Bahá’í conference on global warming focuses on the Arctic

Group discussion at the International Environment Forum [Photo: elbi.smugmug.com]Ottawa, Ontario, 26 October 2007 (CBNS) — By many accounts, global warming will have the greatest impact on the Arctic. Last summer, for example, scientists announced that the Arctic ice pack retreated further this year than in any year since satellites began tracking the ice sheet.

So it was quite timely when the International Environment Forum (IEF) gathered in mid-October to discuss the moral implications of climate change on the Arctic and its inhabitants.

“This is happening in a part of the world whose contribution to climate change has been small,” said John Stone of Carleton University, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who learned during the conference that he would share the Nobel Prize with other members of the IPCC this year.

But, added Dr. Stone, those living in the Arctic have “bonds to the earth [that] are extremely close… and [their] coping capacity is strained and community infrastructure and ecosystems are becoming far more vulnerable.”

Co-sponsored by the Canadian Baha'i International Development Agency and the Bahá’í Office of Governmental Relations on behalf of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, the Forum’s 11th annual conference explored the ethical issues related to climate change from a variety of different angles, discussing everything from the need for a global governance to practical examples of innovative ways in which individuals can contribute.

But an initial focus of the meeting was on how climate change will affect the Arctic.

Dr. John Stone and John Crump answering questions after their presentations [Photo: elbi.smugmug.com]John Crump, Polar Issues Coordinator of UNEP/GRID-Arendal, said that while the Inuit people have a long history of resilience and adaptation, “the question is how much adaptation is possible and how much adaptation can the world expect.”

The problem will not be solved by simply relocating communities at risk, indicated Mr. Crump.

“It will take concerted, collective, and coordinated action at the international level” to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol and much more “to work our way out of climate change,” said Mr. Crump.

“The cost of inaction is much higher, and the most vulnerable regions will pay the most first. But in the end we will all pay,” he said, suggesting that there is a high moral and cultural cost for displacing an entire people.

“There are a host of citizen's rights that people have because of the country they live in, and when a nation is relocated what happens to those rights?” asked Mr. Crump.

A presentation prepared by Robin Anawak, environmental researcher for the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Canada’s National Inuit Organization, gave the audience a glimpse of how climate change impacts the Inuit. Due to last minute illness, Mr. Anawak’s presentation was read by the convener of the session.

Dr. Heather Eaton and Dr. Arthur Dahl
[Photo: elbi.smugmug.com]
His visual presentation demonstrated the breadth of issues affected by global warming, including food security, housing, the rise of invasive species, coastal erosion, and sea level rise. Other areas of impact mentioned were wildlife and diet, culture, language, and traditional knowledge, community infrastructure, hunter safety, new diseases, and security in the Northwest Passage.

Heather Eaton of St. Paul University in Ottawa examined the ethical dimensions of climate change from a theological and socio-cultural perspective.

“We live in a sea of cultural ideologies,” she said, “that nurture notions of social wellbeing in terms of progress, economic growth, unlimited materialism, industrialization, and technology contributing to climate disruptions.”

Dr. Eaton said that religions have much to offer in providing an ethical framework for addressing climate change.

“Religious teachings are concerned about interior human dynamics,” said Dr. Eaton. They teach us how “to educate our desires.”

She said as well that “religion teaches us about our will and thoughts. It teaches us about solidarity with others, and the Bahá’í tradition has much wisdom on this.”

“It is urgent for religions to reclaim that the beauty and elegance of the natural world have been inspirational and revelatory of the Divine since time immemorial,” said Dr. Eaton, noting that, “human beings never destroy that which they consider to be sacred.”

Dr. Arthur Dahl, president of the IEF, said the intimate connection of the Inuit to the earth might offer important insights for meeting the challenges of global warming.

Participants of the 11th annual conference of the International Envrionment Forum [Photo: elbi.smugmug.com]Noting a statement found in the Bahá’í teachings that “the country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies,” Dahl pointed out that cultures closest to this reality will have significant spiritual insights to offer.

In western industrialized nations, said Dahl, “We have built civilizations away from nature. We have trapped ourselves in an unnatural system.” The problem with this system, indicated Dahl, is that it is based on fossil fuels, causing global warming.

“There is a kind of inertia and momentum to continue on this path,” said Dahl. “Look at how vulnerable our civilization has become to the changes to come in one or two decades.”

Overall, 125 people participated in the conference from over 13 different countries across North America, Europe, and Africa. To reduce the ecological footprint of the conference, 25 out of the 125 participants from 9 different countries joined through a simultaneous video and text feed. Finally, to widen the dialogue even further, all of the conference sessions were made publicly available online on the IEF e-conference website: http://www.tyne.ca/ief2007/node/9.

Duncan Hanks, Director of the Canadian Bahá’í International Development Agency and co-convener of the conference said that he was impressed by the level of engagement of the participants. “There was an authentic, open exchange of ideas between people of different faiths, between scientists and religious people, and people of no faith,” said Mr. Hanks.

“The conference brought together implementers, policy makers, and ordinary citizens from government agencies, faith, environmental and other NGO’s. All of them found a place where they could express themselves, be heard, and contribute to the dialogue, without anyone imposing a perspective or being fixed in a position,” said Mr. Hanks.

“It was truly a generative atmosphere,” he said. “The spirit of learning, participation, and inspiration was palpable in the room.”