Environmental stewardship is not an optional extra

As we reflect deeply on the plight of our planet,
can we convert concern into action?

 CARING FOR OUR COMMON HOME 

By Dr Paul Hine, Principal, Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview 

On Wednesday 28 February, life at the College paused for an assembly that focused on the theme of Caring for Our Common Home.  

This was a time to reflect deeply on the raw beauty of nature, the complexity of life and biodiversity that exists on the planet and the role of stewardship that is assigned to each and every one of us as global citizens. Far from being someone else’s problem, it is our individual and collective responsibility to act in accord with environmental principles that will begin to redress some of the damage that has been inflicted on a planet that is now in significant need of repair and care.  

It demands a call to action in our homes, our schools and our communities, and one that is fully in accord with the theology of creation and respect for all forms of life on this tiny planet in an obscure part of the galaxy. We are part of an immense world and an infinite universe, one that boggles the mind with its vastness and complexity. But no matter how diminutive or small our actions may seem to be, they need to be undertaken to respond to the challenges of our time.  

There is no doubt that environmental management, climate change, respect for biodiversity and sustainability loom as the most important challenges of the present and the future. According to globally respected organisations such as SwissRe, the greatest threat to humankind is posed by climate change and the ongoing degradation of the planet’s fragile ecosystems, those which are already under significant stress and in some cases in collapse.  

Environmental scientists are very clear on their verdict: the only risk greater to the planet’s future than climate change and environmental damage is denial that it is happening – something that we have been guilty of for some time. The ongoing melting of the polar caps, the unfettered discharge of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the unregulated and seemingly insatiable demand for energy which compounds each and every day, presents exponential difficulties in reducing consumption trends and the constant demand that is responsible for them.  

Environmental data “will be summarised and forwarded to the College Board, for every organisation should embrace the moral imperative to account for their own environmental impact to their governing bodies. This is no longer an optional extra but is consistent with best practice in the corporate and civic world.” Graphic by Ekapol, Canva

Our special guest for the assembly was Byron Fay (OR2004), Executive Director of Climate200, an agency which does outstanding work to leverage government and corporations to respond to their own environmental challenges. Byron is the company’s Executive Director and is described on their website as: “a climate strategist, former Paris Agreement negotiator and adviser to the Independent Senator Tim Storer. Byron worked for a Biden-aligned Political Action Committee during the 2020 US presidential election, holds a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Oxford, and is a proud descendant of the Dharug nation.” 
 
At the assembly, he spoke with great passion and insight, having represented Australia at the World Summit in Paris recently and also having been invited to deliver an address at the National Press Club. His wisdom, insights and exhortations enabled the students to understand that they have a direct role to play in their school and in their communities.  

The assembly also acknowledged the Green Wolves and the senior students who have taken on leadership roles to develop and report on environmental initiatives in the College. Just one of these, amid a much broader charter, is, in conjunction with other departments and directorates, to contribute to metrics and data fields that will enable staff and students to monitor key aspects of College life for the way that they affect the environment.  

This includes aggregated and disaggregated profiles of water and gas usage, waste management and recycling along with conservation measures including water harvesting, solar cells, other clean energy sources and associated strategies. These will be summarised and forwarded to the College Board, for every organisation should be embracing the moral imperative to account for their own environmental impact to their governing bodies. This is no longer an optional extra but one that is consistent with best practice in the corporate and civic world.  

In wealthy countries such as Australia the pain associated with environmental damage and degradation is deferred, but inevitable. It will be more acute when it arrives. That is why action is required now, and particularly to respond to the situation in countries that are on the front line and already experiencing hardship. Kiribati, for example, a small island off the coast of Australia with a population of 135,000, is one of the earth’s most vulnerable nations to climate change, along with the Maldives, which has a population of over half a million people. Both countries are less than four metres above sea level and are gradually being swallowed by the rising seas through warming. These countries, already poor and struggling to maintain livelihoods, will ultimately be forced to evacuate their land, and to where do they go? Similarly, Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands in the neighbouring Pacific – our closest neighbours, will also be facing insurmountable difficulties.  

This scenario is repeated across the world. The World Bank has projected that over one million people in Vietnam alone will be plunged into severe poverty by 2030 as its 3,000 km coastline and low-lying delta river regions place it among the most vulnerable countries in the world. Bangladesh, a country with a population of 170 million people, has 75% of its land below sea level and each year, somewhere between one third and half a million people flee the low-lying areas and move to Dhaka, the country’s capital, as a result of rising seas. The IMF predicts that a minimum of 68 to perhaps 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change. This is the year our boys in Year 6 will graduate!  

The data is irrefutable and the picture is clear, as it has been for a long time. Perhaps I can pose a challenge to each and every member of the school community. Rich countries like Australia have enjoyed the benefits of energy, development, high employment, consumerism and resources for many generations and they are called upon to lead the way. Poorer counties simply have no means to do so. As we reflect deeply on the plight of our planet, our home, and the need to individuate a response to it, can we convert concern to action? During the season of Lent, this demands thoughtful attention and action.  

This article was originally published in a recent edition of the ‘Viewpoint’ newsletter for Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview. 

Banner image: By-Studio, Canva