Religious leaders stage 'funeral for coal'

Calling on Labor to block Adani coal mine

Religious leaders are banding together today to hold “Funeral for Coal” vigils outside the offices of Labor leader Bill Shorten in Melbourne and Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke in Sydney.

Between 10am and midday, the vigils are being staged by interfaith organisation, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC). It aims to persuade Labor to block the Adani coal mine planned for Carmichael in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland.

“What we want them to do is commit to reviewing the environmental approvals that have been given to Adani so far,” ARRCC President Thea Ormerod tells Eternity. “Eventually, we really need to see these mines not go ahead.”

“… Religious leaders have said they’re prepared to actually blockade – stand in front of bulldozers, Martin Luther King style.” – Thea Ormerod

Ormerod (who attends a Catholic church in southern Sydney) expects a “couple of hundred” protestors to turn up to the Melbourne protest, and around 50 in Sydney. While she stresses the vigils will be peaceful, she adds: “In Melbourne, certain religious leaders have said they’re prepared to actually blockade – stand in front of bulldozers, Martin Luther King style – [at the Carmichael project sites] in order to make it less likely that the mine will go ahead.”

These leaders include an Anglican priest, a Uniting church minister, a Catholic Sister of Mercy, a Jewish rabbi, a Baptist pastor and four ordained Buddhists, as well as “dozens of regular followers from different faith traditions.”

A smaller Funeral for Coal was held yesterday outside the office of Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen in western Sydney, attended by around 18 people, who prayed and meditated during the vigil.

“It was really quite sombre. This is serious – this is a potential catastrophe that we need to avert together. We are calling for God’s help,” Ormerod explains.

The ARRCC targeted Bowen because of comments he made in February that Labor would not block the mine if it wins the federal election. The group is also calling on people to write a letter to their local Labor MP or candidate to express their concern about Bowen’s stance.

While Ormerod says ARRCC is non-partisan, she says the group has already given up campaigning the Liberal government because “they haven’t listened for the past 15-20 years.”

“Humanity is pushing the atmosphere to the brink.” – Thea Ormerod

In expressing their concern about the impact of the Carmichael mine on global warming, the ARRCC is also campaigning to prevent any other new coal mines in Australia.

“Adani is a rather important case in point because once that opens up and the rail and road associated with that mine, there are seven other companies wanting to start exploiting the Galilee basin. And the Galilee basin has six per cent of the whole entire world’s carbon budget … It’s just something that the world can’t afford … Nationally, we’re acting very selfishly,” argues Ormerod.

“Humanity is pushing the atmosphere to the brink … [and] we are getting plenty of warning signs.

“Jesus was so often about being awake and being responsive to what is needed. People are dying in Mozambique and in other places because of extreme weather events that we’ve never seen before.”

The ARRCC protests coincide with Adani being fined more than $13,000 for polluting wetlands from its Abbot Point coal terminal in Queensland. They also come at the same time as reports that Adani is ready to commence mining at Carmichael as soon as it receives government approval.

Head of Adani Mining Lucas Dow stresses how the Carmichael mine will boost employment in regional Queensland, telling the ABC, “We have had 14,500 people say that they want to work with us. We want to get on and start delivering these jobs.”

Ormerod expresses her sympathy towards these workers and to the tens of thousands already employed in the coal mining industry, saying, “It’s not going to be easy and I can really understand why they would resist all this.” But, she adds, “Human beings’ survival depends on us making that transition to low-carbon technologies.”

“We’re not pushing religion, we’re pushing a better world.” – Thea Ormerod

In the meantime, she is hopeful that their protests will make a difference. “I’m hoping they take note … This is part of the whole of civil society speaking out – the kids involved in climate strikes and little ‘Stop Adani’ groups all around the country … That’s going to continue and escalate until governments in Australia actually take notice of what ordinary people – farmers, nurses, doctors, religious people, firefighters, students – we’re all saying much the same thing.”

And she believes that as an interfaith organisation, the ARRCC plays a pivotal role in shaping the climate debate.

“It’s amazingly easy to get agreement across all the different religious traditions. We’re not pushing religion, we’re pushing a better world – a world that’s more respectful and sustainable and fair towards people.

“Civil society has much less power than it should have. And so, we’re trying to tap into the witnessing power of us joining together with Muslims and Buddhists, and transcending our differences and our tribes to actually work together to save humanity. I think there’s power in that.”

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