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We must lead our leaders on climate change

A few years back at a marine science public engagement forum, one scientist kept saying he was “slightly concerned” about the oceans, but then privately confessed to losing sleep at night over it. He didn’t want to be dismissed as alarmist, or overwhelm people with how bad the news really was. A second was celebrating that his new position in a university, rather than a government department, meant he could finally say publicly what the science was telling him.

*Unless you burn it. Like coal. Photo: The Conversation (modified by the author)
*Unless you burn it. Like coal. Photo: The Conversation (modified by the author)

How have we got to this point? Where even the weakest kind of emission reduction commitment seems to have ousted another political leader?

Our new “It’s only coal, it won’t hurt you” Prime Minister assures us that “business as usual” will meet our Paris emissions reduction commitments (though only for electricity, as admitted in an ABC interview). Of course, cigarettes won’t hurt you either, until you burn them. Then they kill you. As can the dust from unlacquered coal, that is every piece in the world apart from the Prime Minister’s “stunt lump”.

So we have one government department telling us that we are doing our bit for the atmosphere, while another appears to admit that emissions are still increasing. Independent research says Australia’s contribution to global health is unfair and inadequate, and somewhere between insufficient and highly insufficient.

Globally, the gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is (says a UN report) “alarmingly high”. Probably high enough to keep that ocean scientist from sleeping well, along with the greatly reduced number of climate scientists in the CSIRO.

It’s lucky, then, that more and more people have stopped waiting for our leaders to lead us. In early September hundreds of thousands of people in 95 countries across the world joined together to #riseforclimate. Hundreds blockaded the Newcastle coal port in mid-September, while tens of thousands have been writing, ringing, lobbying, and blockading to prevent the Adani mine from proceeding.

Christians were there, as citizens of goodwill.

Many of us around the world also took time out in September to reflect on our action. We renewed our relationship with the rest of creation, as well as with our Creator. We inspired each other to enjoy and protect the common grace of our common home. We continued “Living the Change” and engaged with the Adani campaign as congregations, with other faith communities. We gathered online to hear from those acting on behalf of Earth, about the hope that sustains them, and the hope they discover through taking action with others. All of these resources remain online as sources of hope.

As our Christian prime ministers past and present would doubtless remind us, faith without works is as dead as prayer for rain without action on climate. So let us all continue to lead our leaders on climate change.


Jason John, Uniting Earth advocate within Uniting Social Justice Forum.

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