Clive Hamilton: The church and the ethics of climate change

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation website has run some good extended pieces on faith and environmental issues in past months, the most recent being by Clive Hamilton, prominent ethicist who has written several books on this area.

While practically we know what we should be doing – in broad terms at least – we are too caught up in our comfortable identities to want to change, and are influenced by the calls of the deniers who tell us we don’t have to. Even if we don’t agree with them, the doubts put in our minds detract us from action.

The church could be doing more about this, but (in Australia – there are equivalents elsewhere such as our own Bishop of Chester) the powerful voice of Archbishop George Pell clouds the debate. Hamilton spends some time explaining just how and why Pell is wrong on this.

Hamilton gives us as a species, and the church in particular this challenge:

We all become wedded to our beliefs and change them only grudgingly in the face of new evidence. We are more reluctant when the evidence contradicts beliefs deeply held or seems to vindicate the beliefs of those to whom we feel antipathy. Yet when something of immense importance is at stake – and what could be more important than the survival of the most vulnerable of the Earth’s citizens in the face of famine, flood and epidemic – we owe a greater allegiance to the truth, and must put aside any personal discomfort the truth causes us.

This is the essential moral failing of those who deny the science of climate change. For someone to turn their face away from enormous suffering in order to avoid the personal discomfort of having to re-examine their beliefs is not just unethical, it is wicked. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them.”


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