Australian faith communities unite against eco-destruction

By staff writers
December 21, 2006

Australia's religious communities have united to call for urgent action on climate change at a time when the country is facing its worst drought on record - writes Mathhew Fenwick for Ecumenical News International.

Their individual statements, drawn together by the Climate Institute Australia, were published earlier in December in a document entitled "Common Belief: Australia's Faith Communities on Climate Change".

The call for action spans religious differences, and includes Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical traditions. Judaism, Islam and Aboriginal spirituality are also represented.

The idea for the document began with the privately-funded Climate Institute recognising a need to broaden the range of voices pressuring the Australian government on global warming. Previously, the debate has focused on scientific evidence and economic impacts.

"For most of us, the fate of the planet as a result of global warming is really a moral issue," Climate Institute CEO, Corin Millais said. The Climate Institute approached Australia's religious communities and they responded enthusiastically.

"Here, for believers by believers, is the beginning of a dialogue," said Millais. For many of the churches represented, the statement was an opportunity to reexamine the relationship between human beings and the earth. Historically, the creation story in Genesis has been used to justify environmental exploitation.

Patrick Dodson, speaking as an Aboriginal representative, wrote that Western society "tended to see nature as something that must be managed for its maximum capital exploitation, an asset of power and dominance".

The Anglican Bishop of Canberra, the Rt Rev George Browning wrote: "Wilfully causing environmental degradation is a sin."

Several churches advocated the model of Christian stewardship saying, "As God's stewards we bear an ethical responsibility for the care of the Earth and the welfare of all living things."

Yet, not all religious leaders have embraced this project. In a speech earlier this year to US business leaders, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, said that "pagan emptiness" motivated "hysteric and extreme claims" about global warming.

Sky Laris, communications manager for the Climate Institute was, however, enthusiastic about the involvement of faith-based groups in the climate issue: "They're meeting amongst themselves to talk about ways of bringing this forward. There's a great level of enthusiasm out there in the faith community."

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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