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:
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
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
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.
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:
earth and life in all its diversity
for the community of life with understanding, compassion
democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable,
and peaceful, and
earth’s bounty and beauty
for present and future generations.
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
short then, the key moral challenge is to “respect
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Earth Link as a collaborative project, sponsored by the
Sisters of Mercy. Together, we carved out the mission and the vision
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
resources solely for its own benefit.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
here for the Common
Wealth for the Common Good Address delivered by