We are facing a global emergency.
Here, and around the world, the most disadvantaged people and communities are feeling the effects of climate change the most. The Australian Council for Social Service explains people with fewer resources have less money, choice, power and social connections to cope, adapt or recover from the impacts that climate change is already having on their lives.
We can change this, but we need to act urgently. In Australia, and internationally, we need a just transition to a sustainable economy that leaves no one behind.
That is why this year the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is focussing on the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor in their annual Social Justice Statement. They write, “We are being called to a new way of thinking, feeling, understanding, and living.”
The Statement calls on the Australian community to listen to the First Peoples of our land as the first teachers on how to care for country. In it the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council ask for “a seat at the table and an opportunity to communicate in our own language” in order to “participate more fully in discussions around the care for our country and to share our knowledge”. They have noticed “changes in our environment through the behaviours of certain animals and the changes in our landscapes”. Some changes are obvious “like the loss of our homes in the Torres Strait” while others are more subtle “like the changes in our seasons.” They declare they “want to help save our Earth”.
The Statement also commits the Australian Catholic Church to join a worldwide effort to pursue a set of ecological goals – the Laudato si’ Goals – named after Pope Francis’ major document on caring for the earth as our common home. These goals are the destination of a seven-year journey undertaken as a historic global choice to create completely sustainable communities that protect all life and Creation. The goals are global signposts to be worked towards over time, putting integral ecology into practice. Actions speak louder than words, so the Bishop's conference is encouraging their own faith communities to put their beliefs into practice in a very concrete way.
Religious beliefs matter in an ecological crisis because they can either encourage or discourage exploitative attitudes towards the earth and unsustainable lifestyles. The Statement offers four faith foundations for care for creation: creation in and through the Trinity; the sacramentality of all created things; wonder and beauty; and the need for conversion and change of life. Some of these ideas will make sense to people of various faiths and those without faith.
The wonder and awe that we experience at the beauty of this precious planet is a common human experience. It moves our hearts to care for our world, to want to protect it, and to pass it on to future generations.
Being in nature can be a spiritual experience whether you are a believer or not. Many people see signs or sacraments, if you will, in the more-than-human world of animals, plants and elements – of the transcendent of a higher power. Or perhaps we feel a sense of connectedness with the web of being at certain times and places?
And, of course, we know that things must change – that we must change. The Statement notes that an ecological conversion means converting our hearts and actions to align “with the loving presence of God at the heart of all reality” and that “by calling us to a humbler, more sustainable way of living, our ecological conversion entails an economic conversion”. In fact, “whether planned and managed by governments or not, a transition away from a carbon-based economy is already underway” and “rather than delaying a commitment to sustainable energy sources, concern for the future of communities that have been reliant on extractive industries should be built into the transition”.
Anyone who wants to join the journey to complete sustainability can make use of a global online platform that is currently being built. Known as the Laudato si’ Action Platform, it will provide a vast depository of action ideas and membership in a worldwide community of action. Check it out at laudatosiactionplatform.org.
Dr Sandie Cornish is the Director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.