By KIERAN FINNANE
“Were you there?” they sang in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of March. “Were you there when we bleached and killed the reef?
“When we dug up sacred land?
“When we laid forests bare?
“When Creation cried for help?”
The mournful chant and the symbolism of the time and day evoked the alarm these people of faith feel for the Earth’s climate as they joined with other multi-faith groups around the country, 120 of them all up, as well as around the world calling for climate action.
The events were coordinated nationally by a group galled the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) who have some specific demands of our government (see below).
The Alice locals do not demur but speak more directly of the “little things” everyone can do to protect the “Sacred Earth”.
This Saturday, for instance, they are coming together to clean up a stretch of Lhere Mparntwe / Todd River, south of the Gap.
But from day to day, it might be more about aligning personal actions with “our sense that people of faith care for the land, care for people, fight for justice,” says Emily Hayes, minister in training with the Uniting Church.
This “matters to God,” she says and within the church “we take time to lament the role humanity has had in the destruction of the Earth … We need to stand with our world and our community.”
While in Alice Springs the Uniting Church may have taken a lead, offering their lawns as a place to gather, there were people of other faith groups present, and two blocks away the Catholic Church bells were rung at the eleventh hour in solidarity.
Around Australia the faith spectrum involved is broader still with the ARRCC urging each small group or household to choose its own way to get involved: “by ringing its bells, by sounding a note on the shofar [the ram’s horn of Jewish tradition], calling the Azan [the Muslim call to prayer], by chanting and by meditating.”
The ARRCC also acknowledges “the special place that Aboriginal culture and spirituality have in upholding care for the Earth. We have much to learn from the intimate connection our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have to country.”
But action has to also be material and these are the demands the ARRCC are making of the Australian Government as the country fires up its economy in the wake of the pandemic:
A formal commitment from Australia under the Paris Accord to achieving net zero emissions by 2030. It follows that Australia should offer Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that align with this goal.
The use of post-COVID recovery spending to boost renewable energy and low carbon industries rather than fund a “gas-led recovery”.
Provision of substantial amounts of finance for the UN Green Climate Fund, additional to the aid budget.
Provision of support for an orderly, planned, just transition for communities currently dependent on the coal and gas industries.
Says the ARRCC: “We’re asking our local groups to support these both on 11th March and through to the next round of crucial international climate negotiations known as COP26.”
Note: For the Lhere Mparntwe clean-up, meet David Woods from Campfire in the Heart at the gates of St Mary’s, South Stuart Highway, 8am. The clean-up goes to 10am.
Photos: At top, Reverend Peter Greenwood and minister in training Emily Hayes outside the Uniting Church, and joining with the group below.