Baha’is respond to call for action on environment

Bahá’í communities across Canada are beginning to adopt greener, more sustainable practices in response to a “call for action” from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.

The National Assembly, elected every year by Canada’s 30,000 Bahá’ís, wrote to local Bahá’í communities in March 2008 to remind them of their “sacred responsibility to safeguard the environment.” Its initiative was prompted by recommendations from a conference entitled Responding to Climate Change: Scientific Realities, Spiritual Imperatives, which was co-sponsored by the Bahá’í Community of Canada in 2007.

“To date, some 30 communities have reported increased activities,” said Duncan Hanks, director of social and economic development for the Canadian Bahá’í Community. “These range from practical steps like planting vegetable gardens in Aurora, Ontario to consciousness-raising events like the eco-shift conferences for youth in Montreal, Quebec.”

The Bahá’ís in Burnaby, British Columbia have found a number of ways to blend a greener approach into the rhythm of their community life. For example, members were encouraged to walk, cycle or take public transit to one of the regular Nineteen Day Feasts, an important spiritual, administrative and social component of Bahá’í life. Those who did had their name entered into a draw for gift certificates at the Vancouver Bahá’í bookstore. The community is also making efforts to eliminate or reduce the use of paper. All but a handful of the 200 local Bahá’ís now receive an electronic copy of the community newsletter instead of the paper version. The local Bahá’í council, or Spiritual Assembly, has already been paperless for five years.

In Grand Manan, New Brunswick, the Bahá’í community is promoting car pooling to events and using re-usable dishes and cutlery. For the past three years Bahá’í youth and children in Aurora have planted a vegetable garden in collaboration with the York Region Food Network, with half of the harvest going to local food banks. The Bahá’í community also held one of their regular feasts at the garden, where they recited prayers and sacred writings.

On British Columbia’s Saltspring Island, the Bahá’ís have operated a dishwashing booth for 17 years at the local Fall Fair, washing literally thousands of dishes each year, thus eliminating the use of disposable paper plates and plastic cutlery.

In Ottawa, Ontario, renovation of the new Bahá’í community centre has also been a major greening focus and despite a limited budget many measures were taken, including efficient lighting, low VOC paints, low flush toilets in a new accessible washroom, and a kitchen designed to promote recycling and dish washing. Visit Faith & the Common Good to read the full story.

Several Bahá’í communities reported collaborating with other organizations on environmental projects. In Kelowna, British Columbia, for instance, the Bahá’ís supported a Stewardship of Creation event sponsored by a Christian church. Over 75 people attended the program. The Bahá’í community contributed music, devotions, and speakers, and also organized a display area where different faiths and other groups could present their ideas on conservation.

One of the most innovative endeavours is underway in Montreal, where Bahá’í youth are collaborating with other groups to facilitate a series of workshops and activities called SHIFT eco-workshops. The workshops focus on the spiritual and emotional environments, as well as the physical.

Many individual Bahá’ís have also shown leadership in promoting environmental sustainability.Karen Sepers manages a small grocery store in Sleemen, Ontario.

“Using plastic bags is convenient and inexpensive,” says Sepers, “but two years ago I decided to use only paper or recyclable cloth bags with my customers in order to reduce plastic in the landfill. Many of my customers now bring their paper bags back to be used again. It’s a small thing, but it helps create awareness about the environment.”

On a larger scale, noted Canadian architect Fariborz Sahba designed the monumental Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel, which restored a substantial area of the degraded slopes of Mount Carmel. The project, which incorporates both formal gardens and restored native habitat, were featured on a television series on gardens entitled Recreating Eden.

Achieving a sustainable, global civilization is a central principle of the Bahá’í Faith. In the 19th Century, its founder, Bahá’u’lláh, stated that the very purpose of life was “to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization”, which necessarily requires a sustainable relationship with the natural environment.Bahá’ís throughout the world are currently focused on a dynamic process of growth that emphasizes a local, neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood approach toward community building.

“Far from distracting from the processes of growth underway in Canada,” notes the National Assembly in its call for environment action, “attention to environmental practices that respect the earth and the oneness of its inhabitants must support and sustain them. Thus, small initiatives should be undertaken to gradually increase consciousness of our ‘ecological footprint’ and develop capacity for responsible action that responds to the challenges of global climate change.”

Climate change was the subject of a paper released by the Bahá’í International Community in December for the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland. The paper stressed the need to move from state-centered solutions to a global approach, recognizing that all people are “inhabitants of one biosphere, the citizens of one world and the members of one human civilization.