Interfaith Climate Group: Inspired by a Wilmette Institute Course

 

After taking the Wilmette Institute’s course on Climate Change in February 2013, five Bahá’ís in Gainesville, Florida, decided to put what they had learned to use and formed the Gainesville Interfaith Climate Group.

The Bahá’ís’ plan was to approach other religious organizations to find out what they were doing to address climate change and to see how the organizations could work together. The Bahá’ís involved include an educator, two environmental engineers, a psychiatrist, and a goat farmer—Sue Blythe, Farhang Darabi, John Herbert, Gary Hankins, and Charles Meister.

In March 2013 the Bahá’ís began hosting monthly presentations at the Gainesville Bahá’í Center to share videos and discuss climate issues. The meetings have covered a variety of topics and approaches.

March. In March the Interfaith Climate Group watched selections from the movie Home, which tells the story of our planet, its current problems, and the hope for the future. Part of the program involved sharing scripture from the world’s religion on the moral mandate to care for the Earth. Some thirty people attended the gathering.

April. The April program featured Climate Voices, which presented the Bahá’ís with an unexpected challenge. In the video, person after person describes the devastating effects climate change is having on their families and communities, affecting not just this generation but future generations as well.

The Bahá’ís had not anticipated, and thus were not prepared for, the expressions of despair and hopelessness by some of those attending and, as a result, lost a number of  participants who have not returned to subsequent meetings. On the positive side, those who stayed asked for concrete actions that individuals and communities could take, which set the topics for the next two months.

May. In May, in response to the discussion topic “What Can One Individual Do about Climate Change?” some fifteen people wrote about what they are doing and about what they would like to do during the next year. The participants then placed their suggestions on one of the Earth Charter’s sixteen universal principles for a sustainable world. The principles cover four topics: respect and care for the community of life; ecological integrity; social and economic justice; and democracy, nonviolence, and peace. (See http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/pages/Read-the-Charter.html). The Interfaith Climate Group recorded participant’ ideas for future use

June. The second topic that grew out of the difficult meeting in April was “What Can One Community Do about Climate Change?” This time some ten people considered how the core activities and community building can play a role. Again the participants matched their ideas to the Earth Charter principles and recorded them for future use.

July.  For its July meeting, the Interfaith Climate Group invited a guest speaker from Sunshine State Interfaith Power and Light, the Florida chapter of a national organization that offers a religious response to global warming. The Gainesville Climate Group planned to host the Sunshine State’s three-hour workshop, “Cool Congregations,” on September 28, inviting people from other religious groups in the Gainesville area, who can then take the workshop to their congregations if they choose.

August. In August, eight from the Interfaith Climate Group matched scripture to the principles of the Earth Charter, using the survey of scripture included in the Wilmette Institute’s Climate Change course and the Interfaith Power and Light’s religious statements on climate change.

September. In September, nine participants illuminated scriptural quotations with artwork in their own styles, from simple collages to elaborate designs. The illuminations will become part of “Illuminating the Earth Charter,” which will be on the Future Flash! Project website (www.futureflashproject.org). It will be used in a pilot project based on the Earth Charter.

On September 28, the Interfaith Climate Group hosted the “Cool Congregations” workshop. Three presenters from the Sunshine State Interfaith Power and Light inspired the participants to make personal commitments and recommendations to their congregations and Spiritual Assemblies

Devotional Meetings for People and Planet. The Interfaith Climate Group also started a monthly devotional gathering called “Interfaith Prayers for People and Planet.” The group uses excerpts from the climate statements from several religions, scriptural passages on caring for God’s creation, and prayers. The Climate Group hopes to rotate the devotional among places of worship of the group’s members.

October-December.  Over the next few months the Interfaith Climate Group will consult on what its role will be in the ongoing work of one of its members. Sue Blythe, author of the FutureFlash! Project, pilot tested a year-long after-school program in 2011–12 with twenty middle-school students at the Trilogy School in Gainesville, Florida. Loosely based on the Junior Youth Empowerment Program, FutureFlash! activities introduced young people to the principles of a sustainable world through the Earth Charter and the virtues. Students created and carried out service projects with mentors from the wider community. At the end of the year, at the FutureFlash! Show, families and friends were invited to get involved in the ongoing work of creating a sustainable, just, and peaceful world.

The centerpiece of the FutureFlash! Project is “Illuminating the Earth Charter,” a website where people of all ages share their activities and learning related to the sixteen principles of the Earth Charter. Now in its infancy, the website will make the vision of a sustainable world clearer year by year. On June 29, 2014, participants will celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of the Earth Charter with a production summarizing the accomplishments of individuals and groups participating in “Illuminating the Earth Charter.”

January–June 2014.  “The Climate Challenge: A Serious Collaborative Game for the Human Family” is a FutureFlash! Project designed to involve individuals and groups in “Illuminating the Earth Charter.” Starting in January 2014, the Interfaith Climate Group plans to be one of up to six groups participating in the pilot test of “The Climate Challenge” game. Each month the group will meet for a one-hour workshop, similar to the Climate Group meetings held from March through September 2013. At each meeting participants will produce simple artwork or ideas for action plans. These can be further developed during the month using guidelines, activities, and resources on the Climate Challenge website. The culmination of the activities will be a production based on group activities, to be released for the June 29, 2014, the anniversary of the Earth Charter.

If you (or your group) are interested in participating in the pilot test of “The Climate Challenge” game and/or the Interfaith Climate Group, please contact Sue Blythe <sue@futureflashproject.org>. Visit the FutureFlash! Project website, with “Illuminating the Earth Charter” and “The Climate Challenge,” at www.futureflashproject.org.

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