Indigenous Aussies among first climate change victims

Indigenous communities living on Torres Strait Islands, including the island home of the late land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo, are among the first "official victims of climate change", says Catholic Earthcare executive officer, Col Brown.

Speaking to a Rockhampton Diocesan Commission of Environmental Awareness gathering, Mr Brown said that the available evidence on climate change "calls for urgent responses at both church and government level".

Mr Brown was responding to research recently released by CSIRO scientist Dr Donna Green which highlights that over the past two years, half of the populated islands of the Torres Strait have been hit by unprecedented flooding from surging king tides.

Dr Green, who was on one of the Torres Strait Islands in February when monsoonal king tides struck, found that of the 14 inhabited islands scattered throughout the Torres Strait, at greatest risk were the sandy coral cays of Poruma, Iama, Masig and Warraber in the central Strait, and the north-western islands of Saibai and Boigu.

"While we don't have historical records of sea levels in the Torres Strait, we do know that climate change is causing sea levels to rise in this region and is increasing the intensity of extreme weather events," Mr Brown quoted Dr Green as saying.

"The people of the Torres Strait who live so closely and sensitively with the sea and land are clearly the innocent victims of climate change - a deadly phenomena fuelled by the extravagant lifestyles of many mainland Australians."

Mr Brown says research suggests that Australians, per head, are still the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases on the planet, which scientists claim are contributing to a rise in the earth's temperature.

"We are duty bound to do all in our power to help them (the Torres Strait Islanders) either stay on their islands for as long as possible, or resettle to the mainland with dignity," he added.

The Earthcare representative called upon the Federal Government to "lift their performance in tackling global warming" and asked businesses to put the "health of the planet before shareholder profits."

Mr Brown says people of faith must "roll up our sleeves and play our part as well."

"From Catholic Earthcare's perspective this is the ultimate social justice question because it's about the survival of the planet," he said.

"It's the creator's supreme gift that we're trashing. So there's no bigger issue than safeguarding God's supreme work."

Mr Brown's comments come as Christians, scientists and community leaders prepare to meet in Melbourne next week for the "Climate Change Conference" co-organised by Catholic Earthcare and the Melbourne Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace.

The conference will be opened by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart.

Australians will be some of the first victims of global climate change (Catholic Earthcare, Media Release, 3/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Earthcare
Melbourne Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace

Catholic Earthcare highlights Vatican climate change intervention (CathNews, 10/11/05)
TV weatherman to present at Catholic Earthcare Conference (CathNews 28/10/05)
Catholic Earthcare declares position on uranium (CathNews 18/10/05)

4 Oct 2006