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Encyclical wins praise for scope and depth

The Pope's encyclical on climate change is a call for action, said commentators at a forum in Carlton in July.

By Chris Shearer

August 2 2015Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change is a sophisticated and important document rich in scientific, economic and theological material that requires individuals to consider the complexity of the issue and the role they have to play in combating further environmental degradation.

“It’s the most important statement about the human condition in contemporary times”: Professor Ross Garnaut on the Pope's encyclical on climate change.

Christians should be leading the fight to save the planet, says Dr Mick Pope

Christians should be leading fight to save planet

August 2 2015Climate change and other ecological crises are gospel issues: Dr Mick Pope.

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That was the key message coming out of The Pope, The Planet and Us, a discussion of the encyclical held at The Church of All Nations, Carlton, on 22 July, featuring Australia’s leading climate economist Ross Garnaut, Senior Minister of St Jude’s Carlton the Revd Ross Green and Anglican Funds Committee (AFC) member Andrew Harrex.

Mr Garnaut, most well known as the author of the Garnaut Climate Change Review under the Rudd Government, was quick to heap praise on the encyclical. He said that in the lead up to the release a far reaching statement was expected, but even he had been surprised by its scope and depth.

“I quickly came to the view that it’s the most important statement about the human condition in contemporary times,” he said. Revd Green was similarly impressed, calling it “a great read”.

“It’s encouraging, it’s full of hope, it’s got some hard words in it,” he said, noting that it was “deeply seeped in biblical language and concepts” that would be familiar to Anglicans. “He’s understanding the theology like we would,” he said.

“I think what he’s saying is there’s a human side to the environmental woes that seems to be building and the costs will always fall on the poor,” Revd Green continued. “So he’s not simply talking about climate change and we’ve got to do something; he’s saying the rich can get their way around it, the powerful can get their way around it, but if you keep not doing stuff it’s the poor that are going to be impacted the most.”

Mr Garnaut also singled out the encyclical’s scrutiny of the causes of climate change for praise, saying it was not only a “sophisticated analysis of the science” but also the economy. “I think Francis puts his fingers on some very big issues. The way that markets have been allowed to run in pursuit of narrow and personal goals at the expense of the common good… The phenomenon of excessive reliance on markets… Inadequate provision of public goods, including the public good of measures to stabilise the climate,” he said.

The encyclical’s focus on the economic factors of climate change, particularly how unfettered capitalism has helped create the current environmental crisis, has seen debate in recent weeks as to whether it acts as a moral or political document. In some quarters Pope Francis has even been accused of going beyond his call, although many have applauded the pontiff for taking a stand on the divisive issue.

“I think it’s both moral and political,” said Revd Green. “But he doesn’t seem to be wanting to make political points. I think he’s trying to call on morality and trying to convince people that it’s in our interests to work together, that we’re in this together and we all have a responsibility in this situation. Those that have greater power have a greater responsibility because they’ve got the greater capacity to make a difference.” Importantly, Revd Green said, it acted as a call for action, but broadly defined what that action may be.

“He’s suggesting simple things like deepening your spirituality, things like bringing back grace at the dinner table if you’ve dropped it,” said Mr Green.

“So he’s willing to go to very small things because what he’s wanting to see is a transformation in people’s views, which can be a slow process but he doesn’t necessarily seem worried about it being a slow process as long as it’s deep.”

Mr Harrex noted that even after views have undergone a transformation change needs to be enacted carefully and in consideration of the complexities of the issue. As a member and consultant of the AFC he has been involved in the initial stages of the diocese’s divestment from fossil fuels, but explained that that process could not be directed by good intentions alone. He gave the example of an Australian energy company that operated some of the most polluting coal-fired plants in the country, but also was doing the most work on renewable energy technology – divesting from it would mean the diocese was not supporting a large polluter, but also meant that there would be less capital for the company to invest into renewable energy research. He says that they’ve consulted with a biblical ethicist in order to draw upon the lessons of the gospel when making these decisions.

“It is a complex subject and you need to actually go through it methodically,” he said. “I was involved with [divesting at] Christian Super and that probably took five years until we were comfortable with the approach or where we ended up. It did take a long time because of the differing views.”