In the popular secular imagination, religion is seen as a source of conflict - particularly conflict between competing religious truth claims. So when leaders from various religious traditions speak with a common voice, something significant is happening. To speak on what they declare to be "one of the most urgent moral issues facing us in the upcoming election" is unprecedented. And, contrary to expectations, the issue is not sexual morality or social policy on marriage, but on the impact of global warming on our planet.
Many religious groups - Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Uniting Church, Baptists, Salvation Army, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Baha'i - have statements upholding humanity's responsibility to protect the environment on which life depends. While these statements are often not well known or widely proclaimed, increasingly these traditions are beginning to appreciate the importance of protecting the environment, and especially facing up to the urgent question of climate change caused by carbon pollution.
One of the key values embedded in all religious traditions is justice. Concern for this value points people of faith in the direction of both intergenerational justice, a concern for our children and our children's children, and justice towards the poorest of the poor who suffer the worst impacts of climate change and yet have the least capacity to adapt. This is the "main event," as it were - not our hip pockets, not maintaining our lifestyles, not even the protection of jobs in carbon-intensive industries. The future of our delicate ecosystems that sustain life on our planet is at stake.
Now leaders from a range of traditions, many of them very senior, have come to a stage of taking a stand on public policy. They are taking their place behind the overwhelming majority of scientists and analysts who warn us that, unless we keep much of our fossil fuels in the ground, the world is on track for 4 degrees Celsius of global warming. This would spell disaster for the poor of the world, for future generations and for ourselves.
In an open letter to both sides of the political divide ahead of the upcoming federal election, they are unequivocal about human-induced climate change. They call for bipartisan support for carbon pricing, the fast-tracking of renewable energy and the winding back of coal exports.
"We must wind back our exports of cheap coal which are currently hindering the global drive for renewable energy. We must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels and replace them with clean, renewable sources of energy. As part of this, carbon pricing must be given bipartisan support. Only then will Australia be part of the solution."
For some time, this concern has translated into public statements by leaders of all the major religions, supporting the protection of the world's ecosystems. In the Climate Institute's Common Belief discussion paper, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils wrote: "People of religion must forget their theological differences and save the world from climatic ruin." Various official statements affirm that climate change is real, it's largely anthropogenic, it disproportionately affects the poor and human beings have a moral responsibility to address it.
The last two popes along with the Australian Catholic Bishops have repeatedly talked about the need for urgent action to prevent catastrophic climate change. In 2005, the Australian Catholic Bishops wrote about "global warming as one of the major issues of our time ... We now urge Catholics as an essential part of their faith commitment to respond with sound judgments and resolute action to the reality of climate change." Indeed, Pope Francis referred to his environmental concerns in his post-election press conference.
In the 2011 Census, over 67% of Australians identified themselves with the religions from which the signatories are drawn. The open letter urges all "all Australians to give this moral issue the attention it demands. Our world is a blessing, a gift, and a responsibility. We must act now if we are to protect this sacred trust." Political parties of all persuasions need to attend to this concern in the upcoming election.
20 June 2013
An open letter from Australian religious leaders
As people of faith, we draw attention to one of the most urgent moral issues facing us in the upcoming election.
The International Energy Agency and other influential bodies are now warning us about an unthinkable 4 degree Celsius rise in temperatures if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. Recent experiences of extreme weather events, both here and overseas, are a mild foretaste of what this will mean. We are despoiling the world given to us as a sacred trust for future generations.
The world is already moving to take strong preventative action. Ninety countries, representing 90% of global emissions, have carbon reduction programs in place and Australia now has price on carbon. However our country continues to be a significant contributor to the problem. With our small population, we are among the world's 20 largest emitters and one of the two largest coal exporters.
We must wind back our exports of cheap coal which are currently hindering the global drive for renewable energy. We must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels and replace them with clean, renewable sources of energy. As part of this, carbon pricing must be given bipartisan support. Only then will Australia be part of the solution.
In the upcoming election we urge all Australians to give this moral issue the attention it demands. Our world is a blessing, a gift, and a responsibility. We must act now if we are to protect this sacred trust.
This open letter was organised by Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC). Thea Ormerod is the President of ARRCC, and Neil Ormerod is Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University. His most recent book, written with Cynthia Crysdale, is Creator God, Evolving World.