By Jonathan Cornford
14 March 2022
Looking to an Australian federal election for hopeful movement on climate change seems like an exercise in futility.
The Coalition has long colluded with Big Money to sabotage any serious action on climate change and Labor has exhibited a penchant for moral cowardice and political ineptitude. If you understand the enormity of climate change then it is hard not to despair of the desultory outcomes of Australian electoral politics. What is clear is that we cannot look to our leaders for leadership.
I know in these sorts of articles one is meant to sound neutral, but I am all for calling a spade a spade. The best outcome I can think of in May is Labor forming government with the Greens and a couple of quality independents holding the balance of power. Labor’s plan for emissions reduction is certainly much better than the Coalition’s, but not good enough by half. The right sort of balance of power might improve it. Most political commentators decry hung parliaments, but I think they are our best hope for real deliberative decision making.
What does this mean for followers of Jesus? Firstly, we should not be relying on electoral politics for movement on climate change. The roar of election campaigns is when politicians, media and voters are at their worst. The work of real change happens between elections.
Secondly, we need to be clear about what climate change requires of us individually and corporately. The Coalition has continually staked the question of action on climate change to the cost of living, especially the cost of electricity, and this has proved an electoral winner. The Greens have rushed to assure us that we can achieve large scale emissions reduction without increasing the cost of living.
This is complex territory. On some things the Coalition are wrong (electricity will probably get cheaper), but in the big picture they are probably right. With the change that is needed, our cost of living will rise. Once you realise that it is not just climate change we are dealing with but a multi-dimensional ecological crisis – habitat destruction, species extinction, plastics pollution – then the scale of economic transformation that is needed is huge. Then there is the distributional issue: if costs are rising we will have to take new initiatives to take the burden off low-income groups. More costs.
This is the rub. The reason we have a multi-dimensional ecological crisis is that we have been living too cheaply. We have not been paying the true price of what it costs to raise food from the soil, air-condition houses, dig up minerals or fly goods across the globe. But what party wants to raise the cost of living?
The vocation of the followers of Jesus is to choose the path everyone else wants to avoid, and to show that that is really the path that leads to life. An economy that pays just prices (socially and ecologically) will be less glutted by consumer excess, but will employ more people in meaningful jobs under good conditions. Christians can choose a higher (and more just) cost living now by choosing green energy, shopping ethically, and, if they are landlords, providing lower rents and more climate-ready housing. And whenever we get the chance, we should be telling our political leaders that we want to pay more, for goodness sake.
Jonathan Cornford is the co-founder of Manna Gum, an organisation seeking to help Christians reclaim and practice Biblical teaching on material life. This article forms part of a broader ‘What I want to see in … May?’ series on the 2022 federal election.