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A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of war and its miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation — such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 204.
For two centuries, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, we have made most of the world’s power and much of its progress by tapping into underground energy resources. Burning coal, oil, and natural gas has provided the main source of our energy for more than two hundred years—but we now know that the carbon those fossil fuels emit has altered the Earth’s climate, which will grow much worse if we don’t significantly moderate and then phase out our consumption.
On top of that king-size, truly global environmental problem, many experts have concluded that the world’s supply of fossil fuels is dwindling, and will one day run out. That scarcity means conflict. Already the world has fought wars over oil, and experienced observers predict we will fight more wars as it becomes harder to find, extract and transport.
So how can we reliably provide the power the world needs, while we effectively address the major environmental problems caused by burning fossil fuels, and also avoid the next oil war?
The Baha’i writings—especially the quote cited above, which the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith wrote in 1938—provide a subtle clue to the best answer: “the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet…” Notice that Shoghi Effendi says “on the surface” rather than “below the surface.”
Every hour, the surface of the earth receives enough sunshine to supply all the Earth’s energy needs for a year. The United Nations Development Programme has found that the annual potential of power generation from solar energy amounts to as much as 49,387 exajoules—almost a hundred times more than the total annual energy consumed on the entire planet, 559.8 exajoules.
The International Energy Agency projects that by 2050, solar power will potentially contribute more than a quarter of all worldwide electricity consumption. Solar energy would then represent the world’s largest source of electricity. Along with other surface-generated energy sources—wind, the ocean’s waves, hydroelectric power from flowing water—we now have the knowledge and the technology to transform our Earth from a belching, polluting 19th-Century industrial smokestack to a clean, renewable 21st-Century solar panel. Now we just need the will to make that change, as soon as we possibly can.
How? By not drilling, mining and extracting the fossil fuel reserves we’ve already identified. In order for the human race to accomplish that laudable goal, we will have to find ways to moderate our fossil fuel usage and LINGO—leave it in the ground. (For more information: http://leave-it-in-the-ground.org/ )
The International Panel on Climate Change, in its latest comprehensive report on the Earth’s climate, says that we can only safely mine and burn a small fraction of the planet’s available carbon-producing fossil fuels, if we plan on retaining a stable climate. When we exceed that “carbon budget,” the IPCC states, we will also reach the tipping point of dangerous human-caused climate change, defined as a rise in global temperatures beyond 2 degrees Celsius or 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, we cannot continue to burn the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels without completely and catastrophically destabilizing the world’s climate system.
Our carbon budget, the IPCC says, equals one trillion tons, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until forever, if we don’t want that destabilizing catastrophe to occur. So far we’ve burned 531 billion tons (that’s the 2011 figure), which means our budget amounts to 469 billion tons left. If we burn the known fossil fuel reserves, we’ll emit 763 billion tons. We can’t burn that oil and coal unless we want to play Russian roulette with the world and the human civilization on it.
How do we accomplish this seemingly impossible feat? The scientists say we need to reach peak consumption in five years, by the year 2020, and then reduce fossil fuel use dramatically. (You can get the details here: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/ipcc-climate-change-report-contains-grave-carbon-budget-message-16569)
The Baha’i teachings encourage us not only to unite as one human race, but to become wise, future-oriented stewards of the Earth:
While the world of nature stands in need of development, man’s approach to such development must be tempered by moderation, a commitment to protecting the “heritage [of] future generations”, and an awareness of the sanctity of nature that pervades the Writings of the Baha’i Faith. – from “Conservation of the Earth’s Resources,” compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, which quotes Shoghi Effendi, from a cable dated 23 May 1951 to the New Earth Luncheon, London, U.K.
We can do that by utilizing God’s gift to all humanity, the enormous power of the sun:
And may you remember that a single infinitesimal atom in the ray of the sun through a shining beam of the solar energy becomes glorified and radiant. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 420.
All contingent things are clad with the garment of existence through the rays of the sun. Were it not for the rays of the sun no being would step forth upon the arena of life. Everything would have remained hidden; nay, rather, the life of the terrestrial beings is continued through the light and heat of the sun to such an extent that all the infinitesimal atoms, which move through this realm of earth, owe their life to the reflection of the sun. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 1, p. 12.
…all the earth’s creatures require the bounty of the sun, for their very existence is dependent upon solar light and heat. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 50.
The sun nurtures all earthly things and fosters their growth and development by its heat and light—what greater good is there than this? – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 350.