Our Daily Bread: Consume & Exploit!

Many Bahá’ís would have you believe, well, at least since the 1960s or 1970s, that their religion is distinctly pro-environment. I’m not sure where they get this idea, but I think it has to do with a couple factors:

  1. Bahá’u’lláh loved gardens.
  2. Bahá’u’lláh occasionally expressed the old metaphysical idea that nature is the will of God.

The Bahá’í love for gardens is certainly a step in the right direction, but even it can run afoul of environmental prudence. The Bahá’í gardens in and around Haifa Israel help to illustrate this point. Whereas some of those gardens appear to be adapted to the arid Palestinian climate, others are by contrast highly consumptive of water. There are lawns and fountains galore. This kind of landscaping does not respect the natural climate of the area, and uses like this could be at risk were Israel to have to return the Golan Heights to Syria, as one third of Israel’s water comes from the Golan.

I don’t regard the environmental aspects of the Haifa terrace gardens and “Arc” to be a horrible crime against nature or the Arab world, but I wouldn’t call it a selling point for the Bahá’ís.

As for Bahá’u’lláh’s metaphysical statements about nature being
the will of God, they are no more conservationist than the following passage from a rock song:

“You cannot go against nature
Because when you do
Go against nature
It’s part of nature too”

—Love and Rockets, “No New Tale to Tell”

Where are the pleas for conservation, reduction of consumption, reuse, recycling, etc. in the Bahá’í scriptures? I have only found messages to the contrary:

“Ye are free to wear the fur of the sable as ye would that of the beaver, the squirrel, and other animals; the prohibition of its use hath stemmed, not from the Qur’án, but from the misconceptions of the divines.”
—Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶9

A more glaring example of the insensitivity of the Bahá’í writings to environmental issues can be found in The Unfoldment Of World Civilization (1936), wherein Shoghi Effendi described his vision of the future. He had a particularly consumptive attitude toward natural resources:

A world metropolis will act as the nerve center of a world civilization, the focus towards which the unifying forces of life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate.

… raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized …

The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated … to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, …

A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, … and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet, …

Shoghi Effendi clearly thought natural resources would be infinitely renewable. This was a common misconception in his time, so I don’t blame him for it, but the fact remains that his vision of civilization began to show its defects soon after he died.

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