Let the Son Shine – An Australian Catholic Response to Climate Change

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by Charles Rue
Reviewed by Bill Frilay

Australian Catholic Response to Climate Change

Father Charles Rue and several other Columbans  have a deep and abiding concern for theenvironment and for climate change in particular, which has led him to prepare this 39-page booklet.The Foreword is by the presenter of the ABC
Compass program, Geraldine Doogue.

The booklet has been prepared for Catholics but I think it could be read by all Christians as the principles apply to all. For what makes this  booklet different to other climate change papers is that this one brings in a religious dimension. Fr Rue asks: what can churches add to what has already been said? He cites two aspects – Christian beliefs to help identify the central values on the issue; and faith as a source of courage to make the lifestyle changes. He then says that faith-based learning can guide Christians to be truth-tellers, to be spiritual visionaries, to be just and compassionate, and to be social activists.

He also sees prayer as the natural Christian accompaniment to social action. Prayers of gratitude to scientists; prayer in awe and praise of our earth (it brings to mind poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins); prayer of humility, accepting our place on earth; prayer for forgiveness for our excesses; and prayer for courage. Francis of Assisi, Paul VI and John Paul II are luminaries he suggests for prayerful inspiration. Fr Charles Rue
He draws upon the see-judge-act model of Canon Joseph Cardijn, the founder of the Young Christian Workers Movement (YCW), as a way for Christians to appraise and act.

There is much information on climate change itself. But there are also some very
good principles for facing environmental issues. These are:

  • The right of all people to a safe environment
  • Consideration of the common good
  • Dismantling the social structures in sin
  • The concept of authentic development as avoiding super development
  • The precautionary principle
  • The preferential option for the poor
  • The rights of future generations
  • Fair distribution of the costs of abating the effects of climate change
  • Solidarity with developing countries by sharing modern technology
  • Welcome for environmental refugees, and
  • Respect for the wider earth community by preserving biodiversity.

Most of these I totally agree with, especially the impact on the poor, and most especially in developing countries. However, I am puzzled by “dismantling the social structures in sin” and “authentic development as avoiding super development”. I wonder if the language here is unclear. Some of the concepts (e.g. “fair distribution of the costs…”) are easy to say but require the wisdom of Solomon to implement.
But that does not diminish their validity.

Fr Rue then discusses some ‘solutions’ to climate change. With many of his comments on these I agree, but with some I have some minor differences. For example, on clean coal or more specifically the technology of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), he quotes the IPCC report as saying that it holds unresolved risks. Elsewhere the IPCC has indicated that CCS has the potential for anywhere between 15 and 55% of the emissions savings necessary between now and 2100 to stabilise emission. On that figure alone I think it has real potential and several projects are addressing the issues. On coal generally, I agree with his IPCC brief reference on the need for greater coal efficiency. Coal will continue for a long time to be a electricity generation mainstay in many countries, and if we can significantly reduce its emissions impact the greenhouse gas impact will be substantial. And I think, notwithstanding concerns, nuclear will be an important input globally – but maybe not Australia – to reducing emissions.

One thing Fr Rue may not have covered in some detail is the economic impact on developing countries. Emissions for the developed world have now effectively levelled out. Most projected emission increases will be due to the developing countries as they (rightfully) increase their standards of living. The challenge is for them to lift their economic growth at the same time as globally we achieve a flattening and then a decline in emissions. We will need every card in the pack to achieve this, and the help of the developed world will be crucial.

But this is quibbling in some of the detail. My view versus Fr Rue’s view and anybody else’s for that matter will always have some differences on the detail. Apart from the religious dimension, the impressive feature is that he covers so much in a 39-page booklet. It is both comprehensive and precise – and uses boxes effectively toexamine particular aspects of climate change. You don’t have to wade throughseveral thousand pages of IPCC reports. I particularly like the principles heestablishes as a reference point.

This is one of the pressing issues of our age. It is important that as Christians we approach it from our cornerstone of belief. Fr Rue has set down important Christian reference points and principles for us with which to approach this issue.

So have a read of the booklet, available from the Columban Mission Institute, Locked Bag 2002, Strathfield NSW 2135; or online at

http://www.columban.org.au/assets/files/pdfs/Let%20the%20Son%20Shine.pdf

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