By Anglicord www.anglicord.org.au
Human welfare needs to be balanced against the need to maintain rivers for future generations, according to the Chair of the Anglican Church’s Environmental Working Group in Australia.
Dr David Mitchell has released a discussion paper on the future of the use of water in the Murray Darling Basin, saying that the church is “concerned for the long term wellbeing of all life on earth”.
“Our aim is to provide a Christian perspective on these issues because they have deep moral and spiritual dimensions as well as material ones” Dr Mitchell said. “There are real issues of importance as the nation tries to balance the issues of human welfare in the present generation against the need to maintain the rivers and natural environment for future generations.”
“It is a real struggle, as scripture makes it clear that God has concern for both people and the wider creation. We have taken as our theme in this debate the word ‘flourish’ as God’s love is fulfilled in a flourishing world,” he said.
Recent proposals to limit the availability of water for agricultural production in order to to ensure its continuing sustainability of the basin have been strongly rejected by many of those whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by such developments.
Dr Mitchell acknowledged that the Anglican Church is an active member of these communities and is concerned for their welfare. “However there can be no doubt that practices that have the strong likelihood of irretrievable damage to natural ecosystems must be prevented and replaced by scientifically sound, environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.
“The defence of those unable to speak for themselves, whatever form they take, has always been part of the church’s business and we stand with those who are now struggling with the consequences of past policies and practices.
“How do we change our behaviour so that both the people and nature in the Basin will flourish? It is a very difficult question and we need to recognise that there are honest differences between people of good will on all sides of the debate.
“We must make the changes needed to allow all in the Basin, ultimately, to flourish.” he said.
The statement can be downloaded from the Environment Working Group Web Site at www.environment.perth.anglican.org
For further information and comments, please contact:
Professor David Mitchell, Chair, General Synod Environment Working Group, Adjunct Professor School of Environmental Sciences, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University.
Tel: (02) 6051 9769
Mob: 0428 431 757
ANGLICAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA
GENERAL SYNOD ENVIRONMENT WORKING GROUP DISCUSSION PAPER*
The Sustainable Conservation and Use of Australian Water Resources with particular reference to the Murray Darling Basin
Christians believe that God is sovereign over His creation through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:3) and, consequently, the Christian message is one of hope. In the context of this hope, the Anglican Church of Australia is strongly committed to helping all life flourish in our country. Positive action is particularly important in the Murray-Darling Basin because of its size and diversity, its presence in four States and a Territory, and its overall potential to be highly productive.
Whether the people and creatures of the Basin flourish or not depends on the extent and distribution of rainfall within the Basin, and the just use of this resource. The ever-present issues of greed and pride and their consequences, that beset human endeavour, must not be allowed to overwhelm our commitment and hope of seeing all creation, plants, animals and people, flourish. The defence of those unable to speak for themselves, whatever form they take, has always been part of the church’s business and we would wish to stand with those who are now struggling with the consequences of past policies and farming practices.
Much of the increase in water storage capacity produced by constructing large dams in support of irrigated agricultural development within the Basin, occurred in the two and a half decades from the mid-1950s. This was a period of relatively higher rainfall than that which occurred during the first half of the century and in the last two decades. Unfortunately, the volumes of water required to sustain the resulting higher levels of production, which include water-filled rice paddies and water-thirsty cotton, are not likely to be available in the long run. One of the consequences will be damage to the ecological sustainability of the Basin.
Recent proposals to limit the availability of water for agricultural production in order to conserve the aquatic integrity of the system and to ensure its continuing sustainability have been strongly rejected by many of those whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by such developments. The Anglican Church is an active member of these affected communities and is concerned for their welfare. However there can be no doubt that practices that have the strong likelihood of irretrievable damage to natural ecosystems must be prevented and replaced by scientifically sound, environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. We must make the changes needed to allow all in the Basin, ultimately, to flourish.
Such an approach needs to include appropriate transformational support to agricultural practitioners, and to other residents in the affected regions, in order to allow the development of communities able to sustain their livelihoods during prolonged and repeated periods of low rainfall. Long periods of dryer weather seem very likely to become more common in the regions of the Murray-Darling Basin, according to climate change modelling based on increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Support must therefore be provided to the affected communities in ways that are consistent with significantly less water being regularly available for agriculture. Only in that way will the viability of the whole Basin be safeguarded, including its biodiversity.
To do otherwise would not only lead to irretrievable damage to the natural ecosystems and, ultimately, greater decline in economic productivity, but also lead to continuing distress and uncertainty for regional communities of the Basin far into the future.
Water is essential for the continuation of all life and its sensible conservation is critical. The Church, like government, has an irrevocable commitment to the ongoing welfare of the communities it serves as well as to the glorious diversity of creation. We stand ready to cooperate with others in seeking and supporting a sustainable long-term solution to these difficult issues, and encourage the Government and the people of the Basin to take the very hard decisions that are needed if all life in the Basin, after a period of turmoil, is to flourish into the future.
Catholic Earthcare Australia. (2011). The Gift of Water: A Statement from Catholic Earthcare Australia endorsed by Bishops of the Murray-Darling Basin.www.catholicearthcare.org.au/pdf/TGOW_Full.pdf (Accessed November 2011)
Connell, D. & Quentin-Grafton, R. (Eds) (2011). Basin Futures: Water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin. ANU Press: Canberra.
Fullerton, T. (2001). Watershed: Deciding our Water Future. ABC Press.
Garnaut, R. (2008), The Garnaut Climate Change Review. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Mussared, D. (1997). Living on Floodplains. CRC for Freshwater Ecology.
Young, W.J. (Ed.) (2001). Rivers as Ecological Systems: The Murray-Darling Basin. Murray-Darling Basin Commission.
White, M. Listen (1997). Listen, Our Land is Crying: Australia’s Environments: Problems and Solutions. Kangaroo Press: Kenthurst.
* The Environment Working Group is empowered to release discussion papers under its own authority. It is an advisory body for the Anglican General Synod Standing Committee and does not carry the authority of the Anglican Church of Australia. At its meeting last year, General Synod urged the Australian Church “to advocate for a sustainable economy with the national government giving high priority to environmental and social as well as to economic imperatives for the long term wellbeing of all life on earth”. In this context the Environmental Working Group was directed to “develop a series of discussion papers with theological and policy reflection on key topics”.
Those wishing to respond to this paper can contact the Environmental Working Group at email@example.com