Becoming an environmental steward

Photo by s2art on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team. 

It’s not easy to intentionally become an environmental steward; yet, in many ways, all of us likely are stewards already: we take care of family, home and yard, the best we know and can. Perhaps the biggest step we can take toward intentional care for creation involves thinking and reflecting on why and how we exercise these responsibilities.

Taking that step is not always easy. Good information on which to base our stewardship is not always easy to find or understand. For instance, we New Yorkers will have to think about how to organize shopping trips, with single-use plastic shopping bags to be outlawed in about a year.

Here comes an interesting Danish study looking at the resources consumed to create and deliver a plastic shopping bag compared to the resources required to create and deliver a reusable cotton shopping bag. The cotton shopping bag would need to be used on approximately 7,000 shopping trips to equal the production resource footprint per use of the plastic shopping bag.

However, as is plenty clear when you follow the news, the resource impact of producing one or the other type bag is just one part of the story. The other part happens after the shopping trip; some of us collect and return these bags, others end up holding refuse and ultimately in landfills; others we find floating through the landscape around us. One has been hanging above our reach in a beautiful tree next to our church. It will, likely, end up sharing the fate of other discarded plastic, being shredded by branches and the wind, contributing to the accumulation of plastic in the environment. And therein lies an important limitation of that Danish study: by focusing on the resources to produce and deliver the bags to grocery stores, they omit the impact of what happens after the grocery store hands them out to their customers. A bag here, a bag there, and pretty soon we’re talking significant amounts of plastic all around us.

One of the challenges we have when trying to become stewards is to make sense out of all the information inundating us. A bit of information here, a bit of information there, and pretty soon we’re drowning in it. Few of us have the time to sift through the various  studies, to understand their strengths, weaknesses, or limitations. And you can take that to the bank: there always are strengths, weaknesses and limitations. And that’s before we dig into the motivation behind a study, which may drive how the results are arrived at and publicized.

But there’s a simpler way, and we’re invited to start walking on it: The Episcopal Church is asking Episcopalians to pledge, at any time during this year’s Lent, to take even the smallest of steps to care for God’s Creation, because those steps together can make a difference. Your pledge, as asked for by the Episcopal Church, consists of three parts:

  • Loving—how do you show your love for protecting the sacred web of life?
  • Liberating—how will you show that you stand in solidarity with your brothers and sister in Christ, especially those being harmed by environmental degradation and climate change?
  • Life giving—how will you change your own life, so that your flourishing is woven together with the flourishing of the Earth?

The Episcopal Church is looking for 1,000 people to pledge online by Easter. Considering how many of us there are, that should be easy. Will you become one of them? You pledge online at: Now, please go and do it!

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