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Laudato Si': Everyday ecology

Thursday, October 29, 2015
It is always difficult to write about individual-level changes that we can make to reduce our own impact on the environment. The fact is, everything has an environmental impact. The products we purchase, the mode of travel we take, the heating or cooling of our homes and places of work. It is not just down to individuals to respond to what Pope Francis discusses in Laudato Si’, but requires strong intervention at a government and corporate level. 

However, if everyone took this attitude then our energy consumption would continue increasing, we would use up precious water reserves, and so on. It is also rather difficult to suggest to others that they buy locally sourced food when I know there are millions who have to rely on food banks and have no real choice over what they purchase. Or indeed the many households who cannot afford to properly heat their home in the winter in the United Kingdom. But still, this does not negate our requirement to ‘everyday ecology’. 

Everyday ecology may be summarised as taking action to improve our own environmental performance as individuals, families and in the workplace. In considering our own impacts on the created world, we should really consider both direct and indirect environmental impacts. Direct impacts are the obvious impacts such as disposing of waste properly, driving in a way which is more fuel efficient, and not using up water unnecessarily. ‘Indirect impacts’ refers to doing things like switching off lighting if nobody is at home, or making sure appliances are ‘off’ rather than on standby. The pollution from indirect impacts is usually someone else polluting on our behalf, or the use of raw materials in the products or services that we purchase. 

It is also perhaps worth considering which aspects of our daily lives actually have the largest environmental impact. If we are to drive a car to get from A to B, the fuel efficiency of our cars depends on how efficiently we drive. For example, driving at 80mph on a motorway (illegally) uses 25% more fuel than at 70, and traveling at 70 uses more fuel than at 65, and so on. Avoiding harsh acceleration and braking, as well as switching off air conditioning if it is not needed, will also improve fuel efficiency. If all drivers adhered to these principles, there would be a nationwide reduction in fuel consumption. More fuel-efficient models of cars are another obvious way to reduce a more significant impact on the created world. Using public transport has less impact on the environment than driving, and walking or cycling has less of an indirect impact than public transport.

Other areas to consider are the heating and cooling of our buildings. Are there more efficient ways of providing warmer spaces in the winter, and cooler spaces in the summer? If everyone reduced the indoor temperature to, say, 17C in the winter, then there would be huge savings in fuel usage. There are many changes we can make such as wearing appropriate clothing for the season, which mean our demand for fuel will decrease. Everyday ecology should also consider the food we eat. Although there are benefits from food traded internationally, there are also costs in terms of pollution emitted as a result of transporting food often thousands of miles from ‘field to fork’. For example, why import potatoes from Egypt when we can grow them in the region that we live in? There is also the impact of packaging materials of the groceries we purchase on the environment. Needless waste from produce such as plastic-wrapped bananas is typical of a supermarket marketing strategy gone to excess!

There are the more awkward and difficult choices by which we can try to take in order to reduce our personal environmental impact. Air flights for example, are a high-impact mode of travel in terms of air pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Usually rail travel has substantially less indirect impact on the environment than many air flights. The difficulty is planning an easy alternative to long-distance international air travel, or planning lower cost alternatives to relatively cheap air travel. A balance needs to be met in terms of meeting our own needs, and considering indirect impacts that our lives have on the created world. Also, at a personal level the moral life has other demands which are of greater significance in terms of sinfulness. But again, this does not negate our responsibilities as Christians to an everyday ecology.

Sometimes the meaningful changes that we can make might relate to our own position in the world. If for instance, we have some influence in our workplace in relation to environmental management, then it is worth concentrating on this in our efforts to respond to the need for everyday ecology. For instance, if you keep pestering managers about switching from using fossil fuels to electric fleet vehicles where possible, this might actually change things in the workplace. Some corporations have had a complete change in attitude towards environmental management, because one individual pushed for positive reform.

Do you agree with my brief assessment on everyday ecology? Comments are welcome.

Luke Doherty O.P.

Fr Luke Doherty is assistant priest at Holy Cross, Leicester, and Catholic Chaplain to HMP Leicester |  luke.doherty@english.op.org


Commander Tomalok commented on 31-Oct-2015 05:32 PM
But as you can see... there are no global gas emissions.

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