It’s difficult to maintain a positive outlook in the face of increasingly severe environmental challenges. A friend, speaking of divisive politics, climate change and the lack of international cooperation, commented that the world seems hellbent on its own destruction.
I’ve been thinking of this while helping to plan an event called “Spirituality and the Climate Crisis”. One of its aims is to bring some awareness that this problem is not due to a lack of capacity, but is fundamentally spiritual. Our hopes, dreams, values and motivations all begin in the world of spirit, as do our fears and vices. The stunning failure to mount an effective response to the climate crisis seems primarily due to a lack of vision, a failure to imagine a future that’s healthy and in harmony with nature. Why? What’s stopping us?
It’s not as if unified action is impossible. Large scale commercial whaling ended on the advice of an international body created to oversee whale populations. A whaling moratorium went into effect in 1986. The Montreal Protocol for the protection of the ozone layer was signed in 1987, also as a result of strong evidence followed by concerted international action.
Our modern-day problems can’t be solved without unity of purpose, cooperation and pragmatism. Individuals are not going to solve the climate crisis by changing to LED bulbs and using non-disposable cups. As virtuous as those actions may be, they’re not enough. On the same day Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, she called out the nations gathered at COP25 for their “clever accounting and creative PR practices” in lieu of taking truly effective international action.
Sympathy for our situation may be warranted. The problem is enormous and complex, the opposing forces well-funded and clever, and the public easily distracted. Now, however, we’re beginning to have the advantage of desperation, including in the financial sector. For the first time in its history, environmental concerns dominate the 10-year outlook of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. As Samuel Johnson said, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Another change that’s finally beginning to happen is an increasing emphasis on finding workable solutions, and away from simply scaring the dickens out of everyone. From David Attenborough’s top five strategies in his 2019 documentary Our Planet Our Business to the 100 ranked solutions by Project Drawdown, the tactic is refreshingly positive. Some of the solutions proposed are breathtaking in their scope and expected results. The creation of ocean sanctuaries, protecting 30% of the ocean from fishing and destructive industries, would help to save coral reefs and prevent the collapse of the world’s fisheries currently predicted by 2048. This is well within our power. Its audacity makes my heart sing.
The poetic and mystical phrasing of the world’s sacred texts is often far more apt than the vernacular in expressing what we intuitively know. In the 19th century, Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote,
“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
Sheila Flood is a member of the Bahá’í community of Saanich and Chair of the Victoria Multifaith Society.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, February 8th.