Stephen Crittenden: Today on The Religion Report we're going green - a new animal ethics centre opened in Oxford University last week and we'll be talking to its director about animal theology in just a moment.
But first to one area where Australia is actually leading the world on climate change. In what's believed to be a world first, 16 of Australia's leading faith communities released a document on global warming yesterday. Entitled 'Common Belief', it's a collection of theological and spiritual statements on the climate change debate.
Those contributing include indigenous Australians, Catholics and Orthodox, Baptists and Anglicans, Buddhists and Baha'is, the Australian Evangelical Alliance, the Uniting Church, the Salvation Army, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Lutherans.
The Anglican Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn, George Browning says we've exploited God's creation to breaking point, and that concern for climate change is a core matter of faith for Christians.
The Baptist Union of Australia makes public transport a moral issue, and wants our leaders to take steps to reduce greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2050.
The Evangelical Alliance quoted the Australian Business Round Table which suggests deep cuts to our emissions are needed, in the order that would reduce our rate of economic growth by about 2% per annum, and they say we should be prepared to accept this.
The Muslims want the government to do more to support alternative motor vehicle technology, hybrid and hydrogen fuelled cars.
The conservative Australian Christian lobby is there, warning our political leaders that it will be pursuing climate change as an issue at the next Federal election.
Well they all came together at the invitation of the Climate Institute of Australia, a lobby established in 2005, to raise public awareness about the issue.
I spoke to some of the contributors to the project, beginning with the CEO of the Climate Institute, Corin Millais.
Stephen Crittenden: Corin, how did this whole project come about? Who approached whom?
Corin Millais: Well the Climate Institute took the initiative to engage with the faith communities; we've been in a dialogue throughout this year, and we've been very encouraged with the response, as you've seen today: 16 faith communities calling for action on climate change. And it puts the issue in the moral dimension without question.
Stephen Crittenden: Why did the Climate Institute want to add this extra moral, spiritual, theological dimension? Because that in itself is the interesting part of the story, it seems to me, that a secular group working with climate change should be reaching out to the various religious groups.
Corin Millais: Well certainly we have a policy in political focus in trying to change and make progressive action on climate change, that's the issue. And also it has been defined as a technocratic and scientific discipline, but I think that the wealth of information coming out about the human misery from climate change, and the moral dilemmas about how the world comes together, propel you towards the moral question. There's no question that you would think about this as a moral issue. I have children, I think about their future, it's not just about the price of coal, or about whether we can't do anything. So it's absolutely important that such a large issue is a great challenge, is reflected in our own moral beliefs, whatever faith they are, when you're confronted by the nature of this kind of challenge. If you think that our actions are going to cause hundreds of millions of refugees, that burning fossil fuels in a profligate country like Australia has such impact on the world's poor, there is no question there is a moral dimension. And I think it's what you do, reflects your values and your beliefs, whether you have a faith or not. And the 16 faiths have reflected their values on the issue. Above all, climate change is about what you believe is right for the world.
Stephen Crittenden: The Reverend Pravrajika Ajayaprana is a Hindu nun, and on behalf of the Hindu Council of Australia, she gave a speech of real grandeur at yesterday's launch. She said Hindu civilisation was truly ancient, and that in civilisational terms, Australia was still a baby; but a child she'd seen beginning to grow up in her 20 years in this country.
Pravrajika Ajayaprana: As I came to Australia I was astounded to see the bare land, bereft of trees. I was shocked, because trees are our friends of humanity. What we give out, they take, what they give out, we take. That's how life has been intended on this earth. But we have been only taking what we wanted, not what we should have, and the result is devastation of trees, animals, everything. In India, we recycle everything; we don't waste anything at all, we don't have bins to be collected by the municipality. We recycle even the newspapers we read, we sell and they are recycled by the shopkeepers, small, small, shopkeepers, and they use it.
So I would like Australia to stop wasting things, throwing things everywhere. When I see - go to the beach once in a way which we do, and I see the cans and the papers and the wrappers thrown everywhere, I wonder why this so-called civilised country does not have a civic sense. India does not have much I know, but here I didn't expect that. They should love the country and the place and their city much more.
Stephen Crittenden: As a Hindu speaking at this event on the issue of climate change, does it strike you that we often think of the various religious groups as being at each other's throats or disagreeing about things, but that the environment, when you hear all the different representatives from the different religious speaking, the environment seems to be an area of genuine commonality.
Pravrajika Ajayaprana: That is true. Because one of the greatest sayings in the most ancient literature of humankind, that is the 'Rig Veda' is 'Parts are many, but the goal is the same'. Fundamentally, all the truths and ideas that all the faith representatives believe in, are the same. Mother Earth is the basis for all of us, it's a common ground, and when we deal with Mother Earth we cannot hold diverse opinions.
Stephen Crittenden: One prominent idea in the statement by the Baha'i community is the idea of global citizenship. The National Secretary of the Baha'i community is John Walker.
John Walker: Well Stephen, as you can appreciate, the environmental problems facing humanity really can't be resolved without the recognition that we are all inhabitants of one planet. This is the central concept of the Baha'i faith, the oneness of humanity, and that the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens. And so we're all part of that, and we all have to co-operate in resolving and solving the problem of climate change.
Stephen Crittenden: National Secretary of the Baha'i community in Australia, John Walker.
This week the incoming President of the US Christian Coalition, the Reverend Joel Hunter, who was only appointed in October, resigned because his Board of Directors didn't agree with his plans to broaden the Christian Coalition's agenda to include issues like poverty, AIDS and global warming. Meanwhile in Australia, the Managing Director of the conservative Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, is happy to be part of the Coalition of Australian Religious Groups on Climate Change. That may seem surprising; is it one of the real stories of this common belief document that he's even here?
Jim Wallace: Well I don't think so, Stephen, obviously the Australian Christian Lobby is interested in trying to maintain and promote God's order in a whole range of issues. And just as at the very moment of course we have this issue of a debate on cloning in the Federal Parliament, and we're interested there, to make sure that God's purpose of creation is maintained by not cloning an individual, as we're now proposing to do. In the same way we don't want to see the environment exploited, and abused beyond what God intended. We're meant to be stewards of the environment, and of course at the moment we're fast heading, as we've heard this morning, to a point where we're going to be the abusers of the environment for our own ends.
Stephen Crittenden: And as your arrival at this position involved some change, or deepening of your thought on the environment, I've suggested on The Religion Report this year that one of the big religion stories of 2006 is the embracing of the environment by Protestant groups in the United States, for example.
Jim Wallace: Yes, certainly I think this issue of environmental change, and particularly climate change has been highlighted to us all very much this year. I, like many, was sceptical of the figures that were being given, pronouncements of the rate of change and its effect. But as we listen, as we did this morning, to Dr Pearman talking as he did about the very definite indicators of change, and the consequences of that, I don't think certainly churches, anybody interested in the fact that we're stewards of the environment, can sit back and not be part of a campaign to try to remedy these problems of climate change.
Stephen Crittenden: Very interesting to see you saying we at the Australian Christian Lobby are going to be watching at the next Federal election to see which of the political parties is taking this issue seriously.
Jim Wallace: Well that's right. I think very clearly now, this is on the political agenda, and there's no doubt that we'll be asking parties and individual candidates to declare where they stand, and what they would seek to do to try to remedy this problem. So there's no doubt at all that this will appear on the questions put to candidates, and questions put to parties for the next Federal election.
Stephen Crittenden: Jim Wallace, of the Australian Christian Lobby.
Down the other end of the Christian political spectrum is Dr Brian Edgar, of the Australian Evangelical Alliance. What does he think is the importance of a common statement like this one?
Brian Edgar: I think it's very important. We are, as a society, only now just becoming aware of the critical significance of climate change and the fact that it is a global issue that has to affect every individual on the face of the planet.
Stephen Crittenden: One thing that a number of religious leaders mentioned was the fact that this was an opportunity to be ecumenical, that the environment really is an area where the various religious groups genuinely find commonality. It's not made up, it's real.
Brian Edgar: Well I think that's the case. If you look at the statements, they're obviously theologically different. But they are agreed on two things: one about care for the environment, and secondly the moral dimension of climate change. Even the Christian statements do differ somewhat among themselves. There's one approach that says: Let's get on board in this in terms of it being a global issue, a human rights issue, on which we make a common stand with everybody. Some of the other statements take a more Biblical line, and say, it arises out of a particular theological and Biblical framework.
Stephen Crittenden: The Baptists in particular.
Brian Edgar: Well yes.. Yes, they mention the Biblical framework, but almost all of the other statements implicitly mention the Bible, but there is this other dimension as well, that we are a part of a global community, and it is a global responsibility, and both of them do go together.
Stephen Crittenden: We've heard that there hasn't been a statement really like this anywhere else, that this is a first. Do you think it's an indication that religion in Australia is actually right up the front on this issue, compared with elsewhere, and that perhaps also various religious groups in Australia are paying close attention to what each other says.
Brian Edgar: Well I think a lot of the credit has to go to the Climate Institute for drawing it together. I don't think it would have happened without them, so in one sense, it's a bit of a pity that you get a non-religious group who's drawing it together. But that is terrific. But then on the other hand, the responses have been really very good, very good indeed. And I think it does say a lot for all of the religious groups in Australia, that many of them have been prepared to come on board with this. And I think they have been watching what others have been saying.
Stephen Crittenden: They are of a uniformly high quality.
Brian Edgar: They are. They're remarkably - I've certainly been very carefully through all of the Christian ones, and there really is a coherent theological consensus that we must care for the world, because it's based on the fact that God is creator and he made the world good, that he gave to humanity the responsibility to be stewards and care for it, and that doing something about climate change is also part of our responsibility of loving our neighbour. There is tremendous consensus on all of that, and therefore the action, the ethical action, flows out of that.
Stephen Crittenden: You all just sat a few moments ago, listening to a brilliant in fact, presentation from the CSIRO.
Brian Edgar: Graham Pearman was terrific, it was really a very good, succinct summary.
Stephen Crittenden: It is interesting, isn't it, that this isn't just about the various religions coming together, but there's a coalition with, well, with science, I mean here you have all the religions together listening to a very scientific discourse.
Brian Edgar: Yes, that's right. And I think Graham, in his presentation there, touched on some of the things that are important, because I think the scientists, like the various religious groups, are actually taking a broader view than many of those who have led the debate thus far in Australia, which has been based on economics, and upon material growth, economic growth and development, and I think the scientists are recognising there are other issues and that relates very much to what the churches and other religious groups are saying as well. There is more to life than simply growth. It's wellbeing, it's care for the environment, care for our neighbours, we should not be constrained in what we do by national boundaries; we have to look after the global community.
Stephen Crittenden: And music there by Phillip Glass from the film 'Koyaanisqatsi'. Koyaanisqatsi being the Hopi Indian word for 'Life out of balance', or 'Life that calls for another way of living'.
CEO of the Climate Institute
Hindu nun and representative if the Hindu Council of Australia
National Secretary of the Australian Baha'i community
Managing Director of the conservative Australian Christian Lobby
Dr Brian Edgar
Australian Evangelical Alliance