it’s not Cancun or the Dominican Republic, but I’m taking a short little vacation visiting my good friends Geneviève and Craig in Victoriaville, my old pioneer post. This place is amazing. Many of the locals are on vacation, so the neighbourhood is very quiet. Gen and Craig live in the foothills of a mountain, which means they can go outside and be greeted every day with a breath of fresh mountain air. Their water’s also pretty good – there’s a humble little “spring” not too far from their home that gives clean, fresh water… through a metal pipe stuck in the face of the mountain, no less. There’s a lovely river not very far where they tend to bring all their visitors to skip stones or, if it’s a particularly hot day, to swim. And my favourite – it’s only a quick drive up to the top of the mountain, where they can see all the way to the St. Lawrence River. I love this place. Whenever I return here, I’m reminded of the following quote from the book Baha’u’llah and the New Era: “Baha’u’llah loved the beauty and verdure of the country. One day He passed the remark: ‘I have not gazed on verdure for nine years. The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies.’“
It’s a warm, sunny Saturday in Ottawa. Saturday has become a de facto Service Day; I tend to spend most of my time here in the Baha’i Centre on Saturdays, while Sunday is quickly becoming a family-time day (for the past few weekends, anyway). This morning, our children’s class did a little spring cleaning on the grounds surrounding the Baha’i Centre, picking up trash in the parking lots and sweeping old leaves into piles to stuff into garden bags. They were proud to have offered a service to the Earth, or “one percent of a hundred percent” of the Earth anyway. The Weather Channel showed an interview this morning(!) with David Suzuki, who spoke a little about public involvement in keeping climate change and the environment high on Canada’s and the world’s agendas—mainly focusing on political action, of course. We seem to be doing our part of spreading some environmental awareness in our children’s class—we’ve already done several classes full of gardening and a few other ones about recycling and taking care of the Earth; that, and the children seem to be learning a lot about being “green” at school, which is good to see. Commuting by bike is an enjoyable way to stay environmentally friendly too—now that the sun is out, I’ve been biking to the children’s class every Saturday morning, since I don’t have a car (oh, and I just happen to live a twenty-minute walk away).
There’s nothing like catching a cold to make you think about moderation. I was feeling great up til about Friday, when I started feeling a little more tired and strung out than usual. Saturday was a long and exhausting day, and Sunday I woke up with this awful taste in my mouth, a scratchy throat and a runny nose. Oh well. I never used to get colds, but now that I’m out of my invincible phase (which lasts from about 18 to 25; at least, that’s what my insurance company told me) I seem to catch a lot more random bugs and malaises. This little (?) body seems a lot more vulnerable than it used to. Anyway, for the time being, I’m hanging around at home eating soup and drinking grapefruit juice instead of milk and cookies.
Anyway, my sick mind managed to draw a parallel between being sick and all this talk about climate change that’s been happening, especially with the IEF conference over the weekend. Bear with me here. I’ve been catching up with the (facinating) video presentations, hearing all sorts of evidence of the effects of human activity upon the world we live in. Briefly, ever since the industrial revolution, Western society has been embracing unbridled and unqualified technological advancement and progress. The more singlemindedly we pursued an ideal of ultimate comfort and ease for ourselves, the quicker these effects accumulated. It’s only in the past few decades that we’ve begun to notice that the choices we’ve made have had, and are having, palpable consequences. Just like it takes a few days to catch a cold before you notice the symptoms, we sailed along merrily pumping more and more greenhouse gases into our Earth’s atmosphere, polluting its rivers and oceans, venting exhaust into its previously clean air. Now comes the big sneeze—or perhaps we could call it the Big Sweat.
If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.
Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 342
The CanWest News Service published a story on the “greening” of religion which briefly mentioned the Baha’i Faith, and that got me thinking a bit about the Baha’i take on environmental stewardship. The Baha’i Writings contain lots of insight about ecological principles and environmental stewardship. I prepared a workshop about ecology for the U of Ottawa CABS a while back, and I found lots of good resources in the compilation on the conservation of the earth’s resources and the Universal House of Justice’s response to a believer’s question about James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. Most relevant to this age of environmental crisis, perhaps, is Bahá’u’lláh’s admonition that “[i]f carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.”
Ottawa’s Baha’i community is heavily involved in environmental affairs; besides hosting conferences—such as the upcoming International Environment Forum conference in October—and participating in interfaith dialogue on the environment such as that pioneered by Faith and the Common Good—the group cited in the article above—its efforts have extended to the greening of our very own “sacred space”, the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, which was renovated in the summer of 2006 with energy efficiency in mind (compact fluorescents ftw). Waste is reduced by keeping dishes on hand for community functions such as Nineteen-day Feasts and Holy Days and banning the use of disposables. Recycling is a major commitment at the centre, which our local children’s class underlined by creating special decorations for the centre’s many recycling bins.
I can say all this and feel like it’s all good, but the fact is there’s always lots of room to improve when it comes to being “green”. Like the article says, there are so many ways to do a little bit more to be planet-friendly; install rain barrels, for example, or compost bins. Encourage the faithful to use alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycles or public transit (we’re lucky—the bus system is good in Ottawa). Install solar panels, or a grey-water system. One good source of inspiration, FYI, is the Otesha Project—I’ve always wanted to blog more about them. They go around promoting environmental and ecological stewardship through the adoption of healthy, sustainable lifestyles that reduce our dependence on wasteful and/or socially unjust practices. I bought their book at a Baha’i fireside and it’s full of awesome tips.
Several people have pointed this out to me so far, so it’s probably worth a few words: Al Gore, ex-Vice-President of the United States of America turned environmentalist guru, gave a short mention of the Baha’i Faith—and the name of its Founder, Baha’u’llah—in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, pp. 261-262.
One of the newest of the great universalist religions, Baha’i, founded in 1863 in Persia by Mirza Husayn Ali (Baha’u’llah), warns us not only to properly regard the relationship between humankind and nature but also the one between civilization and the environment. Perhaps because its guiding visions were formed during the period of accelerating industrialism, Baha’i [sic] seems to dwell on the spiritual implications of the great transformation to which it bore fresh witness:
“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”
Several sources claimed that the book is a “new” book, but publishing information indicates it was published in 1992—of course, it may have been reprinted recently owing to the popularity of Gore’s recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Can anyone confirm this?