for environment and development must be rooted in universally accepted values and principles. Similarly, the search for solutions to the world’s grave environmental and developmental problems must go beyond technical-utilitarian proposals and address the underlying causes of the crisis. Genuine solutions, in the Baha’i view, will require a globally accepted vision for the future, based on unity and willing cooperation among the nations, races, creeds, and classes of the human family. – The Earth Charter, The Baha’i International Community, 6 June 1992.
The Baha’i teachings say we have one Earth, and the Earth has one atmosphere:
The unity which is productive of unlimited results is first a unity of mankind which recognizes that all are sheltered beneath the overshadowing glory of the All-Glorious, that all are servants of one God; for all breathe the same atmosphere, live upon the same earth, move beneath the same heavens, receive effulgence from the same sun and are under the protection of one God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 191.
We all breathe the same air, which knows no boundaries or borders. No purely national solution will address this crisis. No treaty, even one as comprehensive as the Paris Accords, will ultimately solve the problem. Instead, we must find the solution in human oneness.