Vale Gloucester as we know it?

We are often urged by politicians to ‘Be alert, not alarmed’, in their efforts to alert us to some threat to our safety and wellbeing and that of our country, usually emanating from some foreign source.The Catholic parishioners at St Joseph’s, Gloucester, could well pass the alertness test but probably fail miserably on not being alarmed.

This condition of ‘alarm’ in our group relates less to the threats from foreign or local terrorists, and more to what has been occurring in our beautiful vale of Gloucester; with the threat to the wellbeing of ourselves and our country posed by inappropriate mining; both coal seam gas (CSG) and open-cut coal. This threat is repeated again and again across Australia, and in many other parts of the world.

Should we in Gloucester be alone in having feelings of disquiet and alarm? Perhaps a reading of the Encyclical Laudato Si, just released by Pope Francis, might help us. Certainly his call, “to every person living on this planet”, could hardly be more inclusive. We are all called to the “Care of our common home”; the world we all share, Mother Earth, “who sustains us all [but who] – burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor”. Clearly then, the Gloucester parishioner group is inextricably linked with the rest of humanity in its relationship and interdependence with the natural world,and has the same moral obligation to nurture and sustain the world God has given us.

Pope Paul VI also warned of “ill-considered exploitation of nature, [where] humanity runs the risk of destroying it, and becomes in turn, a victim of this degradation”. We have, then, not only an obligation to care for and cherish the environment, but a very practical need to maintain the systems upon which we depend for our daily bread. And Francis reminds us that the poor will always be the first to feel the effects of hard times.

Francis goes on to quote Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew as well as Paul VI, which demonstrates a continuum of papal pleading for a solution to the present parlous and deteriorating state of the world environment brought about by careless, wasteful and greedy exploitation of its natural resources. Caused in part by denial of the problem and indifference to its causes, this reality is a problem to be solved not solely by technology, but by a change in humanity. For, as Francis says (and I believe), we have been entrusted by God to care for this wonderful world.

What then does our Christianity mean, if those of us who benefit financially from this intrinsically destructive and outmoded industrial model, turn our backs on those who suffer the physical, psychological, medical and financial consequences of standing in the way of the all-powerful mining juggernaut? Examples of this can be found close to home, where Hunter Valley communities like Camberwell and Bulga have felt the full weight of the power of King Coal,and large swathes of valuable agricultural land have been reduced to a devastated wasteland.

Certainly, coal mining has been a mainstay of Hunter employment over a long period of time. Many a hard working miner has made a life for himself and his family in the industry and many communities are dependent upon coal at the present time. However, the negative impacts of wide spread mining, particularly in regions of great agricultural value such as the Hunter and Gloucester Valleys, where large areas have been permanently scarred by open-cut mining and threatened by CSG developments,indicate that mining on such a scale is not sustainable. Our food bowls cannot sustain the present level of destruction. Simply put, the ever-expanding mining foot print cannot be matched by some imaginary never-ending supply of fresh land to accommodate it.

What you see now is what we have forever; there ain’t no more! And when our governments continue to approve new mining development like the massive Shenhua mine on the magnificent and irreplaceable Liverpool Plains, the nature and extent of the threat to the land, and thus to each of us, is surely cause for urgent change to our practices.

Is this then a question solely of morality or is it also a question of practical self interest in treating our planet in a manner that will sustain life for us all?

It is, I believe, quite simple: look after the planet and it will look after you. Treat it with contempt and it will respond in kind.

Pope Francis has told us what he thinks, will we listen?

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Greg Doepel

Greg Doepel is a parishioner of St Joseph’s Parish, Gloucester.

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