Inviting Your Participation in a New Interfaith Initiative
The initiative launches on November 9 in Bonn, Germany at the COP23 climate talks. This event will mark the beginning of year-long exploration into a potential powerful strategy in creating widespread, effective response to global climate change: a faith-based campaign to reduce household consumption. Now, if you sense that targeting household consumption is at least ineffectual if not bad strategy, don’t give up on this just yet. Indeed, we are explicitly inviting you to bring your concerns and even skepticism to this unfolding discussion.
The meeting on November 9 is designed to engage you and other faith leaders in this conversation either in-person or via live-stream. In addition, One Earth Sangha will also be hosting online conversations in 2018 to explore this within our Sangha (more on this below). We’ll share some initial thoughts about why we think this is worth your consideration (see “Justification for this Initiative” below).
Ways to Support this Initiative
- As the first of two events in Bonn, Germany next week, One Earth Sangha together with GreenFaith, is inviting those of you already attending the COP23 events and those who can travel by land to Bonn to join the launch of this initiative. The event takes place on 9 November at the Bonn Science Center from 9:00-5:30 outside of the COP venue, meaning that you do not need to have a UN badge to attend. (If you are within a day’s journey to Bonn by land, travel support funds are available.) This event will also be live-streamed and we plan to have mechanisms in place for virtual attendees to take part in the discussion.This meeting is designed as a day of learning and engagement that will draw on your input to shape the direction of this initiative.
Not a normal conference, the day’s agenda will include a description of the initiative’s strategy and theory of change, crafted inputs from experienced practitioners, stories by participants from diverse traditions and locations, frank conversation about the emotional and spiritual challenges and opportunities involved in fostering behavior change, and in-depth discussion and reflection on how best to empower people to make and keep sustainable living commitments.Access the live stream here. If you can make it to this meeting in person, please register here.
- We are inviting signatures from Sangha members and all practitioners in our communities to sign on to the statement associated with this initiative.
- Those of you at the Bonn meeting are invited to join the procession that will deliver the statement by foot and by bicycle. 50 bicycles or more are planned to symbolize our commitment to putting our shared beliefs into action for Earth. We will depart from a Bonn house of worship close to the COP venue, with banners and flags showcasing the colorful diversity of our spiritual and faith traditions. All are welcome!
- Finally, in the first part of 2018, One Earth Sangha will be hosting several online meetings to consider, inform and, as appropriate, plan our role in this initiative within our Buddhist and mindfulness communities. We really want to hear from you! Register your interest in those conversations here. We’ll be sending out dates and other details in the coming months.
Justification for this Initiative
TruthOut has an excellent article on the false dichotomy of systems versus lifestyle change.
Earlier this year when the US administration under Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris accords, the global movement to prevent catastrophic global climate change took a serious hit. Yet in defiant response, a broad coalition of US political, business and social leaders have meaningfully declared, by deepening and extending their own commitments to reduce emissions, “We’re Still In.” While born of difficult conditions, this movement represents an important shift away from undue reliance on political leadership and towards our collective responsibility. We are recognizing that we all have an important part to play. We are sensing our collective power.
Not instead of but alongside our impassioned advocacy for climate justice, it is time to declare at all levels of society, including our individual households, that “We Are All In.” It is time birth a movement that, with devotion and humility, embodies a new ethic of responsibility regarding the natural world. In particular, our communities of faith have the opportunity to cultivate and model lifestyles of compassionate simplicity, especially among those who have consuming and high-emissions lifestyles, for the sake of the human family and our precious planet.
But let us back up a moment and look at how we got here. As climate author Naomi Klein describes, in response to the news of a warming world, the mainstream environmental movement started with exclusive focus on easy behavior change: call you our Senators and recycle your glass. Elsewise, as the Brits say, keep calm and carry on. Klein, McKibben and other climate activists have clarified the vast disconnect between the immensity of the problem and the prescribed remedy. The pendulum swings. The message we receive not is that personal behavior change is a blip, a distraction, even an enabler. The real culprit is the corporate monsters with their exclusive focus on profits and the corrupt politicians that enable them. If you sense otherwise, you’re either deluded, pretentious, virtue-signaling, prone to martyrdom or a chump.
Is there something lurking here, necessarily out of view? Could the current primacy of the “systems change” strategy, with the accompanying devaluation and even ridicule of individual restraint, be the Progressive Left’s version of climate denial? That is, in what ways does the focus of our climate movements on systems change enable the vast majority of us to continue to behave in our everyday lives as if climate change is not actually happening or at least someone else’s problem to solve? Is the archetype of the climate activist the only form of ethical response we recognize? How might an all-or-nothing systems-change focus be contributing to the sense of inert guilt and deflated agency that is widespread among people concerned about climate change? And from a justice standpoint, how does this view account for the inequities of climate impact at the individual level?
Our communities of faith have the opportunity to cultivate and model lifestyles of compassionate simplicity for the sake of the human family and our precious planet.
The complex truth implicates us all: the answer is both individual and collective and goes far beyond recycling and phone calls. Individual household consumption is relevant not just because of its cumulative direct impact and indirect impacts in the economy (if household purchasing is included, some estimates trace 60-80% of global emissions back to personal consumption). In an interdependent world, every action matters.
Consider, by analogy, the efforts required to address racial oppression. Countering and deconditioning harmful racist behaviors on the part of individuals is considered essential to this movement, not instead of but in addition to the structural changes so desperately needed. A similar effort, countering a culture that rarely challenges unnecessary, even excessive consumption, is needed to generate a shared ethos that honors and respects Earth in the way we live every day of our lives.
Not only do changes in our individual behaviors directly contribute to cumulative reductions, but the ways we frame, language and model such change can contribute to a critical shift in culture and institutions. These kinds of changes (witness the fall of the Berlin wall, the shift in support for same-sex marriage and, most recently, ending the quiet tolerance for sexual assault and harassment) are difficult to predict and often take us by surprise. They are marked by a mysterious tipping point amassed over long periods by individuals acting with the courage of their convictions and supporting others in doing the same.
Cumulative and cultural impacts aside, at the individual level, reductions in consumption are a form of renunciation that involve the recognition of our inherent inter-being with all of life. A noble practice that develops goodness and reveals our attachments, practicing reduction can be a Dharma doorway, one that leads to the cultivation of wisdom. Reducing or eliminating meat from our diets not only recognizes that industry’s emissions and land-use impacts but also the commodification, often brutal, of our fellow animal beings. Most of us in the dominant culture are challenged by the emotional complexities, largely unacknowledged, inherent in our participation in an immoral system and a vague sense of a degrading natural world. In a key feature of this initiative, leaders and practitioners will be encouraged to acknowledge these complexities and share the challenges involved in both advocacy and restraint. These personal accounts can be shared without righteousness, moralizing or shaming but with honesty, humor and humility and thereby contribute to the development of a loving community that recognizes and includes all beings who rely on Earth’s health and generosity. We can develop helpful expertise around the emotional and logistical challenges involved in our behavior changes and speak with increased credibility when calling for systems change.
This initiative is designed to ignite a wide-spread, multi-faith response that wrestles with the complexities of consumption while affirming our common humanity and shared devotion. One Earth Sangha is part of a coalition of diverse faith groups that includes Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, The Bhumi Project (Hindu), CIDSE (Catholic), Franciscan Action Network, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Global Muslim Climate Network, GreenFaith, Hazon (Jewish), Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quaker), Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the World Evangelical Alliance, and the World Council of Churches. Together, we aim to create a “behavioral wedge” that will play an indispensable role, alongside advocacy and policy, in securing a just, sustainable future.
We want to hear what you think! We are committed to an open exploration of this initiative as a potentially transformative strategy in the pursuit of right relationship with our precious world. We hope that you will join us on this journey.
Fill out this form to receive notifications about community conversations planned for 2018 that will explore this initiative.