Encyclical anniversary sparks religious call to shift from fossil fuels

Few papal proclamations have reverberated more strongly throughout the world than Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. Released a year ago, the encyclical was part of a deluge of statements from the major faith traditions in the lead up to the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Today, diverse Australian religious leaders note that Australia was a signatory to that historic agreement, but they ask: where are the policies to match?

In an open letter, they say the tragic bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef should be a wake-up call, yet new coal mines were approved within weeks of Minister Hunt signing it. The harsh reality is that both sides of politics are committed to the continuation of coal and gas mining.

The realities of global warming are being felt more painfully by the year. Polls show there is strong electoral support for climate action and now Australia has international obligations. In the meantime, our national emissions keep rising and climate policy scarcely rates a mention in election debates.

We know why. Both sides of politics have overly close relationships with the fossil fuel industry, and this has a profoundly distorting effect on our democracy. The common good is being sacrificed for political self-interest. 

We have a stark choice before us. On one side are civil society, innovators in low carbon technologies and socially responsible investors working for a transformation of our economies which will protect our life-sustaining eco-systems.

On the other side are sheer inertia, our collective addiction to fossil fuels and industries which are fixated on continuing as usual, regardless of the long term costs to people and the environment. As Pope Francis says, “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

The need for action can no longer be postponed. Australia urgently needs to transition the economy away from fossil fuels to one which is broadly based, innovative and sustainable. We need to declare a moratorium on any new coal, oil or gas mining and expansions of existing mines and end subsidies and assistance to fossil fuel industries.

We need commitments to large scale renewables projects and incentives for citizens to escalate rapidly the take-up of renewable energy. A rapid transition would not only meet our environmental responsibilities, it would also contribute to a stronger economy now that mining is in structural decline. Renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels and they create many more jobs.

We need restructuring plans to ensure mining communities are not left behind as Australia transitions from a fossil fuel-based economy to one powered by renewable energy.

Finally, Australia should restore trust internationally by contributing new money, not money from the overseas aid budget, to Climate Finance for developing countries. We are a relatively wealthy nation so we have the capacity.

Pope Francis drew the world’s attention to the “urgent challenge to protect our common home”. Leaders of the various faith traditions are speaking with one voice: now is the time to act!

The Rt Rev’d Professor Stephen Pickard is Executive Director, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University. Thea Ormerod is President, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. Please visit Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.

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Stephen Pickard Image
Stephen Pickard

The Rt Rev'd Stephen Pickard is Executive Director, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University. 

Thea Ormerod Image
Thea Ormerod

Thea Ormerod is President, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. Please visit arrcc.org.au

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