As Anglicans of Second Life is a ministry which has members from all over the world, when there is a worldwide initiative it seems good to be part of it. Having read of the encouragement from the Archbishop of Cape Town to all Anglicans commending for use resources from the Anglican Communion Environment Network, we celebrated Environment Sunday on 2nd June. The focus of this year is on the need for food around the world and the staggering figures on waste of food. It seems to me that if we each do what we can to respond to what we know about how our behaviour links with the food poverty of those far away, we are making some move to address the Anglican five marks of mission.
The readings in our service were Psalm 104:26-35, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 12:13-21.
On Wednesday it will be World Environment Day. This is a day which was established by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the opening of the 1972 Stockholm Conference and is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Every year the day is hosted by a different country, this year by Mongolia which is developing quickly but is trying to do so sustainably.
The theme for this year is Think.Eat.Save which asks us to become more aware of the impact wasted and lost food has on the environment. By thinking about what we eat, we can help save the environment. You have no doubt heard about the idea of our carbon footprint and that we should reduce it. This campaign is designed to work against waste of food, to help us reduce our foodprint. Every year the church celebrates Environment Sunday on the Sunday nearest to World Environment Day. The Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Reverend Thabo Makgoba is the chair of the Anglican Communion Environment Network. He has sent out a message to Anglicans all over the world, encouraging them to use resources the Network has provided for church services today.
As Martin Palmer wrote recently in Resurgence & Ecologist, faith groups have often been largely excluded from work by the major conservation groups. Conservation has been seen as a secular matter though gradually that understanding is changing. In 1986 the Duke of Edinburgh, then International President of the World Wide Fund for Nature, came to the conclusion that the only way hearts and minds have ever been changed in order to bring positive change to the world has been through the arts and religion. As a result, in Assisi in 1986 he called together leaders of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism to discuss what faiths could do to preserve our world, meeting with leading conservation bodies from around the world.
Assisi is of course significant as the birthplace of St Francis who was ahead of his time in the sense of being in tune with nature. At the meeting, Father Serrini of the Franciscan Order welcomed delegates in this way: “Each religion will celebrate the dignity of nature and the duty of every person to live harmoniously within the natural world. We are convinced of the inestimable value of our respective traditions and of what they can offer to re-establish ecological harmony; but, at the same time, we are humble enough to desire to learn from each other. The very richness of our diversity lends strength to our shared concern and responsibility for our Planet Earth.” Recently the new pope decided to take the name Francis I and at his first mass said: “I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
The problem this latest campaign is trying to solve is huge. Some of the figures make sobering reading. Every year about a third of food produced is lost or wasted – 1.3 billion tonnes – while one in seven people do not have enough food each day. Those in the rich countries waste around 222 million tonnes of food, which is roughly the same quantity of food as is produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, every day 20,000 children under the age of five die from hunger-related causes.
In the US 30% of all food is thrown away. This wastes half the water used to produce the food and contributes huge amounts of methane, a harmful gas which causes global warming, when the waste goes into landfill. It also uses huge amounts of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides which poison the environment. It wastes land and people’s labour for no good outcome. Water is becoming increasingly scarce as climates change all over the world. 100o litres of water are needed to produce a litre of milk, 16000 litres to make beef for a burger. 25% of all habitable land is used for food production; 70% of fresh water is used; 80% of deforestation is caused and 30% of greenhouse gases.
In the UK it’s about the same rate of waste at 32% of food being bought but not eaten. This waste could be avoided with better management. The food thrown away in one day would be enough to give lunch to all the UK’s 60 million citizens with some to spare.
When you think that by 2050 the world population is likely to have risen to 9 billion from the current 7 billion you can see that much more food will be needed. Rather than cultivate more land, it makes sense to preserve the food that is being produced.
Despite the problem being so large, almost overwhelming, Christians cannot turn a blind eye to it. The God we worship, the God of the Bible, cares deeply for the poor and expects us to do the same. Throughout the Old Testament we are exhorted to defend the widow and the orphan who represent those with few resources. Jesus told us to love God and to love our neighbour. We can hardly come here and gather for worship, showing our love of God, if we don’t equally show our love of neighbour. Perhaps once our neighbour was the person we could see in our own village or town. Now we of all people should know how globally connected we are. The choices we make in our towns and cities impact people thousands of miles away.
As Paul explained to the Corinthian Christians, sowing little will result in reaping little. He explained the godly equation: give generously and cheerfully in the way God loves and you will blessed and enriched, having enough for your needs. Not only that, but people will turn to God as a result of the generous actions of believers. Paul was of course writing about people giving money to others. Perhaps we are just too used to throwing money at a problem to salve our consciences. However, I think it is possible to give by not taking if that makes sense. By not acquiring more of the world’s resources than we actually need, we leave more for others that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Once you see the link between the uneaten food that you put in the bin and the waste of water, land, fuel; the damage to environment and to the chances of survival of others, a simple act of wastefulness becomes more significant.
If we need more emphasis on how important it is to have a right attitude to abundance, we have only to look at the gospel passage. The man in the story had indeed been abundantly blessed with a huge harvest. Perhaps he had been generous in the past, we don’t know. However, witness what his attitude was once the harvest arrived. His whole attitude turned to what was good for him: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” He had no thought for helping anyone else to share in his good fortune. What he hadn’t accounted for is God, who called him a fool and required his life of him that night. A sobering thought.
We must as Christians turn our focus outward, towards others and their needs. As Archbishop Thabo said: “In the story of the feeding of the five thousand we read ‘everyone ate, and had enough.’ (Mark 6:42) This is a beautiful image of sharing, with everyone’s needs being met, and nobody going hungry. There is enough food in the world for our need; there is not enough for our greed. This World Environment Day I encourage Anglicans everywhere to think about what they eat, to eat food which is healthy and sustainable and to stop wasting food. Let us share today our daily bread.”
This is of course very much in line with the Anglican Five Marks of Mission:
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
And so I challenge us all to carefully examine how we use the resources given to us in terms of food. How much do we waste? Could we buy less, cook less, take less on our plates, use up leftovers rather than throwing them away? The Think.Eat.Save campaign asks us to choose foods that affect the environment less where possible, such as local or organic. It may seem like an insignificant action as we each take it individually in our homes but together we can impact our communities and make a difference. As the World Environment Day website puts it: Remember that every action counts, so join us: every year, everywhere, everyone!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor
Alliance of Religions and Conservation http://www.arcworld.org/
World Environment Day http://www.unep.org/wed/