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A guide to pragmatic climate action

  • 25 June 2019


Tony Abbott observed on the night of the federal election that 'Where climate change is a moral issue we Liberals do it tough. Where climate change is an economic issue ... we do very, very well.' Former Labor Premier Bob Carr urged subsequently that the ALP abandon ambitious carbon emission targets and look to business to drive action on climate change.

The challenge for Catholics, even those who lean conservative, is that there must be a moral dimension and even imperative to policy debate on climate change. Pope Francis in his encyclical letter of 2015, Laudato Si', made this abundantly clear, and in the Jesuit world the recently released Universal Apostolic Preferences for Jesuit mission include 'Caring for our common home', a commitment to the environment that must be seen in all Jesuit works.  

Central to Catholic social teaching, to the Catholic world view, is the primacy of the common good. Pope Francis wrote that 'the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all' and that 'our earth is essentially a shared inheritance'. Francis applies the biblical ideal of stewardship to our responsibility for an environment that is of God and is entrusted to our care. There is also an Ignatian view of the world, in that God can be found in all things, which carries an implication as to how we are called to regard the created order.

Francis also reminded us that our commitment to the poor as those most in need must have a priority in shaping our response to the environment. Pollution, loss of biodiversity, the issue of the world's water resources, the impact of development on human life and society, and global inequality, are issues with a moral dimension, especially as they impact on the poor.

'There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus,' Francis noted. 'Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.'

Where to then in Australia? The issue will not go away. Many young people are genuinely concerned about climate change, and political parties, not to mention churches or educational institutions, ignore this at their own peril. The simple fact is that there is a broad scientific consensus that climate