How can humanity live in harmony with the planet?
A cross section of social actors in the United Kingdom, including scientists and representatives of civil society and religious communities, recently gathered at St. George’s House in Windsor Castle to examine how religion can inspire unity of thought and action on climate change issues. Established more than 50 years ago by the Duke of Edinburgh, St. George’s House is an organization that aims to promote dialogue on major issues facing British society.
“Protecting the environment is clearly more than a question of reducing carbon emissions,” says Karl Wightman, representing the country’s Baha’i Office of Public Affairs at the gathering. “The real issue here is perhaps the most profound question humanity has ever faced—how can we envision a sustainable future and an interdependent civilization?”
The group reflected on the diverse spiritual, secular, and academic perspectives offered and considered fundamental questions about collective environmental efforts.
There was consensus among participants that what is needed goes beyond technical solutions to immediate problems. Humanity must also ask searching questions about the prevalent consumer culture and its underlying values. “What we need is a new understanding as to what happiness is,” said one participant. Another participant noted that “religion contains teachings that ameliorate the human tendency toward consumption and instead promote contentment.” Infinite growth, participants felt, on a planet with finite resources, is unsustainable.
The discussion also highlighted the idea that religion should be viewed as more than an instrument for mobilizing people. Religious teachings shed light on the relationship between society and the natural world and speak to the underlying question of excessive materialism that is associated with the exploitation and degradation of the environment.
As a collective contribution to the discourse on climate change, the insights from this consultation will inform a joint paper that will be submitted to the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26).
Religious communities have been significant contributors to previous sessions of this conference. For the landmark conference held in Paris in 2015 (COP 21), the Baha’i International Community (BIC) prepared a statement, which comments on the role of religious faith in this issue.
The BIC statement reads in part: “Establishing sustainable patterns of individual and collective life, will… require not only new technologies, but also a new consciousness in human beings, including a new conception of ourselves and our place in the world.
“From where will this consciousness arise? And where will the volition and self-discipline needed to embody it in countless cities, towns, and villages be found? Qualities such as the capacity to sacrifice for the well-being of the whole, to trust and be trustworthy, to find contentment, to give freely and generously to others derive not from mere pragmatism or political expediency. Rather they arise from the deepest sources of human inspiration and motivation. In this, faith has shown itself to be key, whether in the efficacy of sustainability efforts or the capacity of the human race.”