‘Taking Diversions and U-Turns: Conversations and Dialogues on Sustainable Futures and Spirituality’, an extremely interesting and rather unique ‘unconference’, was held at Loyola College, Chennai from 11 to 13 February. This was in partnership with The Global Centre for the Study of Sustainable Futures and Spirituality, Malaysia, Loyola University, Chicago, USA, Shikshantar/Swaraj University, Udaipur, Public Media Agency, Malaysia, Development and Civilizations – Lebret-Irfed, Paris, France.
With such different actors involved, the presentations were extremely diverse. Rev. Dr. G. Joseph Antony Samy SJ, Principal and Chairman of Loyola College, Chennai, quoted an astronaut’s view of the Earth. She said it looked so fragile from outer space. It is easy to take it for granted when we live there. Climate scientists tell us how we are facing challenges. So in our daily lives we need to think about how we can go about our daily business but not forget to care for the Earth.
Rev. Dr. M. Albert William SJ, Secretary and Correspondent & Web Master explained what this U-Turn in the title was all about. He said that when we come to zero velocity and find ourselves at the breakpoint, taking a U-turn could only be positive. It should take us towards sustaining natural resources for our children. “Creation is at stake”, he said. “We are at the brink of extinction if we don’t take cognizance and act now”.
UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman was the Chief Guest and brought the essence of the United Nations to this Conference. “When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited India last month”, she said, “he asked what kind of a future do we really want our children and great grandchildren to inherit. Determining this is our moral and political responsibility, he said”. The SG said that at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, he called upon world leaders, business leaders and all the people around the world to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s vision and teachings. Mrs. Mehra-Kerpelman congratulated the organizers on planning such a gathering where one can develop initiatives and plans that fit our specific local context, while operating within the larger framework of sustainable development.
Mrs. Nancy C. Tuchman, Founding Director, Institute of Environmental Sustainability from Loyola College, Chicago did exactly this. She shared an amazingly successful initiative taken at their 100-acre campus where they found ways and means of involving their students in the creative experiments of bringing down each one’s ecological footprint. Based on guidelines that had been provided by the United Nations, she said, they had managed to bring down the consumption of energy phenomenally, while at the same time had increased the number of students. Some fascinating initiatives on organic farming on their rural campus, on competitions to keep certain “green” dorms on lowest energy norms were presented.
Delegates from 10 countries were present, from as far as Uruguay. Loyola Colleges are trying to create networks so that each one can learn from the other’s experience. Mrs. Mehra-Kerpelman mentioned the World Bank’s study “Voices of the Poor” which concluded that faith can play a remarkable role in advancing the objectives of the United Nations. Today, when our common goal is crafting a sustainable world that we can pass on to future generations, the importance of the intersection of culture, spirituality and sustainability is more than ever, particularly to help effect the large-scale individual and societal transformations that are crucial to this project.