A journey of awareness and action
First published in Woman Alive magazine, June 2019
Last Summer, in temperatures approaching 30 degrees C, I was walking through London with my eight-year-old son. He was crying. This in itself was not unusual, he is a sensitive child, and it was incredibly hot and dusty. But he was not crying out of discomfort, he was crying out of anger; “Why have people let climate change happen? Why do people drive cars? What are you doing about it mummy?”
This shook me up. It was like an arrow from the Holy Spirit straight into my heart. Because, believing that God can be experienced in nature, I have always done what I can to be environmentally friendly. I even work for the environmental charity Green Christian!
This arrow from heaven that hit when I saw how upset my son was about climate change, brought me a step further in a practical and emotional journey I have been making since I was a child.
I inherited a love of nature from my father who, on country walks, would stop to identify flowers and butterflies. As a teenager I took part in a weekly butterfly survey in the meadows of our local chalk downs. I can still remember the names – meadow brown, ringlet, skipper, common blue, orange tip – and the sunny days and the sense of tranquillity.
Then I began to hear about the “Greenhouse Effect” and about rainforests being destroyed, supposedly to make beef burgers. I boycotted McDonalds, used public transport when I could, and switched the TV off at the plug every night. I even took part in demonstrations and marches. But it all seemed quite distant – animals, and some people far away, might be affected – not my ringlets and orange tips. I felt good about myself for doing something, and sure that things would change.
From my mother I had inherited a concern for social justice and poverty and gradually the link between this and the environment became clear to me. Both problems are caused by over-consumption, injustice and greed. And environmental problems like climate change are going to affect the poorest the most.
It still felt fairly distant from my own life, now with a growing family, but was clearly an issue that Christians couldn’t ignore. Inspired by the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Sii, I began to speak out in my church and to volunteer for Green Christian, pleased that I had found a vocation.
Naturally, I have taught my children about environmental issues, telling them what goes in which recycling bin, that we don’t buy strawberries in the winter, why we don’t drive when we can walk and why they’ve never been in an aeroplane. So when this was turned back on me by my middle son – “what are you doing about it?” – it cut deeply.
I knew then, that this was personal. It wasn’t just about polar bears and poor people. It suddenly shifted from being far away and always twenty years in the future to affecting my own children right now.
It suddenly shifted from being far away and always twenty years in the future to affecting my own children right now.
As for what I told my son, on that hot day in London, I made a promise that I would do all I could – a promise I had made before and believed I was already keeping. I also promised that I would help him to do what he could so that he doesn’t feel helpless. I could have chosen to not mention the subject again, to not frighten and depress him, but instead we talk about it more, we watch TV programmes and YouTube videos about it, and now he writes about the environment for his school newspaper. He has also announced that when he grows up he will live in a hut in the woods, grow his own food, never drive a car and never buy anything!
Tempting as it might be, I don’t, and can’t, live in a hut in the woods. I live in a suburb of London. I drive a car, I heat my home with gas and I shop in a supermarket. I try to be as Green as I can: I enjoy short-distance holidays in England, Wales or France; I keep fit by walking to the local shops, and reduce parking stress by taking buses where I can; I borrow good books from the library; I try to fix things when they break instead of buying new ones, and am satisfied with having less stuff. I have discovered that apricots and plums are delicious when they are fresh, local and in season. And I have found companionship by being part of a group – Green Christian – where others share my concerns, my struggles and my joys.
All of these actions are not optional for me – they are part of who I am, but I am also an ordinary person living a normal life.
In October 2018 the UN’s group of climate scientists advised governments that to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, we have less than twelve years to reduce carbon emissions by 45% . Now, as well as being personal, it was urgent, and frightening. For a while I felt a lot of anger, despair and guilt. Anger that politicians haven’t done enough, despair at all the people continuing their destructive behaviour, and guilt that my small Green actions never added up to very much. While I was remembering God’s love for his creation, I was forgetting his unending love and forgiveness for me! I was also trying to take the whole burden on my shoulders, instead of giving it to Christ in whom we can find rest. I can only be myself and I can only play my own part.
I continue to pray for discernment but I believe that I am called to protect God’s creation as much as I can whilst living my “normal” life. So perhaps what’s “normal” has to change.
If we work together as Christians we can encourage each other to turn our small efforts into bigger, more sacrificial changes. Step by step we can create the new “normal” – a life where we own less and share more, travel less and rest more, do less and love more. One thing we can all do is talk about climate change and allow people to express fear, despair and anger – and to trust in God’s redeeming grace.
Step by step we can create the new “normal” – a life where we own less and share more
There are times when I think, like my son, that living in a hut in the woods would be a good idea. Holy people like Saint Francis found great joy and peace in giving up their possessions. We can find this same peace by recognising that we have no need for all our stuff. I find great comfort in considering the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, as Jesus advised (Matt 6). They don’t worry about what to eat or what to wear, or about “keeping up with the Joneses”, but are fully reliant on God. However little difference it feels like I am making, I know I am always trying to do what is right. If I continue to try to be the best person I can be – to do no harm and to love my neighbours and all that God created and loves – then I can leave the rest to God.
About the Author
Louise Cook is a writer and communicator on environmental issues, living in South London with a husband and three sons. She is a trustee of Green Christian, and manages our Facebook group Growing them Green.