Severe flooding has already hit the UK, much of Europe and also parts of the USA this winter. If that wasn’t enough to concentrate people’s minds about climate change, then the loss of life, human and animal, and the loss of homes in Australia’s bush fires should have done.
In the UK, the floods in Indonesia, New Zealand and Fiji failed to receive such extensive coverage. We can be so parochial at times.
Inadequate reporting on the major effects of environmental change can lead us to complacency. They are there and not here, so they don’t affect us, we think, until they do. They affect us every day if we turn on television screens or social media. We cannot escape the horror of what we see. Yet, the effects of our catastrophic failure to look after our environment were not always so obvious.
Having an environmental conscience 25 years ago marked me out as someone who was odd. What difference did it make if manufacturers called products environmentally friendly? Did it matter about the missing environmental impact of our domestic appliances? Why have regulation for the excessive use of packaging and its disposal?
As part of my job, all of these things mattered. Some colleagues wondered why I bothered. Others didn’t care. The global climate emergency now clarifies things. Accurate information is important so that we do not use incredibly harmful products in ignorance and self-satisfaction, believing they are friendly to the environment and therefore causing no harm. I am quite clear that there is an environmental cost to everything we do and use. We can minimise that cost.
Over time I’ve deluded myself with pride in my own environmental credentials. Reduce, reuse, recycle, we said. Oh dear. As we all know, pride comes before a fall. And I have fallen far.
Last year a friend questioned why I used wet wipes to clean off makeup. ‘There’s too much plastic in it’, she said. I hadn’t even thought about it. Then, in October, a relative questioned why I drink bottled water. Having explained that I don’t like the taste of our tap water, he shamed me into buying a water filter instead. Since then, we’ve saved over 150 small plastic bottles equating to at least 600 every year.
Then at New Year, the declutter adverts seemed to be everywhere. You know the ‘new decade, new space’ sort of thing? They irritated me. I wondered why I should dispose of my things. But the niggle remained that I really should unpack the boxes from 2 years ago. Why do I have so much stuff anyway?
Recent environmental disasters have made me question what I’m doing, what I’m buying and how my waste is impacting the environment. I’ve realised just how much my lack of general environmental stewardship is contributing to the worldwide misery caused by climate change.
I’ve discovered that plastic waste pollution affects more than the scenery. Not only is it killing fish, it’s slowly killing the planet. According to plastic oceans , more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, yet over 90% is not recycled. In the same article, they say that ‘At least eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year – the equivalent of dumping one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean per minute’. The environmental impact of that is too horrific to comprehend, but we must try to do so.
The German news & current affairs website DW gives useful and graphic detail about the various ways in which plastic impact climate change, from production to disposal. This information belongs on national television programmes on a regular basis.
In order to reduce our clutter, we can resolve to buy less, waste less and accept less in the way of packaging. Community campaigns can work. When we do have packaging, we must dispose of it responsibly and in the best way for the environment. We can also donate many of our unwanted, but useful, goods to charities for those who need them. More churches could take a lead in collection and redistribution of good clothes and household goods to those in need.
We are called to be stewards of the earth. We fail badly.
We are called to love our neighbours. By ignoring our environmental responsibilities, we fail to do so.
No one of us can tackle climate change alone. We can all make a start, though and change little things. Equally, every one of us can lobby our politicians to demand that they put the environment before profit and take climate change seriously.
Denial is no longer an option. We should not have to wait until more people and animals die and thousands become homeless before taking action.
Rev Maggie Roderick is a Church of Scotland minister, whose most recent parish was in a Central Scotland village. She now lives with her husband in Stirling, providing pastoral and preaching cover where it is needed. She is passionate about social and environmental justice. During the 1990’s, she spent her working life enforcing consumer law with a specific emphasis on environmental claims, energy labelling and packaging law. Maggie has just created a blog which she intends to build up. It can be viewed at viewoverthewater.com
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