Climate change: not just about economics, but also about ecology & ethics.

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Peter Whiting.

In an article discussing Australia’s inadequate response to the challenges of climate change, it might seem strange to start by citing the argument in John D’Arcy May’s address, World religions: a force for war or global peace? May’s paper refers to the Greek word oikos (house) as an essential element in an interreligious collaboration containing three dimensions:

  • Economy, the household of economics, finance and trade.
  • Ecology, the household of climate and the natural world.
  • Ecumenism, the household of ethical values and religions.

Considering they need to be viewed as an integrated whole, May argues that – if they are to offer a vision of hope in a troubled world – the world’s religions need to move beyond comparison to communication and collaboration.

After apparently boycotting the September UN Climate Change Summit in New York, Prime Minister Morrison responded to criticisms of Australia’s efforts to reduce emissions by insisting that Australia was pulling its weight, assserting that children had “a right not just to their future, but also to their optimism”.

If governments around the world, and in particular the Australian government, would genuinely envisage the world as oikos, encompassing economy, ecology, and ecumenism, their responses to climate change challenges would doubtless be more wholesome than they are. But our ability to embrace ambitious reductions in greenhouse gases is limited by insisting that the economy is by far the preeminent issue.

Bill Hare, in his article, The good, the bad & the ugly: the nations leading & failing on climate change, cites data from Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis, which places Australia among a group of nations actually delaying climate change action. He notes that our emissions are today at a seven-year high, and yet the government remains unwavering in its commitment to fossil fuels.

Australia’s current target for 2030 commits to a reduction in emissions by at least 26% below 2005 levels. The government’s Climate Change Authority acknowledged this target ranks us at or near the bottom of comparable countries. Professor Andy Pitman, head of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW, says the 26% cut is only about a third of what is needed. Opinion surveys drawn from large samples show clearly that between 70%-80% of Australians across a full range of stakeholder groups consider our climate change response seriously inadequate.

Millions demand urgent action on climate change

Some 300,000 people marched in Australia in support of the student-inspired demonstrations on 20 September, three days before the UN Climate Summit in New York, indicating how many are acutely dissatisfied with the government’s minimalist response to climate change. They do not share the optimism the Prime Minister claims is their ‘right’.

On 20 and 27 September, up to 7.6 million people joined similar demonstrations worldwide. There is enormous public pressure on governments to address climate change, not just in economic aspects, but equally from the perspective of the ecology and ethics. The Paris Agreement was not just about setting and achieving an emissions target, but also about efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5℃. To achieve this target, countries like Australia will need to rethink the ethical implications of their current efforts, and commit to ambitious targets and policy responses. It is worrying that not only is Australia pursuing very modest targets to 2030, but it has also not indicated targets to which it may commit for the decades following 2030.

At the recent Pacific Islands Forum, Australia’s position concerning coal was heavily criticised. Nonetheless, Australia was a signatory to the final statement committing to efforts to limit global warming to 1.5℃ and to produce a 2050 strategy by 2020! If a strategy for 2050 is soon to be developed, there will be a new opportunity for the Australian people to assess whether there is an appropriate balance between the economy, ecology, and ethics.

In the spirit of contributing to a hope-filled world, we include an article by Dan Yore, Bala ga Lili : a remote Arnhem Land school’s approach could hold a key to reimagining the world. While questioning the approaches our education system takes to reimagining an improved world, Dan takes heart from a process being developed in Arnhem Land for a Both-Ways learning system which seeks to inform and reconcile the scientific worldview with the traditional worldview of the aboriginal people with whom he lives and works.

Three further articles, while not in the same spirit of hope, are certainly within the spirit of oikos. Marc Purcell, in Arrest the decline of aid, & reset its paradigm, calls for the political will and vision to achieve the Australian development cooperation program all Australians and our neighbours should have.

Carmela Chivers, in Rising inequality in Australia isn’t about incomes: it’s almost all about housing, notes that rapidly rising housing costs are affecting the poor harshly, adding to inequality. Chivers estimates that building an extra 50,000 homes a year for the next decade would make house prices and rents 10% to 20% lower than they otherwise would be.

SPC member Gary Harkin, in Making our economic system socially responsible, offers a glimmer of hope that some re-weighting of parameters, such as social equality, environmental issues, and governance, may be occurring in the big business space. Let’s hope he is correct.

Social Policy Connections

John D’Arcy May believes religions may well prove indispensable to the formulation of an ethic of survival, offering a divided world a vision of hope. At Social Policy Connections (SPC), we continue to endeavour to sustain a genuinely ecumenical base for our approach to contemporary social justice issues. We continue in dialogue with faith-based organisations seeking to lift our voice in the public forum.

Sadly, the findings of the Royal Commission have exposed great failings in governance and responsibility in our churches, and greatly diminished their claim to influence in the public domain. Yet the need for faith-based organisations to speak is still great. We see an important role for SPC in responding to that need, and encourage your continuing support, as we strive to create a hopeful world.

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