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How I navigated the rhetoric and realities of climate change through a spiritual lens


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How I navigated the rhetoric and realities of climate change through a spiritual lens

Commentary By Pete Haug | FāVS News

Wow! So much has happened that it seems like a lifetime. Yet it’s been only 17 years since the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former vice-president Al Gore. They were honored “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundation for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

The IPCC contribution established a 20-year scientific foundation corroborating facts about climate change. Gore’s contribution was disseminating those facts widely in “An Inconvenient Truth,” a popular documentary that made the science understandable.

That was the same year I returned home after teaching English in China for 11 years. Although before China I’d worked for decades analyzing human-caused environmental impacts, I was totally ignorant about climate change. When I asked a scientist friend working for the forest products industry, he replied, “Al Gore is a liar.”

Breaking through the conflicting perspectives

I didn’t respond, but as an ecologist I doubted his glib response. Later my own ignorance nagged me as I threaded through conflicting narratives on the internet. Heated rhetoric characterized both sides of the issue, warming the internet as well as the planet. Conflicting perspectives frustrated me. Purportedly scientific information often seemed agenda-driven and amplified by diatribes rather than science. In desperation, I enrolled in an online course offered by the Wilmette Institute (WI) in October 2014.

Aimed at the non-scientist, the even-handed scientific approach of the course was buttressed by spiritual values. It didn’t take long to convince me. By January 2015, I’d prepared, and begun teaching, a six-week evening course on climate change for the Pullman, Washington, Parks and Recreation Department. We met for an hour-and-a-half once a week to develop a basic, admittedly superficial, understanding of issues surrounding global warming. In April, I started writing occasional columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, with climate change as a major topic.

A significant email

Recently I received an email from one of the WI instructors, now an old friend. She’s also active with the International Environmental Forum (IEF). She wrote, “Recently I did a major overhaul of the interfaith climate change course on the IEF website. Perhaps you know friends who might like to use it in a group study.” This is what she sent: 

Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change, an Interfaith Study Course 

A revised version of the interfaith study course Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change is now available on the website of the Baha’i-inspired International Environment Forum: https://iefworld.org/ssdcc0.html

The aim of this course is to serve as a contribution to the efforts to empower individuals, groups, and institutions to address the environmental challenges in their communities and to engage in meaningful conversations for positive social change. 

The topic of climate change is huge, and most people are overwhelmed by too much information, some of which may not even be accurate. The course aims to provide the necessary knowledge that every citizen of the world needs to build a society in harmony with nature. Clearly though, knowledge alone is not sufficient. Spiritual and ethical principles are needed for guidance and motivation, and to provide a vision for a just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable world. A spiritual perspective and empowerment for action can also help with the despair that can be caused by the realization of the seriousness of the state of our world. 

Groups can adapt the materials to their special interests and circumstances. Individuals can use the materials for personal study and as a resource for their service. 

Any faith group can use these materials…as a resource for meaningful conversations and public discourse, for devotional gatherings…and for social action.

Best of all, it’s free!

What’s the catch? There is none. Human beings share a planet that is under siege from — human beings. As inhabitants of that planet, we share responsibilities for husbanding our shared home, if only to protect ourselves and loved ones. Caring for, and working with, others creates collective security, in this case, from natural events that result from human carelessness. The privileged can ignore facts for a while, but they can’t isolate themselves from Earth’s changing environments and resulting destruction of amenities Earth provides: food, clean air and water, and livable temperatures.

Baha’u’llah, in many of his writings, warned humankind against extremes: “[Y]e walk on My earth complacent and self-satisfied, heedless that My earth is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you.”

But the broader context for sharing Earth is to recognize humankind’s oneness: “Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth…It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Pete Haug
Pete Haug
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for favs.news in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 62 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.

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