August 7, 2020
TANDEM CRISES: PANDEMIC AND CLIMATE CHANGE
by Jay Howden
Back in January, Ottawa’s Big Ideas series began in a way that now seems remarkable – in person in a crowded, hug-friendly upper floor of the Bahá’í Centre on McArthur Avenue. Diana Cartwright, a clean-tech analyst at Global Affairs Canada, spoke on ways in which the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and the global response to them, pertain to climate change. Recently, she shared further thoughts on how that emergency has been complicated by Covid-19.
“Why does everything seem to be falling apart?” she wondered rhetorically. Twin processes, in this turbulent era, are on one hand destroying societal standards and institutions; on the other, the groundwork is being laid for a new order in the world. Inevitably, the destructive process is more loud and photogenic, but Ms. Cartwright argued that both the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing climate disruption show that tired old concepts hold us back in dealing with planet-level problems. These two emergencies also clarify the foundations for progress, especially recognition of the singleness and interdependence of the human race.
Ms Cartwright offered an analogy: We’re living in a decrepit old house. Major structural problems. Many love the old place. Some work hard to make it habitable. But it’s falling apart. Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings offer the blueprint for a wonderful new building, whose foundation is sound and whose amenities can justly and beautifully house ALL of us…
Covid-19 and climatic craziness have exposed the weaknesses of the “house” of our current global order: neither respects national borders, and both thrive on selfish, narrow and exploitative thinking. Also, both crises underline our need for greater humility, for action on racial and other injustices, and for scientific rigour. But the climate emergency remains a much bigger challenge. It’s less visible, more subject to anti-scientific and corporatist bias, and much easier to put off for the ever-tempting “another day”.
Still, we are learning. We see that living more simply has benefits,
that thoughtful governance matters, that massive societal changes can
be made, that scientific consensus and human solidarity are powerful
medicines. But we cannot “go back to normal” in areas that affect
climate – a return to unrestrained consumption (widespread air travel,
for instance) and fundamentally unjust systems is foolhardy and unfair;
the poor everywhere bear the brunt of climate chaos. Ms. Cartwright
offered ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s three-part recipe for change. Bahá’u’lláh’s son
said that knowledge comes first, and science provides it. We need
united action on what we know, but there is a
critical third ingredient: volition. Where can we
find the will, the motivation, to get us past our collective
insecurities to take massive action?