I sometimes get asked from students, and from teachers on behalf of their students about the ethics behind my work. In Queensland, when student take Study of Religion, they have to analyse ethical perspectives and sometimes they do this in the context of sustainability. I thought it may be handy if I shared some of the questions and answers here for people to access.
Our generation has grown up in a time of heightened concern and a growing sense of responsibility towards the environment. Throughout your living memory have you seen the Church grow more proactive in teaching and equipping the faithful in their vocation to be stewards of the environment? E.g have you heard more homilies on this topic, official teaching, fundraising, podcasts that address the problems of consumerism and stewardship?
In general I think there has been more awareness created, however, I feel that the information and inspiration that I have engaged in has more or less been as a result of the choices of media that I chose to engage in, rather than as a result of the Church proactively ensuring that everyone gets the message. For example, I chose to read the whole of Luadato Si when it came out, but I don’t remember it being mentioned at church in a homily (not to say that didn’t happen at other Churches). I choose to attend workshops about the topic, and many are not run by the Church. I’m not sure that ‘equipping the faithful’ is an accurate was of describing what the Church has done on this issue. In my opinion, the Church has theologically grounded teachings, but their actions don’t follow.
What has motivated you to evaluate your own habits with regards to consumerism and the throwaway culture? What challenges have you faced as you have tried to change your own behaviors?
The motivation is to care for God’s creation. I don’t own anything, nothing really is mine. Yes, I have brought objects, but realistically, ownership is just a concept. Once God showed me this, that everything on this earth and in this universe is his, the level of exploitation of God’s gifts became so clear to me. Reading Luadato Si in 2015 and reflecting on its words since then have inspired me to go Zero Waste. I was driving home early this year from mass, talking to God and he said to me that was the most important change I had to make to stop living a throw away culture. There are challenges that I face everyday. For example, last night, I was at a formal function. I wanted to get a drink of water. At the bar, they were only offering water in a bottle, but they had glasses. I had to be courageous enough to ask if they could please just fill a glass with some tap water for me. They kindly obliged, however, my friend offered a refill, and he came back from the bar having brought me a water bottle for $1. Although it was a kind gesture, I was then in a position where I felt I had to use this plastic bottle that would eventually end in landfill and contribute to this massive problem, even though, moments earlier, I had just made a decision not to buy the bottle. What I am trying to say is that, changing my own mind and making decisions by myself is quite easy. When I am relying on others to make choices for me, that is difficult.
When I was going through Lent, emotionally, I was quite challenged. Lent, due to the fasting nature of it, has a way of helping a person to constantly evaluate. I needed Lent to help me change my way of doing things. But emotionally, I was so exhausted every day. I went into work one morning, the day before had been incredibly busy and that night I was researching until late at night a viable toothpaste option (I still haven’t found one yet). When I got to work, I went to the blessed and broken program with some other teachers. We read the scripture together and the story was about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple. At that moment I burst into tears because I felt like I was the table, and Jesus was literally flipping me over and making me get back up and start again from scratch. I felt that I was the only table though and I knew that society needed to do exactly the same. This climate crisis is calling us to the biggest challenge of our lifetime. We all need to turn every table over, and start from scratch in our thinking and in our actions.
How do Catholics live as stewards from a day-to-day basis? What disciplines are encouraged to avoid contributing to a 'throwaway culture'?
There are so many things that a person can do on a day to day basis. Where do I start!
My favourite way of living as a steward is when I grab a bag or a box, go down to the beach near my house and challenge the throwaway culture. I can fill a whole bag with rubbish in half an hour. I love seeing people looking at me and doing a double take, because I know I have just challenged them also to think about how they can be a steward.
The easy ones are reduce, reuse, recycle, rot, refill. I love refilling. Bulk food shops are my go to. I don’t have anything in single use plastic any more.
All of these things are just choices. But a lot of this requires preparation. For example, when fruit and vegie shopping I have to take my fruit and vegie bags. I have to remember my normal green bags too. I take my containers to the butcher to fill them with meat. I have a special bread bag I take to the bakery. I have a cutlery kit that I take to events so that I don’t have to use cups, knives, forks, spoons, plates etc. for eating. I have containers that I take to Brisbane to fill with cosmetics such as jojoba oil and lavender hydrosol (cleanser and toner… ladies will get it). I go op shopping, I try and buy clothes made from natural fibres not synthetic due to microplastics.
On another level though, a person can be a steward in the way they interact with others. I try my best to go to soup kitchen once a month or so. In my work, I reflect on how I can make sure that every student I interact with feels valued and gets what they need to succeed. I spend time where I can with my grandmother and walk slowly beside her.
What does Catholic teaching have to say about the responsibility we have to future generations?
For me at the moment, I am at a crossroads in my life in regards to this question. I am still young enough where the ‘future generations’ includes me. In a way, I get angry at past generations. I get frustrated with present generations who can’t see what I see, and I fear for the future generations. At the moment, I don’t want to have children, because I feel that there is so much to do to fix this world first before its good enough for a child. Our responsibility is to God. God doesn’t want us to just let life happen around us. That is lazy. God calls us to the challenge. Jesus’ disciples had a really hard job. Jesus asked them to do things that were hard every single day. If we aren’t constantly challenged to do better and be better, then we aren’t being responsible, and we aren’t doing our best for the future generations. We aren’t being God’s disciples.