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On Faith, Fatalism and

our Environment

· Environmentalism,Behavioural Change,Faith,Extreme Ownership,Sustainable Living

Note from Paul:

This post was written for the newsletter of a small Church of Scotland congregation. As we enter the Christmas season, I wanted to share a few thoughts about mindset, and the difference between the Protestant mindset I learned to seek after and the one I see in the world today. While I wrote this for a very specific religious audience, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments regardless. Happy holidays!

At the moment, our world faces intimidating environmental challenges. The type of challenges that would require us to change our policies, our spending, and worst of all — our own behaviours. And challenges at a scale we haven’t faced for a while.

Our news covers the flooding and flood risk faced by some. But very little coverage highlights that many UK regions face significant water stress. These areas withdraw more water from the natural environment than it can replenish through natural processes, an imbalance that could pose longer-term problems.

We know that — in cities across the UK — many, many people are exposed to unhealthy air quality. These emissions are linked to a number of serious respiratory conditions as well as an increased risk of stroke and cancer. Likewise, these emissions tend to hit children and the elderly the hardest.

And in the background, there’s a more existential threat posed by global climatic changes, which could seriously disrupt the seasonal patterns we’ve relied upon since Biblical times.

I’ve worked with private companies on environmental challenges for about 10 years now. In normal times, these challenges concerned but never worried me. However, we’re living through especially abnormal times. Life can feel very unstable. We wonder about Brexit. We wonder about a ‘President Trump’. We can access more information than ever before, but the distinction between news, political spin, and advertising grows hazy.

Some of us become cause-weary. We know that certain plant & animal species are dying out, that women are being trafficked into the UK for sex slavery, that children overseas are dying of malnutrition while the opulence of Western life is greater than ever. But we’re not so certain about donating our money to tackle these issues. We worry charities will spend our donations wastefully, a worry that leads us back to continued inaction (meanwhile, we consider ‘investing’ £1k on the newest iPhone).

And in this overwhelming wave of uncertainty, distrust, and weariness, we are tempted to retreat into ourselves. We ignore the news, the fundraising calls, and sometimes even the Church. We try to ignore the vague sense of dread that punctuates our news, our social media, our modern literature & films.

In the end, we may succumb to fatalism. I was recently interviewed on the topic of sustainable living, and a key question was posed: ‘Isn’t it too late to try and change things? Aren’t we too far gone? Is it even worth trying at this point?’. One could take an even more extreme position and say — there’s so much grief in the world, the challenges are so daunting, I’m only one person, and we’re all going to die anyway… how do my actions today make any tangible difference whatsoever?

And to an extent, this is true. We are mortal, we are all going to die someday. Someday, we will all pass on from this life into the next. That much is inescapable. This life was always temporary. We know this from the Scriptures. We know this from science. We know this from the loved ones whom we’ve lost. Likewise, we know that our individual impact is just a small component of the collective whole.

And yet, dwelling in this state of melancholy and powerlessness is a great disservice to ourselves and our faith. While we cannot avoid every tragedy or control fate, we can control our actions. And we need to be able to answer for them…

  • What did you do when you learned that we were disrupting the fragile earth systems upon which our towns, farms, and factories rely?
  • What did you do when you learned of the widespread scourge of human trafficking?
  • What did you do when you learned that millions still suffer in extreme poverty?

Even when we feel insignificant and helpless, our actions matter. They matter whether the UK is ‘In’ or ‘Out’ of the EU and whether the US President meets our expectations or not. These fixations are a delicious distraction, a means of resigning ourselves to continued wrongs & injustice when we’re too anxious to act, too anxious to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

This life was always temporary. That’s why the way we live our lives is so important. This life is our Statement of Faith, our only true method of bearing witness to the values and truths that we Christians hold so dearly.

Corinthians questions “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you… that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” The Heidelberg Catechism reaffirms that my only comfort in life and death is that I belong “not to myself, but to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ… [who] makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

The Scripture compels us to live differently. To live differently through our behaviour towards ourselves, our neighbours, and even the planet we inhabit. And when we open ourselves and accept this responsibility, we start to confront some important questions in day-to-day life…

When paying our bills: It is cheaper and easier than ever to buy clean, renewable power for your home. By completing a short online form or making a quick phone call, you can painlessly move from a Big Six power supplier to one that procures 100% renewable power on your behalf. There are brands for eco-champions (like Ecotricity and Good Energy). There are brands for the budget-conscious (like Bulb Energy and Octopus Energy). So if it’s easy and inexpensive to buy clean power, why would I fund polluting power sources that harm my and other UK communities?

In the shops: When I buy a product containing palm oil, I’m often unknowingly financing the clearing of tropical rainforest to grow oil palms. Store-bought peanut butter, pizza dough, chocolates, candies, and cookies have all existed for many years without needing this tropical additive (also called palmate). In recent years, these products as well as soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics all seem to have added palm oil to their ingredients. If we were palm-free before, can I support the conservation of our great, sacred wild places by finding ways to use fewer palm-containing products?

In an age of uncertainty with its constant pings of bad news, we risk falling into the pattern of passive acceptance. But our faith compels us to do the opposite. We are not our own. And living for Him does not allow us the luxury of inaction. We bear witness by tackling the challenges of the future head-on, come what may.

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