© Rev Rex A E Hunt. MSc(Hons)
Theme:  Land


“Your desert, whose ever-shifting sands reflect the constant changing in our own lives,
Whose dry heat brings interludes of repose,
Show us the beauty that comes with purity
and teach us how to simplify our lives”
(Tom Rhodes)

Fifteen years ago, the well respected journal New Internationalist
published an article on the state of the global environment.

In part that article said:
“Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.  The provision of food, fresh water, energy and materials to a growing population has come at considerable cost to the complex system of plants, animals and biological processes that make the planet habitable.”  (NI, No. 378, May 2005)

Such warnings were and are not new.
And they continue to be debated - endlessly!
          Especially by climate change denying politicians
          of the ex-furniture salesman type!

But do we, the ‘ordinary people’,
really see and heed these warnings and the scientific reports?
Or do they just massage us, washing over us,
because we feel too powerless to go beyond simple acts?

Most of us, I am prepared to suggest, believe the climate crisis is not our fault
and that there is nothing we can do.
          It’s up to the big corporations, coal-producing countries (except ours),
          and ‘the government’ to do something.

So what chance has the most recent Report from the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
          ‘Climate Change and Land’ got, of breaking through the denial barrier?

Issued in the latter half of 2019, the Report focuses on
desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security,
and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

The study has 102 authors from 52 countries.
          It really is a significant piece of scientific work.
          It needs to be taken seriously.


Land…  that part of nature on which we walk, live, grow things,
plough and mine, are usually buried in,
          and unfortunately, more often than not, pollute.

According to the entry in Wikipedia:
“Land, sometimes referred to as dry land, is the solid surface of Earth that is not permanently covered by water.  The vast majority of human activity throughout history has occurred in land areas that support.agriculture,.habitat, and various natural resources.”

A common understanding is: land is real estate.
A product which can be sort after, bought, sold, exploited.

But in recent years we in Australia have been made aware
of another understanding of land.
          An awareness which comes from
          the indigenous Aboriginal peoples.

As in the past, Aboriginal clans today hold deep religious links
with their lands which were formed in the Dreaming.
The Dreaming, or ‘Tjukurrpa’, explains the origin of the universe
and workings of nature and humanity.

It shapes and structures life through the regulation and understanding of family life,
the relations between the genders,
and obligations to people, land, and spirits.
          The land belongs to the Aborigines and the Aborigines to the land.

As an explanation of their myths instructs us:
“The great ancestral creative beings, who journeyed across the continent at the beginning of time, established the land boundaries between different Aboriginal groups and the sacred sites.  Carrying out ritual obligations at these sacred sites and performing religious ceremonies are the way by which Aborigines feel boundto their lands and protective towards it.”  (Hill 1993).

Aboriginal people do not live on the land.
          They live with the land.
          They are bound to it by spiritual links.
          They are ‘earth dreaming’ people.

Australian academic David Tacey suggests the main language in Australia is earth language.
“The sacred songs and chants [of Aboriginal peoples] are sung to gigantic and ancient rock formations and to vast expanses of red earth.  The sacred dances are earth dances, where the celebrants gather to ‘sing up’ and sustain the spirits of the earth.  Significantly, Aboriginal dance and celebration is concentrated upon the movements of the feet.”  (Tacey 2000:96)

We now know Aboriginal people
have lived in Australia and the Torres Strait Islands
for more than 60,000 years—perhaps even longer.

We now estimate that at the time of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788
there was between 500,000 and a million Aboriginal people in the land.

And we also know that the policy of terra nullius,
or ‘empty land belonging to no one’,
which took effect from the moment Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in 1788,
          has severely devastated the Aboriginal peoples
          and their traditional lands.

In 1992 the High Court of Australia, in its now famous Mabo decision,
rejected the doctrine of terra nullius as part of Australian law.
Justice William Deane, later to become Australia’s Governor General, said that...
The doctrine of terra nullius... provided the legal basis for the dispossession of the Aboriginal peoples of most of their traditional lands.  The acts and events by which that dispossession in legal theory was carried into practical effect constitute the darkest aspect of the history of this nation.  The nation as a whole must remain diminished unless and until there is an acknowledgement of, and retreat from, those past injustices...  The lands of this continent were not terra nullius.

There is still much we should know and do and work towards.
Aboriginal peoples in the main remain disenfranchised—powerless—
because of prevailing attitudes and the exercise of power, others
—governments and people—have over ‘the land’ and our history.

If the matter of ‘land’ is to be resolved in Australia,
          then the solution will not come from a legal decision,
          but from political will, and initiated by the people—you and me.


What will it take… to get the  IPCC Report ‘Climate Change and Land’,
onto both the political and the general discussion agendas?
          The Report is lengthy.
          And not surprisingly the Report is more bad news.

With assistance from theoretical physicist and 2019 recipient of the Templeton Prize,
Marcelo Gleiser (Gleiser 2019), let’s unpack the five Headline Statements contained in the report…
          There is much detail in these Statements
          so careful listening is required.

1. Land provides the principal basis for human livelihoods and well-being including the supply of food, freshwater and multiple other ecosystem services, as well as biodiversity.  Human use directly affects more than 70% of the global, ice-free land surface.  Land also plays an important role in the climate system.

• That is, our use impacts over 70 percent of the land surface of the planet to sustain our needs of energy, water, and farming.  What happens on the land, the way we use it, affects the climate.

2. Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use activities accounted for around 13% of CO2, 44% of methane, and 82% of nitrous oxide emissions from human activities globally during 2007-2016, representing 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions of green house gases.

• Agriculture, deforestation, and other types of land use and abuse contribute a substantial amount of greenhouse gases, up to a staggering 82 percent of nitrous oxide, and a total net of about 23 percent of all human-caused emissions.

3. Near-term action to address climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation and food security can bring social, ecological, economic and development co-benefits.  Co-benefits can contribute to poverty eradication and more resilient livelihoods for those who are vulnerable.

• Contrary to what we tend to hear, efforts to mitigate climate change, land degradation, and food security can actually create new jobs, increase productivity, and economic stability.

4. Changes in land conditions, either from land-use or climate change, affect global and regional climate. The magnitude and direction of these changes vary with location and season 

• Changing the land affects the global climate, period.  The changes and effects vary from region to region, obviously.

“the rampant deforestation across the planet, including the current horrifying rate of three football fields per minute of the Amazon jungle is a situation that must stop now”. (Gleiser 2019)

5. Climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to live-

lihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems.  Increasing impacts on land are projected under all future green house gas emission scenarios.  Some regions will face higher risks, while some regions will face risks previously not anticipated.  Cascading risks with impacts on multiple systems and sectors also vary across regions.

• There is a vicious cycle here, whereby as we keep degrading the land, cutting down forests, and increasing the output of green house gases into the atmosphere, we will exacerbate climate change which will, in turn, degrade the land even more, choking forests and increasing the levels of green house gases in the atmosphere.

Since forests are also carbon sinks—that is, they sequester excessive CO2 in the atmosphere—they truly are cleansing filters for the atmosphere.  Once this factor is taken into account, the numbers climb to about one-third of total global emission.

Life on Earth is actually decreasing.
Not surprisingly, the Report concludes with ‘high confidence’ that:
“reducing deforestation and forest degradation rates represents one of the most effective and robust options for climate change mitigation, with large mitigation benefits globally.”

“It doesn’t take much reflection to understand this,” adds Gleiser.


What we can do?
The Reports does suggest several action items:

• Support forest-rich countries in reducing deforestation and forest degradation

• Reduce competition for land

• Recognise the role of indigenous peoples as land/forest stewards

• Reduce fossil fuel emissions immediately

“It is a person’s choice to consume less energy and water,” suggests Gleiser,
“to boycott companies that have a bad environmental record, to procure alternative renewable energy sources for their homes, buy from local farms, and by far the most important thing a person can do, shift their diets away from meat.”

No, the world doesn’t need to turn vegan overnight.
It does mean the average meat consumption per person
          needs to be reduced.

When people take their role as an agent of change seriously, they are empowered to act.

Maybe this suggestion in a post from Charter of Compassion can be a positive guide:
‘Let us reimagine the world we truly want to live in—not that which we simply wish to resist—and act as One Human Family with everything in our power toward that great vision!’

Such moral behaviour toward land, toward climate, toward nature,
should take precedence over any kind of political debate.

Aboriginal Dreaming. <>
Gleiser, M.
“What Will it Take?” in Orbiter, 15 August 2019. (Accessed 9 February 2020).
Hill, M.
Australian Aboriginal Culture. Canberra. AGPS, 1993.
Climate Change and Land. <> 2019.
Rhodes, T.
“You Desert…” in Roberts, E. & E. Amidon. (ed). Life Prayers from Around the World. 365 Prayers, Blessings, and Affirmations to Celebrate the Human Journey. New York. HarperCollins, 1996.
Tacey, D.
ReEnchantment: The New Australian Spirituality. Pymble. HarperCollins, 200