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How can we unite science and spirituality to fight climate change? One global non-profit organization—IEF—has answers to that question.
In 1997, a number of Baha’is and other like-minded environmental professionals organized the International Environment Forum (IEF), a Baha’i-inspired professional organization with a mission of addressing the environment and sustainable development.
Now with over 350 members in more than 70 countries on five continents, the IEF provides a platform for its members to explore the relationship between ethical and spiritual principles and the environmental challenges facing the world. The IEF functions as a virtual organization, using the Internet and the world wide web to network among its widespread global membership. It also organizes annual conferences on themes relevant to the environment and sustainability, and has been active in the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
In 2002, IEF was accredited to the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, where it participated in the Science Forum and organized several parallel activities. It has been a partner in various educational activities such as a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Sustainable Development at the University of Geneva, and contributes to the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL).
As an organization bridging science and spirituality, the IEF provides a forum that considers climate change from an ethical perspective, and supports the efforts of the Baha’i International Community and various national Baha’i communities around the world to make contributions to the debate on climate change and what to do about it at the United Nations and elsewhere.
For example: in 2006, the IEF organized an international conference at Oxford University on “Science, Faith and Global Warming: Arising to the Challenge” in partnership with the Baha’i Agency for Social and Economic Development of the United Kingdom. The conference considered climate change from economic, social, gender, development and community perspectives. Speakers included Dr. Halldor Thorgeirsson, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dr. Augusto Lopez-Claros, then Chief Economist at the World Economic Forum, and various scientists and academics.
The IEF annual conference in 2007 was held in Ottawa, Canada, in collaboration with the Baha’i Community of Canada, on the theme Responding to Climate Change: Scientific Realities, Spiritual Imperatives. The location was chosen because Arctic communities are some of the first to be severely impacted by climate change, and an ethical and spiritual approach can help them to cope with the forced transformation of their environment and lifestyle. The opening speaker, Professor John Stone, a Vice-Chair of one of the main committees of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had learned the morning of his talk that the IPCC had won the Nobel Peace Prize for their pioneering scientific work. The IEF also organized four side events at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2015 that adopted the Paris Accords.
Other IEF conferences have considered topics relevant to climate change, such as education for sustainable development and lifestyle changes that would help to reduce carbon footprints. In its 2016 conference, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the IEF focused on the United Nations 2030 Agenda and three of its most critical Sustainable Development Goals: responsible and sustainable lifestyles; values and education; and building sustainable urban communities. IEF believes that governments will not be able to reach these ambitious goals without widespread public support and involvement, accompanied by a bottom-up process of public buy-in and participation in places like Latin America.
In its two decades of activity, IEF has learned that the need to mobilize the world population to respond to the challenges of climate change requires new kinds of partnerships across all segments of society. In particular, the scientific community, which has marshalled the evidence for climate change in order to understand and project its impacts, must recognize and act on the fact that faith-based organizations have unique access to grass-roots populations all around the world. When religion’s inherent capacity to motivate change begins to communicate the ethical challenges arising from climate change and the need for a common effort to respond, the world will rise up to create change. This unification of science and spirituality will require sacrifices from many people, which will be more readily accepted with an ethical justification and spiritual motivation:
We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge.
Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth. Let us earnestly endeavour to be the means of uniting religion and science. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 130-131.
The Baha’i community provides one effective, working model that shows how to unite science and religion to raise public awareness of climate change—and motivate action towards sustainability based on justice and equity.