Climate Change: From Despair to Understanding to Action

Climate Change 2018
Faculty: Christine Muller, Arthur Lyon Dahl, Laurent Mesbah

Brad James, a learner in the Wilmette Institute’s online course Climate Change 2018, found his experience in the course a journey that included despair, then understanding, and finally a commitment to action. He explained that since childhood he has had a love for nature and has been troubled by the threats of climate change. While studying at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, he learned about the fragility of the northern regions and how easy it is to throw them out of balance. He now lives in Houston, Texas, USA, where the economy centers on an industry—oil and gas—that is very damaging to the climate and where he has experienced intense Gulf Coast storms brought on by climate change. Brad works for the University of Texas Health Science Center on projects aimed at improving access to healthcare for underserved populations. But back to his journey: Read on to participate in in it—and to pick up some pointers for your own journey.— THE EDITORS

What I Learned. As I reflect on my time as a participant in this course, I find myself wishing that it was not drawing to a close. This is a topic I have been deeply concerned about for a long time, and through the course I have felt a part of a community that shares those concerns and that is able to guide me as I learn more about the topic and, most important, what we can do about it. . . . Fortunately, I am now aware of that there are many resources I can use to continue to educate myself and that there are other groups and communities that share my concern with which I can become involved to find ways to address this crisis.

My New Understandings and Insights. Every unit of the course brought with it some new understanding or insight. The early units brought a greater understanding of the scope, complexity, and impacts of the climate crisis along with a much greater understanding of the science behind it. I also began to gain some insight into the thoughts and motivations of those who deny the science. But, of all the units, Unit 5, which discussed Spiritual and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change, gave me the greatest new insight and understanding. By learning about the spiritual principles behind stewardship of the physical world and the ethical considerations of environmentally sustainable development, I am able to approach the problem in a new way and to think about how I can apply those insights going forward.

The later units of the course (Mitigating Climate Change, Discourse about Climate Change, and Service and Social Action) have begun to reshape my thinking about what I can do as an individual, as a member of a community of faith, and as a member of the greater society to work to address the climate crisis. Overall, becoming aware of the statements made by the Universal House of Justice and other Bahá’í-inspired organizations and agencies regarding climate change has given me a much greater understanding of what is being done and the need to expand on those efforts.

My New Skills. By learning about the science behind climate change I feel that I am better able to discuss it with others. And, by learning about the attitudes of those who are skeptical about, or deny the science, or who get it but simply don’t seem motivated to do anything about it, I hope to be more tolerant and patient with their views. In the Bahá’í community we are often faced with questions of spiritual readiness both in ourselves and in others. We give to the Funds regularly when we have reached a level of spiritual maturity and are ready to do so. The same is true with teaching, or participating in the core activities, or numerous other aspects of our lives. I now think that the same is true about addressing the climate crisis. I hope I have acquired some skills that will help me make others aware of the spiritual nature of the problem and to guide them towards a state of greater readiness to do something about it.

My New Feelings about Climate Change. The reading from Unit 7, “The Challenge for All of Us,” described some of the emotions we might feel on “becoming aware of the immensity of the climate crisis”: loss, anger, guilt, fear, and confusion.  Indeed, I have felt all of those. In addition to those, as I progressed through the course I felt:

  • Despair at the complexity of the crisis and at the inability of existing institutions and systems to avert a deepening of the crisis and for the people suffering from the effects of climate change and for the world we are leaving to future generations;
  • Frustration with the lack of acceptance and action by our political leaders and fellow citizens in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence;
  • Alarm at the changes that have been set in motion and the possible consequences for the natural world and of the unknown calamities yet to befall mankind.

But I have also found:

  • Understanding of the causes of the crisis and of things that can be done and are being done to mitigate the impacts of climate;
  • Hope that the organizations, agencies, and individuals addressing the issue will succeed in limiting the damage and that this crisis presents humankind with an opportunity to advance the process of integration as described by Shoghi Effendi. Also, hope that, while the world and its people will not be unchanged by this crisis, we will, as with all tests, emerge stronger for it.
  • Determination to be an active participant in the efforts to solve the problem.

Changes in My Values and Beliefs. The most profound change in my values and beliefs as a result of this course has been that I no longer frame the climate crisis primarily as an environmental issue. I now view this as much more than that. Of course, all of the world’s problems are, at their source, spiritual problems and, therefore, have spiritual solutions. The magnitude and complexity of the climate crisis is so great that it touches every aspect of life on this planet. As Bahá’ís, we have embraced a great challenge. We aspire to nothing less than the complete transformation of the world and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Addressing both the spiritual causes and the environmental and social impacts of the climate crisis will have to be a fundamental part of everything we do in pursuit of that goal.

Applying What I Learned in the Climate Change Course. Moving forward, I plan to:

  • Encourage and assist others to understand the problem of climate change and to work toward mitigating the severity of the problem;
  • Join with others who are working to limit the severity of the problem and to find just and equitable approaches to it;
  • Find concrete ways to apply the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith to the environment and climate change in my life and in my community; and
  • Be mindful of all of the little things I do every day, from my buying patterns, to the source of the foods that I consume, to my driving habits, and on and on, and think about whether they are supporting a sustainable world and whether they contributing more to the problem or to the solution.

Thank you, Brad James, for sharing your insights from Climate Change 2018 and for sharing how you will be applying your new learnings in your life. We can all benefit from your insights and actions.

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