A national conference on climate change hosted by Catholic Earthcare Australia (CEA) in Canberra from 18th to 20th November heard that global warming could create a new wave of dispossessed people – environmental refugees.
The warning followed a Position Paper launched by the Catholic Bishops Committee for Justice Development Ecology and Peace, which urged all Australians to cooperate in open dialogue and face the radical changes required to tackle global climate change.
CEA was set up in 2003 by the Australian Bishops’ Conference and is chaired by Bishop Christopher Toohey.
In the keynote address before more than 300 delegates, Bishop Toohey 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.
“Scientific research has concluded that humans have caused rapid global climate change by contributing to ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, 80 per cent of which comes from the burning of fossil fuels.
“This build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is gradually increasing world temperatures that will lead to higher sea levels as icepacks and glaciers melt. We are also seeing the occurrence of more violent weather events, widespread droughts in some areas and lower food production in others,” Bishop Toohey said.
“If we act now the changes can be slowed and harm can still be minimised.”
Conference organizer and Executive Officer of CEA, Colin Brown, drew attention to United Nations figures released during the conference that revealed a blowout in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“These alarming figures, released ahead of the international climate change conference in Montreal later this month showed that Australia’s emissions have increased by a massive 23 per cent in the past 13 years,” Colin said.
“They expose a decade of lost opportunity in Australia in which things are getting worse, not better.”
Speaker after speaker in a packed program that combined theologians of many faiths with scientists warned of the need for urgent and immediate action.
Saying that it’s almost too late for humans to do anything about it, Fr Denis Edwards from Adelaide continued to urge us to try harder and learn to adapt to the changing situation.
“Most importantly, we need to care for the victims, most of whom have had little to do with the causes of global warming,” he said.
One such case was highlighted by a passionate presentation by Fr Michael McKenzie from the Kiribati islands in the Pacific which average just 2 metres above sea level.
Like other low-lying lands such as Bangladesh, the livelihoods of the entire island nation are under threat.
“Water supplies and soil fertility are being threatened by the intrusion of salt water; medicines from roots and leaves have lost their quality, drought is experienced for six-month periods and the coolness of early hours in the morning is no longer felt.
“While we believe in the rising of the sun as a sign of hope, we also see the rising of the seas as a sign of death,” he said.
“I came to this conference and Australia with an SOS on behalf of our nation. When our people have to start swimming, will Australia be disposed to help us?
“We may be the first of a new wave of environmental refugees, victims of climate change largely brought about by the developed world,” Fr Michael said.
Human-induced climate change is already having disastrous effects in the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, which has already begun an exodus of its population of 11,000 due to rising seas. New Zealand is now accepting them as environmental refugees.
Australian Catholic leaders urged the government to show solidarity with poor nations and island states that will inevitably suffer from the effects of climate change.
“It has always been the church’s mission to hear and respond to the cry of the Earth and its inhabitants – both human and non human,” Bishop Toohey said.
Other speakers at the event included eminent astrophysicist Fr Bill Stoeger SJ, climatologist Dr Jeannette Lindsay, biomedical scientist Professor Tony McMichael, environmental commentator Fr Sean McDonagh SSC, and Religious Education consultant Patricia Hindmarsh.
Award winning American environmental photographer Gary Braasch, who is renowned for his risk-taking action photography of extreme climate events, also presented graphic pictorial evidence of a world under stress from climate change.
Weatherman, Mike Bailey was helped by ABC personality Alexandra de Blas in the facilitation of discussion.
The conference was a national response from the bishops of Australia to mobilise the country’s six million Catholics to take decisive action to take greater responsibility and protect the increasingly threatened natural environment.
“It was Pope John Paul II who called for the urgent ‘ecological conversion’ of the world’s Catholics in 2001,” Bishop Toohey said. “As stewards of creation we all have a serious responsibility.”
Released by Catholic Earthcare Australia