A Bahá’í Perspective
As we observe ‘World Environment Day’ on 5 June and ‘World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought’ on 17 June, it is opportune to reflect on questions such as how to appropriately protect, preserve and use of the world’s natural resources and how our attitudes towards the mother earth – the source of our sustenance – should be.
More than 100 years ago Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote: “Nature in its essence is the embodiment of (God’s) Name, the Maker, the Creator … Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world”.
We, as human beings, are custodians of the earth and have the obligation to ensure that nature is respected and protected as part of a divine trust for which humanity is ultimately answerable.
However, in the words of the Bahá’í International Community, “The rapid progress in science and technology that has united the world physically has also greatly accelerated destruction of the biological diversity and rich natural heritage with which the planet has been endowed. Material civilization, driven by the dogmas of consumerism and aggressive individualism and disoriented by the weakening of moral standards and spiritual values, has been carried to excess. Only a comprehensive vision of a global society, supported by universal values and principles, can inspire individuals to take responsibility for the long-term care and protection of the natural environment”.
Need for transformation in attitudes and actions
There is need for transformation in our attitudes and actions towards the source of our sustenance. Focusing mainly on the material aspects of the environmental crisis, while ignoring its moral and ethical dimensions, have not been able to address our current environmental challenges such as climate change, deforestation, soil erosion, plastic pollution and water shortages.
Rather than asking how to exploit the earth’s resources without due regard to its environment, we should be asking how to live with an ethic of respect, care and justice towards all life and nature.
“Setting humanity on a more sustainable path to the future” in the Bahá’í view “involves transformation in attitudes and actions”. It will depend on our unity as humanity. A globally-accepted vision for the future, based on unity and cooperation among the nations, races, creeds, and classes is necessary, because as long as one group of nations perceives its interests in opposition to another, progress will be limited and short-lived.
The wise use and care of the environment, in the Bahá’í view, depends on the acceptance of the oneness of humanity and global unity. “In order to progress beyond a world community driven by a largely economic and utilitarian calculus, to one of shared responsibility for the prosperity of all nations”, says the Bahá’í International Community, the principle of oneness of humanity “must take root in the conscience of the individual. In this way, we come to recognize the broader human agenda – which subsumes those of climate change, poverty eradication, gender equality, development, and the like – and seeks to use both human and natural resources in a way that facilitates the progress and well-being of all people”.
Using our material resources for the advancement of civilization
We will always need material resources to sustain civilization. As we learn how best to use the earth’s raw materials for the advancement of civilization, we must be conscious of our attitudes towards the source of our sustenance and wealth.
According tothe Bahá’í International Community in its statement to the United Nations 2015 Climate Change Conference (COP21), “A more balanced attitude toward the environment must … address human conditions as consciously as it does natural ones. It must be embodied in social norms and patterns of action characterized by justice and equity”.
Observing justice and equity implies moving from the self-interest that dominates our world today to a mode of sharing and caring for our natural resources. Moreover, resources must be directed away from those activities that are damaging to both the social and natural environment and instead efforts be made towards the creation of systems that foster cooperation and mutualism.
In the words of the Bahá’í International Community, a “fundamental component of resolving the climate change challenge will be the cultivation of values, attitudes and skills that give rise to just and sustainable patterns of human interaction with the environment,” and, “As consciousness of the oneness of humankind increases, so too does the recognition that the wealth and wonders of the earth are the common heritage of all people, who deserve just and equitable access to its resources”.
Need for a balanced attitude towards our natural resources cannot be over-emphasized – bearing in mind that the future prosperity and the peaceful co-existence of peoples will depend on access to and conservation of natural resources abundantly provided to humanity by the Almighty Creator.
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