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Friday, July 19, 2024
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Philippa Martyr: No, the Gospels aren’t about sorting your recycling

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Environmental lifestyle changes aren’t always possible for everyone, but conversion is. Photo:
Environmental lifestyle changes aren’t always possible for everyone, but conversion is. Photo:

I am someone who says at least Lauds and Vespers every day. These psalms and readings are bursting with the abundance of God through creation—how much he cares for it and provides for us through it.

God likes nothing better than us getting out there and enjoying the world he gave us. So I get a wry face when green Catholics urge us all to lifestyle conversion, as if it were equivalent to the metanoia demanded of us by the Gospel.

So I’ve been chewing over Dr Michael Walker’s October Catholic Weekly article calling us to pay attention to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum, and things we can do to help.

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I find it hard to get excited about this stuff, because I know that science is never settled—especially planetary science, where we’re still ignorant about a lot of things

I am also old enough to remember Paul Erhlich’s dire predictions, Rachel Carson’s “silent spring”, and the nuclear winter gang who jaundiced my childhood and adolescence (thanks guys). And yet here we are.

I do know that Australia’s net contribution in CO2 emissions is minute compared to other countries. And until we find a way to switch off all the volcanoes and persuade China and India to go back to the Stone Age, popping things in a special bin won’t help.

What also won’t help is Brussels Airlines running 3,000 empty or near-empty flights in 2022 just to keep its take-off and landing rights at major airports. It makes well-known climate activist Prince Harry’s flying habits look positively green.

I can assure you that sorting your recyclables will certainly make you feel good and give you a sense of agency (which is much easier than actual metanoia). But it may also involve you in certain social injustices.

I’m painfully aware of just how much of Australia’s “recycling” goes to landfill. And how much is shipped overseas, in big smelly fossil fuel-driven container ships over long distances, dropping muck along the way into our oceans. It takes a lot to make our waste someone else’s problem.

Probably my chief complaint is that so much climate change lifestyle advice is very middle class. For example, I know it’s probably “better” to walk or ride a bike somewhere if you can.

But what about the elderly and disabled? They can’t just hop on a bike and ride two hours through insane traffic to their frequent hospital appointments.

It reminds me of people who think you should celebrate Mothers’ Day by hiring a cleaner, forgetting that the cleaner is probably a mum who will have to put her kids in care so that she can clean another mum’s house. When does she get to celebrate Mothers’ Day?

Someone living in the outer suburbs who has a job involving going from house to house—like a domestic cleaner or a support worker—can’t take public transport or a bike to do their job. They also can’t afford to buy an electric car.

Even if Nhung or Abeni or Yi could afford the car, she can’t afford to charge it at home. Her electricity bills are high enough already, partly thanks to the massive subsidies we’re paying the “renewables” industry.

Most “renewables” exact a heavy toll of fossil fuels and hard-to-obtain products to manufacture them in the first place—and  those windmills wreak havoc on the local wildlife.

Some of the other advice given by Dr Walker, like staying in Australia every second holiday instead of going overseas and taking trains when you’re in Europe or North America, just made me laugh out loud. Few people in the outer suburbs will be holidaying in Europe any time soon.

If they’re going anywhere, it’s to see their family in the developing countries they call home—the same countries where we send a lot of our waste and so-called “recycling.”

And as for cutting down on red meat, plenty of Australians are already struggling to afford it at the supermarket these days anyway. Never mind, there’s always Maccas.

I wish I could live an hour’s drive away from a nice clean nuclear power plant, like I did when I lived in Norwich in the UK. I wish we had rubbish incineration plants like Switzerland, a blissfully clean country that simply burns everything and generates electricity from it.

I am a happy steward of Spaceship Earth. But I do think green Catholics should check their privilege before giving lifestyle advice to people who don’t live in their neighbourhood.

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