L Is For Lifestyle - Christian Choices That Don't Cost The Earth!

Newbold College of Higher Education Diversity Lectures

L Is For Lifestyle - Christian Choices That Don't Cost The Earth!

By Helen Pearson, Newbold College Diversity Centre

On the Tuesday night before the Easter weekend, when Christians everywhere remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Newbold's final Diversity Lecture of this academic year focused on loving the world. And particularly the earth, which God loved so much that He gave His Son to redeem it and its people. The lecture explored how we can live out our discipleship in a culture that continually bombards us with the pressures of consumerism.

Dr Ruth Valerio, a theologian and campaigning environmentalist from the charity Tearfund, encouraged her online audience to think about the practical Christian choices that everyone can make, particularly for those poorest people at the greatest risk of the adverse effects of climate change. She said (later in the lecture) that a person in the UK emits the same amount of carbon in 6 days as a person in Malawi in a whole year.

Valerio began her lecture with the staggering statistics about the threats: 33% of amphibians and reptiles and 25% of mammals at risk of extinction, biodiversity loss at an unprecedented rate, ecosystems and species collapsing worldwide. Humans are the problem species – abusing the land, polluting the atmosphere, overfishing the sea and exacerbating the problems.

During the pandemic, Valerio suggested, we have forgotten the threats to us and our health from our overuse of plastic. Not only is the marine environment suffering as turtles and albatrosses, but dolphins and whales also eat our discarded plastic. But research now shows a threat to human health as microscopic plastic fragments have been found in the air we breathe. The threat is even greater for billions of people living in poverty without adequate rubbish management and disposal. Rats bring disease, and the burning of plastic causes respiratory issues. A video from a Tearfund worker in Zimbabwe recounted problems of drought, food insecurity, and generations of children missing out on education because they need to work or walk to collect water. Polluted drinking water brings more diseases.

The biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, the water shortage and the plastic pollution are all caused by human irresponsibility. How can we act to take care of this world and fellow creatures?

Valerio named our various circles of involvement: home, church, community and wider world. She involved the online audience in making suggestions about how we can use resources more responsibly everywhere: not using bottled water or wasting food, recycling responsibly, particularly plastics, growing vegetables seasonally, driving less, walking or using bicycles or buses, passing on unused clothes, planting seeds to attract bees and butterflies in community green spaces. Looking at our domestic and institutional use of energy, Valerio recommended environmentally friendly insulation of homes and churches and the College and encouraged support for companies using sustainable energy products.

In the broader world of environmental campaigning, Valerio suggested that we can all  

use our voices to speak up and call on our government and businesses to work in favour of the natural world rather than against them. She talked about developing a campaigning movement of Christians to develop awareness about the environment. "The big systemic change will come only through government and business actions when they are called out to act on their rhetorical environmental values," she said.

When we see the challenges and complexities of the environmental crisis, we think: Where do I start? Valerio suggested that we can simplify our approach by thinking about our actions in four areas: food, travel, energy and rubbish.

Valerio concluded with 5 top tips for Christian environmentalists:

  1. Start on your knees with an attitude of repentance and humility to recognise where your choices have been damaging.
  2. Recognise that the issues are complex, so don't take all the guilt individually. Government and business carry a lot of responsibility and could make it easier for the rest of us to do the right thing.
  3. Keep finding ways to learn about the issues. Join in with other individuals and communities to learn together.
  4. Don't take an all-or-nothing approach or worry that you're not doing things perfectly.
  5. Make the most of the big decisions like choice of house, car and heating system.

The Q&A session discussed diet. "99% of the world's soya is used to feed animals," said Valerio. It's more efficient to drink soya milk and eat tofu etc., than eat the meat from cattle fed on soya. Another questioner explored the difficulties of passing on environmental values to children who may not share them. A different question explored the familiar concern about environmental values being unimportant because the world will be destroyed at the second coming of Christ. "We wouldn't take that approach with poverty, would we?" said Valerio. "Isaiah 58 teaches us that whatever happens, God has called us to care for people." Another question explored the difference between secular and religious environmentalism. "We as Christians are not surprised when people don't deliver," said Valerio. "We have a future hope and a long-term perspective that sustains us."

The lecture and the Q&A which followed can be seen in full here. This Diversity Lecture was the last organised by Michael and Helen Pearson.