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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.'
own experience working with the Asia Forest Network has proven the value of
including both government and vulnerable communities in discussions, says Fr
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
Walpole singles out the Murray-Darling river system as an example of
environmental mismanagement which has enabled Australian society to maintain an
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
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.'
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