Meet Paul and Soph, two members of church, who have been thinking deeply about how faith affects our approach to the environment.
We got married in December 2016, and moved into a tiny space which meant we had to drastically reduce our possessions to fit in. At the time, neither of us had given much thought to environmentalism, but as we realised how much stuff we had accumulated that we just did not need, we began to think about the impact we were having on the world.
Specifically, we were looking into some of the impacts of the first world’s consumption habits and I stumbled across a group of people who were trying to live without waste (“zero waste”). The OG in this world is probably Bea Johnson, whose book Zero Waste Home I borrowed from the library (and later bought), and whose talk we both attended in July last year. I hadn’t realised what was possible, and I also hadn’t realised what a terrible state our planet is in. For example:
- According to the Global Footprint Network (click here or here), earth’s population used up all of last year’s renewable resources by August 1, 2018. Ie. Humanity used up 12 months of resources in just 8 months!
- Right now hundreds of coastal cities face flooding and according to the World Bank, 143 million people may soon become “climate migrants” (see here, here or here).
- The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation have reported that the decomposition of food waste – particularly in landfill – contributes 8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country (a strange thought, I know), it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of its impact on global warming (see here or here).
- Studies estimate that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. And research suggests microplastics in the oceans are entering our food-chain and even impacting our nutrition.
- And the list goes on and on.
In short, when you start to look at the impact humans are having on the world, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed.
Does your faith as a Christian change this at all?
Definitely! On the one hand, it keeps me grounded in a much bigger hope. Because if I’m honest, my first, gut reaction was anger and frustration rather than motivation. I was so angry that more people weren’t doing something, I was frustrated at myself every time I purchased packaged food and I was angry with the government and big industries for changing too slowly, and focusing more on profit and comfort than sustainability. That all changed because a Christian friend pulled me up and suggested my environmentalism may actually be overwhelming my faith. Then I began to seriously consider it from a Christian perspective. As Christians, we know that our hope does not lie in the condition of the planet. It does not lie in our ability to live sustainably or reverse the effects of climate change. In fact, if hope lay on our shoulders we’d all be stuffed. Jesus is our hope. He has redeemed us. He will claim us as his own, and we will live eternally in the perfect, sin-free (and waste free?) New Creation.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time”. (1 Pet 1:3-5)
Taking the Environment Seriously
On the other hand, my faith inspires me to take this seriously! Environmentalism is a growing worldwide movement, and I think Christians should be at the forefront. Jesus said that the whole law can be summed up in love of God, and love of others (Matt 22:37-39) and for me, caring about the environment is one way of doing both of those things. God made the earth and he placed us in it as caretakers (Gen 2:15). So one way of showing our love for God by treating his creation with respect. And at the same time, fighting pollution and climate change is a way of loving other people, especially future generations. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. We don’t know how long we need this earth to sustain people. Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow someone will say to me “ha-ha I told you so” and I’ll go “Awesome! Hallelujah!” But we don’t know. And so we should care and preserve.
Reducing food waste and eating less meat means lowering greenhouse gas emissions, reducing global temperatures, and loving those who are already being impacted by such temperatures. Caring about who made our clothes means loving the people who made them – from farm to factory. Caring about deforestation and ocean pollution means responsibly ruling over the creatures on the land and in the sea. So as Christians we can show our love for God and our love for others by caring about the environment.
Incorporating 5 Rules
Generally living low waste means following five “rules”:
I’ve tried to incorporate these rules in different ways.
Firstly, I compost (rot) right down to compostable brain-winders (this is hard being in small spaces with no backyard – so I recommend finding a community garden or looking into a small worm farm or apartment composting system).
Secondly, I recycle, including taking my soft plastics to the Redcycle bins outside Woollies (though I find this harder to remember to take with me than my reusable grocery bags!!).
To reduce what I’m buying, I avoid browsing in shopping centres, try to shop second-hand, buy quality rather than quantity, and find ethical stores for new clothes (chat to me if you want recommendations). Even just wearing the same outfit a few more times (apart from saving you money and time) or choosing sustainable fabrics can make a real impact (check it out here or here).
I intentionally refuse to buy fruit and vegetables that have unnecessary plastic packaging.
What Does That Mean For Your Life?
So on a good month, we produce one 20x15x15cm bin’s worth of landfill. But I’m still terrible at taking short showers and I love the air-conditioner in Summer. I introduced these changes gradually. It’s all about taking small steps and next steps. Work out what is next for you and do that. Not what is best, just what is possible. We spoke about how to make these decisions cost-efficient too, as we are living on a budget.
Finally, I try not to let it overwhelm me. I have learnt to put Jesus, relationships and hospitality first. Sometimes that means buying single-use-packaged goods (shock! horror!) to feed guests when I’m time or energy-poor. Sometimes it means just trusting that God is good and has a plan. I think it’s important to establish your ethical priorities because we cannot fight every battle. The good news that I rest on is that Jesus has fought the ultimate battle for us, and we’re on the winning side.