IEF: A Backward Glance

One of the main things that I wasn’t posting about when was down was a conference that had absorbed my family unit for several months before it actually happened. EcoBride was one of the main organizers of the 11th annual conference of the International Environment Forum, a collection of people inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith to seek out ecological understanding and action. This was the first time the IEF has conferred formally in Canada, and I saw many of the anxious hours, the e-mail flurries and the telephone marathons that make an event like this happen. I am glad that the conference is over, partly because it was superb and I got to be present for a lot of it. I’d almost say that I’m getting my wife back, except that she now has more invitations to speak and will soon be off to Sweden for a more work-related gathering on eco-labelling practices. (There will likely not be a JH report on the mysteries of consumer environmental regulations…)

I won’t give you the full summaries — I wrote for the on-line discussion, and will link you to these more complete notes — but I want to offer you some of the flavour of this conference, entitled Responding to Climate Change: Scientific Realities, Spiritual Imperatives.

An Inconvenient Truth, by Gerbis!  (13 October, morning)

Michael Gerbis is the CEO of the Delphi Group, an Ottawa environmental consulting company, and one of 20 Canadians who have been trained by Al Gore in giving this presentation on the causes, effects and solutions to global climate change. The challenging irony of the situation was clear early in Mike’s presentation – the majority of attendees have already seen An Inconvenient Truth, and some have read the book. Preaching to the converted, of course, and the implicit challenge of how to take this message to those whose lives, politics, education or commitments leave them outside the “in-group” of environmentalists. One of Gerbis’s solutions is to take it to the schools, a very different audience from this one!

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children and grandchildren.” Mike, father of two, began in this vein of native spirituality. This is a businessman, someone who has decided to seek out the opportunities presented by ecological imperatives. His approach is not primarily a spiritual one, but his presentation fit well into the overall search of this conference for the ethical and moral dimensions of this scientifically complex phenomenon of climate change. Mr. Gerbis’s contribution was that of a sobering reminder and a summary of the overwhelming scientific consensus that will perhaps eventually filter down to inform the consciousness of the mass of citizens, in Canada and everywhere.

  • The correlation between the accumulation of so-called “greenhouse gases” and increasing global temperatures are now clear; the 10 hottest years on record have ALL occurred in the last 14 years. Crazy weather is now a staple of newscasts, and we’re starting to believe what scientists are in the process of proving.
  • Among the most stunning visuals for me show the retreat of the glaciers world-wide. The Inuit, of course, see this at first hand in their hunting and living grounds.
  • We’ve lost 20% of the world’s coral reefs, and much more is desperately threatened.
  • Gerbis, a businessman, finds the countervailing economic arguments very short-sighted and limiting. There are major economic opportunities out there, which his own company is based upon.
  • Australia has had five “hundred-year droughts” in the last ten years. This and other “freak” occurrences are increasing exponentially. They are accelerating.
  • This is most dramatically seen, perhaps, in the rapid melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves, and is beginning to be seen in low-lying territories.
  • But perhaps the biggest problem is our way of thinking: our denial, our unwillingness to sacrifice privilege and comfort and the apparently urgent imperatives of economic growth.
  • And get this straight, says Mr. Gerbis: there is NO lack of scientific consensus; there has never been anything about which practising scientists (as opposed to industry lobbyists) have been more in agreement about.

As with Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore’s documentary, it was a sobering picture, but not a despairing one. The scientific and technical prowess to make dramatic changes exists, but the ethical impetus is still lacking. The main place of change is in people’s hearts. Gerbis concluded with these words of Martin Luther King, given in a different context but applicable to this global emergency:

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point but victory. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

It is our moral obligation to do everything we can to give the planet back to our children in such a way that it will benefit them; the earth will be fine, it’s not going anywhere, but will it be a liveable place for those that follow us?

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