04 May, 2008

Climate Change - It's not up to us!?

Over the last few months, I have been helping Nikki Capp with the Beyond Connections consultations around the territory and one particular question we asked a lot was ‘what areas of work the Salvation Army should be focusing on?’ The list we gave to choose from was long…from drug and alcohol, homelessness, asylum seekers, indigenous ministries, mental illness and environmentalism only some amongst them. The debate often came to…do we specialise or do we try and be the catchments for people falling through the cracks, and end up inevitably trying to be all things to all people?

Interestingly, I can only think of a couple groups that even ranked the environment as an issue the Salvation Army should be responding to. Both times, the support was then contended and debated among the group as going too far, the argument being that we’re spreading ourselves too thin.

I have thought about this a lot – Why an issue that is now ranked as one of the most pressing in the Australian community, doesn’t even rank a mention in the Salvation Army community??

I wrote a little on the social justice facet of climate change last year on this blog after the storms in Bangladesh. I talked about the injustice of the fact that it is developing countries that are going to be affected the most when it is us in the developed world that have created the mess. But this issue isn’t just an international one - it is a local justice issue too.

Now to preface this: I am not saying that we should start environmental programs etc and my life is far from being carbon neutral so I am preaching to myself as much as I am to you…But I view the issue of the environment in the context of the Salvation Army a bit like the fair-trade one - it isn’t the focus of our ministry here in Australia and I don’t argue that it should be, but it is important and we shouldn’t just remain ignorant saying it is out of our domain. There are ways we should be getting informed and incorporating a response into the everyday reality of our work.

Beyond the obvious fact that as God’s children we should be looking after his creation… let me argue why we should be at least asking the questions of how climate change and environment relate to the people we are working with in our ministries…

In response to the Climate Change issue, the Government is set to introduce a Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010. This means a limit is placed on the amount of greenhouse gas pollution which companies can produce. Setting a total allowed emissions for industry, it will force heavy polluters to buy credits from companies that pollute less -- thereby creating financial incentives to fight global warming. But it also means that emissions trading will reveal create a price for carbon emissions, which will increase the direct cost of energy and indirectly most goods and services. Any production (think agriculture and food!) that requires the use of fuel now has higher costs that will be pasted onto us as the consumer.

For Australia and global warming, I believe this is a positive step. We have to start responding - reducing our consumption of natural resources is essential to lessening the impacts of climate change.

But research done by the Brotherhood of St Laurence showed that there is always a catch – it is going to be those of low income who are affected the most. Why?

• Low income earners tend to live in areas more likely to be adversely affected by climate change (such as rural areas), and have far less ability to move or make other necessary adjustments to their living circumstances. Many live on the outskirts of the city, where transport is limited, with older less fuel efficient cars to get around...

• On average, low income earners spend a greater proportion of total weekly household budget on energy and water than wealthier households. In real dollar terms, low income households spend half as much on electricity and gas as the wealthiest households. But as a proportion of household spending, lower income households spend almost twice as much as wealthier households. Similarly, the cost of water and sewage is, relatively, a third higher for low income households than it is for households on an average income. Given that energy and water are essential services, when the prices of these services increase, householders are left with little option but to pay the extra. All price increases have a far greater impact on total household spending in low income households.

• Lower income households are currently less able to introduce measures to improve energy efficiency. Few households with low incomes are able to afford significant energy efficiency measures such as insulation, new hot water systems or rainwater tanks. One in four Australian households are in private rental or public housing and do not have rights or incentives to make capital improvements. Energy consumption in low income households is partly shaped by the market in second-hand appliances. Many second-hand appliances are inefficient, waste energy and increase bills. Factors affecting efficiency include design, technology, age and maintenance. Appliance efficiency details (energy ratings) are usually removed at first purchase, making it difficult for subsequent buyers to choose wisely.”

“Many of the lower cost, quick response measures involve some combination of behavioral change and technology. Installing water efficient shower heads, compact fluorescent lamps, sealing out draughts and installing blinds are examples. Behaviour change measures (that may be perceived as ‘cutting back’) include short showers, putting on a jumper instead of turning on the heater, switching off lights that aren’t needed, and so on. In reality, the threshold of ‘cutting back’ that is socially acceptable is the key issue. Most people would think it reasonable to wear a jumper inside in winter. But many would see going to bed during the daytime with an electric blanket and doona as extreme and, where it occurs because of lack of resources to maintain home comfort, a form of fuel poverty.

Past studies of the socio-economic aspects of energy efficiency have highlighted that access to capital and control over housing circumstances are important factors. In the past, when energy prices have increased, it has been found that the poor often cut costs by cutting back on consumption, while those with resources invest in energy efficient equipment or upgrade their appliances.”

The above facts came from Energy and Equity by Choice – I recommend reading!
Also see: http://www.bsl.org.au/main.asp?PageId=5394 for research done by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Victoria.

To me, there is inequality in this situation, and inequality built into what could be seen as the necessary carbon emissions trading scheme, so the question remains - what practical steps can we take to reduce the impact on our friends that can’t afford to be hit by ever increasing utility and petrol bills?

Some practical questions I thought we should ask ourselves?
In our salvo stores are we selling people electrical appliances that are old and energy INefficient that will simply end up costing people on low incomes more to run in the long term.

In what ways can we help people to become more energy efficient, to minimize the impact of energy price increases in the near future?

How can the Salvation Army show its commitment to reducing our energy consumption?

If we’re driving around in fleet cars – how can we make sure we stay in touch with the impact and reality of fuel price increases that our communities are facing?

In our homes, corps and social centres are we demonstrating an alternative way of living that values God’s creation or are we simply the same as our neighbours?

We and our communities are not immune to this issue. Lets start thinking.

Til next time,


Kathleen Pearce said...

I just read "Faith in Politics" written by Kevin Rudd (from the "Monthly") He agrees with you:

"The church's increasing engagement on the environment - and specifically on global climate change - falls into a similar category (to that of speaking up for those without a voice). By definition, the planet cannot speak for itself. Nor can the working peoples of the developing world effectively speak for themselves, although they are likely to be the first victims of the environmental degradation brought about by climate change. Nor can those who come after us, although they are likely to be the greatest victims of this inter-generational injustice. It is the fundamental ethical challenge of our age to protect the planet - in the language of the Bible, to be proper stewards of creation. The scientific evidence is now clear, and the time for global, national and local action has well and truly come. In fact, in some cases it may have already passed."

He wrote this before he was elected PM, and just after this section went on to criticise the Howard Government for not acting properly in response to Climate Change, but he leaves us now with words to challenge, like yours.

Maybe we can tell people that our PM said it, so we have to do it...

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