UnitingJustice national director Rev Elenie Poulos recently discussed the role of religion in climate change on ABC’s Compass.
Ms Poulos was part of a panel of guests including historian and former Catholic priest Paul Collins, Anglican priest Peter Kurti and political journalist Paul Kelly.
The panel expressed a diversity of views regarding the extent to which religions should become involved in climate change debates.
Ms Poulos said she believed that climate change is a fundamentally religious issue and that there are strong biblical foundations for having a conversation about it.
“I think climate change poses some profoundly existential issues for us, questions about who we are, how we manage ourselves in relation to each other and about our relationship with the environment,” she said.
There were contrasting responses to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.
Mr Kelly expressed disappointment at the encyclical for not looking at economies and technology to solve climate change while Mr Kurti believes it denies cheap energy for developing countries.
Ms Poulos and Mr Collins were more supportive of the encyclical, with Ms Poulos praising it for bringing in the voice of the poor and marginalised.
“What I heard in the encyclical was actually a voice we’re not used to hearing much in this country, and that’s the voice of the global South,” Ms Poulos said.
“It’s a voice that I’ve heard when I’ve been involved in the World Council of Churches’ activities and when I’ve been with people who live in countries in Latin America and Africa and certainly in the Pacific.
“I believe what the encyclical does, and it’s a very important thing to do, is that it’s bringing all those things together in dialogue – the Gospel, the experiences of those who are poor and marginalised in the world, and the science.”
A central theme of the encyclical is the impact the market economy has on the environment. Ms Poulos observed that this is reminiscent of the Uniting Church’s 2009 statement An Economy of Life, which called for a reimagining of our social and economic systems to prioritise human and ecological wellbeing ahead of profits.
“It’s clear there’s a market fundamentalism in the global economic agenda that continues to marginalise the poor while prioritising the already wealthy,” she said.
“One of the keys to the encyclical while reading it is that it’s not about deriding economics, it’s about saying there are different ways that we can organise our economy.”
Ms Poulos suggests looking at alternatives to the current global economic agenda and challenges the idea that there is only one way of doing economics.
“The examination of our conscience will be better spent looking at things like global military spending,” she said.
“It will take ten days’ worth of global military spending to provide clean water for the entire planet.”
The Uniting Church has been concerned with protecting the earth for future generations since its inception. Ms Poulos believes the Church is well-placed to offer a vision of an economy, based on equity and compassion, into the climate change conversation.
“I’m getting a bit tired personally of always being referred to as a consumer and being told that we have to do things for the economy,” she said.
“I would rather that we do things for the society.”
A video of the Compass program is available to watch online until 9 August.