Ethics, Faith & Consumption

What have Ethics and Faith to say on Population and Consumption?
- A blog by Anne Lanyon

On Saturday 21st November, 2016, the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales hosted a Seminar on Population and Consumption – the Sustainability Dialogue.

The purpose of the seminar was to encourage dialogue about sustainable human population and consumption, leading to wider understanding that these are critical and fundamental issues for the conservation of nature.

One of three workshops held was on the question of “What have Ethics and Faith to say on Population and Consumption?” About twelve people were interested enough to participate. FEN was represented in this facilitated workshop.

The group agreed for this discussion that ethics is the holding of a world view that is based on moral responsibility and that faith is belonging to an organised religious belief system.

The first question discussed asked Are Faith and Ethics an integral part of this debate?

Yes they are. Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders, out of a sense of urgency about Care for Our Common Home and using accessible language, have advanced the dialogue around this issue, bringing their religious teachings and other ethical belief systems into the conversation.

Question two was: What Faith and Ethics Issues will enhance constructive dialogue?

There is a need for reduction in consumption and a simpler lifestyle for planetary sustainability. A growing movement is questioning the current model of the growth economy.  Faith and Ethics positions say that we live in a society where people and the environment matter, not an economy where they are considered as statistics.

Therefore issues that will engage people in constructive dialogue because they matter to them could be:

-       Poverty related maternal and child health,

-       Species extinction,

-       The global economic system,

-       Dialogue with Islam and the “no usury” economy,

-       Population stability leading to a reducing , sustainable population

-       How could Australia be a role model?

The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University has been engaging for several years on many issues, including population and sustainability, and is a valuable resource.

The third question discussed was: Where might Faith and Ethics best focus their messages and dialogue on seeking a path to a sustainable future for the planet?

The rights of nature and human dependence on nature’s life support systems need to be recognised. The damaging effects of the attitudes of human dominion over nature have been wrongly interpreted from the book of Genesis. In this regard there is an increasing adoption of and an acceptance of the importance of the dialogue between science and religion which is happening. This will improve environmental literacy which will have positive outcomes. At the same time there needs to be intellectual honesty in the dialogue.

The final question that was discussed was, In the dialogue about populations and consumption, what arguments might be used to reject the legitimate role of Faith and Ethics, and what answers could be offered?

Arguments that are often perpetrated in the media are:

  • Faith and Ethics are irrelevant, outmoded and have a bad track record,
  • They are unrealistic, male dominated, hierarchical and exclude women,
  • Churches have become corporate.

In summing up, the group recommended that:

Faith and Ethics offer a different future vision for an ecologically sustainable planet that is about hope. They must not be shut out of the debate, but claim their voices.  Now is the time of opportunity for faith and ethics groups to engage with the question of population, consumption and conservation. Faiths have potential for excellent global dialogue. There are people, including elders, willing to speak about alternatives to the endless growth economic model, the increasing poverty gap, the domination attitude and the rights of nature.