Economy v environment is no zero-sum game

 

In the back and forth of party politics, one phenomenon we have seen is a slow uptick in support for independents. Divisive figures and small parties have gained a level of support unforeseen under previous governments.

Aerial photo of a portion of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Qld, Australia, which shows evidence of bleaching (Mangiwau / Getty Creative)Why has this happened? What is it that both major parties are missing that makes Australians feel unheard and unseen? Is it the constant polemics of the 24 hour news cycle? In an increasingly educated and cosmopolitan society, is our generation of leaders simply out of touch?

Whatever the cause, we are not debating the issues that really matter. Into this void, civic action groups and community coalitions like the Sydney Alliance have stepped up. The recent 'Voices for Power' event, held at Sydney Town Hall on 14 March, brought together 1901 leaders and citizens, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and the St Vincent De Paul society, to lobby for, among other things, solar gardens in suburban Sydney and more sustainable electricity sources.

When Pope Paul VI wrote Populorum Progressio, the seminal work on Catholic social teaching in 1967, he injected a dose of sobriety into the feeling of anticipation and excitement that accompanied the booming material development of the west. 'Neither individuals nor nations should regard the possession of more and more goods as the ultimate objective,' he said. 

'Every kind of progress is a two-edged sword. It is necessary if man is to grow as a human being; yet it can also enslave him, if he comes to regard it as the supreme good and cannot look beyond it. When this happens, men harden their hearts, shut out others from their minds and gather together solely for reasons of self-interest rather than out of friendship; dissension and disunity follow soon after.'

In our region, we see this Australian longing for a more just use of resources, especially an investment in renewables, echoed by our nearest neighbours. For the Federation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Oceania, the question of renewable energy sourcing is not esoteric or theoretical: it's one of life and death.

'Every day our people are suffering from the negative — indeed sometimes disastrous — effects of global warming,' the Oceania bishops said last year. 'These include rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, acidification of waters and coral bleaching. We therefore ask, is our people's cry for change drowned out by the din of commercial lobbying and greed? Why is it that notwithstanding the indisputable negative consequences upon our human ecology, still many governments not only permit but support the expansion of coal based industries?'

 

"There's no zero sum gamble between the economy and the environment. High ideals can match real outcomes: we just need leaders with the courage to have this debate."

 

This capacity to 'hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor', which Pope Francis so poetically described in his 2014 environmental encyclical Laudato Si', is aptly summed up by one of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching: the preferential option for the poor. Along with the similar principal of 'solidarity', it calls on us to stand with and alongside the marginalised. 'We require a new and universal solidarity ... All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents,' said Francis in Laudato Si'.

Though such ideas may seem noble, they represent a debate which we are not having. This is a shame given that they also present real opportunities for Australia's economic development. What's clear is that there's no zero sum gamble between the economy and the environment. High ideals can match real outcomes: we just need leaders with the courage to have this debate.

At Caritas Australia, we've witnessed this confluence of economic opportunity with aid and development. In Indonesia for example, our support of local eco-tourism has revived communities with self-sustaining employment opportunities and preserved local rainforests from being felled for wood. Coral eco-tourism in the pacific and forest eco-tourism in Indonesia are just two of the ways that we can respond to issues that regional leaders have described as an 'existential threat', but also turn these into productive opportunities for cross-national collaboration.

It's clear that we need a new vision of sustainable economic growth which counters the 'modern myth of unlimited material progress', as Pope Francis described it in  Laudato Si'. With climate change increasingly becoming a 'make or break' election issue, it should be understood that far from being afraid of these new opportunities, our leaders can be encouraged to embrace them as chances for investment and growth. It's not only the right thing to do, it's the prudent choice.

 

 

Daniel NourDaniel Nour is a Content Specialist at Caritas Australia. It's clear that we need a new vision of national leadership. Find out about Caritas Australia's Generation Earth campaign.

Main image: Aerial photo of a portion of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Qld, Australia, which shows evidence of bleaching (Mangiwau / Getty Creative)

Topic tags: Daniel Nour, climate change, laudato si', Pope Francis

 

 

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