© Rev Rex A E Hunt, MSc(Hons)
Theme: Oceans


“The Copenhagen conference, in December 2009, was supposed to be
the place where the world took an ‘historic step forward’.
Instead, it turned into a fiasco of the first order”
(Bill McKibben. Eaarth).

The sea is beautiful.  Everybody knows that.
And as Second Peoples, we mostly live within 200 kms of the sea.
          On a large island.

One of the reasons Australians flock to the beach is that we find there
a beauty that seems primal and life-enhancing.
“To stand by the sea,” reflects Jan Morgan, "with the sun’s light spearing the waves, salt spray shimmering above deep blue, the roar of the surf in our ears, is to feel instinctively - and probably say so out loud - ‘isn’t it beautiful?’”  (Morgan & Garrett 2018:33)

Over forty years ago, now world famous oceanographer and marine biologist, Sylvia Earle,
visited Melbourne for a conference about ocean exploration.
          She recalls standing on the shore of Port Phillip Bay with a young reporter
          who thrust a microphone under her chin
                    and fired a series of questions.

‘Suppose the oceans dried up tomorrow. Why should I care? I don’t swim. I hate boats. I get seasick!
I don’t even like to eat fish. Why should I object if some of them—or all of them—go extinct?
Who needs the ocean?’

Groaning silently Earle says, I thought, 'Good grief! Can she be serious?'
‘Right, dry up the oceans.  Think of all the good stuff lost at sea that you could just scoop up.
The trouble is, there wouldn't be anybody around to do that.
Without the ocean, there would be no life - no people, anyway...

‘Well, how so?’ the journalist prodded. ‘People don't drink saltwater?
Get rid of the ocean, and Earth would be a lot like Mars. Cold, barren, inhospitable.
Ask those who are trying to figure out how astronauts can live there.

'Or, how about the moon. There's a place with no bothersome ocean.
And no life. Or Venus. Yes, the beautiful—and lifeless—hot planet with no ocean. 

'It doesn’t matter where on Earth you live,
everyone is utterly dependent on the existence of that lovely, living saltwater soup.
There’s plenty of water in the universe without life,
but nowhere is there life without water...'

‘No blue, no green.’**

So in line with today’s Season of Creation theme of ‘Oceans’
 I want to share some thoughts on oceans and seas - and a story.

We are living in a scientific, pluralistic age.
And unless you have been living under a cabbage leaf,
then you will also be aware of the current universal debates about how
“our modern life-style is harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering our global climate patterns.” (Peters 2002:viii).

Planet Earth is in peril.  All creation is suffering.  The oceans are drowning in plastic pollution.
As you can imagine or already know, several folk have put their concerns in books,
          during workshops,
          at politically rallies and conferences, and
          through the ‘alternate’ media.

So I hope you feel we are spending important time today.


Science informs us that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface
is covered by ocean - a continuous body of water that is
          customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.

More than half of this area is over 3,000 metres deep.
And the collective volume is approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometres.

Scientists also claim that life within the ocean evolved some
three (3) billion years prior to life on land.

They estimate that 230,000 marine life-forms of all types
are currently known, but the total could be
          up to 10 times that number.

We also know that the ocean has a significant effect on the biosphere.
Oceanic evaporation as a phase of the water cycle,
          is the source of most rainfall and ocean temperatures
          determine both climate and wind patterns that affect life on land.

But… the oceans, the sea, that 71% of the earth’s surface
we usually don’t consider much outside our Summer vacations,
          is changing due to global warming.

Those are the facts.
But a story from the Yuin Nation - First Peoples from the South Coast of New South Wales,
tells it like this…
Grandmother Moon, she comes up and shines down her light upon us.  She pulls the tides of the sea.  
She has that much strength she can pull water up into the sky and hold it, until it’s time to water her garden, Mother Earth.
Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun have the major roles to play in all life.

"Water is connected to Mother Earth and to Father Sky.
Water is also connected to Grandmother Moon, as she can lift the water and drop itdown through Father Sky.
Mother Earth then takes the water and she distributes it through rivers, streams and lakes.  
Father Sky holds many stories; through time he has led the way water for us to navigate over water and land.  
He’s there for us, he helps us find our way.”

For the people of the Yuin Nation the ocean is called Gadu - "the source of all waters that bring life to Mother Earth.” (Morgan & Garrett 2018:70-71,74)

Now, as I was preparing the original comments of this Address/Sermon a few things were happening around me:
(i) I was reading Bill McKibben’s latest book,
Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
My reading was primarily to do a review for Insights magazine.

(ii) The 2010 BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico was continuing to grow,
and all attempts to stem its flow were proving to be in vain.
          The well lay 65 kilometres off the coast of Louisiana, USA.
          The damage is impossible to calculate.

Satellite photos showed the spill covered 180,000 square kilometres of ocean,
wounding the ocean floor with an estimated 2.5 million barrels (if you believed BP);
          4.9 million if you believed the scientists.

Indeed, in a radio interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast,
McKibben said that that year 'we will really sense God’s humour' when the hurricane season strikes…
• they will go further inland and live longer, due to the sun’s rays being absorbed by the dark surface of the oil,
warming the air, dropping even more record rain.

And while that interview was happening…
(iii) Reports were coming in that a water spout had crossed the coastline
in far northern New South Wales causing extensive damage.
          Callers to ABC North Coast reported there had been falls
          of more than 270 millimetres of rain that morning.


Bill McKibben is an author and founder of the environmental organizations
Step It Up and 350.Org and was one of the first to warn
         of the dangers of global warming.

I invite you to listen to a selection of just some of Bill McKibben’s comments on oceans and climate warming:
“The oceans… are distinctly more acid and their level is rising; they are also warmer, which means the greatest storms of our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful” (McKibben 2010:45).

How come?  Because of our emissions and our burning of cheap fossil fuel, a process
“that Britian’s Royal Society described as ‘essentially irreversible’”  (McKibben 2010:10).

To make his point further McKibben says:
“One barrel of oil yields as much energy as 25,000 hours of human manual labor – more than a decade of human labor per barrel.  The average American uses 25 barrels each year, which is like finding 300 years of free labor annually.  And that’s just the oil; there’s coal and gas, too”  (McKibben 2010:27).

Economics and growth have become the watchwords for modernity!

At the same time research is showing the earth’s ice caps
and glaciers are melting with “disconcerting and unexpected speed.” (McKibben 2010:45)
          We have already raised the temperature nearly a degree Celsius.

McKibben continues:
“…the ocean is more acid than anytime in the last eight hundred thousand years, and at current rates by 2050 it will be more corrosive than anytime in the past 20 million years.” (McKibben 2010:10)

And again:
“On the last day of 2008, the Economist reported that temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula were rising faster than anywhere else on earth, and that the West Antarctic was losing ice 75 percent faster than just a decade before.  …Name a major feature of the earth’s surface and you’ll find massive change.” (McKibben 2010:5)

The changes could hardly be more fundamental!
“The earth that we knew – the only earth that we ever knew – is gone.”  (McKibben 2010:27)


If you are beginning to hear ‘doomsday’ and ‘apocalypse’
then I guess I can’t blame you.
          I had the same feelings as I read McKibben’s book.

We can be numbed by all the figures and percentages.
We can say the scientists are probably overstating our woes.
          The anticipated future can be paralysed by our fears.

Indeed, it’s hard to brace ourselves
“for the jump to a new world when we still, kind of, live in the old one… We’re so used to growth that we can’t imagine alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before.” (McKibben 2010:102)

Well, McKibben is not all negative and alarmist.
He does offer some suggestions – some words or metaphors – for change.
          And those five words are: Durable, Sturdy, Stable, Hardy, Robust.

For of us that all means reshaping our society:
• from big to smaller,
• from growth to maintenance,
• from expansion to scale down,
• from global to neighbourhood.

But I guess you’ll have to read his book!


Human beings, especially in the so-called ‘West’, have historically been reluctant
to consider themselves as part of the web of nature.
             Indeed a web within a web.

Likewise, Australia does not have a good record when it comes to climate change.
Governments since the early 1990s have all adopted a strategy
          of more-or-less do little to nothing at home
          and work hard to prevent others from taking major action.

So there has been an encouragement of community apathy.
Not to mention the often cosy relationships between the fossil-fuel lobbyists,
          called the ‘greenhouse mafia’, and many conservative/tory politicians -
all exposed by a 2006 ABC Four Corners program, and
Clive Hamilton’s book, Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change.

But if our biblical tradition suggests anything, human beings are part of nature.
The problems comes when Christians – usually fundamentalists –
          claim that the mythical stories of Genesis 1 and 2,
          are more ‘true’ or more ‘factual’ than science and evolution.

So in many quarters there is a raging attack on ‘progressive’ religion:
• from fundamentalists who don’t believe one can accept evolution and be religious, and
• from the ‘new atheists’ who caricature all people of religion
as fundamentalists. (Michael Zimmerman The Clergy Letter Project, 22/5/2010).

But modern science is saying and has been saying, again and again:
the universe must be regarded as a whole;
          it is of intrinsic value, and each part,
          individual atom,
participates in that intrinsic value as each part participates in this wonderful web of life.

Each part… rather than one species or organism
separating itself out as more important than the rest.

It is time for radical change.  It is urgent.
To recall the words of a long-haired, locust eating desert sage:
          ‘The axe is at the root of the tree.’

Global warming is not just another important issue that human beings need to deal with.
Rather, it is the demand that we live differently.
          And it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  (McFague 2008:44)

So we do something important today as we begin the season of Spring, part of the
"whole complex, interrelated and interacting unitary universe of matter-energy in space-time, a universe of which humans are an integral part...” (Gillette 2006:1)

** This story in Jan Morgan & Graeme Garrett’s book, On The Edge.

“Oceans are Warming…”
By Ivana Kottasova. CNN, 13 January 2020

“The world’s oceans are now heating at the same rate as if five Hiroshima atomic bombs were dropped into the water every second, scientists have said.

A new study… showed that 2019 was yet another year of record-setting ocean warming, with water temperatures reaching the highest temperature ever recorded.

An international team of 14 scientists examined data going back to the 1950s, looking at temperatures from the ocean surface to 2,000 meters deep. The study, which was published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences also showed that the oceans are warming at an increasing speed.

While the past decade has been the warmest on record for global ocean temperatures, the hottest five years ever recorded all came in the last five.
"The upward trend is relentless, and so we can say with confidence that most of the warming is man-made climate change," said Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The study shows that while the oceans warmed steadily between 1955 and 1986, warming has accelerated rapidly in the last few decades. Between 1987-2019, ocean warming was 450% greater than during the earlier time period.

Lijing Cheng, the paper's lead author and an associate professor at the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the ocean temperature was 0.075 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average in 2019.
"There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat trapping gases to explain this heating," Cheng said, adding that to reach this temperature, the ocean would have taken in 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 -- or 228 sextillion -- joules of heat.

"The Hiroshima atom-bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000 Joules," 

Cheng said. "I did a calculation ... the amount of heat we have put in the world's oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions," he added. That's equivalent to dropping roughly four Hiroshima bombs into the oceans every second over the past quarter of a century. But because the warming is speeding up, the rate at which we are dropping these imaginary bombs is getting faster than ever.

Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal), 2006
Hamilton, C.
Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. Melbourne. Black Inc, 2007
Morgan, J.  & G. Garrett.  
On The Edge: A-Way with the Ocean. Reservoir. Morning Star Publishing, 2018
McFague, S.
A New Climate for Theology. God, the World, and Global Warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.
McKibben, Bill.
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Melbourne. Black Inc., 2010
Peters, K. E.
Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 2002