22 February 2017 : A newsletter of the Australian Jesuits

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Indigenous voices needed in climate discussions


As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss climate change, a leading Jesuit environmentalist has warned that Australia faces environmental destruction unless it addresses social equality and implements dramatic lifestyle changes as the world heats up.


Following a recent visit to Alice Springs, Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, Coordinator for the Environment and Natural Resources with the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (formerly JCEAO), said that various tiers of Australian government are 'tripping over themselves' in the development of a policy framework to deal with climate issues.


'While they have the best intent, it was very hard to understand how the shire policy actually intends to respond to people', said Fr Walpole. 'There is so much misunderstanding, it has been so destructive of any hope people had in systems and in themselves. It was a real shock to see this.'


Fr Walpole, who works among economically disadvantaged communities across Asia, said that the inequality that exists within Aboriginal communities threatens to hinder any progress made on climate change within Australia.


'Aboriginal communities have so many problems as it is, they don't need to deal with climate change. Where you have a people who are disempowered and you have these further problems, they're going to have less capacity to respond. It has taken generations to dissolve the fibre of communities, and it will take generations to build them up again. Australia needs investment in communities so that they can be empowered.'


His own experience working with the Asia Forest Network has proven the value of including both government and vulnerable communities in discussions, says Fr Walpole.


'This is where the integrity of a society is based, in its people. If you can give strength and encouragement to the people at the margins, then you've got a much greater potential.'


Fr Walpole singles out the Murray-Darling river system as an example of environmental mismanagement which has enabled Australian society to maintain an entrenched lifestyle.


'A river needs water, it affects the entire life of the system. Agricultural production shouldn't have priority over Australia's life', he says. 'Your main river systems that have been ruined - people do seem to be aware of it, but don't seem to have the capacity to change it. The fundamental commitment doesn't seem to be there.'


Australia, says Fr Walpole, is an 'experimental bowl of climate change. The rest of the world is watching Australia, and sometimes Australia has its head in the sand.'


Australia's youth will be central to the success of a climate change program, says Fr Walpole. 'We really have to get the youth involved. They need to be experienced in the realities and the diversities in Australia, and to have a commitment to equality, not just to the comfort zones of a consumerist society.'


Society also needs to put more pressure on its leaders. 'We have to take politics seriously and take it to a new level. I think the politicians are capable of doing it, but society has to exact that from them. We don't have to be so busy and consumed by our eight-to-five jobs. We have to find new ways of living. Not just minimising, but significantly changing our circumstances.'


By Catherine Marshall



Comment On This Article

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Existing Comments

Julian Carson


Absolutely true. Some Aboriginal communities are trying the break the welfare dependency cycle through various business enterprises only to be denied these opportunities by pressure from usually urban based green groups. I mainly refer to the Cape york fiasco a few years back, where Ab. communities were denied use of river systems they had lived with forever so short term 'green' got Beattie and his mob over the line in an election. More of the same will be happening - some of it about to hit the fan in parts of the Kimberley.

Chris Dunk


Great stuff Pedro i dont think the politicians ar capable of making any real decisions while we all expect to live the way we have been and expect to retain...its wake up time for all and stop blame shifting...its all my responsibility and all of us are me...

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