Back in October, I wrote in the post Ecological Justice that the care for the environment is just as important as economics and peace when it comes to upholding justice for all humanity. The effects of pollution, climate change, scarcity of natural resources, deficiency of naturally clean drinking water, and so on, hurt the poor much more significantly than does the rich (as well as being a primary source of conflict in economics and peace). Last week we attended a different workshop in Brentwood, NY, in which the speaker reiterated these same points.
The discouraging part about both of these lectures was that both speakers focused almost entirely on outside forces rather than looking at the effects caused by normal individuals. There’s no doubt that multinational corporations are to blame for a lot of the environmental degradation in the world, but who are the ones actually buying, using, and demanding more? The truth is, if we ever want to see to it that the documents of the Church actually get put into action, it’s going to require the individual consumer like you and me to put our money where our mouths are.
Unfortunately, I’m finding in religious communities and the secular world alike that we’re not yet willing to do that: either we don’t quite understand how drastic the changes need to be, or we’ve become too attached to the present comforts of overindulgence that we’re unwilling to enact them. On one side, sentiments like “little changes make a big difference” merely offer justification for unsustainable lifestyles, while on the other, sentiments like “what I do, good or bad, isn’t going to have much effect” place all responsibility on the world community while failing to recognize oneself as a member of that community. If we’re going to actually enact doctrines of ecological justice, it needs to start with the individual, and the actions need to be serious.
So what am I doing, you ask? In conjunction with Lent, I’ve decided to add to my list of environmentally sustainable habits a two major inconveniences as a way to remind myself of the injustices of which I am partly responsible, and to call to mind two things that I take for granted in the “First World.”
The biggest of these is the reduction of meat in my diet. Believe it or not, our dependency on cows and other animals for every meal has resulted in the production of dangerous levels of methane in our air, as well as higher rates of polluted water and increased deforestation. My goal is to reduce the amount of meals containing meat each week to only one or two, so as to bring attention to the issue while still remaining healthy.
The second inconvenience is going to be a drastic reduction in the amount of water I consume in the shower. As environmentally conscience I am, I have to admit that I’m a huge culprit when it comes to extended hot showers. I definitely take for granted the amount of (clean) water I use and the amount of energy needed to make it warm, and consume more than I need for the sake of comfort while others do not have enough for the sake of necessity. In a similar way to the meat reduction, it’s not in my best interest to remove showers completely, but a reduction will help to bring to my attention something I have taken for granted for many years.
In a lot of ways, Lent and ecological action go hand in hand: both begin with an examination of self, particularly how one relates God and others; both encourage sacrifice and penance as a means for reconciliation; both prepare oneself in thought and deed to live rightly in a future soon to come. By means of these two inconveniences, I hope to find myself more rightly oriented to God, others, self, and the created order by the time of Easter, reminding myself all along the way, “No pain, no gain.”