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Christian PM should have a heart for climate



Australia has always been a land of bushfires, but usually not in winter. This past month, however, the NSW Rural Fire Service was faced with over 80 significant bushfires. Scientists were reportedly shocked by the scale of the fires and environmental change academics have, unsurprisingly, blamed global warming.

Scott MorrisonAnd what did our government do in response to these fires (and related widespread drought)? It decided to continue to play Survivor: The Musical Chairs Edition and knock off another leader — on the basis of his desire to introduce emissions reductions, no less. Good times.

As others have noted, climate change policy has played a key role in the political instability of Australian politics over the last decade. And it has mostly been due to the recalcitrance of our political class in resisting any action that might jeopardise its cosy relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

The only comfort we can take from the bin fire that is Australian politics right now is that Dutton's camp failed so impressively, and the party elected a 'moderate' in the form of the Honourable Scott Morrison.

But what do we know about our former Treasurer, other than the fact that he presided over Australia's offshore gulags for several years as Minister for Immigration? Well, for one thing, we know that he is a devout Christian of the Pentecostal variety. Born and raised in the Uniting Church, Morrison now attends Horizon Church.

Last weekend, the executive pastor of Horizon responded positively to Morrison's elevation to Prime Minister by stating, 'I think that people of faith around the nation are very much filled with hope that someone of Christian faith and principle is holding such a role in public life. I think there is a great hope that decision making will be influenced by godly principles.'

Wouldn't it be great if this were true? Not only would a prime minister who was truly committed to Christian principles immediately close our offshore detention centres and legislate for a just and compassionate policy towards asylum seekers, but such a prime minister would also take immediate, decisive action to mitigate climate change.


"Addressing climate change is thus both an ecological and social justice imperative, which is why it ought to be a priority for our new Christian Prime Minister."


In his 2015 encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si', Pope Francis describes climate change as 'one of the principal challenges facing humanity' and argues that 'living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience'.

The effects of climate change on the Australian environment are disastrous enough, with bushfires, droughts and other extreme weather events already on the rise. But the global impacts are even more serious.

Poor communities in the global south — particularly those living in the tropics — continue to suffer the brunt of climate change, including increased natural disasters and drought, political instability, and the destruction of livelihoods. The World Health Organisation has also described climate change as 'the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century'.

Addressing climate change is thus both an ecological and social justice imperative, which is why it ought to be a priority for our new Christian Prime Minister.

It is impossible to read the Bible without knowing that Jesus was on the side of the poor. And he didn't advocate for a miserly charity-based approach to poverty. Instead, he demanded that his would-be followers divest themselves of property and wealth, and proclaimed the reduction of inequality and poverty as the fundamental mission of Christianity.

Since we are a secular country, it is also worth noting that the majority of Australians would absolutely support our new Prime Minister in taking action on climate change 'even if this involves significant costs'. We are certainly more concerned about the threat of climate change than we are about asylum seekers crossing our borders.

So when Parliament resumes on 10 September, I hope Morrison leaves his lump of coal at home and takes his values to work. He could start by adopting a 2030 emissions reduction target of at least 50 per cent below 2005 levels, re-upgrading the 2020 renewable energy target, and ensuring that environmental considerations are central to all future development approvals.

To do this, of course, he and his government would need to break up with the fossil fuel industry. So while I might pray, I'm certainly not going to hold my breath.



Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a lecturer at the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice. Her research focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton, climate change



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Existing comments

Hi Cristy: You use the phrase 'truly committed to Christian principles.' What does this mean in a policy context in the Australian government? Consider the following link: https://www.news.com.au/national/politics/scott-morrison-at-centre-of-abc-row-over-religion/news-story/af5c0ccd2f961e2eef4d14b52f11212d Are there satirical elements in this song that strike a cord when looking at Christian principles?

PeterD | 30 August 2018  

Just a reminder that Australia’s most senior Christian leader , Cardinal George Pell ,is also a prominent climate science denier. Probably worth a mention in an article on Christian values in politics...particularly so as the Cardinal enjoys fellow traveller status withe IPA notables.

Bernie McMahon | 31 August 2018  

What Cristy is missing is that Morrison is not so much a Christian as we normally understand it but an Evangelical. This is a totally different beast. All over the American government and increasingly in the courts, Trump is installing Evangelical picks. Their voting block is one of the main reasons he is in power. However wicked Trump is, he is their wicked man enabling their policy positions. Amongst those is a certainty that God made the Earth for man's wealth. It is man's duty, as a grateful Evangelical, to enjoy that material wealth. God will take care of the good. The Good, of course, has a particular meaning. To American Evangelicals, other Christians are not true Christians and are only "good" by accident. Morrison is of the Prosperity Theology cult too. This is the group that believe the rich are enjoying God's blessing of wealth in reward for their goodness. The poor, by the same logic, are unworthy. This enables Morrison to persecute the unlucky in our society as lazy and undeserving. It allows him to see refugees as clearly not worthy of God's acknowledgement. It lets him see coal as a joke stunt in parliament and not something ready to be consigned to history. And of course, the Liberal Party needed Turnbull's private wealth to complete the last election campaign, and the fossil fuel lobby spends big to defer its assets being stranded.

Lucy | 31 August 2018  

Hi Cristy, As a teacher of the social sciences in High School/College (Geography/History) ,also a teacher of Religious Studies (often called RE) ,I came to realise that social justice was the key part of Jesus' message. I responded by telling my students that we are "Stewards of the Earth" .Further that we will be held accountable on that basis when we face the Judgment of God. I firmly believe that when we come before the Creator , we will be asked one big question; "How did you care for my creation?" Sadly Cristy, based of previous history, for example Abbott was a product of the Jesuit tradition, I would not be holding my breath that the New Prime Minister will behave any differently to his predecessor. I very much wish for the wellbeing of my grandchildren , that it was different!

Gavin O'Brien | 31 August 2018  

There was a story going around the Australian Public Service in the first week that Bob Hawke was briefed on the protocols of the office of Prime Minister. Bob was reported to have said, much to the delight of the APS mandarins: "I reckon I had more power to do my own thing when I was President of the ACTU." Being PM in Australian democracy may have some power and authority but the position is very circumscribed legally, administratively and politically.

Uncle Pat | 31 August 2018  

I have an acquaintance who believes it's an important Christian value is freedom from the influence of Islam and the absence of Muslims in our country. I'm not suggesting the PM thinks that, but I'd very much like to know what specific values he - and his pastor - regard as essential to Christianity. I doubt that care for the poor, or for the environment, would make the list.

Joan Seymour | 31 August 2018  

Lucy has hit the nail right on the head. The Hillsong style mob are Apologists for greed and self centredness. No eye of the needle with them.

ErikH | 31 August 2018  

The problem Cristy is that energy policy in Australia is in terrible mess because at both national and state level ideology has dominated over common sense and reality. The reality is that the drive to "renewables" without being balanced by stable base-load capacity and investment in the infrastructure that can optimise the use of wind/solar power is making energy both expensive and unreliable at the same time. It is also throwing away a major economic advantage that Australia should have of cheap and reliable, and making us all financially poorer. If any of this could in any way affect climate it might just be worth doing, but as is very well known, all this pain will and can do absolutely nothing in that regard given how trivially small a contribution Australia makes to the CO2 problem.

Eugene | 31 August 2018  

There is a lot of truth to what you say Lucy but the Evangelicals are not the only problem. The Catholic Church has a long history of encouraging multiplication of the population without regard to the extent to which the limits to which this planet could support greater populations.

Ginger Megs | 01 September 2018  

Australian Christians don't want to be reducing emissions so that our electricity prices are out of line with our international markets, and make our goods and services uncompetitive. We must keep abreast of competition in prices, because it we don't, our people will be out of work, causing suffering of especially the poor. We must maintain competitiveness and get away from the highest prices. Regards Adrian

Adrian | 01 September 2018  

The problem with the intersection between Christian faith and climate change, is, as Bernie has pointed out, that there are those members of the Catholic hierarchy who do not acknowledge Climate Change. Recently when asking for prayers at mass in my diocese for those affected by the floods in India and the drought in Australia, there was no mention of Climate Change, and taking action to reduce global emissions or about creating sustainable communities and sustainable lives. We are to live simply so that others can simply live. Instead we are naively led to believe that we are not actors who can help change the factors which lead to extreme weather events but only passive not active agents with God, to bring to fruition the answer to our prayers or that we could help reduce man made climate change and extreme climate events,i.e. droughts and floods. Pope Francis "gets it" to some degree at least he acknowledges Climate Change, but do the bishops? Another important point is on coal, can we as ethical Christians stand by and accept the horrendous situation in Mongolia at the moment, highlighted on dateline SBS, this past Tuesday night where the children of Mongolia are suffering from respiratory diseases and are at risk of death, directly linked to coal pollution? The coal particles in the air are way in excess of universal safety standard levels, and are at toxic levels due to coal burning in temperatures of -27 degrees celsius. Due to climate changes there are no harvests for the livestock to feed off, sending the Mongolians into the cities and into these 'dirty old towns' of high coal pollution - and the trains keep sending in the coal!! Is Australian coal is being exported into this dire situation?

Ros | 21 September 2018  

It appears that Australian coal may not be being exported into Mongolia because Mongolia has enough coal reserves,but one must question though, which Australian mining companies and which Australians are involved in the Mongolian economy, and who is financially benefiting through share portfolio or supperannuation from the dire state for the Mongolian population and children especially in Mongolia who are at risk of death from respiratory disease from coal pollution as mentioned above? As Christians these are the ethical questions that we must address.

Ros | 21 September 2018  

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