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Laudato Si and the Australian election

  • 22 June 2016


It is now 12 months since Pope Francis issued his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si'. In that document the Pope endorsed what he called the 'very solid scientific consensus' on human induced climate change, identifying the culprit as 'a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels'.

Reinforcing his point the Pope argued that 'technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay'.

He warned that 'politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world', stressing that 'Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.'

These were strong words from the leader of the world's one billion plus Catholics.

At the time of its release Catholics were prominent in the then Abbott government. Yet the day after the encyclical appeared I only heard one government minister comment on its contents. Then Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull noted that he had read about half — it was after all a long document — and that he would be taking its concerns into Cabinet.

We heard no more comment from the Abbott government on the matter.

Of course now Turnbull is Prime Minister in the midst of a hard fought election campaign. His current election mantras revolve around 'jobs and growth', border security, and tax cuts for business. His opponent, Bill Shorten is responding with fairness, health, and education.

The elephant in the room, the topic largely missing from conversation, is the needed urgency identified by Francis in dealing with the issue of climate change. Global warming is well down the list of talking points for both major parties.


"It would be naïve to think that the Australian fossil fuel industry has been much more virtuous than their international counterparts."


Of course the issue is not urgent because the Pope said it is. He was seeking to give whatever moral authority he could muster to support the overwhelming scientific consensus that we require strong and binding international measures to address the issue of climate change. But on the Australian political landscape it is barely causing a ripple. This was highlighted by the recent Intergenerational Report commissioned by the NSW government, a report whose projections for the next 40 years failed to