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Christians working together for climate

Friday, 11 December 2020  | Jo Knight

It appears the winds are shifting, and the climate conversation is once again back on the agenda. Out of the spotlight since our Black Summer bushfires raged across much of Eastern and Southern Australia, Joe Biden's win in the US and wider international conversations about zero net emissions has refuelled the debate on Australia’s response to climate change.

Of course, the conversation never really went away, but like almost everything else it has been overwhelmed by the urgency and focus of the pandemic. Yet as we move towards a COVID normal Christmas and summer, I can’t help wondering what a ‘climate normal’ summer means for us in Australia. And as I do, a deep sense of anxiety and loss of innocence pervades, as the traumatic experiences of the past few summers still linger fresh in my mind.

Last summer, I was with my young family holidaying in a small town nestled in Victoria’s bush; the heat was oppressive, frightening and too hot to enjoy. During that holiday I received messages from fellow Christian climate campaigners globally, as they watched Australia ablaze in the heat, with our political leaders floundering.

I heard encouragement from Kuki in India, who’s on the front lines of standing up for farmers devastated by climate impacts; Martin, who trains networks of Zambian farmers in regenerative agriculture; and Ruth in Peru, who leads movements of evangelical students in creation care and activism. They’re baffled by how Australia is experiencing these serious climate impacts but remains in a political stalemate.

Interestingly many people ask, ‘What does climate change have to do with the Christian faith?’ As someone who has become increasingly connected to the unfolding impacts of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable, my response has become increasingly stark: it’s an issue of justice.

For people living in extreme poverty, climate breakdown is having devastating impacts on their health, security and access to food. As global temperatures rise, rains are becoming less reliable, and droughts, floods and storms are becoming more frequent and extreme.

Regrettably, the climate conversation in Australia has become tied up with the politics of identity and culture, of left and right, progressive and conservative politics. Instead, we need to shift the foundations of our conversation on climate justice toward one that demonstrates a vital expression of care for the poor, honouring God’s gift of creation to us. As such, it is time we as Christians in Australia look first to biblical teaching, rather than an unquestioned acceptance of the political deadlock. As followers of Jesus, we love what God loves, and are compelled by that love to speak up for people in poverty, seek justice and care for all creation.

My work with Tearfund is dedicated to responding to poverty and the injustice of climate change as it impacts the poor. We’re convinced that the church can be a significant agent in this on-going emergency, working together across the world in climate action. Yet for many in the Australian church, this is a jarring and isolating topic; one that is highly politicised and based on other priorities over faith.

In my own experience, my response to poverty, injustice and climate action has grown, as my own faith has. I have learnt to deeply value the interconnections between God, people and the natural world, coming to a place where I understand that my impact on the environment is connected with my love for the poor, justice and what it means to live a life honouring God. It’s exciting to see that for an increasingly significant proportion of the church, especially in the millennial demographic, that the issue of how we respond to the climate crisis and care for creation is foundational to our faith.

One of the privileges of my role is seeing people from different church backgrounds across Australia come together with a common goal: ending poverty. This huge, multifaceted mission includes confronting the root causes of poverty, one of which is climate change.

Earlier this year, we launched a new campaign called Christians Together for Climate, which seeks to raise a united Christian voice to our political leaders. By inviting Australian Christians to engage with their federal MPs, with the urgent message that climate change is impacting the world’s most vulnerable, we’re creating a force to bring about change.

We’re calling on the government to step up and take the lead, to commit to a bold and credible national climate plan that will significantly reduce emissions. We want to encourage it to create a dedicated fund, from a growing aid budget, to also help our neighbours in developing countries adapt and build their resilience to climate change.

Now, like never before, the challenges we face are unprecedented, COVID and the unfolding climate crisis have taken poverty to another level, not just nationally but globally too.

Jo Knight is Advocacy Director at Tearfund Australia, a movement of more than 50,000 Australians and millions more worldwide seeking a just and compassionate world. You can find out about her work at Tearfund and her upcoming book here.

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