On March 11, all over the world – and in many places in Australia – people took action to proclaim our Earth is a Sacred Earth, and we must care for the Earth – as people of faith. If we fail to care for the Earth, then we fail ourselves, our community, our society, our nation, our Earth. To be people of faith in Ausrtralia is to be multifaith, and multifaith Australia cares for our Earth and proclaims: This is a Sacred Earth.
Our challenge is to convince people that urgent action is not only required, but is also in their immediate economic interests.
To do that, we need to overcome the common objections and myths that dampen enthusiasm for change, and emphasise the benefits in terms of jobs, and a more resilient and sustainable Australia. In short, we need to flip the frame that ‘climate action is harmful to economic prosperity’ to ‘climate action is crucial to economic prosperity’.
At the same time, we must explain why the coal and gas industries are not a solution because fossil fuel projects are financially risky, dangerous, expensive and worsen climate change.
Australia is facing twin crises. Communities are struggling to rebuild from climate-fuelled disasters like bushfires and droughts, and one
million Australians are out of work.
We need to create good jobs now that solve long-term problems.
By investing in renewable energy, restoring our landscapes, upgrading housing and electrifying transport systems we can create win/win solutions that put Australians back to work and fix long-term problems.
The Current Context:
Australia’s economy is in recession. People have been stood down, laid off and are worried about how they’ll pay the bills. Those who have a job are worried about whether they’ll keep it. Prior to the pandemic, Australia’s workforce was already dominated by high levels of insecure work, underemployment as well as increasing cost of living and low wage growth.
Businesses also face unprecedented uncertainty. Across the economy, business investment has dropped significantly. As a result, numerous experts and institutions – from the Reserve Bank of Australia, to major banks and corporations, leading economists and investors, unions and state governments – all argue that governments must take the lead and public investment is the path out of this economic crisis.
The fossil fuel industry has substantial power, and has shaped the public discourse. They have positioned the coal and gas industries as critical to our economic future, and an important source of jobs and economic benefits. Opponents to renewable energy have argued that renewables are too expensive, can’t run 24/7 and can’t power the whole country.
People want governments to address climate change, but not at the expense of their job. Those who oppose climate change continually frame action on climate change as something that will cost people jobs, and increase their costs of living. But this is not about having less; it’s about having more – more jobs, nicer neighbourhoods and a better quality of life.
Sacred People – Sacred Earth seek to reverse the opposition to climate chante, and position climate action as something that will transform our economy and way of life for the better by providing jobs across Australia, reducing costs of living, and making our country more resilient and sustainable.
Whether it is investing in renewable energy and storage, restoring our environment, creating an electric car and charging industry, or making our homes and offices more energy efficient, climate solutions can put Australians back to work, and improve our lives.
A Self Reliant and Sustainable Australia
Talking about the benefits of climate action means presenting a positive vision of the future.
When people talk about the type of country they want, these are the ways they described what they wanted: an Australia that can stand on its own two feet; and a country with a strong manufacturing base that makes the energy, food and products we need here. For many, the pandemic revealed that we are too reliant on other countries, and they lament the damage done to our natural environment.
We need to demonstrate to the public how transitioning rapidly to renewable energy, restoring the environment, improving energy efficiency and upgrading our transport services will all make Australia more self reliant and sustainable.
At the same time, we also need to explain how Australians are at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry which is made up of corporations that pay little tax, drive up our power prices, require further public handouts, and send the majority of profits offshore.
”From energy to transport, local governments have an abundance of opportunities to deliver projects to prop up local businesses and decarbonise communities, while creating local jobs.
“The ACT and Victorian reverse auction programs to source renewable energy are strong examples of this. These projects required Australian-made content, which helped spur the expansion of traineeships and apprenticeships in manufacturing businesses, and has seen the old Ford auto factory in Geelong recommissioned as a wind turbine assembly facility.” –ACT former deputy chief minister Simon Corbell
In fact, over the past five to 10 years renewable energy has become the cheapest form of new generation. In tandem with storage, renewable energy now powers entire countries and, in Australia, entire states and territories at times. On a per kilowatt hour basis, the cost of the core components of a battery have fallen 90% over the past decade. The costs of wind and solar power have followed a similar path. Today, renewables are delivering cheap, reliable energy for Australia and providing much-needed security to our electricity network. The tramway system in Melbourne will soon be completely powered by renewable energy.
Agriculture and climate change
Climate change is making weather patterns more extreme and unpredictable, with serious consequences for Australia’s agricultural production.
Climate change is driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves in Australia, changing rainfall patterns, increasing the severity of droughts, and driving up the likelihood of extreme fire danger weather.
Water scarcity, heat stress and increased climatic variability in our most productive agricultural regions, such as the Murray Darling Basin, are key risks for our food security, economy, and dependent industries and communities.
On current trends, the accumulated loss of wealth due to reduced agricultural productivity and labour productivity as a result of climate change is projected to exceed $19 billion by 2030, $211 billion by 2050 and $4 trillion by 210026 – which is more than double Australia’s current Gross Domestic Product.
By 2050, climate change is projected to halve the irrigated agricultural output of the Murray-Darling Basin region, which currently accounts for 50% of Australia’s irrigated agricultural output by value (about $7.2 billion per year).
Several of the world’s largest financial institutions now have policies that prohibit new investments in coal.
Several of the biggest exporters of Australian coal are putting in place measures to limit their reliance on coal generally, and Australian coal specifically.
Coal is not economically viable. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis “a trend is setting in and coal is being dumped all over the world”.
States and territories
All states and territories have committed to renewable energy targets and/or net zero emissions targets.
South Australia has at least eight new renewable projects under construction and is on track for 73% renewable electricity in just two years.
Almost 10,000 jobs are being created in the renewable energy industry across Australia with 69 wind and solar plants under construction.
More than two million people live in high bushfire risk areas in Australia. This means that a considerable proportion of the Australian population are at risk from the health impacts of bushfires, including effects on both physical and mental health, in addition to deaths.
The Black Summer bushfires in 2019/20 took a huge toll on human life. Thirty-three people lost their lives directly from the fires and it is estimated that up to 417 early deaths occurred as a result of particulates contained in bushfire smoke over the summer. This figure could be higher, as we don’t yet know the long-term contribution to morbidity.
Estimates suggest the 2019/20 bushfires caused over $2 billion in insured losses alone. The economic impact on tourism, hospitality, agriculture and forestry has been estimated to be around $3.6 billion. There may have been a further $2 billion in health costs, arising, in part, from respiratory illnesses caused by the smoke. These figures are likely to underestimate the true cost of the bushfires.
Religions for Peace Australia is a co-sponsor of Sacred People, Sacred Earth along with Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.