By James McCarville
Editor’s note: The NewPeople recognizes the value of these efforts, while also recognizing that readers may not have the level of affluence needed to carry many of them out. Given that reality, we believe those who can are even more obligated to make the efforts described below. This is the second is a series of three articles about practical ways to reduce your ecological footprint.
In February 2020, the NewPeople started to explore recommendations from the Diocese of Atlanta in response to Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si”. The Diocese put forth a list of about 150 ways to reduce your ecological footprint. The proposed methods often come with start-up costs that would eventually pay for themselves, but while they are things individuals can do, costs are prohibitive to action for low-income earners. Here is where businesses and the financially privileged can step in and make an impact. This article suggests ways to motivate your faith communities, businesses, and social networks to take a more active role to reduce our ecological footprint at an organizational level.
You may have to start alone, but it is better if you can identify a few like-minded partners to form a “Green Team.” It is best if you can get buy-in from some decision-makers at the start.
While some organizations will be highly centralized, others are not. Some have budgets only for necessities; others might be able to realize longer term paybacks. Sometimes actual sacrifice will be called for. There will be hard choices. A one size strategy will not fit all organizations.
Unless you are very fortunate, expect a challenge. Most people in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions have heard some form of the creation story that talks about “dominion” over the earth. Pope Francis says we have historically distorted that phrase to mean “domination” instead of “care.” Worse, he says, we have expropriated the mantra of domination to lord it over human beings in the form of slavery, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, war and extreme inequality. It will take a long time to live that painful legacy down.
Don’t expect changing a mindset to be easy. Many people of faith will automatically hear anything environmental as “political.” Faith-leaders who may not be well equipped to explain the issue, will fear “dividing the flock,” especially when it calls for sacrifice. (Ironically, offering sacrifices is actually in many of their job descriptions. Just don’t expect them to do this on their own without a push.)
Start simple; something people can quickly grasp, like replacing Styrofoam cups with paper or conventionally grown and processed coffee with “Fair Trade” coffee. Find out who is in charge of purchasing these items or whatever items you choose to start with. If they have already made the switch, you have probably found a great ally. Ask what went into the decision to switch. What was the opposition, if any? If they have not made the switch, ask if they have considered it and what it might take to switch. Is there a barrier to taking action?
Don’t forget to engage the prayer leaders. Ask them to draw on their longstanding practices and rich traditions of homilies and liturgies, and technology to produce bulletins and blogs – tools to help members understand their faith responsibility and duty both toward those who suffer climate catastrophes as well as to their responsibility to care for creation itself.
If your community owns buildings, bring in expert guest speakers to illustrate our role as caretakers of this earth. Implement practical energy use strategies: Reduce the temperature in summer and in the evening if people aren’t in the building, install ceiling fans instead of air conditioning. Learn about energy audits and have your facilities assessed. Switch to LED (Light-Emitting Diode) and automated lighting systems and upgrade building insulation if necessary. Recycle if you don’t already, or review your group‘s practices and make resources available if needed to encourage participation. Buy recycled paper and paper products if you don’t already. And as always, turn off lights if they aren’t in use.
If your community is fortunate enough to own land, you have even more opportunity. Learn about permaculture and landscaping, plant pollinators, shade trees, and native trees. Make landscape changes to protect against erosion and parking lot runoff. Provide habitats for lightning bugs, bats, butterflies, squirrels and birds. Identify and remove non-native plant species and plant native species to control pests, attract beneficial insects, and encourage biodiversity. Use sun-balanced planting procedures. Reduce lawn size and watering needs. Leave freshwater for birdbaths. Create a community composting program, vegetable garden or a meditation garden.
Teach First Aid, and how to recognize native plants. Learn what recycling your municipality accepts and what they do with it. Spread the word and be of service to others. Within your own community, know who are the most vulnerable to extreme weather. Make sure they have access to cool, warm or dry places and share knowledge about available social services and workable evacuation strategies. Consider organizational fund raisers for A/C units or space heaters for these community members. Develop a phone or visitation list for group members to check-in on the vulnerable. Be willing to assist with your own boots on the ground, but work to build a back-up system as well that can be called on when needed. Communicate with municipal or social services agencies so they know who is vulnerable. Encourage those eligible to enroll in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs (LIHEAP). Carpool to events, and create a carpool tree for easy reference when transportation needs arise.
It’s vital to reach out beyond your own community to know which parts of your broader community are most vulnerable to flooding and storm damage. Partner with organizations in those areas to create emergency-partner programs. Open your churches or schools as refuges in emergency or crisis situations. Collaborate with government disaster preparedness agencies, and invite them to get to know your group and explore how they can support these goals together.
Jim McCarville is the Vice President (lay member) of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 2. March, 2020. All rights reserved.