Bishop George Browning
​Bishop George Browning says
human and ecological health go

An Anglican leader has accused the Church of losing its prophetic voice and many politicians of lacking leadership over climate change.

Bishop George Browning, a former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn who chairs the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, led an interfaith delegation to meet the Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, and other political leaders in Canberra last month. But he told TMA he was not confident that attempts to introduce a carbon tax, would succeed.

Bishop Browning said that behind the climate change debate, there was a bigger ideological battle going on between those who believed in an unimpeded free market and those who recognised the need for cooperation. This combined with the delicate political balance in Canberra, with the Opposition determined to bash the Government on any issue and Independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott under enormous pressure from their electorates not to cooperate with Ms Gillard’s minority administration.

He rejected the term “climate change sceptics”, saying those who argued that there was no scientific consensus on the threat to life on Earth were “climate change deniers”.
“That it’s possible for people to put forward a position that trashes science, it’s almost unprecedented that we could be in this situation,” Bishop Browning said.

“We are all into globalisation to take advantage of its trade but no nation state wants to be in it for sharing the challenges we have created.”

On the churches’ stance, Bishop Browning – who led a delegation of Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish and Sikh representatives to Parliament House on 2 June – said one church leader “felt it necessary publicly to say that I was not speaking on behalf of the church”.

“There is a huge reluctance and fear at church level to take a position because they are afraid of the backlash, either from members of their own church or from the wider public,” Bishop Browning said.

“I think the Church, generally speaking, has lost its prophetic voice and it has particularly on this issue.”
The delegation, from Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), also met the shadow ministerfor climate change, Mr Greg Hunt, the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Mr Mark Dreyfus, and Independent MP Mr Andrew Wilkie.

The delegation told the MPs that climate change was a moral challenge. It called for public investment and incentives for the creation of renewable energy, stronger mandatory energy efficiency standards and substantial funding to help developing countries adapt.

“As a wealthy country Australia can afford a carbon tax, while ensuring low-income households are protected from undue hardship.” Bishop Browning said on 2 June. “Indeed we cannot afford not to act when the stakes are so high. We are talking about our grandchildren’s future and that of the poor. If we believe the best science available, we are talking about nothing less than the future of life on earth.

“The religious perspective is that our well-being is more about a sustainable relationship with our environment and others with whom we share the planet. It is not about economic growth, our capacity to consume or minimising costs of taking responsible action.”

In a paper delivered to the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture on behalf of ARRCC on the night of the Parliament House meetings, Bishop Browning said the “architecture” of a carbon price must ensure that the transition took place in the shortest possible time from dependency on fossil fuels to embracing renewable energy.

He said there must be flexibility so that Australia’s pollution could be reduced well beyond current low targets. Transitional protection for carbon-intensive industries should be minimal and phased out quickly. And the carbon pricing mechanism must be designed so that emissions actually were reduced within Australia, and not outsourced to developing countries through an offshore carbon credit system.

“Finally, the Government should guarantee support for affected workers to transition to other forms of employment, and low-income households should be provided with subsidies to prevent undue hardship,” Bishop Browning said.

“We are aware of the cost this imposes to large sections of Australian society. However, the cost of not doing so could compromise the future of humanity itself. Australia has more to lose through climate change than any other OECD country, and the longer the cost is postponed, the heavier the burden on our grandchildren.
“The ecological limits of the Earth are not negotiable and we treat responsible action in relation to these limits as ‘unrealistic’ at our own peril.

“We, members of Australia’s faith communities, commit ourselves to the common good of all Australians present and future, believing that what is morally right will prove to be right for the sustainable future of global humanity within the context of the whole created order.”

Bishop Browning said there were ominous signs that the world order that humans had known and relied upon in the past was changing. In the past 12 months, there had been extreme weather events from fires in Russia to floods in Pakistan, Brazil and Australia, continuing droughts in Africa and extreme cold in parts of North America and Europe.

“While none of these events can be said to be specifically caused by global warming, science has consistently predicted that warming increases the instances of intensity and frequency of such events. Recent research is beginning to confirm that global warming significantly contributed to particular instances of extreme weather.

“Common to all faiths is teaching that life is relational, that human beings, while having the responsibility to care for creation, are also part of it. Humanity’s health is directly related to the health of the whole created order... The end result of man’s tyranny over nature is nature’s revolt against the tyrant, as is happening now.”

Bishop Browning said three factors were new and their combined impact had led to the crisis - the inequity caused by the increasing tendency towards ownership and privatisation even of what really belonged to the “common wealth”; the increased global human population from about 200 million at the time of Jesus to about 600 million in about 1800 to about 6.9 billion now; and the increased proportion of available resources every human being used as living standards rose.

He said humans had no future on this planet “if our moral sensibility remains too limited, if we continue to act in our short-term, narrow self-interest, and fail to develop a broader awareness of our well-being being intimately connected with the health of our environment”.

“It would be much better if prosperity could be measured in levels of community cohesion, social equity, work/life balance, job satisfaction, rates of physical and mental health; and the quality and integrity of our environment,” he said.

“We note with sadness the primacy that is given to the individual at the expense of communities, both human and non-human. We accept as fundamental the defence of individual rights, but we argue that this is only part of the story: communities also have rights, the world’s poor and marginalised have rights, those yet to be born have rights and the whole created order has the right of its own integrity.”

Bishop Browning is to chair the second meeting of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network in Peru next month. The first was held in Canberra in 2005.

In January, the Anglican Primates, meeting in Dublin, issued a statement saying that while climate change was a normal characteristic of the planet, “it has become an urgent concern because of the evidence of the impact that humanity has had on the earth by our use and abuse of its natural resources”.

“We underline the increasing urgency of this as we see the impact of climate change in our provinces, especially in the Pacific region.”
And Micah Challenge Australia has launched “Share the Earth”, urging Christians to help ensure sustainability in poor countries.


 Related TMA


 Tools and talkback