The Green Tau: issue 44

An addendum to Sunday’s reflection

On Sunday (17th July) with a focus on the environment, we looked at the plight of five creatures threatened by our human lifestyle choices. And it is not just these creatures whose futures are threatened but ours too as we all part of one interconnected ecosystem.

What action can we take to change these prospects?

“Orang-utans live in great tropical forests. They depend upon the forests for food and shelter, as a well as a  place to live and to play. But the forests where they live are being chopped down and cleared away to make space for acres and acres of palm oil plantations to make lipsticks and margarine, shampoo and pet food, sunscreen and bio diesel. When the forests go, the orang-utans have no where else to live. It seems as if we are saying to the orang-utans ‘Go away you don’t belong here’.”

By carefully choosing what we do and don’t buy we can reduce the pressure on forests such as those where orang-utans live. We can avoid products that use palm oil or we can seek out producers who follow a code of conduct that requires them to protect indigenous wild life and farming communities.

It takes a bit of effort but research via the internet and especially using web sites created by ethical and environmental groups such as The Ethical Consumer and the Fair Trade movement can gives us the information we need to make better choices. We may conclude that some of things we have been buying are not really essential and that buying less is another way of taking action. We can also investigate the sourcing of other crops such as cocoa, sugar cane and soya which can be equally detrimental to the environment. NB the vast expansion of soya beans as a crop goes not to create soya milk, but as fodder for the world’s escalating meat farms.

“Polar bears live in the Arctic where they go hunting across the ice. They dive into cracks and holes in the ice to catch fish and seals. But climate change is making the world hotter and the ice is melting. Without the ice the polar bears cannot hunt fish and seals. Instead they and their cubs starve. It seems as if we are saying to the polar bears, ‘If you can’t cope with climate change and melting ice caps, then we don’t need you.’”

“Sand martins spend the winters in Africa and the summers in Europe. In the spring they fly thousands of miles across the Sahara to Britain and in the autumn they fly the same thousands of miles back. But climate change is making the world hotter and when they fly over the Sahara Desert, the air is so hot that many martins simply cannot cope and they fall to the ground. It seems as if we are saying to the sand martin ‘If you can’t cope with climate change, then there’s no place here for you any more.’”

The climate crisis is rapidly increasing and is causing and exacerbating many other problems. We can each take action by changing our lifestyle to reduce our carbon footprint. There are many books and web sites on ways and means. The principal areas of change we can make in our individual lives are in Transport: not flying, rescuing significantly our dependence on cars and instead using public transport, cycling and walking. 

Food: eating locally produced, seasonal, organic food, and replacing meat with plant based meals

Heat and electricity: reducing demand by insulating our homes (which also helps keep them cool in the summer) and turning down the thermostat, using renewal sources of energy,  reducing the frequency with which we wash ourselves and our clothes, and reducing our dependence on so many high energy consuming appliances

Consumption: the things we buy and consume all have a carbon footprint. We can consume less including  less packaging, we can repair and reuse what we do have, when we do buy new we can seek out things that are ecologically and ethically made, and we can make sure that everything is recycled at the end of its lifecycle.

But we won’t be able to make the necessary reduction in carbon emissions on our own. We are locked into systems that make it impossible – rail travel  is made more expensive than air travel through taxation, regions outside London and especially rural areas are inadequately provided with public transport, people’s incomes are often too low to allow for investment in insulation and home improvements that would reduce energy costs, large fossil fuel companies across the globe continue receive tax subsidies, manufacturers are not required to pay for the cost of collecting and recycling their products, the true  value of nature is not included in investment decisions, our pensions fund  not only fossil fuel investment but also the destruction of forests for palm oil and soya crops … the list goes on. We need to engage with and support environmental groups that call for system change.

“Around the world in different oceans live whales. Whales get caught up in fishing tackle and crashed into by shipping. They are disoriented by noise from oil exploration. Every year fewer and fewer whales are born. It is as if we are saying to the whales, ‘Go away, we don’t need you’.”

But we do need whales! They are amazing creatures. In the oceans there tiny tiny things called phytoplankton that, like leaves on trees, convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into oxygen and energy. And phytoplankton provide food for slightly bigger plankton and the plankton provides food for all manner of other sea creatures – including whales. But there is one thing that phytoplankton needs and that is iron. And do you know where that iron comes from? Whale poo! If oceans are to remain healthy with phytoplankton providing oxygen and energy for plankton and seaweed, and  fish and other sea animals, then we need  whales.”

“What about bees? Bees live in lots of different parts of the world feeding on nectar from plants. But we have been getting rid of wild plants and hedgerows, and spraying fields with herbicides so that there is not enough food for the bees. And we have been spraying crops with pesticides that kill not just the ‘pests’ but the bees too. Every year there are fewer and fewer bees. It is as if we are saying to the bee, ‘Go away, we don’t need you.’ 

But we do need bees. Without bees to fertilise crops we won’t have apples and pears, or strawberries and cherries, or figs and kiwi fruits, or almonds, avocados, mangos …. the list goes on and on.”

The loss of biodiversity is immense and accelerating. We can support biodiversity locally by the way we use our gardens, growing wild life friendly plants, providing food and water  for birds and insects, by avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides and peat.  We can help by supporting local and international organisations that protect and conserve biodiversity. And as above, we can use our spending money to influence change.

Saving the environment is a numbers game, so talk about the actions you take with friends and family, with shopkeepers and suppliers, with local councillors and MPs, and encourage them to take action too.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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