Saturday, 5 October 2013

Setting sail on the SS Low Impact

Recently we watched a documentary called “No Impact Man”, based on a year where writer Colin Beavan and his family tried to live a carbon neutral life (you can see it here at I found it interesting enough to buy the book: No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.

Quite a title. For me, it was both compelling and damning reading. Because, I suspect, most of us just tinker around the edges of changing our lifestyles. We recycle, we visit a farmers’ market maybe, we buy fair-trade coffee, tea and chocolate. All of these things are good, but aren’t going to change the way the world works or our individual carbon footprints.

Prior to No Impact Man, we liked to think we live a lifestyle that has less impact than the average Westerner. On examination, our lifestyle was not a patch on Colin Beavan’s year of near carbon neutrality. Not even close. It raised quite starkly the possibility that one can always find a way of living more sustainably. So with fear and trepidation, we thought we would have a go at living more simply and with a reduced carbon footprint. And to keep the whole thing honest, blog about it so reneging is much harder.

Why bother, I hear you ask? Well, for a number of reasons. Firstly, we belong to a climate change group, and we talk a lot about how important it is to do something about climate change. So our little group gives out information, holds events, it ran a candidates election forum, it has a Facebook page where the latest research and articles on the subject are placed, and it releases press articles on various topics like the IPCC report. We all think something should be done. Whilst a number of us think it should be governments that do something, there are also those in the group who think that each one of us has a personal responsibility.

I think that is right. One needs to put one’s money where one’s climate strategy mouth is.

Secondly, as the title of this blog suggests, we are both ministers in the Uniting Church. Around two years ago, I prepared a number of bible studies that were meant to encourage people of faith to re-examine that faith in the light of environmental concerns. The studies had two central tenets – ‘love your neighbour’ (and this meant all people, even the ones you can’t see overseas and by ‘love’ we mean do them no harm); and secondly, respect and treat well the creation that God saw as integrated and ‘good’.

These studies were run with mixed results. Those who took part agreed in principle to what their scripture was telling them. Yet despite the dire consequences that the biblical book of Deuteronomy promises for disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68 if you are really interested whether you risk being struck with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, or with blight and mildew, that will plague you until you perish), many saw it as ‘too hard’ or ‘too inconvenient for my lifestyle’ to actually adopt habits that would in effect, not support child labour, sweatshops, over-consumerism, environmental degradation, climate change and unethical food practices. Others attempted to make small changes in their eating and consumer habits.

The Uniting Church in Australia is committed to acting in ways that will build a just and compassionate society. It is dedicated to working for the common good of all humanity. It seeks to transform unjust social structures, and to protect and renew all of creation. The 1977 Statement to the Nation clearly says that “We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth's resources for their use and enjoyment.”

In other words, this church is a political church. It is not afraid to tackle thorny issues as they arise on the political landscape. It lobbies governments, it has helped to create policy (and occasionally history as with the Safe Injecting Room), it pushes issues of justice in the media and it urges its congregations, councils and members to actually live out the faith of a disciple of Jesus. In recent times, this has included more and more environmental issues.

Living out the teachings of Jesus are particularly challenging to the Western world. Congregations don’t especially warm to his teachings on personal wealth (give it to the poor) or his teaching that disciples should do something about the unjust structures of society (don’t extort money, free the oppressed and liberate the captives). His statement "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15) runs counter to western consumerism. And we also have the Hebrew Bible, which forms two thirds of the Christian canon of Scripture, that has quite a lot to say about the protection of our environment and its belonging to a creator God who declared it to be ‘good’.

On 1 November 2006, the Uniting Church Assembly voted to adopt the statement "For the Sake of the Planet and all its People: A Uniting Church in Australia Statement on Climate Change" (

This document encouraged Uniting Church members, congregations, groups, agencies and councils to:
‘model ways of living and working that minimise the production of greenhouse gas emissions; and advocate for government to implement policies that significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our use of non-nuclear renewable energy sources.’

So in the light of this and No Impact Man, we decided to commit to modelling sustainable ways of living in line with our church’s statements; and we have decided to take up the challenge of becoming, if not No Impact People, at least Low Impact People. So stay tuned for the next instalment as Low Impact Life comes to the Mid North Coast.

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