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  • Dr David Tutty

Pope Francis calls us to an ecological conversion

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Early September was a time of significant stress for many in Stanthorpe and surrounding areas. With huge concern, we all watched and prayed that the bushfires could be controlled and any losses could be contained. Bushfires are the last thing a community in the grip of drought and water rationing want.

Yet according to the climate scientists, drought and bushfires are going to be more frequent in our region.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection names that we can expect average higher temperatures, hotter and more frequent hot days, harsher fire weather, fewer frosts, less rainfall in winter and spring, and more intense downpours. The CSIRO even names that by 2050 the average temperature in our region will have increased by at least 4.5 degrees if current trends continue.

Alongside this, we witness a new international round of climate strikes, protests, conferences and speeches that challenge all levels of government to take the threat seriously. Those protesting are accepting the scientific facts and demanding that policy-makers act now so that the average world temperature does not rise more than 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial baseline. They assert that action is possible because the scientific evidence confirms that the increasing climate temperature is caused by human activity. And because it is human induced, they then assert that it is possible to slow and even halt this increase if governments and their citizens act collaboratively.

The changing climate is now at a stage that Pope Francis recognises it to be an emergency. He names climate change as a social justice issue and calls for an ecological conversion. Pope Francis is not the first to talk about the need for this sort of conversion. In 2001, Pope John Paul II called for an ecological conversion when he was talking about our role as stewards of creation.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis says that we need this conversion because we have lost our “awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of the future to be shared by everyone” (#202). And because of this loss of awareness, there is a “great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge” (#202) we need to face.

Most basic is the need to deepen our sense that the created world is God’s work that God has declared to be good. Like in us humans, there is something of the creator in all that God has created and if we grow in this awareness we will be motivated to better protect our world. But because we see ourselves as disconnected and separate from the rest of the creation, the ecological conversion requires a growth in our sense of connectedness so that we better experience the Creator in creation. It is a move away from a focus on the individual, on consumerism, on competition, on unlimited progress and unregulated markets towards a new harmony of right relationships based on what God intends. We need to find a new ecologically based harmony within ourselves, with others, with the rest of creation and ultimately with God.

Pope Francis says that this ecological conversion is also a community conversion (#219). It is a conversion to a greater responsibility for each other and especially for those most impacted by this climate emergency. Locally those most impacted are farmers and people in rural towns. In the wider world, it is also those in the Torres Strait Islands, in the Pacific and the millions of poorer people living in low lying coastal and delta locations. And even more impacted are future generations. Ecological conversion is conversion to seeing all these people as part of our community, part of our responsibility.

And because of this growing sense of connectedness and community, we will want to live much more simply and to work collectively to get businesses and governments to lessen their dependence on carbon based fuels. Ecological conversion is about a growing sense of ethical and political responsibility to work for change.

Pope Francis recently challenged richer countries that their current responses are too weak. For the sake of those in Stanthorpe and in our wider world, it is also our calling to challenge our elected officials to act to prevent things getting worse.

Dr David Tutty

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