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Realism plus idealism brings hope to climate change debate

Left, right, liberal, conservative, religious, scientific: all these labels are counter-productive to solving the enormous problem of climate change that we face

When a friend sent along an article in the Guardian about Swedish student-activist Ia Aanstoot’s lawsuit against Greenpeace, who are fighting to suppress nuclear energy in Europe, I was delighted. “It’s a climate emergency! Drop your old-fashioned and unscientific opposition to nuclear power, and join us in the fight against fossil fuels instead!” She added that it “feels like being anti-nuclear is a question of identity for these older environmentalists.”

In spite of being an older environmentalist, I agree with her completely in her support for nuclear energy, especially the new, far safer technologies. But her second point is important: that opinions can often come down to questions of identity.

Left, right, liberal, conservative, religious, scientific: all these labels are counter-productive to solving the enormous problems we face. Groupthink is lethal to critical thinking.

This past summer I looked out the window of my brother’s Burnaby apartment at the large tank farm scarring Burnaby mountain. It wasn’t long ago that pipeline protesters went there, knowing there was a good chance they’d be arrested. The facility looked quite a bit larger this year, and sure enough, it is doubling the number of tanks to 26 and tripling its capacity. Aside from the environmental impact of all that CO2, concerned professional engineers have warned of the danger. These are explosive fuel tanks in a populated area near the sole access road from Simon Fraser university, in a province prone to wildfires.

“You can’t power the future with hope,” reads the banner on the Dear Greenpeace website. I hope Greenpeace, Sierra Club and our own provincial government will take the time to listen to what these young people are saying. They’re realistic, which is one of the strongest drivers of small-c conservative thought and should be just as important to our decisions as the idealism of the left. That marriage of realism and idealism is crucial to ending our polarization on this and a growing list of other issues.

There’s a Bahá’í quote that applies now more than ever, although it was written by the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith in 1949 to a community that was small and struggling:

“The Bahá’ís must learn to forget personalities and to overcome the desire—so natural in people—to take sides and fight about it. They must also learn to really make use of the great principle of consultation.”

The process of Bahá’í consultation involves intense listening and truth-seeking in a way that’s both fearless and loving, neither giving nor taking offense. It uses the scientific principle of unencumbered critical thinking in its impartiality towards personalities, group identities, and any other distracting influence. It’s as highly independent as it is collaborative.

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind, has often pointed out the need to listen to one another. In contrast to personalities and media organizations that align themselves with opposing ideologies, he teaches respect for the values that both liberal and conservative people hold dear.

Ia Aanstoot writes, “My generation trusts respected bodies like the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] who say that we can’t meet the Paris climate goals without nuclear energy. Put simply, we trust the science. … I love Greenpeace. I respect them. I’m inspired by them and I don’t want to see them become totally irrelevant.”

I admire Ia’s team for maintaining a positive attitude while working within a system that’s divisive and costly by nature. When I see them combining realism and idealism in their work, it gives me enormous hope for the future.

Sheila Flood is the E.D. of the Victoria Multifaith Society and member of the Bahá’í community. 

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at

* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, Sept 16th 2023