Adam Snider

Environmentalism as a spiritual practice

In Faith in Action on January 19, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Environmental stewardship is a key element of my personal faith, and I believe that it should be an important part of any faithful person’s life, regardless of what they find faith in. Whether it be rational humanism or fundamentalist Christianity, environmentalism should play a major role in a person’s faith.

In terms of my developing Unitarian Universalist faith, doing what I can to take care of the environment is a way of living up to the seventh principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. To neglect the environment would be to disrespect the interdependent web of existence and, by extension, all living things. That’s a lot of disrespect, if you ask me.

Having respect for the environment is also important to me because being in nature is one of the ways that I attempt to reach out to god. Being in nature is one of the most spiritual experiences that I know of. To neglect the environment—to let the Earth die—would be tantamount to killing god.

I also have reasons that are, perhaps, not as directly related to faith, such as wanting to leave my future children with a world that will sustain them and their children after them.

With these reasons in mind, here are some the efforts that I make to try and protect the environment.

  • Reusable shopping bags – I’ve been using reusable shopping bags for a while now. Canvas, cloth or other similar options all work well. I prefer the bags that Superstore sells here in Canada, because they’re actually made from recycled plastic. Since they’re made from a waste product, they’re doubly green.
  • Purchase local and/or organic products – While buying local can be difficult living up north in Edmonton, I do the best I can. I try to buy local produce and meat whenever possible. If it’s local and organic, all the better. If a particular foodstuff isn’t available from a local producer, I will generally try to buy the organic option, since it’s usually a little bit better for the environment than the non-organic version. One of the added bonuses of buying local, at least when it comes to food, is that your meal will usually taste better, since the food is fresher.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs – I have been slowly switching over to CFLs. Whenever a light bulb burns out in my apartment, I replace it with a CFL. I know I should probably replace all of my incandescent bulbs with CFLs, but it seems wasteful to throwout a light bulb that is still in working condition, even if it does use more electricity.
  • Eat less meat – Raising livestock requires a massive amount of resources and produces a lot of carbon emissions. Because of this, I try to eat less meat. I generally eat at least one meatless meal a week. It’s not much, but if everyone did this, it would make a huge difference. Plus, we eat too much meat in the West as it is, so cutting back a bit is better for your body, too.
  • Turning off the lights – It’s a simple thing that we’ve all been raised to do: turn off the lights when you leave a room. I must admit that I’m not the best at remembering to do this, but I try not to have more lights on than I need. Often, I have only a single light bulb burning in my apartment in the evening.
  • Use human-powered appliances – This one is something that you might not think of, but something as simple as using a hand-powered can-opener instead of an electric one makes a difference. In this vein, I use a French press instead of an electric coffeemaker to brew my coffee in the morning. This has the added benefit of making coffee that tastes better, too. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you stop using electric appliances altogether, but that electric can-opener is overkill unless you’re opening the huge 4L can of ketchup or something like that.
  • Use environmentally friendly cleaning products – A lot of cleaning products are not environmentally friendly. Laundry detergent, which typically contains phosphates, is particularly harmful. I have begun using biodegradable, phosphate-free detergent that is 3x concentrated (cutting down on the package size). It’s also free of a number of other ingredients commonly found in less environmentally friendly detergents, such as petroleum products. These products are sometimes more expensive, but more and more often they are the same price as the less eco-friendly alternative.

Do you think that caring for the environment is important aspect of faith? What acts do you take in order to try and protect the planet? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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  1. The connection between nature and spirituality surely goes back to the beginnings of human existence – Mother Earth being essential to human survival – and I can’t help finding it reassuring that we haven’t entirely lost that connection with the natural environment; so many of us may live among glass and steel and concrete, with the occasional far-from-natural greenspace, but we still as a species tend to “lift up [our] eyes unto the hills” for peace and calm and emotional sustenance. On top of the issues of health, food supply, natural resources, etc., there are intangibles of great value that call for us to respect and protect the environment.

    • Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. I, too, find it reassuring that even those of us who spend most of our days surrounded by the constructs of urban living still find a connection—spiritual or otherwise—to the natural world. As you said, Mother Earth is essential to the survival of our species, so it’s vitally important that we maintain that connection.

  2. For me ethics is a vital aspect of faith. Compassion for other people is important (this makes justic essential). There are good arguments for environmnentalism on grounds of justice. There is also beauty and respect for other creatures.

    I think we need some way of talking about ‘holiness’ – stuff being left in its natural state – in modern language.

    • I totally agree with you, Evan. Compassion and justice are both vital aspects of faith, and are both ideas of which environmentalism can be an integral part. I, too, think we need modern language for referring to the sacred and holy aspects of life. It’s tough, because words like “sacred” and “holy” would work really well if they didn’t have the baggage of religion weighing them down and confusing the concepts for people.

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