One type of Lenten fast is taking on a life of its own in the larger church, and that is the idea of a “carbon fast.” That is, to make every attempt to reduce our carbon footprint during Lent, and hopefully gain some insights into ourselves – and creation – in the process.
Scientific consensus is pretty clear that our climate is changing, and far more rapidly than usual, because of gases emitted from human activity. Carbon dioxide, methane, and even water vapour contribute to higher temperatures on a global scale, and more extreme weather events locally.
So what can we do, as Christians and as individuals, in the face of such an enormous problem? Well, we cannot change industrial policy in China, India, or the United States. These emitters will always be bigger than us; so while we can advocate for change, many things are beyond our control.
What we can do is control our own actions, and do the best that we can. This is what we do as ethical Christians in our day-to-day lives, and this is what we can do as individuals concerned about what climate change means for future generations.
A good first step is to learn what our carbon footprint is. Giving up driving completely is unrealistic for most of us, but most of us can take actions to drive less. It’s actually quite easy: just track how many kilometers you drive in a typical week. And then start thinking about what you can do to reduce it. The amount by which you can reduce your driving will be different for each of us: 5, 10, or even 20%.
As an example, say I drove 300 kms each week, and chose to reduce that amount by 10%. That would make my goal 270 kms per week, or about 40 kms per day. And it’s easy to find ways of reducing how much we drive, but it does take a little organization and discipline. Here are some of the ways I’ve found to reduce how much I drive:
- Combine errands – sometimes I feel like half the distance I drive each trip is just getting in and out of my neighbourhood. So I rarely leave to get just one thing.
- Show patience – if you’re getting low on milk, or bread, or dog food, you don’t have to buy it right away. Get it on the way to work, or when you’re leaving the house for another errand.
- Plan ahead – if you are going past the pet store, check how much dog food you have left.
- Wait around – if you’re dropping someone off, don’t go back and forth between places. Take a book and read while you’re waiting. Go for a walk with the rest of the family. Use your cell phone to ring the person you’ve been meaning to call.
By using some of these tricks, and more you’ll figure out on your own, you may just find you have more time for yourself and your family, and your pace of life might just become a little less frenetic. By doing good for the planet, you may do even more good for yourself.
Similarly, we can think about where our food comes from. Buying strawberries from California in the middle of a Newfoundland winter is probably not very environmentally sustainable. These berries are picked, packed, and shipped completely across the continent to make it here before they go bad. Instead, try to eat the sorts of things our forefathers did in the winter: root vegetables, winter squash, apples from Nova Scotia, or other produce from local producers.
Food that is grown and sold locally is also a good option for reducing our carbon footprint. There are growers who attend the local farmers’ market (stjohnsfarmersmarket.org), and you can get a variety of local vegetables and baked goods there, even in winter. And yes, these items do cost more, and will until there is more demand (and supply) for their products. So while it may not be affordable to buy all our groceries there, perhaps once a month is manageable, to help build that market. As an added bonus, you are helping small farmers and their families to make an honest and rewarding livelihood right here in Newfoundland.
Lent is a time to slow down, become contemplative, and maybe deny ourselves some pleasures we take for granted. Chocolate, alcohol, and sweets often top the list of things to give up, but how about the convenience of getting whatever we want, whenever we want it? Maybe we don’t need to run to the corner store for a loaf of bread right now. Maybe it can wait, and we can get it on the way to work tomorrow.
I encourage you to use the traditional Lenten activities of self-discipline, meditation, and preparation. Any act can be holy if done for the right reasons, even something as mundane as choosing to drive a little less. I hope you find a way to try a new kind of fasting; my even greater hope is that you will like it and keep doing it.
Richard Janzen is a vestry member at St. Mark’s and chair of our Creation Care Working Group. Richard attends our 10:30 am worship with his wife Hanna and their three children.