Gainesville, Florida, Interfaith Climate Group: An Update on a Project Inspired by a Wilmette Institute Course

by Sue Blythe

In February 2013 five Bahá’ís from Gainesville, Florida, were among the first class of learners to take the Wilmette Institute’s new course called Climate Change. In the Institute’s October 2013 eNewsletter we published an article entitled “Interfaith Climate Group: Inspired by a Wilmette Institute Course.” In it we highlighted the Climate Group’s activities from March (one month after the course began) through September and summarized its plans for the rest of 2013 and for 2014. We thought it was time to check in to see how the Interfaith Climate project is faring as 2015 begins. The report below was written by the Climate Group’s spokesperson.—THE EDITORS

Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and
center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.
—Bahá’u’lláh

 Bahá’u’lláh exhorts humankind a number of times to be “anxiously concerned” with the needs of our age and to center its “deliberations” on its urgencies and requirements. One of those urgent requirements is the disruption of our climate that threatens peace and security at every level. What we do in the next few years may determine the future of life on Earth.

In 2013, five Bahá’ís in Gainesville, Florida, took the Wilmette Institute’s course on Climate Change, meeting weekly to discuss what they were learning in the course. It was a wake-up call for our group. We came to see the need for community building among people of faith in our community as a way of facing the challenges presented by climate change, and we wanted to know who, in the faith community, was working on climate change.

The five of us created the Gainesville Interfaith Climate Group to engage people of various religious traditions in education, inspiration, and action for a sustainable world. Our actions over the last two years and our plans for 2015 can be summarized as follows:

  • 2013:
    Held monthly meetings to learn about climate issues and what various faiths say in both scripture and climate statements.
  • 2014:
    Hosted four workshops in the series Building Community in a Changing Climate.
    Encouraged people to make short-term and long-term commitments for a sustainable world.
    Hosted a monthly devotional gathering.
    Participated in the Fourteenth Anniversary of the World Peace Charter.
    Supported a march for the UN International Day of Peace.
    Had a summary of the Interfaith Climate Group’s activities published on the website of Earth Charter International (http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/articles/1074/1/Intrfaith-Climate-Group-celebrated-the-14th-Anniversary-of-the-Earth-Charter/Page1.html).
  • 2015:
    Will repeat the quarterly workshops and monthly devotionals.
    Will reach out to a more diverse portion of the local faith community.
    Will participate in the several activities marking the Fifteenth Anniversary of the World Peace Charter.
    Will be included in an online game called FutureFlash! Climate Challenge, 2050, being developed by one of the five Bahá’ís who took the Climate Change course.

As its guide, the Interfaith Climate Group uses the Earth Charter, a universal expression to foster sustainable develop (http://www.earthcharterinaction). Its sixteen principles include the oneness of humanity, the elimination of prejudice, the equality of women and men, and consultative problem solving. It acknowledges the role of religion as a moral force without promoting any one religious group.

In June 2014 the Climate Group celebrated the Fourteenth Anniversary of the Earth Charter at the Quaker Meetinghouse in Gainesville. A highlight of the meeting was the young people’s presentation about the history of the Earth Charter from Maurice Strong’s first proposal to a 1968 UN conference to the present, when the Earth Charter Initiative reaches around the globe. The youth invited participants to write the rest of the story, imagining how they will help to bring the vision of the Earth Charter closer to reality by the year 2050. The Climate Group adapts activities from FutureFlash! Climate Challenge, an online game with real-world activities for a cleaner, greener future (http://www.futureflashproject.org). It empowers young people—and those who care about their future—to make the changes they want to see in the world. Adults and youth groups are working together to develop The FutureFlash! Project.

In September 2014 the Interfaith Climate Group supported the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship/Gainesville and Veterans for Peace in a march for the UN International Day of Peace. More than fifty people marched for peace for people and planet. After the march, we joined the live feed from the Peoples Climate March in New York City, connecting our small community action in Gainesville to the global climate movement.

As 2015 begins to unfold, the Gainesville Interfaith Climate Group is working with the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice (FCPJ) on a statewide Earth Charter initiative. The FCPJ is in the process of registering as an affiliate of Earth Charter International at the University for Peace in Costa Rica.

The Climate Change Group will participate in the celebration in 2015 of the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Earth Charter, which will be a global event with contests, events, courses, and webinars throughout the year.

We five Bahá’ís who took the Wilmette Institute’s Climate Change course in 2013 continue to be amazed at how much we have learned and how our effort to start a Climate Change Group in Gainesville, Florida, has enabled us to participate in one of the prevalent discourses of our time. At the present time, three of those five Bahá’ís, plus three who have participated in the interfaith programs, are taking the Wilmette Institute course on Preparing for Interfaith Dialogue to hone our skills in collaborating with those in other faith traditions. The group is planning to meet with the Bahá’í Association at the University of Florida about participating in The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge (see http://whitehouse.og/inerfaithservice).

For more information, contact Sue Blythe sue@interfaithclimategroup.org.

Other courses in which you might be interested:
Climate Change, March 2015
Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind, September 2015
The Equality of Women and Men: Application in Private and Public Life, October 2015

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