As lockdown restrictions ease in Australia, many thought leaders around the world are commenting on the rapid social changes the pandemic has influenced world-wide, the impact these changes have had on the environment and positive paths forward.

As Adderton: house & heart of mercy is a cultural space to explore ideas of justice and mercy in contemporary society today we are exploring ideas from thought leaders on the current circumstances of the earth and its people and just and merciful responses.

With fossil-fuelled factories and airplanes having been relatively dormant and less vehicles on the streets during this pause there has been less pollution, improved air quality and water clarity.

While these changes may be temporary and won’t in themselves result in systemic change they are powerful proof that human action or inaction is hugely impactful on the environment and that the world can be mobilised into rapid change if humanity is to benefit.

Australian Climate Scientist, Robyn Schofield commented in an SBS news article, (as shared by Mercy Global Presence) “There are absolutely lessons to be learnt that socially we can change and we change quickly and it can have great health benefits.”

In the same article Climate Scientist, Michael Mann, commented the real longer-term crisis was climate change itself. “And ironically our response to a different crisis – the coronavirus pandemic – indicates that it is possible for us to change our ways, but only when there are governmental efforts to support behavioural change, which we have seen with coronavirus and need to see, now, with climate change,” he said.

The United Nation’s Environment Chief, Inger Andersen, recently wrote for a UN news story, (shared by Mercy Global Presence) “Visible, positive impacts are but temporary, because they come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress. We need a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.”

 A recent article by Emma Charlton for the World Economic Forum shares a hopeful goal, “The world’s recovery from COVID-19 could follow an economic model that envisions “a world in which people and planet can thrive in balance”. Highlighting the economic ‘doughnut’ model developed by Kate Raworth,  Senior Research Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, is a way of thinking about economics based on the priorities set out by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“One of its key aims is that no one should be left in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, falling short on the essentials of life. At the same time, humanity must live within the outside circle of the doughnut, ecological boundaries that aim to preserve the Earth’s resources.” Emma Charlton writes.

Raworth’s economic model is currently being adopted by Amsterdam and has been presented and discussed in a broad range of forums including the UN General Assembly and in the context of many different debates.  Kate Raworth’s website says, “I think it is because the doughnut is based on the powerful framework of planetary boundaries but adds to it the demands of social justice – and so brings social and environmental concerns together in one single image and approach. It also sets a vision for an equitable and sustainable future but is silent on the possible pathways for getting there, and so the doughnut acts as a convening space for debating alternative pathways forward.”

Catholics around the world celebrate Laudato Si week from 17 to 24 May with a focus on how  the present crisis is an opportunity to start anew, and to make sure the world that arises after the crisis has passed is sustainable and just.

The week celebrates the 5th anniversary of Pope Francis’ ‘Encyclical Letter On Care for our Common Home’ with the theme ‘everything is connected’.  This year, it calls attention to how the coronavirus pandemic has much in common with the climate crisis.

  • Both are global emergencies that will affect many people, both directly and indirectly
  • Both are experienced most deeply by the poor and vulnerable, and both expose the deep injustices in our societies
  • Both will be solved only through a united effort that calls on the best of the values we share

The encyclical highlights that an ‘integral ecology’ is needed which acknowledges the deep connections between ecological, economic, social and political justice.

New Zealand Theologian, Neil Darragh writes, “There is a close connection between environmental issues and social issues. We can’t solve one kind without the other. A decline in the quality of human life and a decline in the quality of the natural world around us go together. What is needed today is what this encyclical calls an “integral ecology” which respects all the environmental, human, and social dimensions of the planet.”

Encouragingly, sustainable action for environmental change was taken on 18th May 2020, when 42 faith institutions from 14 countries announced their divestment from fossil fuels. The largest-ever joint announcement of divestment from fossil fuels from faith institutions.

It is a momentous time in history with the goodness of humanity being shown in community kindness and connectedness, and acts of mercy through care and compassion for the sick and vulnerable. Nations and people have demonstrated ability of to collectively enact rapid social change.  There is great potential and hope to create a more just future for all creatures of the earth, as the world re-sets and renews.

Image:  Flannel flowers from ‘Short, careful steps’ by Helen Earl.  Photography:  Greg Henderson

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