How, you might ask, could the environmental challenge of climate change be a human rights issue?
While it’s obvious to most people that climate change is the environmental problem with the most severe and long-lasting consequences, not everyone would make the connection that climate change also presents humanity with a severe human-rights issue. That’s one way to talk about climate change constructively, without falling into partisan divisiveness and rancor.
Why Is Climate Change an Issue of Human Rights?
The right to life is a fundamental human right, but climate change is already a contributing factor in causing many people to lose their lives—for example, in more severe storms. Climate change also seriously threatens the right to life of future generations because it destroys the natural systems that support human life. In addition, climate change threatens the right to an adequate standard of living, another fundamental human right, by limiting access to food, housing, and sufficient clean water, and by exacerbating water scarcity.
In most places, climate change impacts harm agriculture, and they displace people from their homes because of storms, floods, and sea level rise. Many refugees have already had to abandon their countries, at least partly because of climate change. Multiple scientific studies have concluded that in the not-very-distant future, climate change will likely displace hundreds of millions of people.
Avoiding Partisan Politics While Discussing Climate Change
… involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Baha’i ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern—climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. – paragraph 30.
But given the fact that climate change has become such a polarized partisan political issue, how can we avoid being drawn into partisan politics while discussing climate change with family and friends? How can we follow the Baha’i principles of civil discourse, refusing to contend with others and allowing everyone to independently investigate the truth when we talk about climate change?
The Universal House of Justice provided practical guidelines for Baha’is in its April 27, 2017, letter (paragraphs 3–4): Baha’is should never use partisan language, should avoid referring “to political figures in their public remarks, whether in criticism or support,” should “be obedient to the government of their land,” and should not engage in civil disobedience. Adhering to these rules will set people on a path of constructive involvement in all civil discourse and social action, including climate change.
Participating in Constructive Discussions.
Climate change, because it has become so partisan in many debates, can be a polarizing issue. It can raise the emotional temperature of discussions and discourse. But there are many ways in which we can raise public discourse above angry, divisive and futile debates to a level of constructive discussion.
One principle Baha’is use in such discussions is the importance of justice. While poor and indigenous countries often suffer first and the most from the impacts of climate change, they are the least responsible for the increase in carbon concentrations in the atmosphere that cause global warming. The world’s richest nations are most responsible for enormous carbon emissions and are, at least for the time being, less affected by the impacts of climate change. Wealthy people in those nations have the means to, for example, move to another place if their houses are flooded or destroyed by a storm. The poorest people in developing nations often don’t have that option.
Another principle Baha’is try to bring to constructive conversations is the oneness of humankind and the importance of a just world order in tackling global problems, including climate change.
For example: the issue of the proposed U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement has a direct connection to the establishment of a just world order. While only future historians will be able to determine the significance of the Paris Agreement, it may likely go down in history as a milestone in humanity’s movement toward a peaceful global order, because it represents the first time ever that 195 countries agreed on any issue. But the Paris Climate Agreement is not perfect. It does not even come close to the strong reductions of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Of course, Baha’is and Baha’i institutions have not endorsed any specific actions governments are taking—but they could see the spirit moving toward global unification at the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP 21). In conversations, Baha’is can point out that Baha’u’llah said:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.
Baha’is believe that peace, unity and global collaboration provide the most vital elements necessary to address climate change and all other global issues.
Also, the Baha’i International Community (BIC) has sent delegates to all international climate change conferences with the goal of presenting the Baha’i perspectives on the topics being discussed—and infusing the discourse with spiritual and ethical principles. For the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the BIC wrote Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together, a statement elaborating on the oneness of humankind and explaining that our relationship with the Earth and its natural systems correlate with our relationship with one another.