Our world is an oil world. It’s an energy hungry beast of a world, consuming itself tail first. We started extracting oil from the earth only five generations ago and plastic came along only four generations ago. Mass produced plastic goods and packaging are even more recent. Those of us born just after the Second World War, the baby boomers, were not brought up with plastic toys, our food was not wrapped in plastic. Telephones and electric plugs were made from Bakelite, a precursor of modern plastics. Most houses were heated by coal or coke which produced lots of smoke and smog but we didn’t know what global warming was. Abroad was where Daddy had been in the War and didn’t want to go back to. We added things up in our heads or on bits of paper. Dustbins were made of metal and were provided to dispose of ash from the coal fires rather than be stuffed full of waste food and packaging. We used buses and trains and our walking legs; cars were for the better off and we were all gradually becoming better off. It was an age of innocence.
In the early nineteen seventies I remember going into Sainsbury’s town store in Cambridge and being served at the counter. The goods I bought went straight into shopping bags and I took the bus home. In 1974 they opened their first edge of town shop, 24,000 square feet of it. I didn’t shop there because I didn’t have a car.
Now, in 2019, here we are at the beginning of the end of the oil and plastic age, wondering what to do with all the rubbish we’ve spread over the world and the carbon dioxide that we still put into the atmosphere and we all feel terrible about it and guilty somehow, especially for the wildlife even though we’ve just gone out and bought tons of plastic presents for our children and grandchildren and tons of plastic wrapped food because we thought we might starve because the shops are closed on Christmas Day.
And on top of this we have been told that the end of the world is nigh with global temperatures rising so high in the next decades that the glaciers and icecaps will melt and sea levels will rise to flood our coastal cities, and that, unless we completely change the way we live in the next ten years, it will be far, far worse. Yet, we will be soon booking holiday flights all over the world, driving all over the country, buying more and more stuff, leaving size twelve carbon footprints, 14 billion of them, and growing, wherever we tread.
Who’s fault is it? Not mine, I recycle! China, Trump, big business, Russian oligarchs, aren’t these are the ones we should blame? Who’s fault is it? Not mine, even though I love my new BMWi8 more than the dying polar bears in the Arctic Sea. Who’s fault is it? The richest one percent who own two thirds of the worlds wealth? The poorer ninety nine percent who aspire to be richer? Everyone? Yes, everyone who has their head in the sand and that means you and me. Yes, no one, because the blame game is worthless, banal, sterile. Yes, everyone because responsibility lies in knowledge and what we do with that knowledge.
We have known since Thomas Malthus, 200 years ago, that unrestricted population growth is unsustainable with finite resources. We know from the science of ecology that populations grow exponentially when conditions are good and crash catastrophically when resources run out. We know from social anthropology that humans are acquisitive, short sighted, self-centred, exploitative tribal creatures with the propensity to kill each other and anything else they feel they want or need. They are also intelligent and loving. We also know that that we can communicate really well through words and that science has given us a huge body of knowledge about how the world works. We know that we are a recipe for disaster.
And yet, here we are, carrying on as if there is no cliff edge under our feet. Our politics is still dominated by the mantra of economic growth. We still see our value in terms of how much we own or control. We still call ourselves consumers when we should say destroyers. It’s a sad and miserable state of affairs and I offer no words of comfort. Except this.
We got here by billions of small blind steps. We can at least stop, open our eyes and think about what to do.
I can change with the light of Holy Spirit. We can change others. Others can change all.
This is what I am going to be doing now I’ve stopped:
- I am examining my own life to see what is unsustainable and contributing to the mess. I’m pledging to reduce my carbon footprint year on year and trying to make my life plastic free.
- I commit myself to make the vision of the Greening our church, St Mary the Virgin, Eling, into a reality within three years.
- I shall find out what I can do in my own life to transition to a sustainable world.
- I will share what I find and know.
- I commit myself to hope and turn away from despair.
- I rejoice in being alive and in everything that is alive.
Useful website for inspiration and learning: