FORTY per cent off! Buy one, get one free! Sale! New season! Clearance!
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though every time I drive past a billboard, find a store catalogue in my mailbox or turn on the television I’m being bombarded with messages that I need more stuff. That the stuff I have is not good enough, not fast enough, not the right colours, not new enough. And many times, I confess, I have succumbed to clever marketing, buying yet another item that I really did not need at an awesome price, rarely considering the broader ramifications of my well-intentioned purchase.
In my ignorance I have somehow managed to overlook our Church’s stance on this behaviour. Here's an excerpt from the Church's official statement on the environment: “Seventh-day Adventists advocate a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled consumerism, goods-getting and production of waste. We call for respect of creation, restraint in the use of the world’s resources, reevaluation of one’s needs and reaffirmation of the dignity of created life.”
When I read this paragraph I was gobsmacked. I had already made some monumental discoveries in the realm of sustainable living and was pleasantly surprised that what I was reading (and now trying to put into practice) was exactly what our Church stands for, yet I’d never heard it from a pastor or read it in Adventist-published material (which is no reflection on what may or may not be out there, just an indicator of my sheltered, materialistic existence).
So why exactly do we as a Church care about our environment? First and foremost, as Christians we affirm the biblical account of creation: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). We acknowledge that everything belongs to God and comes from God, as the psalmist stated so eloquently in Psalm 24:1,2: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.” We believe that God set humankind over all of His creation as its keeper and guardian (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15), and hence we have some inherent responsibility in protecting and preserving it.
A big wake-up call to me was watching a YouTube video about albatross living on Midway Atoll in the North Pacific, about 2000 kilometres from the nearest inhabited island. Twenty tonnes of plastic garbage wash up there every year, with five tonnes of that being fed to albatross chicks by well-meaning parents who confuse brightly coloured plastics for brightly coloured marine animals. Approximately one-third of the albatross chicks die and their decomposing bodies are found to be full of plastic junk—bottle caps, cigarette lighters, toys, etc. The albatross are not the only creatures affected, and nor is Midway Atoll. It just happens to lie at the edge of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a marine dump if you will, where plastics get partially broken down, leaching chemicals into the sea, and where plastics at various stages of degradation enter the food chain.
Another ecological consideration is that many of our world’s natural resources are running out. As much as 80 per cent of the world’s forests have been destroyed or irreparably damaged. Not only does this mean less trees, but it also contributes approximately 20 per cent to world greenhouse gas emissions and means that less carbon dioxide is recovered from our atmosphere.1 Thirty-five per cent of the trees cut down are used for paper production. Incidentally, world consumption of paper has increased 400 per cent in the past 40 years.1 Whoa! Are you sure you really need that one-use paper wrap for your Christmas gifts, or a whole page for a small drawing or even another book to add to your already bulging bookshelf? What about that clean, fresh water you pour into your swimming pool, use to wash your vegetables and hose down your driveway with? Did you know that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is predicting that by 2025 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or areas with absolute scarcity of water?2 Only 2.5 per cent of the water on our earth is fresh water, and of that 70 per cent is locked away as ice and permanent snow cover.3 It kind of makes you think twice about removing the flow control valve on your shower head for a more invigorating shower! What about oil, natural gas and coal? Do we really need to drive to the supermarket to pick up that loaf of bread, or could we walk or ride a bike? Are you sure you need to run the air conditioner rather than open up the windows and turn on the fan? Every choice we make has ramifications for us, others on our planet and even for our progeny.
It is possible in a blessed country such as Australia to forget the domino effect of poor consumer choices, but it is all too evident in other parts of the world. In order for you and I to enjoy low prices someone, somewhere has to work hard for extremely low wages, typically in an Asian country, possibly a child. In order for us to enjoy clean air someone, somewhere has to breathe in the pollution generated by the factories making the items that we so freely consume. Did you know carbon dioxide emission reductions in rich countries have at least partially been a result of outsourcing manufacturing to China and other developing countries? China has some of the most polluted air on earth with levels being hazardous in some regions for prolonged periods. Perhaps even more disturbing is toxic waste dumped illegally by developed countries such as Australia in developing countries such as China and India, and in Africa. The toxins contained in the mobile phones, computers, monitors and other electronic goods include lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. These are causing harm to both people and their environment. This is a growing worldwide problem as you and I buy and discard more and more electronic goods to keep pace with improvements in technology.
Fortunately we can have an impact through the three Rs—recycle, reuse and reduce. Recycle what is possible—eg. plastic water bottles can have a new life as school bags, aluminium cans can be melted down and used to manufacture yet more aluminium cans, paper can become yet more paper. Reuse those things that can get another chance at life—eg. buy secondhand clothes, use glass jars as kitchen storage containers and for jam, convert an old TV cabinet into a play kitchen for your daughter. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place. This means putting careful thought into every purchase. Do I really need this? Could I spend more on something of better quality that will last longer? Is there a green option available?–eg. a lunchbox made of recycled materials, an item in cardboard rather than plastic packaging, using reusable storage containers instead of plastic wrap for leftovers and sandwiches.
It's time that we as Seventh-day Adventists took a decided stand to live the environmental principles espoused by our Church and ordained by God, Creator of all.
Martin S. Paper Chase. Ecology Global Network. 2011 [cited 10/6/14]. Available from: http://www.ecology.com/2011/09/10/paper-chase.
Faeth P, Weinthal E. How Access to Clean Water Prevents Conflict. The Solutions Journal [internet]. 2012 Jan [cited 10/6/14];3(1). Available from: http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/1037.
Freshwater Crisis. National Geographic. [cited 10/6/14]. Available from: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com.au/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis.
Kriselle Dawson and her husband are missionaries at Papua New Guinea Union Mission, Lae, Papua New Guinea.