There are two things you should avoid discussing at a dinner party unless you want a open up a big can of worms; politics and religion.
Despite this age old proverb there is one group of ecologically-minded activists who are breaking the taboo and putting both religion and politics into the same conversation to advocate for the climate.
Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) is a multi-faith network committed to action against climate change. Their aim is to highlight the damaging effects of humanity’s impact on the environment and link up religious leaders who want to fight against man-made climate change.
Pictured: ARRCC members outside Parliament House.
Thea Ormerod is the President of ARRCC. She has been campaigning against man-made climate change and lobbying decision makers to smarten up and reform climate change policy for the last 30 years.
Her current position at President of ARRCC sees her work closely with religious leaders from almost every faith in Australia to teach their congregations and followers to lead a life that is more mindful of climate change and the impacts humanity is having on planet Earth.
She says that despite the differences, most religious leaders across communities seem to be on the same table when it comes to combatting climate change.
“When it comes to the science of climate change the leaders of different faiths generally are on the same page,” Ms Ormerod said.
“You get the odd person like Cardinal George Pell but all the official statements from people like the Pope or the Dalai Lama they are all very much for climate action.
“Often religious leaders see climate change as anthropogenic. It is all about changing our consumption patterns, going back to our different religious and faith-based roots, which is about being non-materialistic,” she said.
According to Thea, the main driver of climate change is consumption and capitalism. We are spending more and taking more from the environment. She says faith and religion, at its core, stands strong against mindless consumerism.
“Capitalism and consumerism are the main driving forces behind climate change,” Ms Ormerod believes.
“Fighting climate change is all very well-rooted in our fundamental religious traditions like love, respect, sharing and mindfulness of others.
“Through religious practice we acknowledge these traditions and through religion we can help raise awareness and hopefully combat elements of climate change,” she said.
One way ARRCC works to fight against climate change is through their educational endeavours with collective religious groups and individual religious leaders. They make different guide books on how individual religions can act against climate change and they tailor these guides to specific religions.
Imam Abdal-Nasser Mustafa is an Islamic leader in western Sydney. He has used the ARRCC network of religious leaders, as well as their resources, to help create a sustainable energy and affordable electricity forum for ethnic minority groups in Sydney’s west and south west.
“The idea is to create a space for ethnic communities where we can talk about the high cost of power bills and the links between affordable power and climate change,” Imam Abdal said.
“Our project is very closely linked with helping people keep their power bills down and teaching people about clean energy.
“ARRCC has been supporting us with Arabic language education kits on climate change,” he said.
Bringing together leaders of Islamic, South Asian and Pacific Islander communities, Imam Abdal has started a conversation with groups who might not often see eye to eye.
He has closely linked the concepts of renewable, clean energy with affordable energy, something that interests many minority groups because of its practicality.
“We want to create an organised voice in regards to affordable and renewable clean energy for minority groups across the country,” Imam Abdal said.
“It is very important to do this because most the Muslim community are not organised enough to have a voice in public on a global issue like climate change.”
Although Imam Abdal’s work is independent of ARRCC, it goes hand in hand with what ARRCC are doing. It uses their resources to help educate and inspire climate action across religious barriers.
When education isn’t enough, however, ARRCC puts their money where their mouth is and uses non-violent protest action. These co-ordinated actions often sees ordained Buddhist praying and meditating with Catholic priests while both protesting open cut mines and deforestations.
“Non-violent direct action is another way we’re involved in political protest. It is effective and often gets our messages out into the mass media,” Ms Ormerod said.
“We’ve had religious leaders protesting mines up in northern New South Wales, we’ve had people involved in sit-ins and we’ve had people protest big institutions like the Commonwealth Bank as well.”
Tejopala Rawls is a member of the Triratna Buddhism community and a Community Organiser at ARRCC.
Most recently Tejopala was arrested while tasking part in as of the Stop Adani campaign in far north Queensland.
Pictured: ARRCC members protest as part of the Stop Adani campaign.
“Recently a group of five of us were arrested up in north Queensland on the site of the rail line work,” Tejopala said.
“I was the only Buddhist there but there was a Uniting Church Minister, two Catholics and a Quaker as well.
“We were doing various songs and reciting different texts from different rituals, but we were all doing it together. We were asked to move along and we didn’t so we were arrested,” he said.
ARRCC also endorses and organises mass protests and vigils across capital cities of Australia.
"We held mass vigils in Sydney, Melbourne and Kiama. They had people of numerous faiths coming out to express their views collective through song, pray and meditations,” Tejopala explained.
“We try to make a very clear point that people of various faith backgrounds care about these things.”
ARRCC has the ability to bring people together regardless of personal difference. They educate people of differing backgrounds on the economic and environmental benefits of combatting climate change and they inspire collective, peaceful action against big mining giants and commercial banks. They are a true testament to getting on with the job despite obvious religious and political barriers.
ARRCC is always on the hunt for more volunteers and people interested in acting against climate change. If you would like to get involved contact ARRCC on their website or email Tejopala at email@example.com for details about events.