Picture taken just north of Stanthorpe, Saturday 4th April, fifteen weeks after fire.
St Hilda’s Ethics assembly: Climate Justice focus
Wednesday March 11
What is the point …
What IS the point …
What is the POINT …
WHAT is the point …
What is the point of … your education?
To get ahead and build a prosperous life that can welcome a new family into the world and your parents be honoured?
Yes. Of course.
But the point of a school like this is yes and more –
your flourishing should lead to the increase in the flourishing of others;
your education and the privilege it brings
must turn towards a good that is bigger and greater than the self.
Thank you for your welcome today.
My name is Richard. Often called Farmer Richard. I first trained as a physiotherapist. There I learnt scientific methodology including the art of assessment, diagnosis and treatment. I worked as a chaplain on the coast during which time two of my sons were born just over the road at Allamanda Private Hospital. I have lived in Canberra for the last sixteen years. It has been a diabolical summer. What does a billion dead animals mean? Smoke filled the city for weeks. My parents were evacuated from their place on the coast three times. Around midday on New Years Eve, Long Beach went pitch black! In the middle of the day. The emergency centre at Batemans Bay was overwhelmed with fleeing people. There was no power or mobile phones for 52 hours. The town itself burned in parts. I have friends who sheltered on the beach for hours, and others on a boat for thirty six. There are young rural firies who lie down at night now and hear what they heard then: the terrifying screams of kangaroos, wallabies, koalas roasting to death. The trauma and shock in those communities remains. The flames were fifty metres above the tree canopy. Peat bogs and never burnt before rainforest have burnt. What does this mean? Something profoundly destructive has changed in our vast brown land.
Fifteen months ago I was in the Danakil desert of Ethiopia with a small group of Afar pastoralists. These are people who follow their herds of camel, sheep and goats. They pack up everything, including their housing, and move to the next watering hole. It is incredibly humbling to experience human life in a land that to our eyes is a barren and unforgiving desert. The Afar have lived for thousands of years with four meagre but sufficient rainy seasons. Now there are only two, and they have been shuffled.
The mechanism for heat trapping and climate change is not an idea or an argument. It is a lived reality. And what happens is the poor, the exposed, the most vulnerable are the ones who are the first to suffer. What the Afar experience now are the results of climate change. And our scientists are saying this last summer is of the kind predicted twenty years ago.
As I look out across this assembly, may I ask a question. Where is the balance? Where is the counter voice offering up the other side to what I have just been saying? As a response to that question, may we do a little logic.
If we had 100 scientific experts in the field of climate, 97 of them say, unequivocally, when humans put extra carbon in atmosphere, heat is trapped and climate changes bringing increasingly devastating effects.
So if we want balance, true balance, fourty eight and a half voices need to speak the science of climate change. And just one and a half against. Picture it:
- 48.5 to 1.5
- Forty eight and a half long and dry and probably really boring scientific voices.
- Then one and a half.
- Forty eight and a half
- One and a half.
So, if ‘balance’ is reduced to one voice here (R), and one voice here (L), an illusion is created
as if there is an argument
and there are two sides
and those two sides are more or less equal.
This ‘apparent’ balance is a deceit. Its technical term is a false equivalency.
As I read this room, this is what I see. I see a community, who still live with diversity of views and perspectives, but that for the most part, you are the other side of the noise of ‘this or that, belief or nonbelief’.
You are asking this question: what do we do?
This is the right question.
So what do you do? May I humbly suggest the following:
You care. You care enough to act.
But first, your action must reflect a change in your own life. If you cannot shift a habit or practice where you live …. then you don’t really care. And as you don’t really care, you have no place to trouble others with your view. There are lots of ways to say this, but Gandhi maybe said it best: care enough to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.
So. Work on the practices in your own home, what you eat and how you travel, what energy you create and use. Don’t be an annoying git. Just act.
Stop using the word ‘belief’. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are regarding gravity, gravity just is. So too the mechanism of warming, it just is, and our global contribution increases the warming. Talking about belief makes it easier to be set against people possessed by ideas rather than the ideas themselves. So just act.
Work on the practices of your school. I hope I am not setting you up with a problem Headmaster (addressing the Head), but students (addressing the students), challenge your school to be carbon neutral. Of course, we all will go neutral. The only question is when? So work with your school and school Board to phase it in sooner and scale it up faster. Collaborate with each other and get some real and meaningful targets.
What if my work with the Anglican Diocese could facilitate a Sustainability Charter, maybe you could shape this? Maybe you could help your school to adopt it and lead it and model it for others to copy.
Amazingly, this seems to be where this community is at: what do we do? You seem to be beyond the paralysing, adversarial arguments that delay collective action. Because you care, act. That is my first point. It is also my only point. Care enough to act.
There are a few principles that underwrite this action. They are:
1. We have the technology now. Now. There is no need to wait. What we need we have.
2. The transition to sustainable energy does not mean compromising on volume or consumption of power. In fact more electricity will be needed because new markets and new economies await.
3. This is an exercise in doing well and doing good. That is, pathways to new economies creates pathways for sustainable justice. Sustainable justice means your children and their children benefit.
4. And no one need lose a job. Germany has just shown the way. New markets creates new jobs. And those new jobs can easily be located regionally. But some will have to transition.
When Jesus pointed to the meaning of his presence, he declared most plainly, his work is good news, release, sight and liberty: for the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed.
This COVID thing tells us what we should know. Can you see it?
- Everything is bound up together
- and science helps us understand how things work
- and the consequences of inaction cannot be talked or spun away.
- Consequences are real and are coming.
I have been asked to pray. So I shall.
Come Creator God, breathe your Spirit here
and flow through these young hearts and minds
and clarify the purposes of their education
and strengthen their bodies with creativity and resolve.
We pray now for both COVID-19 and climate worlds:
Lord God, safeguard the vulnerable, the exposed, the frail, and draw the whole human community together, that we may act as one, for the good of each other, and the earth be blessed.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.