Over the last few months I’ve been challenged in a way that I would have never expected. I assumed caring about the earth was reserved for people with beaded dreadlocks and hemp shirts who chained themselves to trees in the rainforest… It’s not that I didn’t care, I was just ignorant.
As I’ve been back in “higher education” there are things that I’ve had to study that have brought unexpected conviction. I’ve been faced with information and I’ve had to respond and in some ways, change the way I’m living. As I read various authors and articles about the very real problems that need to be addressed concerning our earth I was overwhelmed to the point of tears at the entitlement and consumerism that I have been blind to in my lifestyle. “Go green” was more of a joke to me than anything. How was I so ignorant of such important issues? Maybe it’s partially a love for the false comfort that ignorance can bring or maybe I was desensitized, thinking that someone else could pick this “issue” while I spend my energy on something else that I’m “called to” (so bad, I know). I’ll choose human salvation and someone else can worry about the animals or the environment. I didn’t realize that when it comes to the future of our planet every one of us can only be one of two things: a part of the problem or a part of the solution.
Doing such complicated issues justice here will be almost impossible but I just want to start the conversation in hopes that you will do research of your own. Here’s a few of the major issues briefly summarized:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(primarily CO2 but also including methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and synthetic gases)
Simply, these types of gases are released into the atmosphere at rates that supersede the environment’s capacity to neutralize them and maintain stability. As these gases increase in quantity the temperature of the ocean and land increases, which affects the entire balance of our ecosystem and even more greatly diminishes nature’s ability to absorb these toxins. Climate changes around the world are already evident and are affecting sea levels, weather patterns and wiping out entire species of plants, fish and animals. Even a 2 degree water temperature change can eliminate an entire species of fish from reproducing in it’s natural habitat.
CO2 has risen from 280ppm in 1800 to 386 ppm in 2009 and it continues to rise 2ppm every year. To have a chance at keeping global warming below 2 degrees C we would have to completely stop CO2 emission before it reaches 1 trillion tons. We have already emitted half of this in the last 150 years and currently we will reach this level by 2050.
The things that cause unnatural levels of these gas emissions include:
-Deforestation- the more trees we cut down, the less natural absorption.
-Burning of fossil fuels (electricity production, cars etc)
-The Cattle Industry- (American livestock alone consumes about the same amount of food as the human population of China and India combined. Cows emit very large amount of methane, excessive cattle quantity contributes to deforestation etc)
-Melting arctic permafrost due to increase in water temperature, which contain millions of tons of methane. Also the colder the water is, the better it absorbs CO2, as the water warms not only is more gas left in the air but the change in acidity also affects CO2 absorbing organisms and plants.
This term basically means that we are living in such a way that we will hit a peak before we begin to digress in resources and quality of life. Life will remain as it is for the elite of the world for a short time, then it will be equally bad for everyone without a way to reverse the effects. If the entire world population had lifestyles comparable to the average American the planet would shortly become uninhabitable. Currently 20% of people consume 80% of the earth’s resources. It’s we who belong to the 20 percent that have a responsibility for the global issues we face as a worldwide community. To develop sustainable practices and lifestyles A LOT of things need to change in American society.
-We only recycle 25% of glass, the rest is thrown away. It takes glass 1 million years to decompose.
-Americans illegally dump 15% of the oil we use directly into drains, streams or backyards.
-Meat consumption is out of control, especially beef. Those on a meat protein diet require 16 times more land than those on a plant protein diet because of the space it takes to sustain the animals on stock farms.
-Oil is used as a primary source of energy but is running out. Most scientists believe oil has already hit it’s peak as of 2015 and is now on the decline. Alternate forms of energy have to be developed immediately before we have a legitimate energy crisis.
Before getting overwhelmed just remember that until we know what the problems are, it’s impossible to do anything about them. We have much work to do as Christians in this area. I was also sad to find out that as Christians, we are statistically pretty behind in our general concern and knowledge of the urgency of the issues at hand. When evaluating myself there were several things that I needed to address in my ideology and worldview. Perhaps you can ask yourself the same questions I’ve been thinking about.
1. Do I understand the difference between dominion and domination?
What does God’s command to “have dominion” in Genesis 1:28 actually mean? Unfortunately I would have understood this term to mean that humans are first and everything else exists to serve humanities needs and desires… nope. That’s actually domination. Dominion refers to stewardship, care, oversight. God has put humankind in charge with authority to steward and look after the well-being of everything in our care… including creation. He who has the most authority… has the most responsibility. We have to shift our perspective to see humanity as a part of the whole, not as a domineering master of the whole. Our relationship to the earth is a spiritual issue. I do believe that we will be held accountable for the way we take care of what God entrusted to us.
2. What’s the difference between obligation and conviction?
I’m sad to admit it but up until recently I only recycled because if I didn’t, I would be fined by the building I live in. The fear of a penalty is the only thing that motivated me to do it and even then I would use black bags so that just in case something “accidentally” got thrown away it wouldn’t be easy to see (if we’re all being honest). Now I find myself separating labels and setting aside plastic caps… washing plastic containers and yes even reusing plastic bags… My recycling bags have doubled in size each week just from taking the extra time. It’s interesting what happens when an obligation turns into a personal conviction. Conviction forces us to make choices that we would never make from a fear of consequence.
3. Do I think something is automatically deceptive if it’s based on science?
I had to change my thinking on this. I think in all the creation/evolution battle that has transpired it almost bred a general distrust under the surface toward science. I had a belief without realizing it that if I fully trusted scientists then I was on the wrong side of the argument, as though believing in a formula takes away faith. Science is a gift from God and is not opposed to faith. Science and faith are actually meant to work together and did so quite beautifully until the last 150 years or so.
4. How does my eschatology affect my habits?
There can be a worldview that since heaven is our final home then who cares about what happens to Earth… isn’t God going to make a new one anyway? Jesus is coming back soon! Big problem- we actually don’t know if we are the last generation and at the rate we are going it seems like we better be because our children’s children are being set up to have a very difficult time if we continue unchanged. And even if we are the last generation we are terrible stewards if we think it doesn’t mater how we treat something since it has a time limit anyway. That’s like eating fast food for every meal of our life because we’re all going to die anyway. Not a good strategy.
5. What is the difference between consumerism and living a “blessed life”?
Our Christian understanding of blessing and prosperity can become twisted if we’re not careful. Do we define prosperity as having the best and newest things all the time? Sometimes there can be societal evil that is so ingrained in our mentalities that we can’t recognize it through our own lense. It takes an outsider to point out- “hey, that’s messed up”. In the kingdom, the fundamental reason for blessing is to be a river of life for others, not a festering pond. We have to be careful that we don’t interpret “living the blessed life” as being entitled to having a gold-plated toilet, spending thousands of dollars of clothes every month or having a gold plated iphone case. Our question shouldn’t always be- can I afford it? Sometimes it needs to be- should I afford it? God loves us and wants us to be blessed and prosperous… but why? The line between blessing and consumerism is thin and only separated by the values of our heart. Why do I want that car, is it a genuine love for the vehicle or do I want the status that comes with it? Do I need 7 black jackets? Last month I found myself looking at my stroller and thinking that I wanted a new one because it had a couple scratches on the side and a newer model came out this year. I immediately had to get myself in check. What’s wrong with my stroller? Do I feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to my possessions? Do I think it says something about my value if I don’t have the newest of something? The capitalistic greed for more things, more privilege, more profit, is a major force behind the inequality between the 20% and the 80%. The effect on the already poor and disadvantaged is crippling. When we buy goods because of price only, without considering… Who made this product? Were they paid a fair wage? Are they working voluntarily? Is this company using sustainable practices in their production process?… we can actually be perpetuating systemic poverty and the systems that keep people from ever rising out of abuse and oppression. I think the Bible has some things to say about people who live that way. To whom much is given much is required- God is always on the side of the poor and disadvantaged.
I understand that by writing this I am holding myself publically accountable first… And I have a LONG way to go, but I’m actively making steps everyday and I would encourage you to do that same thing. The first thing that has to happen in us all is a mentality shift that this is our personal problem and responsibility and we are a part of the solution. How we respond to this issue matters.
Here’s some things we can easily do to take personal responsibility. These things may seem small but actually can make a massive difference when done on a large scale:
-Go paperless with every type of statement that you can.
-Bring your own bags for whatever you buy- when you don’t absolutely need a bag, decline it.
-Use fuel-less transportation such as walking, public transport or biking, carpool if you have to drive.
-Don’t use materials that can’t decompose like styroform or black trash bags.
-Compost food waste.
-Recycle everything possible- glass, aluminum, plastic, paper, cardboard. Your city website should have details about getting rid of other things like appliances.
-Reduce meat consumption in general and avoid beef most of the time- there are some amazing and easy ways to eat complete plant based proteins that will actually be better on your budget. Many people are even getting on board with “Meatless Mondays” as a way to start.
-When you are buying consumer goods, don’t buy unsustainable products or from companies that don’t submit to fair trade.
-Use a reusable water bottle.
-When possible, consider trading, re-using, re-purposing, buying used or borrowing before buying something new.
-Use Tupperware instead of plastic bags for food storage and meals.
-Turn off lights and unplug appliances when they’re not being used.
-Convert to energy efficient appliances, light bulbs and windows.
-Take warm showers instead of hot ones.
-Use non-chemical cleaners and natural products for cleaning.
-Buy responsibly and locally grown and produced foods/goods when possible- less transport means less emissions.
-Consider driving an electric car or at least one with fuel efficiency.
-Wash clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot when possible. Also line drying saves electricity.
-Wrap gifts creatively- use fabrics, brown paper bags or newspaper.
-Instead of buying disposable products try a reusable option. If you have to buy disposable then buy something biodegradable. For parents- consider switching to cloth diapers or reusable diapers with completely biodegradable inserts like these.