Environmental Experts Speak at Social Justice Gathering

by Ruth Moraes

On Wednesday 8th September 2021 over 50 people gathered over Zoom for the Justice and Peace Office’s Social Justice Gathering to delve deeper into the themes of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2021-22 Social Justice Statement Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.

Tim Nelson, Associate Professor at Griffith University kicked off the evening by summarising the IPCC’s latest report as a “code red” for humanity and the importance of a just transition at both macro and micro levels. “If we were to do nothing we would see a five degree rise in temperature from pre-industrial levels and that world is unthinkable to live in” he said. 

One way in which Australia is doing well is its take up of solar energy. Unfortunately, those on lower incomes or those who don’t own their own homes are less like to have solar power, even though they would benefit from it the most. Therefore government and community action to make solar more accessible to the poor is essential. 

Felicity Wade, from the World Resources Institute whose life-long environmental activism is inspired by her faith, spoke about the political climate and the obstacles it poses to taking action to protect the environment. She acknowledged how polarising the debate was and stressed the importance of building consensus until we had a majority of elected representatives who could pass meaningful legislation. 

Cognisant of the economic realities that one in four Australian jobs are dependent on emissions intensive industries Felicity also discussed her work to bring business, communities, environmental advocates and workers together to find more sustainable jobs. The examples of Spain and Germany who have transitioned away from fossil-fuel intensive jobs can provide a roadmap for Australia too. 

Sr Brigid Arthur, co-founder of the Brigidine Asylum Asylum Seeker project and the litigation guardian for a group of teenagers who achieved a landmark ruling in the Federal Court was the final speaker for the night. The case was a world first win in the Federal Court as Justice Bromberg found the federal environment Minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to young people to protect them from environmental harm. Sr. Brigid said that educating people about the problem to achieve long term and sustainable change was a crucial first step towards taking essential action to protect the environment.

She also noted that poverty is both a cause and symptom of environmental degradation. She has seen this in an unusual way as many of the people she has assisted to seek protection also talk about the environmental degradation their countries have experienced. Their witness highlights the theme of the Statement, so well recognised by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ that caring for the environment and caring for the poor need to go hand in hand. 

Despite the bleakness of the current state of our environment the evening had a strong sense of hope that there are people who already deeply committed in restoring the environment and others are joining them.