The author, Don Johnson, a member of the Peace and Justice Unit of the diocese, wrote this report of a workshop on environmental action diocesan churches an take for his 15-year-old granddaughter Hannah, and they both agreed to share it with TOPIC:
I went to the workshop after realizing that if we as a church were to be able to speak about ecology, then we must ourselves seek to make our churches energy efficient places. If we do not take seriously the need for energy saving then what do we have to say to other people?
When I arrived I was surprised to meet the keynote speaker, a Dr. William Rees. He teaches at UBC in the environmental studies department. He said many things that shook me up. It was like I had another conversion experience. I have listened to many environmentalists before and I have said, "ho hum". I have said that this will not affect me a 70-year-old man. But he said that this is for us and for children and for our grandchildren and that forced me to pay attention.
He began his speech by asking if we thought that people were happier now then 20 years ago. The resounding answer was "no". He said that we should be happier because we had more goods, more money and more opportunities. But he pointed out that this does not always lead to happiness or self-contentment. Then he went on to talk about how our emphasis on possession threatens the environment.
He and many other scientists use a method, which they call the "Foot Print".
This means that they measure scientifically the amount of goods and energy that people use and divide the world into hectares. If you use lots of goods and energy then you use more hectares.
The US uses 14.5 hectares of the earth surface for every citizen. Canada uses 12. Most of Europe uses 6. The developing countries use even less. If you add all this up then you learn how much of the earth is already in use. He said that it amounted to about 85 percent. With China now becoming a materialist country like the rest of us the hectares will soon be in deficit. Once we are in deficit then we are destroying the life on the planet.
That was scary but I had to keep listening. He said that many scientists agree with the concept. Global warming, the effects which we feel day by day, is only a sign about this happening to the whole planet.
He said that we have to change. We have the technology to begin the change but no government is willing to face up to the issue. No political party is willing to stand up and say that we need to change. But no political party is willing to stand up and say this because they will lose votes. Even the Green party is weak on this and other issues.
What could we change? American automobiles could change to be more energy efficient. We could begin to use new technology for travel. We could have public transportation as a priority. The city of Atlanta has no public transportation. They build highways instead and force every family into multiple cars. The use of the wind in producing electricity is another way.
He also informed me of some other things of which I was ignorant. He talked about fish farming and how every kilogram of salmon produced requires five kilograms of fish protein. Where do we get this protein? From some third world country which often has trouble feeding its own population. Fishing salmon by boat take five times less energy than fish farms. So we scrape the ocean bottoms for food for the fish and waste all of this energy for convenience.
He also talked about the latest tsunami in South East Asia. Most of that coast line had been inhabited by mango trees. These were all cut down to create fish farms for shrimp as well as to create beaches and hotels for tourists. He said that if the mango tree had been left the results of the flood would have been far less. It may be that it is not nature that is killing the planet but us. The truth of the matter is that the fish farms and the hotels are owned only by multinational corporations and that the population gets low paying jobs from both of these industries.
So he suggested some principles.
- No life style can be sustained unless it can be extended to all the members of the planet. That is a justice issue and our life style if exported would soon bring about the planet's demise
- We have choices to make in our purchasing as to whether this will bring more harm to other people.
- We have choices to make as to whether we remain silent or whether we start to join with others to learn and to suggest a new transformed way of living.
He also was asked if he was hopeful. He responded by saying that he came to this event and this is a sign of his hope. He also said that if the message is to grow it will grow in many church basements and small groups where people gather to talk about the future. He spoke to me by saying that I could contribute something to make this change.
So you are a vegetarian. I once thought that this was a fad but now I know that you are way ahead of many of us. Perhaps even I can learn to eat less meat. I know that you are doing what you can to help the environment. It seems that in helping the environment we are only helping ourselves to learn more about the life that God intended for us all. But we must also work to have our society change. Personal changes are wonderful a sign but unless we all change the direction there is little hope. We will talk about this more.