World economic crisis an opportunity to redirect priorities, says Anglican Environmental Network convenor

Bishop George Browning, convenor of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network.
Bishop George Browning, convenor of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network.
Published May 4, 2009

For the first time, the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting has given time and emphasis to various Anglican Communion networks, among them the Environmental Network. Caring for the environment became a prominent issue during the sixth ACC meeting when the goal to “safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the earth” was adopted as the communion’s fifth mark of mission. However, it was not until the 12th ACC meeting in Hong Kong in 2002 that the Environmental Network was given official recognition.

Anglican Journal staff writer, Marites N. Sison, who is covering the meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, spoke to the Environmental Network’s convener, Bishop George Browning, who was the bishop of Canberra and Goulburn until his retirement in February 2008. In May 2008 he was licensed by the bishop of Salisbury, England as priest-in-charge of Wriggle Valley in the county of Dorset. Excepts:

Q: What message from the Anglican Communion Environment Network are you going to bring to the delegates at this meeting?

A: First of fall, we aim simply to connect with the various provinces so that they can feed off each other’s ideas. We’re trying to have at least one person from every province on the network, recognizing that the interest in one country is slightly different from another. So, in Australia, for example, the main interest is water, because we are so short of water. In other areas, it’s more to do with plant diversity or soil fertility or whatever.

Secondly, we want to try our best to make sure that all Anglicans see this (the environment) as their primary work because some people don’t think it is. They actually think that somehow preaching the Gospel – which, of course, is our number one task – makes this work of a lesser importance. It’s one of the five marks of mission of our church, and safeguarding the integrity of creation is a core Gospel issue.

Thirdly, I want to emphasize the moral issue around climate change: That the poor of the world are impacted the worst with climate change and it’s the wealthy of the world that makes the biggest imprint. We actually have to get the more wealthy of the world to take responsibility. Also, I’m one who has grandchildren, and I do not think that this generation has the moral right to a standard of living at the expense of another generation yet to be born.

In addition to that, I’m here to emphasize that the economic crisis the world is facing at the moment is an environmental opportunity because we actually can redirect our priorities. Clearly, the old capitalist system has failed and we don’t need to actually go back to it. We can actually implement new ideas and new initiatives which can build a more sustainable world. That’s also a major emphasis in this meeting.

Q: What’s the level of support and advocacy among Anglicans worldwide with regards to the environment?

A: The Archbishop of Canterbury is our strongest advocate. His voice is essential and he uses it very well. There are other bishops that also speak well. In England, the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, and the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, are very strong advocates. There are strong representations from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But yet we could do more. We need to emphasize that God created the whole world and God redeems the whole world. And as a person of faith, we need to be committed to change.

Q: Can you give me a sense of how many provinces are involved with the Environment Network?

A: Approximately half of the provinces have representation.

Q: What would membership entail?

A: First, the person has to be able to connect to the Internet. We can’t really communicate with people successfully without using it. We need the person to be in touch with their province so that they can feed the initiatives that have been taken within their province. There are some very interesting and exciting things that are being done. We need the person to be committed to ideas and to imagination. We need them to have at least the ear of their archbishop, their primate of the province. If possible, we need them to be a strong advocate because, in the world, faith communities have a role, governments have a role. At the moment, we need to be putting pressure on governments to be more pro-active in setting an environment which allows for a carbon-free economy and with the election of President (Barack) Obama in America, and in Australia, of Prime Minister (Kevin) Rudd, and a few changes in the world, we do have a different environment now and we need to take advantage of it.

Q: What practical things can Anglican churches do right in their own back yards?

A: In my own diocese in Australia, every parish is required to do an environmental audit, which has to do with what they teach, what they preach, what they sing, how they recycle, how they use the ground – whether they plant trees, whether they use a lot of paper or don’t, what cars they use, whether they could change their cars, whether their houses are insulated or not, how they use air conditioning and whether they can actually wean off air conditioning through proper insulation of their home…In many places, the church owns land, which hasn’t had farming practices on it. Graveyards, particularly, can be little oases of the protection of threatened species.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: I genuinely believe that this is the big issue of the 21st century. We can’t allow ourselves to fail. What really is lacking is not resources or money; it’s imagination. If we actually can imagine the future that we want for ourselves and for our children, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get there. But at the moment, there is, on behalf of leadership, a lack of imagination. As Christians, we need to provide hope. There’s no good preaching doom and disaster; we need to provide hope. And if human beings respond, as they should, then there’s every reason for us to be hopeful. Indeed, I believe that we can recover some ground we’ve lost. In the West, for example, we need to build stronger communities, and break down individual isolations, which has been part and parcel of our culture for too long.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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