I am impressed by the enthusiasm of the climate movement, especially among young people. The hunger for change is noble. But we need more than climate action. Of course we need to take better care of the planet, but real climate action is a fruit of changed lives. For so long, we have exploited the earth and those who inhabit it. Let’s face it – we humans like progress, but progress causes pollution. We want politicians to change, but it’s hard to change ourselves. We are bound up in a society and economy that are causing the problem and which we seem powerless to change. What will affect real change, on the scale that is needed?
In Robert C. O’Brien’s book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (which I highly recommend), a group of lab rats become literate and make a great escape. They take up residence in the library of a rich estate. They read a story about a country woman who trades her broom and mop for a vacuum cleaner to save time. Then her friends want vacuum cleaners too. A vacuum factory is promptly built nearby to meet growing demand. The factory belches smoke and makes more dirt in the area. The women spend more time cleaning than they did before the vacuums. You get the point. In O’Brien’s story, even rats realize that “progress” causes pollution.
Real climate action has to get personal. If we want less pollution, we have to sacrifice some “progress.” If we don’t want vacuum factories belching poisonous carbon, we should rip out our carpets and scrub our floors. If we don’t want food factories, we should grow our own food. We should make our own shoes and garments. That’s a lot of work! There will be a lot less time for hand-held devices.
I can’t imagine that everyone will rush to give up the comfort, efficiency, and money that industrial and technological development affords. I too enjoy the extra time that modern conveniences allow – time that I gladly spend reading books rather than cooking over a fire and washing clothes in a stream. And I’m thankful for medicines, running water, and sanitation. But we, especially in the first world, have gotten used to a lifestyle that accommodates extravagance, greed, and selfishness. To turn that around, we’ll need more than climate action.
The climate will keep changing until our lives are changed. God changes lives. And when he changes our lives, he changes our lifestyles. We turn to him instead of money. We help others instead of helping ourselves. We follow his guidelines. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” When God heals our lives, the land is healed.
I can attest that God has changed my life and my lifestyle. Since committing to follow Christ with the brothers and sisters here at the Bruderhof, I care less about materialism and more about people. I try to give rather than take. I also compost and recycle. I heat my home with wood and don’t air-condition it. I walk my kids to school and walk to work instead of driving. I eat homegrown vegetable and slice homebaked bread.
I realize many people would love to do all these things but can’t afford to. I probably couldn’t have, or wouldn’t have, on my own; living in community with others who want the same thing and help each other out certainly makes it easier.
God has promised to make big changes for the whole world. “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). But he has to change us first. History proves that we have been poor stewards of his earth. And unless we change radically, personally AND communally, history will repeat itself. We have a chance for real change, as individuals, as communities, as nations and indeed as humanity. Are we going to take it?