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CES has chosen for its theme this year 2011 the theme of stewardship, specifically of creation. Not so very long ago most Christians in Australia who heard that word stewardship would have thought of money or at least a campaign to raise it. If we had read some theology and ethics we might have recognised a debate about economics and Christian ethics that was conducted in the 80s and 90s of the last century. In Christianity the image was in the West mostly associated with money.
But this year we want to reflect on stewardship in relation to the created order, an order we believe is under stress. It is a powerful biblical metaphor that suggests we are not owners but managers, servants (not a welcome idea) of goods and an order that are not ours. The rendering of effective, productive and creative stewardship of goods and resources (represented by money) is best illustrated in the parables of Jesus in Luke 12.41-48 and 19.11-27. The first addresses the abuse of power through the abuse and coercion of others and the greedy, narcissistic and opportunistic consumption of another’s goods. The second urges wisdom as well as creativity in the use of resources and reviles fear and timidity.
The metaphor suggests that God not humans is the principal locus of consciousness and moral purpose in the universe. Furthermore, traditionally Christians have valued the material ordering of creation because in the incarnation they perceived that the original creative principle through which God created the universe -the divine Word- became flesh and dwelt among us. The natural order is God’s possession and our role is to lovingly tend it.
If we have chosen well we trust that this will open up new discussion as well as link our deliberations to ecumenical and theological debates from the past and into the future, because none of this is entirely new. A little historical research reveals that the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring in the USA which attacked the misuse of chemicals in agriculture was probably the starting place for much of the modern debate. She was regarded as hysterical but most chemicals she criticised have now been banned.
A decade later in 1972 the Ecologist published a Blueprint for Survival which among other things recommended the reduction of the population of Britain from 53 million to 30 million. The population debate had begun. The other publication was the Club of Rome report, The limits of Growth. Many further reports were to follow that severely modified the original but the original made the impact. Whatever its value it raised doubts and scepticism about interpreting expert opinion that have remained to this day. The reason was it was not expert enough.
Now we have reports and research aplenty. But still scepticism dogs the scientific and technical enterprise. The legacy of the Club of Rome lives on.
The expression of an extreme view in 1967 by Lynn White attacking the Judaeo-Christian attitude to nature asserting it to be the most anthropocentric religion the world had seen stirred the theological pot by sharpening reflection on our understanding of the tradition. That attack proved creative and forced Christian theologians, Christian ethicists and the ecumenical movement to explore other ways of understanding the tradition. It is rich vein we cannot leave untouched both to avoid duplication and making the same mistakes.
The Scope of the Subject
The ecological crisis is now seen as one of the defining features of the late modern era. Most accounts include certain common features, in summary:
Embedded in these problems are the scientific and technical issues associated with the provision and use of water, the place and meaning of cities, the economics of global late modernity, food, population, and energy. They also include poverty and environmental inequity for the poor, powerless and dispossessed.
But perhaps also we are finding that no matter how hard technical difficulties may be to solve the more difficult issues lie elsewhere. They lurk in the much more murky world of politics, public policy and a tendency of late modernity according to Anthony Giddens to dismember human life from prior attachments to place, custom and tradition which have in the past helped to conserve the environment. It is an environment where, as Peter Singer so succinctly puts it ‘ethics is not part of the structure of the universe.’ And neither is meaning. According to this view we may choose to construe the natural order as having meaning and purpose but it does not present itself that way.
In this world of competing ideologies, political, social, religious, where the use of power, influence and prestige become as important players as good ideas and technical expertise we will necessarily become involved. Most of us are not technical experts in clearly defined areas but we all swim in these turbid waters where the future will be determined by power and ideology. In this social soup we have a stake. It is in this mix that debates about sustainability are conducted and muddled. As we do we are drawn into debates about the construction of nature as a resource bank ready for reordering for human purposes we recognise we are living and debating an ideology in which the natural world that has no prior moral significance before we impute to it beauty, value or utility.
Enter Christian theology.
Christian Theology, Christian Ethics, Christian Living
Ever since Lyn White’s attack on Christian ideas about creation and God the nature of the growing crisis has posed theological questions. Some of those questions are: The nature of God and God’s relationship to the whole of the natural order and not simply humans; The place of eschatology and/or apocalyptic in Christian ecological thinking; and the nature of redemption. Can the Christian ideas of the Triune God, the incarnation of the Word of God and the resurrection have something to contribute to the debates?
But systematics has not been the only Christian discipline put under the microscope; so has biblical studies. The interpretation of texts has become significant. Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and Genesis 9 have received much attention but careful attention to the Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea and other texts in the Old Testament need further attention. But New Testament texts about the Word, about Christ and Creation and apocalyptic visions call for further interrogation.
What we long for most are some practical outcomes for Christian discipleship. After all, this is a matter of living. How shall we be disciples living out God’s call to us in Christ to be a blessing to the world?
The above is an outline used by Revd Colin Dundas to introduce the theme and Bishop Browning at our first forum of the year. A complete audio of the introduction is available on our Download Page
Climate Change (cause/effect, solutions, truth/spin) is probably the major issue for mankind to come to grips with as soon as possible. Two eminent Australian scientific communities, thru their websites and publications are making available information which can be understood by ordinary Australians. You are invited to peruse these sites and add to your understanding of this important issue of Climate Change.
1. CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)
provides the latest information to underpin decisions that need to be made in business, in government, and in general.
Boundless Plains? map data developed by Dr Chris Watson during his career as a CSIRO soil scientist, which illustrate the obvious limits of Australia's soil and water resources.
The following are quotations from the book THE WORLD OF LIFE - A Manifestation of Directive Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose by Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), published in 1914. This book can be viewed and listened to online or downloaded in various formats. The book appears to be out of copyright.
Forum 1: "Known Knowns: A Basket of Summer fruit." The Lord said to Amos “What do you see”? And I said “A basket of summer fruit”. Amos 8:2 - Bishop George Browning
This forum was held on 17 February 2011.
Bishop Browning has commented: Donald Rumsfeld infamously stated in 2006. "There are:
The context of this statement (the invasion and conquest of Iraq and insistence upon the discovery of weapons of mass destruction) was sad, if not tragic. The US Secretary of Defence’s words were met by journalists with disbelieving laughter. In the current context of debilitating and self interested scepticism about climate change from the right wing of religion and politics, Bishop Browning will used this statement as a framework to explore the language of climate change from a Christian perspective, with particular reference to the theology of Creation Sabbath.
Bishop Browning was born in the UK and
migrated to Australia at the age of 18 to work on the land.
(A PDF outline of his address is available for downloading). A complete audio of this talk is available on our Download Page
Australian Religious Perspectives on Climate Change - 11 June 2011A multi-faith delegation came to Canberra in early June 2011 to lobby federal politicians on behalf of the many people of faith who believe urgent action is needed to curb climate change.
As part of the Canberra visit, a public forum entitled "Australian Religious Perspectives on Climate Change" was also held on 11th June. Bishop George Browning, former Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Canberra-Goulburn, presented a paper offering a religious perspective on climate change and the policy responses needed.
Responses to the paper were presented by Mark Dreyfus (Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change), Greg Hunt (Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water) and Dr Janette Lindesay (Associate Professor at the Australian National University and climate scientist).
Here is a a theological position paper by Bishop George Browning
Forum 2: "Nuclear Power - Bequeathing yet more problems to future generations?" - Dr Sue Wareham
This forum was held on 24 March 2011
Few question the need to drastically reduce our reliance on fossil fuel. But is nuclear power the solution or even a part of the solution to climate change?
Dr Wareham qualified in medicine from the University of Adelaide in 1975, and currently works in general practice in Canberra.
Since the early 1980s, Dr Wareham has been a very active member of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), which works for the elimination of nuclear weapons and for the promotion of peace and disarmament generally, and she has spoken and written widely on these issues. She was MAPW National President from 1997 to 2005, and from 2007 to 2009. Currently she is ACT Branch Coordinator, and is on the Management Committee in Australia for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
MAPW is the Australian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Dr Wareham was the Regional Vice-President of IPPNW, and a member of the Board of Directors, from 1996 to 2000.
Dr Wareham has campaigned on other issues related to peace and justice also. In April 1999 she took part in an international delegation to Iraq, sponsored by IPPNW, to raise awareness of the devastating impact of economic sanctions on the Iraqi people; and in December 2006 travelled to Lebanon with a delegation to document the effects of cluster bombs on civilian populations.
In 2006 Dr Wareham was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division (OAM) “for service to the community and to the peace movement, particularly through the Medical Association for Prevention of War”.
(A PDF outline of her address is available for downloading). A complete audio of this talk is available on our Download Page.
For further reading, Dr Wareham recommends the factsheets on the energyscience website at http://www.energyscience.org.au/factsheets.html. In particular, the following articles address the main issues:
energyscience.org.au is an independent non-governmental organisation established as a collaboration of concerned scientists, engineers and policy experts to present information to people on the issue of sustainable energy. energyscience.org.au combines rigorous research from leading academics and other experts to promote informed public debate and to foster dialogue between policy makers and their critics.
A complete audio of this talk is available on our Download Page
Forum 3. "Populating the future"
- Hurtling towards a precipice, hoping for a miracle?
- Controlling our population - a moral obligation
When: 7:30pm Thursday, 12 May 2011
Where: Australian Centre for Culture and Christianity, Corner Blackall St and Kings Av, Barton
Speakers: Geoff Buckmaster, Corporate specialist in the energy industry
Mark O'Connor, one of Australia's best known environmentalist poets
Chair: Rev Ivan Roberts (minister at Canberra City Uniting Church for whom the Gospel not only offers personal salvation but life for all God’s creation in interrelated wholeness)
Geoff Buckmaster is a Corporate Strategy specialist working in the energy industry. He is a long standing member of Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) and strong advocate for a steady state economic system. Geoff is a former president of the ACT branch of Sustainable Population Australia and currently serves on the National Committee.
"40 years on and what have we learnt from the Limits to Growth? Since the publication of this seminal work, it is estimated that our aggregate consumption levels have increased by a factor of at least seven driven by both population growth and an insatiable appetite for material wealth. Although the IPAT formula is still as relevant as ever, society continues to pin its hopes on technology as an answer to our increasing resource use while neglecting the "elephant in the room"".
Mark O'Connor is one of Australia's best known environmental poets. With Judith Wright he founded Writers for an Ecologically Sustainable Population, and for 20 years he has advocated low population growth for Australia. You’ve probably heard him on Ockhams Razor, Australia Talks, The National Interest, or Late Night Live. He is the co-author, with William Lines, of Overloading Australia, a book that has largely shaped Australia's population debate, and which philanthropist Dick Smith recently sent to all Australian MPs and mayors, urging them to act urgently on the issue.
Greenhouse gases going up. Oil and gas depleting. House prices exploding. Overloading Australia explains why -- and how to stop it
"Christianity used to be a very human-chauvinist religion, but is changing. The World Council of Churches in 1975 advocated the "Just, Participatory and Sustainable society". By the 1983 conference the theme was: "Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation".
This event was co-sponsored by Sustainable Population Australia)
A complete download of this talk will be available shortly from our download page
When: 7:30pm Thursday, 8 September 2011
Where: Australian Centre for Culture and Christianity, Corner Blackall St and Kings Av, Barton
Speaker: Dr John Williams of the Wentworth Group, former chair CSIRO Land & Water
Chair: to be advised
Dr John Williams BSc Agr (Hons1) PhD MAIAST
John is a founding member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. He is one of Australia’s most respected scientists, and has led the national debate about sustainable land management. John has extensive experience in providing national and international thought leadership in natural-resource management, particularly in agricultural production and its environmental impact. Prior to joining the NSW Natural Resources Commission (NRC) in 2006, he was Chief Scientist and Chair of the Department of Natural Resources Science and Information Board. He retired from CSIRO as Chief of Land and Water in 2004. In 2005, he was awarded the prestigious Farrer Memorial Medal for achievement and excellence in agricultural science. In addition to his part-time role as Commissioner of the NRC, John is an Adjunct Professor in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management at Charles Sturt University. He is also Director of John Williams Scientific Services Pty Ltd, which provides strategic advice and analysis in Agriculture and the Natural Resource Sciences.
As world population continues to expand, projected demand for food will require agricultural and fisheries production to double over the next fifty years. This means harvesting food each year for an additional 70 million people, which is equivalent to the total food production of Australia.
Whilst it is a huge call for food production to be increased substantially, the more demanding challenge is to make these huge increases while decreasing detrimental impacts on natural resources and the environment.
This is a time of rising costs for energy and diminishing supplies of essential nutrients such as phosphorus within a spectre of climate change.
To avoid a global food crisis without further damage to the environment, we need:
This urgent need to give priority attention to food production, whilst maintaining the quality of the resource base from which it is produced, is perhaps one of the greatest scientific challenges ahead and certainly one that has apparently slipped from our gaze.
See also the media release issued by CES on the day of the forum.
"Climate Change "Denial" Twisting Language?"Speaker: Dr Haydn Washington, co-author with John Cook of "Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand". Haydn has worked as an Investigations Scientist for the CSIRO and as an environmental consultant. He has been Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and as a councillor of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
More about Dr Haydn Washington
Rev'd Rebecca Newland who is rector of St Philip's O'Connor, ACT
This article discusses evangelical Christianity and climate change politics in the USA.
John Cook (who also runs a website on climate change, www.skepticalscience.com) is a self-professed Christian who co-authored with Dr Hayden Washington the book, "Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand". John Cook has recently (on 03 August 2012) given a lecture at the Centre for the Study of Science, Religion and Society at Emmanuel College in the University of Queensland in which he develops the case that responding to the science on climate change and denial arguments (which he describes very clearly) is a social justice issue (see http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-Weightier-Matters.html). One can quickly reach the theological part of his lecture by clicking the bookmark Why Christians should care about climate change. He refers to:
Speaker: Professor Peter Newman, Director of The Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, member of the Board of Infrastructure Australia and lead author of Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change
Peter calls us to join him in a theology of hope as we move into an uncertain future where, world-wide more people live in urban rather than rural areas. He will discuss ethical and theological issues within today's key challenges of peak oil and climate change.
Peter Newman is the Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and Director of CUSP which has 60 PhD students working on all aspects of the green economy. Peter is on the Board of Infrastructure Australia that is funding infrastructure for the long term sustainability of Australian cities, and is a Lead Author for Transport on the IPCC. He has three recent books: 'Technologies for Climate Change Mitigation: Transport' for the UN Environment Program, 'Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change' and 'Green Urbanism Down Under' for Island Press. In 2001-3 Peter directed the production of WA's Sustainability Strategy in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the first state sustainability strategy in the world. In 2004-5 he was a Sustainability Commissioner in Sydney advising the government on planning issues. In 2006/7 he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Virginia Charlottesville. In Perth, Peter is best known for his work in saving, reviving and extending the city's rail system. Peter invented the term 'automobile dependence' to describe how we have created cities where we have to drive everywhere. For 30 years since he attended Stanford University during the first oil crisis he has been warning cities about preparing for peak oil. Peter's book with Jeff Kenworthy 'Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence' was launched in the White House in 1999. He was a Councillor in the City of Fremantle from 1976-80 where he still lives.
Chair: Rev Gregor Henderson
When: 7:30pm Friday, 25 November 2011
Where: Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Corner Blackall St and Kings Av, Barton