Climate change! Some people may not care, some seem confused, a few still deny its reality, but more and more people feel truly alarmed. Some even despair and lose any hope for the future of humankind.
So how can we avoid that despair and regain our hope by finding reasonable, ethically meaningful responses to the challenge of climate change?
The Baha’i teachings tell us to search for such answers in both science and religion:
There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
So let’s see where this science + religion method takes us.
First, the science: At the Paris Climate Conference in 2015, the leaders of the world’s nations discussed the goal of limiting global warming to 2° Celsius – or 3.6° Fahrenheit. Small Island States objected – they advocated for “1.5 to stay alive” because at 2°C their island homes would flood as a result of sea level rise, and they would all become refugees. That’s why world leaders in the Paris Climate Agreement asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the internationally-accepted scientific authority on climate change – “to provide a Special Report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Basically, those leaders wanted to have a scientific basis for comparing the climate change impacts in a 1.5°C compared to a 2°C warmer world.
The IPCC’s 2018 report subsequently showed that in a 1.5°C warmer world, some but not all small Island States would likely survive. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90%, but some irreversible impacts on polar ice sheets could probably be avoided.
In a 2°C warmer world, however, small islands would have no chance of survival, and all coral reefs would virtually be lost. The IPCC projected drought frequency and magnitude as substantially larger at 2°C than at 1.5°C, especially in the Mediterranean region and southern Africa. The scientists said that global warming of more than 1.5°C would severely exacerbate water scarcity, impact agriculture, threaten the global food supply, and adversely affect fisheries.
In summary, the scientific community now considers a 2°C warming as extremely dangerous for human civilization.
So what’s the situation right now? Human activities have already warmed the planet by slightly more than 1°C since the pre-industrial era. At the current rate of warming, the prevailing conclusion of the scientific community estimates that the Earth will reach the 1.5°C threshold between 2030 and 2052, and likely heat up 4°C or even more by the end of the 21st century – a catastrophic scenario.
The IPCC Special Report also indicates how much human civilization needs to reduce carbon emissions, and in what time frame. If we want to stop global warming at the level of 1.5°C, we must cut carbon emissions 45% by 2030 (compared to 2010 levels), and reach net zero emissions by 2050. If we want to stop total warming at 2°C, we must cut carbon emissions 20% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2075.
“China’s emissions have temporarily dropped by about one quarter because of less industrial activity due to COVID19”
All of this recent scientific research confirms that if we want to reach the 1.5°C goal, we would need to reduce emissions by 7.6% every year – starting now! Practically speaking, we need to reduce carbon emissions extremely quickly in all sectors of human activities – energy, food production, transportation, industry, buildings etc. This is an enormous challenge, but some scientists say that it is technically still possible.
However, despite the commitments made by countries in the Paris Agreement, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. Interestingly, China’s emissions have temporarily dropped by about one quarter because of less industrial activity due to COVID19.
Each day we delay, the necessary reduction rate becomes larger.
It may already be too late to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and the window of opportunity to keep the warming below 2°C is also closing very quickly. No wonder scientists and young people whose future is threatened are alarmed! Understandably, some people prefer to ignore the issue because it can be overwhelming and it calls into question many things society has taken for granted.
However, neither panicking nor ignoring the climate crisis will help human civilization survive.
So now let’s have a look at the spiritual dimension. The Baha’i teachings say that humanity is in its turbulent “adolescent phase” of development. The adolescent phase often includes taking things for granted and doing whatever one pleases, and that is just what humans have been doing – extracting and wasting resources without moderation, and polluting water, air, soil, and the atmosphere without considering the consequences.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, elaborated on humanity’s plight in a letter written in 1936:
Much suffering will still be required ere the contending nations, creeds, classes and races of mankind are fused in the crucible of universal affliction, and are forged by the fires of a fierce ordeal into one organic commonwealth, one vast, unified, and harmoniously functioning system. Adversities unimaginably appalling, undreamed of crises and upheavals, war, famine, and pestilence, might well combine to engrave in the soul of an unheeding generation those truths and principles which it has disdained to recognize and follow. A paralysis more painful than any it has yet experienced must creep over and further afflict the fabric of a broken society ere it can be rebuilt and regenerated. – The World Order of Baha’u’llah
Today, the paralysis and apathy have become painfully apparent to everyone aware of the reality of the state of the world – climate change certainly qualifies as an “undreamed of crisis.” The above words also explain that humankind’s tests, difficulties, and suffering will ultimately help it mature and build a united, peaceful world.
The Baha’i writings explain that there are two great processes at work in the world: One is the process of disintegration of the old world order and the other is a process of integration, of building a new world order in its stead. The Baha’i community invites everyone to help build a new spiritual civilization – a just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable one. At the same time, we all need to contribute to lessen the suffering caused by humanity’s collective adolescent irresponsibility. Baha’u’llah wrote:
These are not days of prosperity and triumph. The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. Strive, therefore, to save its life through the wholesome medicine which the almighty hand of the unerring Physician hath prepared. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
Shoghi Effendi said about humankind: “Its present state, indeed even its immediate future, is dark, distressingly dark. Its distant future, however, is radiant, gloriously radiant – so radiant that no eye can visualize it” (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come).
This vision of a glorious future can give us the courage to face the extremely alarming threat of climate change and to take action to mitigate it – but what does this mean in practice?
- We can learn more about climate change and what we can do as individuals and as a society to slow down and eventually stop the warming of the Earth.
- We can help our communities understand the threat and take meaningful actions.
- We can raise our voices to stand up for the truth and for science when vested interests and political ideology cloud humans’ perception of reality.
- We can help the societal actions to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the already unavoidable climate disruptions, making sure that they are carried out with justice and in a way that the poor are not adversely affected.
- We can adopt a more simple lifestyle and reduce our own carbon emissions.
- Perhaps most importantly, we can stay confident and spread the vision of a future where all people will live in peace with each other and with the Earth. A spiritual, sustainable, and globally united society is worth all of our efforts!
There are many ways to become part of this process. If you’re interested in learning more about climate change and in discussing meaningful actions with like-minded people all around the world, you are welcome to participate in the online Wilmette Institute Climate Change course, which will begin on April 9.