It’s time for the Church to act on climate change

Prime Minister John Howard is in denial about the seriousness of climate change. Last week, he acknowledged that it’s a problem, but maintained his position that there’s no real urgency to do anything much at this stage. Actions such as signing the Kyoto Protocol would be pointless, and precipitous in the damage they’d cause to Australia’s economy.

He told the ABC’s Four Corners that there’s no need to take expensive steps to curb its own emissions: “If we stopped them tomorrow, it would take all of nine months for China’s additional emissions to equal what we’ve withdrawn by stopping ours.”

Upon his arrival in Sydney at the weekend to launch his global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, former US vice-president Al Gore said: “If Australia acted and changed and joined the world effort to solve this problem, you would put enormous new pressure on the United States to do the right thing and to act.”

New US Ambassador to Australia Robert McCallum told Radio National on Monday that Australia underestimates the influence it has on the United States. Arguably it’s also the case that Australia’s Catholic Church in turn underestimates the impact it has on the actions of the Australian Government.  

The Church’s teaching is clear. The Bishops’ Committee for Justice, Development, Ecology and Peace launched a position paper at Catholic Earthcare’s Climate Change Conference last November. The paper urged all Australians to cooperate in open dialogue, and face the radical changes required to tackle global climate change. They warned that global warming could create a new wave of dispossessed people.

Bishop Christopher Toohey, who was chair of Catholic Earthcare, said that human-induced, accelerated climate change, “raises serious moral and spiritual questions, not just for Catholics but for all Australian citizens and leaders, and calls for change in our way of life”.

The conference attracted national attention.

It is being followed up by further Climate Change conferences next month in Perth and Melbourne. But talk is almost as useless as denial if it does not lead to action. Bishop Toohey said: “If we act now the changes can be slowed and harm can still be minimised.” We can therefore hope that next month’s conferences will expedite global warming prevention and coping strategies that embrace the largest of the Church’s sectors including education and health.

Online Catholics’ founding editor Kate Mannix, who now works for the Climate Change Institute, sets out the challenge facing Catholic aged care facilities, in an article in the current issue of Eureka Street titled “Climate change will cook the elderly”.

Mannix says that Catholic facilities should adapt their services to mitigate the worst of climate change, or they will go out of business. But more importantly, she adds, it is the right thing to do.

She explains that death is inevitable when the human body gets to 42°C, and it is the most vulnerable - the old, the young, the sick and the poor - who will go first.

Because the Church’s day to day activities are focused so heavily on these groups, the urgency for it to act is all the more acute. The Government believes its core business is to maintain the international competitiveness of our economy. The Church’s core business is to bring the Good News to the poor, which presumably includes some good news about global warming.

“Climate change will indeed test the resolve of Catholic and other aged care systems, to pursue a 'preferential option for the poor',” she suggests.

In the Eureka Street article, Mannix focuses on the Catholic health care sector. Health is merely one of several activities. Given the numbers involved, she might well write another article targeting the schools system.

 

 
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