Sustainable Development and the Human Spirit
Beyond such technical and political questions as what limits should be placed on greenhouse gases, how can sustainable development be promoted, and who will pay for it all, the fundamental question facing the world community is this: Can humanity, with its entrenched patterns of conflict, self-interest, and short-sighted behavior, commit itself to enlightened cooperation and long-range planning on a global scale?
The Earth Summit process highlighted both the complexity and the interdependence of the problems facing humanity. None of these problems -- the debilitating inequities of development, the apocalyptic threats of atmospheric warming and ozone depletion, the oppression of women, the neglect of children and marginalized peoples, to name but a few -- can be realistically addressed without considering all the others. None can be fully addressed without a magnitude of cooperation and coordination at all levels that far surpasses anything in humanity's collective experience.
The potential for such cooperation is, however, undermined by the general debasement of human character. Although not commonly discussed in relation to the challenges of environment and development, there are current in the world certain trends -- including the widespread lack of moral discipline, the glorification of greed and material accumulation, the increasing breakdown of family and community, the rise of lawlessness and disorder, the ascendancy of racism and bigotry, and the priority given to national interests over the welfare of humanity -- all of which destroy confidence and trust, the foundations of collaboration.
The reversal of these destructive trends is essential to the establishment of unity and cooperation. This reversal will require a deeper understanding of human nature. For, although economics, politics, sociology and science offer important tools for addressing the interdependent crises facing humanity, a true resolution of the dangerous state of affairs in the world can only be realized when the spiritual dimension of human nature is taken into account and the human heart is transformed.
Although there are mystical aspects that are not easily explained, the spiritual dimension of human nature can be understood, in practical terms, as the source of qualities that transcend narrow self-interest. Such qualities include love, compassion, forbearance, trustworthiness, courage, humility, co-operation and willingness to sacrifice for the common good -- qualities of an enlightened citizenry, able to construct a unified world civilization.
The profound and far-reaching changes, the unity and unprecedented cooperation, required to reorient the world toward an environmentally sustainable and just future, will only be possible by touching the human spirit, by appealing to those universal values which alone can empower individuals and peoples to act in accordance with the long- term interests of the planet and humanity as a whole. Once tapped, this powerful and dynamic source of individual and collective motivation will release such a profound and salutary spirit among the peoples of the earth that no power will be able to resist its unifying force.
The fundamental spiritual truth of our age is the oneness of humanity. Universal acceptance of this principle -- with its implications for social and economic justice, universal participation in non-adversarial decision making, peace and collective security, equality of the sexes, and universal education -- will make possible the reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind.
Over one hundred years ago, Bahá'u'lláh challenged the rulers and peoples of the earth to make their vision world-embracing: "It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world." This challenge has yet to be answered.
Based on the statement "The Most Vital Challenge" presented to the Plenary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Earth Summit '92)