The recent election has been something of a first for Australia: the environment was a central element in the campaign policies of every major party. It reflects what has been one of the persistent items on our news over the past few years. Stories of drought, water restrictions, crises in the farming industry and global warming have become regular features of the evening TV news and morning papers. Australia's federal politicians have noted the rise in relevance of green issues and have responded by appointing high profile personalities to environmental portfolios. Efforts have been made to create comprehensive federal–state agreements to protect our fragile and threatened river systems. State governments are leading debates on policies for drought-proofing Australia's largest cities. Local councils now require greater ecological consciousness from new development projects.
Even just a few years ago, environmental issues were not as universally popular as they seem to be today. The emphasis of election campaigns was previously on economic development and creating the good life for people, so the major parties could skirt environ mental issues that threatened to cost a lot of money. But we Australians are in the middle of a reality check from an irresistible force — the very continent on which we live. When major cities measure their water reserve percentages in the teens and country towns run out of water completely, it is pretty hard to continue on as if everything is rosy. We are told that in the new year, we will be paying significantly more for our food, as a consequence of the drought crippling our grain, livestock, fruit and vegetable production. And the message appears to be getting through to ordinary Australians. Sydney University's US Study Centre noted in a survey released in October that a majority of Australians considered climate change to be the major threat to Australia, displacing terrorism as the bogeyman of our future. Australians are taking up the challenge of climate change.
Celebrities are now queuing up to raise awareness and major political organisations proudly outbid each other over their green credentials.
A quick Google search reveals millions of websites dealing with conservation and the environment—about a quarter of a million of them Australian based.
The Wilderness Society reports a surge in people willing to help in both general campaigns and specific causes, a growth that has been happening for a decade now. More than 7000 people have posted their views on just one of the Australian Conservation Foundation's website campaigns, Who On Earth Cares.
Some of these are famous people but most of them are everyday people like you and me. Both societies consider Australians to have marched ahead of their political leaders in active participation in green issues.
Australians are considered the best recyclers of household waste in the world.
And they have lobbied their political representatives effectively for more environmentally-friendly policies. Australians have what one environmental group called “a deep understanding of the issues.” When asked why more people were getting involved in environmental issues, a Wilderness Society spokeswoman replied that there was uncertainty about the future of life on the planet—particularly human life. People were looking for more things they could do to help reduce global warming and energy consumption, recycle scarce resources and soften the human impact on the environment. Australians were also expecting more positive leadership from their politicians. But in this age of conflicting information, they were not always sure what made for a good environmental policy and a sustainable future. Most of us still have more to learn about being truly energy and water efficient in our own homes.
It is good to see that the citizens of this continent—the driest on earth— are so active in seeking ways to adapt to the country they live in, rather than trying to force the land to fit their demands. Australia's first European immigrants brought with them the lifestyle and farming practices better suited to the European nations of rich soil and regular rainfall. Through the marvels of scientific farming, we have been able to make the desert bloom to produce the wheat, wool, cotton, meat, fruit and vegetables to recreate a largely European lifestyle on the far side of the world.
But it appears this was only a temporary solution. Some of the things that worked in the past are now catching up with us, as water sources dry up, soil salinity destroys farmland and topsoil gets blown away with every dust storm. Farmers have often fought for ways to make their work better suited to Australia's climate but the resources required are beyond what they alone can do. It will take the best efforts of the entire Australian community to learn how to live sustainable lives in this land. The land is a resource of fragile and finite capacity, and in some areas we have tested this capacity almost to breaking point.
The Christian tradition states that “the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). In the Creation story of Genesis 2, God commissions man in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This statement offers a “use but don't abuse” mandate to the human race. How sad then, that the Western world, despite its Christian heritage, has led the way in destroying the natural environment through reckless industrialisation and exploitation of the world's resources.
The world has well and truly been worked, as God said, and there is no necessary evil in many of the modern things we enjoy. But how about the other half of the equation? Our determination to live a consumer-centred life, maximising profit and minimising effort has permitted greed to blind us to our need to look after the world.
Yet in Revelation 11: 18 comes a dire warning, “The time has come . . .
for destroying those who destroy the earth.” God's creation is not a replaceable plaything but rather a “home on loan,” entrusted to our use and care.
He is coming back to see what we have done with His creation.
“Green” used to be the badge of a particular group, not necessarily in harmony with all the Christian ideals. But it shouldn't be just a political slogan, nor a mere imperative for survival. It is part of our spiritual responsibility, part of what God has entrusted us to be: the good stewards of his creation.
Being “green,” ecologically conscious and environmentally friendly belongs to all who value their relationship with God, and the world He has made for us to live in and enjoy. If the earth is the Lord's, then let us lead the way in showing the greatest respect we can for His great handiwork.