This year marks 50 years since the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, a seminal event in creating awareness and promoting action to combat degradation of the Earth and natural
In 1972, there was some acknowledgment – notably from Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India – that future generations would face a profound crisis. Equally presciently, Mrs Gandhi noted we could alter this trajectory through cooperation and collective action, based on trust.
Introducing a seminar on 2 June to celebrate Stockholm+50, Sonja Ohlsson, International Coordinator of the Brahma Kumari Environment Initiative, highlighted the importance of individual transformation, and community action, rather than concentrating solely on technical solutions.
There is a sense of urgency. Now, in 2022, we have only eight of the original 15 years left to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development tends to focus on practical, quantifiable measures, from ending poverty and hunger to providing clean, affordable energy. It is not obvious what individuals can do to achieve even the less measurable outcomes, such as achieving peace and justice.
Inner qualities, collaborative skills
Hosted by the BKs Stockholm Centre, the theme of the seminar was how a shift in mindset contributes to a sustainable planet. Contributions were from experienced meditators, Michael Wernstedt, Chief Operating Officer of Inner Development Goals, and Golo Pilz, Energy Advisor to the World Renewal Spiritual Trust and the Brahma Kumaris.
Frustrated by slow progress in achieving the SDGs, Wernstedt founded Inner Development Goals in 2018 to identify, and spread understanding of, the qualities that would enable us to achieve the UN’s global goals.
Wide-ranging consultation among a cross-section of organisations and corporates identified 23 inner qualities and interpersonal capacities. They range from fostering self-awareness and skills of analysis and planning with long-term vision, to developing humility and empathy.
Collaborative capacity and teambuilding skills are there, including intercultural awareness and a capacity for trust. Among qualities of leadership identified are courage, creativity and optimism.
Multinational businesses and even governments are taking up the transformational goals, he said, with Costa Rica the first state to sign up in late 2021.
In his presentation, Golo noted we are approaching the “tipping point” with the Earth on course for an average temperature rise of 3.5C above pre-industrial levels.
He advocated tapping into the wisdom of the ancient tradition of yoga to bring about transformation among individuals. Research has shown how a change in our mindset can have a wider impact on the world around us: Inner and outer worlds are interconnected.
If we visualize a world of all virtues, we can effect change, Golo said.
The need of the time is to become angels and healers, drastically changing our lifestyles and reducing our carbon footprint. A model for us all was BK Dadi Janki, whose loving and compassionate leadership provided a guiding light for the world.
Both speakers discussed their meditation experiences, from mindfulness practice and Sufism to Raja Yoga, and outlined their personal journeys as spiritual seekers, concerned to find solutions to the world’s problems.
Developing inner qualities can bring about material change, they said, from improved corporate governance to fostering beneficial reforms in the agricultural and energy sectors.
Rediscovering our authentic voice
Reconnecting with the moral values underpinning our relationship with the Earth, and with our authentic, inner nature, were central to an absorbing public debate organised by the Brahma Kumari Stockholm Centre on 1st June.
Dedicated to the Stockholm+50 Conference, the event had contributions from Dr Lorna Gold, Director of Community Building for FaithInvest; Tagele Mathewos, Country Director of Yehiwot Berhan
Church of Ethiopia Development Organisation; and Golo Pilz, Energy Advisor to the World Renewal Spiritual Trust and the Brahma Kumaris (BK).
Moderator Sonja Ohlsson, International Coordinator of the BK Environment Initiative, opened by sharing her happy childhood memories of the Swedish countryside, which coincided with the era of the Stockholm Conference.
This 1972 gathering alerted people to the looming crisis in the global environment, yet now – fifty years later – 80% of the world’s original forest has disappeared, with one knock-on effect a grave loss of biodiversity.
Transforming ourselves, changing the world
Golo Pilz referenced a recent visit to India, where he saw evidence of extreme weather events. Record heat and drought in Rajasthan meant diminished wheat crops, while southern India had experienced exceptional rains, with the loss of important cash crops such as coffee.
Among practical steps by the BKs, he outlined the adoption of renewable technologies from small-scale solar cookers in the 1990s, to a massive 1 MW solar thermal power plant, “India One”, at Mt Abu, Rajasthan.
But he focused on the individual’s capacity for inner change, which is then reflected in the world outside. In Raja Yoga meditation, we connect with the Supreme Being or Light, and initiate a process of inner transformation.
By becoming more peaceful and loving, and building resilience to face challenges, we can work collectively to bring about meaningful change on the outside.
ffective action is grassroots action
Tagele Mathewos spoke on community action in Ethiopia, where environmental degradation has seriously affected people’s lives.
Scripture informs the church’s practice at every level. Touching on the interconnectedness of natural systems, he cited the teaching of the Apostle Paul: “If one part suffers, every part suffers.”
Awareness of a moral responsibility to care for nature is common to most religious traditions, he said.
With over 20 years’ experience in the field of faith-based environmental action, Mathewos advised: “Mobilise, teach, raise awareness at the community level.” Religious and political leaders, and the media, should also be on board, if the message is to be understood and disseminated effectively.
Towards “a new moral imagination”
Drawing on her work on environmental, climate and economic justice, Dr Gold addressed responsibility at the organisational level, with a powerful reminder that it is not enough for institutions to divest from, for example, fossil fuel companies.
There must be a positive effort to direct investments into a sustainable future.
We have allowed human activity to be driven by a “no-limits quest” for gain at both personal and corporate levels, she argued, leading to systems failure for the Earth.
Faith communities can be a strong countervailing force, with their considerable financial heft, but they have outsourced their value systems, and most do not know what sectors they have invested in.
Taking up the theme of “integral ecology”, Dr Gold said economic activity is both a moral act and a responsibility which cannot be devolved onto others.
Rediscovering the Divine
In a lively post-presentation discussion, panellists advocated slowing down and reconnecting with nature. “There is a deep message for our faith leaders in terms of where we find the Divine”, said Dr Gold, who is also a Board member of Laudato Si.
Mathewos underscored the importance of local community action, placing this above global policymaking for “more immediate and more direct” change. He cited a project to reforest land in Ethiopia subject to landslides, which benefited both wildlife and local people seeking employment.
For Pilz, individual lifestyle is important – a vegetarian or vegan diet, for example – but connecting with the Divine through meditation is central to becoming a loving, detached observer and making a difference in the world.