Saturday, 18 June 2011

And God saw that it was good

Up here on the mid north coast, we have been inundated with rain, rain and more rain. Today is the first really fine day for quite some time. Though the water is receding, a number of areas are still flooded in, such as parts of Kempsey (which resembles an inland sea) and Crescent Head, where we were due to preach tomorrow.

And though the water is coming down, many folk are facing a number of issues. There is stock out there, trapped on small islands, that need feeding. There is a rather large big clean-up that will need to be done in both town areas and farmland. Structures such as bridges will need to be checked, and some road surfaces have been left looking like a thousand dead men lie beneath the surface.

Even here in Wauchope, the main road out to Port and the highway was cut. Beechwood people had to take a long and circuitous route to leave the village. It was water, water, everywhere. Power was cut at times, in some places like Woolgoolga; a mini tornado ripped off roofs and created a trail of destruction.

All of this water about, plus the enforced stay at home, made me think quite a bit about the flood story in Genesis. We all know it – the human race was so abominably wicked that the whole earth needed purging to cleanse it. I have always felt that this story was rather harsh. After all, the flora and fauna that abounded on the planet and that presumably was as innocent as the day it was created was also wiped out. Never mind that in the story, two animals are saved from each species. It you weren’t one of the lucky critters, you perished. And I never quite believed as a child that everyone was wicked. What about the children? Surely they couldn’t all be wicked.

Thinking of this catastrophe, watching the wild weather outside, made me think of the current catastrophe that our planet is facing – climate change. This time, God cannot be held responsible, as he was in the flood story. No, this story is a human one, brought about by the wealthy and industrialised nations. And like in the flood story, the innocent are probably going to suffer along with the guilty, and suffer first.

The island of Tuvalu, for example, is highly unlikely to have contributed very much at all to the greenhouse gas that is accumulating in our atmosphere and causing climate change. Yet it will be one of the first places to go under a rising sea. Likewise Bangladesh. The devastating floods in Queensland, the foul and rainy weather here, the tornado up at Red Rock, are all part of the changing weather patterns caused by the warming of the planet. And if we look around the world, such extreme weather events are becoming more catastrophic.

I have spent quite a bit of time with my nose in various climate science books. While I find them difficult to understand in parts, it seems to me that the scientific community has no doubt that the earth is languishing under the burden of climate change which is caused by human emissions.

It is also clear that Europe, the United Kingdom, the Scandinavian countries and various others around the world have invested money in clean technology, a carbon emissions cap and trading scheme, and some, like the UK who have lots of coastline, are fortifying it against inevitable rises in rivers and sea level. Even China and India are nutting out plans, such as emissions trading.

And what are we doing here in Australia at government level in the face of the potentially catastrophic future? We are arguing. We are calling names. We are bickering and some of us are spreading nonsense. We are making excuses – we don’t emit that much CO2. Oh no. It is those nasty newly industrialised countries like India and China.

In fact, we have one of the highest emission percentages per capita in the world, at around 26.2 tonnes per person – higher even than the USA who emit 24 tonnes per person. Our emissions have increased 25.9% since 1990. Our target for our emissions in 2012 is +8% since Kyoto. Yes, you read it right. Plus 8%. We are contributing, both through our emissions and through some peoples’ studied policy in ignorance.

If you compare our emissions with the UK you will find they emit 11 tonnes per person. Their Kyoto target for 2012 is -12.5%. In Germany it is 12.3 tonnes per person, with a decrease of -17.5% since 1990. Their Kyoto target for 2012 is -21%.

All I can say in the words of a once famous radio talkback jock is shame, Australia, shame. What are we thinking?

On the website “The Conversation” this week a letter appeared called “Climate Change is real – an open letter from the scientific community” ( you can read it at ) It is signed by many in the scientific community who study climate science.

The letter states that “The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.”

The scientists also believe that humanity is “facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity.”

Isn’t it therefore time we all took this seriously and did something about it?

If the majority opinion of our scientific community is that we need to do something, then I do not understand why we are allowing irrational fear to be generated by radio shock-jocks and ill-informed and economically compromised people who have vested interests in the status quo continuing. We have even seen death threats against the scientists who are researching climate change.

The Australian media have fuelled much of such populist rage by insisting that equal time be given to those who are climate sceptics. Why? We don’t give equal time to those in the tobacco industry who still claim it is safe to smoke, or to those who belong to the Flat Earth Society.

Further, the alleged “carbon tax”, which our erstwhile Opposition Leader is predicting will ruin us all, isn’t even a tax. It is widely misunderstood by the Australian public who think they will be paying hundreds of dollars extra a year as a result of this ‘tax’. Carbon pricing and trading is an economic system that allows bigger polluters to trade carbon credits with lesser polluters. It gives incentive to big polluters to clean up their act. It generates income for people like farmers and landowners, who sequester carbon in their fields and trees. A carbon emissions and trading scheme has been running in Europe and the UK for years, and prices have not gone up, jobs have not been lost and no one is paying extra tax as a result. Money raised by the scheme can be used to compensate any low income earners who may be disadvantaged, and be ploughed back into green technology.

Because the media likes a good stoush and some controversy, and because the Opposition Leader can only see a future no further ahead than him as Prime Minister, we are being exposed to a false and spurious debate that refuses to truly examine the real facts about climate change – and the real consequences of ignoring them.

And even if people don’t want to accept climate change is real, just what is wrong with reducing pollution and using cleaner – and ultimately cheaper – technology to fuel our power needs? We aren’t going to lose a thing by going down this path, and gee, if I am wrong about climate change, then the only thing we have lost is a polluted atmosphere.

The Uniting Church has an official statement on climate change, which among other things says that Uniting church members should be encouraged a) to “advocate for government to implement policies that significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our use of non-nuclear renewable energy sources”and b) to “engage in dialogues, shared learning and action with non-government environment action groups.”

The statement also encourages us to “seriously and regularly include matters of environment and lifestyle change in prayer and worship, study, and communal decision making”

The natural environment is part of the creation that God described as ‘good’. The Uniting Church’s concern for the poor and vulnerable means we need to do something about those who will suffer most from our wilful ignoring of this immense problem.

As a result of the above statement entitled “For the Sake of the Planet and all its People”, we have joined our church to a climate alliance here in Port Macquarie, which includes the ACF, various unions up here, representatives of NCOSS, as well as various people in the eco and solar business. We plan to give out accurate information, lobby politicians, and release statements and conduct surveys. John and I also plan to begin a bible study which looks at ethical living, good stewardship of God’s good creation, which will lead to further examination of what it means to be the church and on mission in our local community. The church council are terrified, but they have agreed to give it a go.

Climate change is a social justice issue. Climate change is an environmental issue. Climate change is a community issue and yes, a Christian issue. If we don’t want to see God’s good creation again catastrophised by weather calamities which could well have consequences as vast as Noah’s flood, then it is time we stood up and counted ourselves among the active and the concerned in our communities. Before it is too late.

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