On the Tuesday night before the Easter weekend where Christians everywhere remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Newbold’s final Diversity Lecture of this academic year focused on loving the world and particularly the earth which God loved so much that he gave his Son to redeem it and its people. The lecture explored how we can live out our discipleship in a culture that continually bombards us with the pressures of consumerism.
Dr Ruth Valerio, a theologian and campaigning environmentalist from the charity Tearfund, encouraged her online audience to think about the practical Christian choices that everyone can make, particularly for the sake of those poorest people at the greatest risk of the negative effects of climate change. She said (later in the lecture) that a person in the UK emits the same amount of carbon in 6 days as a person in Malawi in a whole year.
Valerio began her lecture with the staggering statistics about the threats: 33% of amphibians and reptiles and 25% of mammals at risk of extinction, bio diversity loss at an unprecedented rate, ecosystems and species collapsing all round the world. Humans are the problem species – abusing the land, polluting the atmosphere, overfishing the sea and exacerbating the problems.
During the pandemic, Valerio suggested, we have forgotten the threats to us and to our health from our overuse of plastic. Not only is the marine environment suffering as turtles, and albatrosses, dolphins and whales eat our discarded plastic. But research now shows a threat to human health as microscopic plastic fragments have been found in the air we breathe. For billions of people living in poverty without adequate rubbish management and disposal, the threat is even greater. Rats bring disease, the burning of plastic gives respiratory issues. A video from a Tearfund worker in Zimbabwe recounted problems of drought, food insecurity, and generations of children missing out on education because they need to work or walk to collect water. Polluted drinking water brings more disease.
The bio diversity loss, the climate crisis, the water shortage and the plastic pollution are all caused by human irresponsibility. How can we act to take care of this world and fellow-creatures?
Valerio named our various circles of involvement: home, church, community and wider world. She involved the online audience in making suggestions about how we can use resources more responsibly everywhere: not using bottled water or wasting food, recycling responsibly, particularly plastics, growing vegetables seasonally, driving less, walking or using bicycles or buses, passing on unused clothes, planting seeds to attract bees and butterflies in community green spaces. Looking at our domestic and institutional use of energy, Valerio recommended environmentally friendly insulation of homes and churches and the College and encouraged support for companies using sustainable energy products.
In the wider world of environmental campaigning, Valerio suggested that we can all
use our voices to speak up and call on our government and businesses to work in favour of the natural world rather than against them. She talked about developing a campaigning movement of Christians to develop awareness about the environment. ‘The big systemic change will come only through the actions of government and business when they are called out to act on their rhetorical environmental values,’ she said.
When we see the challenges and complexities of the environmental crisis, we think: Where do I start? Valerio suggested that we can simplify our approach by thinking about our actions in four areas: food, travel, energy and rubbish.
With food we can ask, how has it been grown? How much water has been used? What chemicals have been used? If we do eat meat are we ready to pay more to support farmers that care for their animals?
When it comes to travel are we ready to take the alternative to flying even when it is longer? Are we prepared not to fly or to fly very seldom? Can we drive cars that are more efficient – or better still can we walk or cycle instead? Choosing a renewable energy company is important as is reducing the amount of energy we do use. Insulating our homes and using energy-efficient appliances are important.
And then to the bathroom. ‘How many plastic things do you have in your bathroom?’ Valerio asked. And the kitchen. How many chemicals are you using to clean your home? Try to ditch the plastic and the chemicals! If all this seems overwhelming, think about and do one thing in each area.
Valerio concluded with 5 top tips for Christian environmentalists:
- Start on your knees with an attitude of repentance and humility to recognise where your choices have been damaging
- Recognise that the issues are complex so don’t take all the guilt individually. Government and business carry a lot of responsibility and could make it easier for the rest of us to do the right thing.
- Keep finding ways to learn about the issues. Join in with other individuals and communities to learn together.
- Don’t take an ‘all or nothing’ approach or worry that you’re not doing things perfectly.
- Make the most of the big decisions like choice of house, car and heating system.
The Q&A session discussed diet. ‘ 99% of world’s soya is used to feed animals,’ said Valerio. It’s more efficient to drink soya milk and eat tofu etc…than eat the meat from cattle fed on soya. Another questioner explored the difficulties of passing on environmental values to children who may not share them. A different question explored the familiar concern about environmental values being unimportant because the world is going to be destroyed at the second coming of Christ. ‘We wouldn’t take that approach with poverty, would we? said Valerio. ‘Isaiah 58 teaches us that whatever is going to happen, God has called us to care for people.’ Another question explored the difference between secular and religious environmentalism. ‘We as Christians are not surprised when people don’t deliver,’ said Valerio. ‘We do have a future hope and a long-term perspective that sustains us.
14th April 2022
A recording of the full lecture including Q&A can be heard on the Newbold College of Higher Education Facebook page and on the College website at www.newbold.ac.uk/diversity-centre