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The 2nd Common Wealth for the Common Good Address was delivered by Christine Milne in Brisbane on 16 October 2003. Mary Tinney rsm, Coordinator of Earth Link, and Mark Copland, Executive Officer, Social Justice Commission of the Diocese of Toowoomba, were invited to respond to Christine's address. This is Mary's response:

WHAT ARE THE MORAL CHALLENGES
OF SHAPING A SUSTAINABLE EARTH COMMUNITY?

I would like to begin by congratulating the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and the Social Action office for holding this event.

We are living in times when our ways of making meaning are being constantly challenged, because society around us is in a state of flux. Those of us who are gathered here have probably come because we recognise the importance of working for the common good. Part of the value of that tradition is that it recognises the importance of a value-driven world-view underpinning the decision-making in our society.

It is important that we talk with one another about our values for society and for the environment if we are to make meaning for our times, and take informed action.

Tonight’s session, as we have already heard, offers us a chance to top up our “moral capital" with respect to the common wealth that we have in our environment and in the whole of the Earth community.

So what are the moral challenges of shaping a sustainable earth community?

When many of us think of moral challenges, we think of a charter that says:"Thou shalt, and thou shalt not". Challenges really are invitations. Many sporting events are presented as challenges. There is usually an element of winning and losing, although tonight, we are looking for a win-win scenario for the whole earth community.

If we can shape a sustainable earth community, it will be a win for the earth, for the universe, and for those who live in interconnected and interdependent relations within that Universe and Earth. That means you and me, the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean drinking water, the Murray-Darling Basin, and the Brigalow belt, to name just a few of the players.

The Earth Charter, which has been developed through a global consultative process since the Earth Summit in Rio eleven years ago, says that we would have a sustainable earth community if we committed ourselves to:

  1. Respect earth and life in all its diversity
  2. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love
  3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful, and
  4. Secure earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

What we need to do is to develop “comprehensive compassion”. As Brian Swimme develops this concept, he exhorts us to care for all species, not just the human. Sallie McFague tells us that we need “to love nature in the same way as we love God and other people, as valuable in themselves.”

In short then, the key moral challenge is to “respect all life”.

This entails quite a shift of our traditional comfort zone. Most people in our society have been formed within the western tradition, which is based primarily on Judaeo-Christian values. We have been brought up to believe that, while we are to be responsible stewards of the earth, we are also its masters. Genesis actually gives us the task of subduing nature. We have tended to appreciate nature because of its usefulness to us humans. If you translate this attitude to your suburban garden, you would probably cultivate it so that you and other humans would enjoy its beauty.

In contemporary ethical frameworks, there is a challenge to “respect all life” because it is good in itself. This is about respecting “Gaia”, the living earth, which has the characteristics of a living system. The earth community is self-organising, adapting and changing in response to the circumstances that impact on it, while staying true to its own uniqueness. This translates to an attitude in your suburban garden, where you would let the plants live, because they have a right to, not just because they improve the quality of your life.

From this viewpoint, we acknowledge that all parts of the earth community are interconnected and mutually dependent on each other for life and survival. We humans are one with the earth. As a species, we have no right to claim the earth’s resources solely for our own benefit, at the expense of the capacity of the earth to survive.

If we respect, and indeed love, all life, then we will be responsible because we are one with it, not superior or separate. We will respect humans as the earth coming to consciousness, while acknowledging our indebtedness to the species who preceded our emergence- eg to the vertebrates who developed backbones, and the mammals who developed the capacity to care for the young of their own species.

A critical reading of the foundational documents of our faith will lead us to admit that the bible, in many places, is hostile to the earth, while being very sensitive to it in other places. We will continue to believe that the Earth has its origins in the divine, and is sustained in its existence by the divine. We will shift our awareness of the divine beyond a God who continually controls and intervenes, to an appreciation of a God who allows the unfolding of the potential invested in the earth, and who allows it to unfold according to its own inherent laws. We will recognise, too, that the universe reveals the divine, and is important for our developing a rich spirituality.

So what happens if you take seriously the moral imperative to “respect all of life”?

I will look at two examples. The first, Earth Link is a collaborative project, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy. The second example will be the Water/Salinity project of the Social Action Office.

To begin with Earth Link. After 14 years in Secondary education, and 13 years in leadership in the Sisters of Mercy, I was at a crossroads. Something was drawing me into the area of earth and spirituality. I had the opportunity of spending 3 months at an Earth Literacy Centre in New Jersey in the USA. Genesis Farm was resource-rich with people who were committed to caring for the earth. I knew that I had good skills for leading, planning, facilitating and educating, so I decided that the time was right for me to do something. The Sisters of Mercy agreed to sponsor Earth Link as a response to the ecological crisis that surrounds us, and later agreed to our use of the 17 hectare property that we own at Ocean View, which had come to the end of its time as a Retreat and Spirituality Centre.

We began consulting those who we knew shared some of our commitment to promote earth-human relations which would be a win-win situation for all. These people continue as the Earth Link Community, and some from among them form a Core, or Management Advisory, Group. We describe Earth Link as a collaborative project, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy. Together, we carved out the mission and the vision as “encouraging connectedness between people and the earth”, through education, earth-sensitive spirituality, through promoting sustainability and bio-diversity, and through justice for the earth.

Together we articulated our beliefs which are on our brochure. You will recognise some of the moral challenges around “respecting all life”, and shaping a sustainable earth community. These are some examples:

  • We recognise that earth displays the characteristics of a living organism, that it has value in itself, and that we humans are one with it.
  • We agree that no species, and no generation, has the right to claim earth’s resources solely for its own benefit.

Translating the vision into action

It is almost two years since I moved to live at Four Winds. I was offering workshops in the two years prior to that, but the access to the property provided us with a new focus for the activities of Earth Link. Only one of the 17 hectares is cleared, while the rest is in regrowth in the wake of the timber-getting that was common around Mt Mee. My predecessor had already carved tracks through the bush so that people could get close to nature, while feeling quite safe.

This year we are offering a holistic environmental education programme which has two units. The first, which is entitled The Universe is my Body; My Body is the Universe, challenges us to reshape our worldview to recognise the place of the human in the unfolding story of the universe. If you represent the 14 billion year history of the universe as a twelve-hour clock, humans appear quite close to the end of the story. We could not be who we are if life had not emerged, first in the water, and later on the land. We could not be here, if earlier life forms had not developed respiratory, circulatory and skeletal systems. We could not be here if all juvenile chimps matured in the ordinary way, moving past their capacity for play, which we inherited.

Our second unit, which is entitled Developing a Love of my Place, and an Ethic of Care, recognises the importance of direct experience of nature as a starting point for empathy for the oppressed earth. This unit enables people to more consciously include the non-human world into the communities which call forth their compassion. This unit provides an opportunity for people to identify their special place, and to learn more about caring for it. From that starting point, the participants are reminded of their global identity and the responsibility that flows from that.

Next year Unit 3 will provide support for those who take their awareness into action, whether it is in good gardening practice or in political advocacy. Hopefully, we will also focus more on the Australian Story and visit some sites that are significant in the unfolding story of our continent.

The processes for these educational units are designed to engage head, heart, hands and spirit.

The journey into promoting Biodiversity and Sustainability means that we need to model good practice in the care of the property. With the help of workers in two separate Community Job Plans, we have been able to revamp the permaculture garden, lay down a Cosmic Walk as an educational tool for the first unit, and care for the land in a way that enhances it as Land for Wildlife. Weed management has been high on our priorities, and that is no small task where lantana is concerned. It is worth the effort when it means that the bird and wild life seem to be flourishing. All this is an added bonus for an already beautiful place, which has vistas overlooking Caboolture and out to Moreton Island in the east.

For now, Four Winds is “my place” and that of the other coordinator, and of those who come for shorter or longer stays, which will hopefully help them to deepen their respect for all life - even the ticks, the leeches and the snakes.

Our commitment to work for Justice for the Earth networks Earth Link with groups such as the Wilderness Society, the Stop Food Irradiation Campaign, Friends of the Earth, the QCC and the ACF. As a member of a religious institute, I am active in the work of the Social Action Office, and particularly in its current focus on Water-Salinity issues of the Murray-Darling Basin. We recognise that this is an issue of national urgency, not only in the basin, but also in the whole of eastern Australia. A Water Circle of interested and concerned people has been formed. Victoria Kearney has been engaged as Project Worker.

We have met about four times so far and have tapped into our own experience of these water and salinity issues, acquainted ourselves with key Federal and Queensland policies, named some of our concerns about these, and clarified some of the beliefs and values that are urging us on to work towards more sustainable policies now and into the future.

As a member of the Water Circle, I would like to invite you to reflect on these issues during National Water Care Week which begins on Sunday (19 October 2003). You can read and download a reflective and educative process on the website of the Social Action Office. You can also indicate there if you would like to be part of this ongoing process, as we move into State and Federal elections in 2004.

Conclusion

I hope that you will leave this evening strengthened in your resolve to shape a sustainable earth community. You are part of our common wealth - people who can voluntarily exercise your gifts for the common good of the Earth Community.

I hope that you find it in you to express your respect and love of all life in

  • developing empathy with your place, and
  • taking action towards shaping a sustainable earth community.

I hope that you will find yourself expanding your spiritual identity into greater sensitivity to the universe and the earth, so that you will find the energy to take the action that is required to show our respect for all life.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to be part of this gathering this evening.

 

Click here for the Common Wealth for the Common Good Address delivered by Christine Milne

 

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