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Monday, July 19, 2010

Speech for Fitzroy UC at CERES - Why I do the work I do

Robyn has invited me to share with you a little about what has inspired and motivated me to take on this work.

The first thing that inspired me towards this path was love. I don’t really know where my love for the Earth and its creatures came from, but I believe it must have been a gift from God. From my earliest childhood I loved animals. Apparently as a baby I would scream each morning until mum took me outside to watch the birds. Like many who care for this earth, I was one of those kids who ran around the back yard getting dirty and playing with anything living I could find there. I learnt how to stop ants from biting me, I bred slater pigs (woodlice), I grew flowers, and I played with the plants in my mother’s garden, I caught the boatmen in our pool and I fished out the drowning bees and other insects and tried to save them when mum wasn’t looking. Most of all, I loved my dog – Sandy the golden Labrador cross. She was a beloved best friend who stood beside me my entire childhood – 17 years in fact.

My parents both have agricultural science degrees, so my early interest in the environment is perhaps not that surprising. Mum used to teach me how to identify different kinds of plants, and we travelled a lot so I learnt about different environments around the country. I got bored at school so to keep me from running wild my parents gave me projects on animals like whales and dolphins to do after school. I collected book inserts on animals from a magazine each week, and it was from these I first learnt about endangered species like wolves, minx, elephants and orang-utans. When I was eight years old I decided that I was going to create the world’s biggest and best zoo, one that was going to save all those endangered species from extinction. This remained my dream for many years. Some might say I finally gave up on the impossible zoo, but in some ways, my dream expanded rather than contracting. I came to realise that it wasn’t enough. A zoo alone was never going to achieve all that needed to be done. The animals needed a habitat to go back to, and threats like climate change meant wider changes within our society were needed if we weren’t just going to have a few arks in a sea of destruction and extinct species. So I moved to Canberra for university to learn more about how to save the world, and thankfully discovered I wouldn’t have to do it on my own. Actually it was really confusing for me in some ways, I had spent my childhood preparing to fight against a hostile world as a voice for the environment; an interest that was still rare when I came to uni to study the environment; but which quickly became normal while I was there. As some of my friends like to say, ‘I was green before it was cool’.

Over the years I have also been inspired by hope. I am inspired by people like Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, Steve Irwin, Rachel Carson, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Rob Stewart and Larissa Brown. I’m inspired by the hundreds of unsung heroes all around the world, scientists, conservationists, activists, who give their lives to fight for our voiceless creatures and their survival.

And I’m inspired by those closer to home.  I’m inspired by my mother, whose passion for orang-utans amazes even me, and I’m inspired by the scientists I met on an Earthwatch trip I attended. I’m inspired by the passion of those I met at GreenSteps, an environmental change program, and by those I’ve met from environmental groups all over the country. I’m inspired by all the incredible people I have met since I started working in this area, and I’m inspired by what they have already managed to achieve.

Something that was kind of a latecomer to the scene, but which is now a huge source of inspiration and motivation for me is my faith. I believe in a God who loves and cares for all creation, not just humanity. I believe Sophia gave me a passion for the environment so that I could help others to also see this truth. I became a Christian at Sunday school, so early I can’t even remember the date. Nevertheless, my faith has always been a big part of my life. But for a long time I was kind of stuck. Here I was, passionate about the environment, passionate about my faith, and yet, unable to marry the two yet. It shames and confuses me now that I could have read the Bible so many times and never seen the green message I now see within the text, but for so long I was confused and afraid. Until one day, I heard that the then Bishop George Browning of the Canberra Goulburn Diocese was talking at the ANU about Christianity and the Environment. After the talk I worked up the guts to ask about the question that was bothering me the most – I asked about Genesis 1:28. George Browning thanked me for the question, explained that it confused many people and then explained to me that the word translated ‘dominion’ could also be translated as a commission for humanity to rule over creation in the same way that the sun rules over the day and the moon over the night – as servant rulers. I thought about that for a moment. The sun is the source of all energy on Earth; it nourishes us and makes our lives possible yet never receives anything in return. It was a classic eye opening, light bulb experience. Later, when I was invited to be an Australian delegate to the Asia Pacific Interfaith Youth Camp on Climate Change in Surubaya, Indonesia; I did a whole bunch of reading before the trip so that I would be able to share with the people from other faiths what Christianity had to say about the environment. The eco-theology texts were fascinating and while reading them I finally realised I could actually do this, I could marry the two pillars of my life together. I could be no only a Christian and an environmentalist, but a “Christian Environmentalist”.

Finally, I’m motivated by a sense of urgency and injustice, and a desire to see a future for those who will come after us. I am inspired by the memory of our drastic failures and their consequences. I remember the Thylacine, the Night Parrot and the Gastric Brooding Frog. I remember how I felt when I realised that because of our failure future generations will never see any of these creatures. I am inspired by the urgency I feel when I think of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, the Orange Roughy and the Grey Nurse Shark and I want, so desperately, not to fail them too. I am inspired by the ignorance and apathy of the world, I am inspired by those who just don’t care; and I want to see an end to people’s ability to have these attitudes. I care about the uncute, the unlovable and the unwanted creatures of the world, because no one else seems to, and I feel someone has to love them, and someone has to work to save them.

Ultimately, I believe all these sources of motivation and inspiration come from the Holy Spirit. I believe God is working through the church around the world to bring about a greening of our faith and a recapturing of the church’s ecological roots and the green messages within the Bible. And I believe that I am one of the people who has been called to this mission, and called to being God’s hands and feet to help others within the church. That is why I care, that is why I do what I do, and I pray it will make a difference.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+