By Jonathan Merritt
Going green for the right reasons
Green is the new black. Environmental awareness is trendy, cool, in vogue. What was once reserved for Birkenstock-wearing flower children is cruising into the mainstream like a speeding Prius.
Fashion is green. Outdoor-wear company Patagonia produces fleece jackets made from recycled plastic bottles. Even Sam’s Club now sells jeans and T-shirts made with organic cotton, making Walmart the largest purchaser of organic cotton in the world as of 2006.
Corporate America is going green. For example, the computer juggernaut Dell is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to lower their carbon emissions footprint and produce electricity from renewable resources.
Hollywood is green. Celebs have spread environmentalism well beyond the sandalista crowd by helping to make it cool.
People are even eating green. According to the 2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Belief Study, 73 percent of shoppers reach for more expensive grocery items if they are marked as organic, fair trade, or free range. And three in 10 U.S. families are buying more organic products than they did a year ago, even preferring to cut other items from their spending budgets before organic products.
The pressure is on to go green if you want to look better, feel better, and fit in. “Have you joined the mainstream on this issue yet?” asks Fortune writer Adam Lashinsky in his article “Be Green — Everybody’s Doing It.” Of course, as any seasoned mother can tell you, if “everyone is doing it” we should be cautious about whatever “it” is.
Trend or Truth?
Christians shouldn’t want to run away from anything simply because it’s considered cool or fun by the secular world. We should also never want to run toward anything because it’s considered glam-worthy. In order to critically address environmental stewardship, we must address the burgeoning environmentalism fad. We immediately stumble upon several problems.
First, fads are fleeting. If you go to the mall and purchase a stylish outfit or the latest electronic gadget, by the time you get home, it will be “so five minutes ago.” Our world moves fast, and corporations are always thinking ahead to make the latest and greatest quickly obsolete. Real problems that affect real people can’t be latched onto a trend because a fad can’t possibly outlive the problem.
Perhaps you can remember the hippie movement that peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Environmentalism was all the rage during these decades, much as it is today. The Clean Air Act was enacted and extended with support from both political parties; pictures of the earth taken by astronauts raised awareness of the earth as a sensitive, life-supporting ecosystem; and tens of thousands of American colleges and schools celebrated Earth Day for the first time.
Environmentalism then went to Washington and into the courts, leaving its grass roots behind. Professionals and lawyers were soon running the movement, and the regular folks were cut out of the process. As political tides changed, corporations became king and environmentalism lost its stylishness in the public consciousness. Popular support waned, and political parties began using the environment as a weapon to beat each other up. Today, the political tension swarming around this issue is reaching fever pitch, but unfortunately, the problems don’t go away simply when the fad does.
A second problem with pop environmentalism is that it’s not accessible. You may not be able to afford to fill your refrigerator and pantry with only organic groceries or buy one of those neat little hybrids. If going green means spending money — upgrading your vehicle, buying all new light bulbs at once, or redoing a wardrobe — many people can’t afford to be good stewards. Patagonia jackets and eco-friendly snacks are an option for the wealthy. If we truly want to impact global issues, we must find globally accessible solutions.
Twentieth-century explorer and ecologist Jacques Yves Cousteau said, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: We are all in the same boat.” We are all in the same boat. We float together, and we sink together. The environment — whether polluted or healthy, preserved or exhausted — affects all humans, though not always at the same time or in the same ways. We are in this thing together, and we must work together to make a difference.
The biggest reason I reject pop environmentalism is because it cheapens the issue. We have deeper reasons to go green. Scripture is filled with commands and clues about God’s will for planet Earth, from Genesis to Revelation.
In Genesis 1, God becomes the first to ascribe value to the environment. More than half a dozen times, He surveys what He created and “saw that it was good.” Not only did God create the world, but He took pleasure in its creation. In fact, God saw so much value in creation that He wanted to make sure that it was kept in good order. This is why in Genesis 2:15 He asks humans to care for the earth: “And the Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” Other translations read, “to work it and care for it.” Essentially, we find God in the first two chapters of the Bible saying, “I am the Creator who has made everything. All that you see is good, and it’s your job to keep it that way.”
In the Old Testament laws, we also find clues about God’s plan for planet Earth. God makes laws that protect the trees and the soil and the animal populations. He even makes mandatory a period of ecological and economic rest one day a week and during the year of jubilee — a bold move which reveals much about God’s heart for the world.
You may wonder why God cares so much for the world that He would set up safeguards to preserve it. One reason is because the earth is one way that God reveals Himself to us. The Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). The same idea is echoed by the apostle Paul, who said, “His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature since the creation of the world, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made” (Romans 1:20).
The earth is God’s apologetic about Himself. When we allow beauty and diversity and creativity to shine through, we amplify God’s glory on earth. I could recount many times when I was in nature — standing atop a snow-capped mountain peak or beholding the purplish hue of a sunset — and I felt unusually close to God. I imagine you could, too.
To put this in perspective, think about the other form of God’s revelation on earth: the Bible. Would you allow others to damage or deface the Scriptures? No way. If the Bible’s message were in jeopardy, would you speak up to protect it?Of course you would. Similarly, God wants us to respect and defend the natural world.
The earth is God’s apologetic about Himself.
Christians should go green, but not because it’s cool. We should go green because we’ve been called. We serve the Creator of the planet that green living preserves. He created this earth and gave us the great task of caring for our planet. As Charles Colson says in his book The Body (W Publishing Group):
We should be contending for truth in every area of life. Not for power or because we are taken with some trendy cause, but humbly to bring glory to God. For this reason, Christians should be the most ardent ecologists. Not because we would rather save spotted owls than cut down trees whose bark provides lifesaving medicine, but because we are mandated to keep the Garden, to ensure that the beauty and grandeur God has reflected in nature is not despoiled.
The trends and styles that culture exalts are not inherently wrong. They simply aren’t optimal places to build a strong foundation for issues of this magnitude. We have an operator’s manual for our planet right in front of us in the Bible, and we must allow that manual to change our thinking and behavior.
Christians should go green, but not because it’s cool. We should go green because we’ve been called. We serve the Creator of the planet that green living preserves. He created this earth and gave us the great task of caring for our planet.
Go Green, Save Green
Many of the things we can do to consciously steward the earth have the added benefit of saving us money. Here are a few tips:
- Turn off the juice: Everyone knows that replacing incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs will save tons of energy, but what about conserving your existing usage? When I was growing up, my parents would always say, “When not in use, turn off the juice.” This meant, “Turn off the light and quit wasting energy!” Take their advice and turn off the lights when you leave a room. Also unplug electronic appliances that are not in use because they still use energy even though they aren’t technically functioning.
- Go old school: It’s hard to improve on something that’s already great, and doing things the old-fashioned way is sometimes better. I use a reel mower to cut my grass. It works wonderfully and doesn’t use any gas. I use reusable glasses and mugs over disposable ones, and coincidentally I save money and waste. You might also plant a garden where you grow your own fruits, herbs, and vegetables or learn to make your own cleaning supplies.
- Save water: Bottled water is a commodity that proves time and time again to be no better or tastier than the alternative, but it can be expensive. Additionally, it creates mountains of plastic in American landfills. Purchase a good reusable bottle and make it your new best friend. If you use water on your lawn or in your garden, purchase a rain barrel from your local home improvement store. If you’re in the market for a washing machine, go with a water-saving front loader. Low-flow toilets are also ideal, and you should always be careful that the chemicals you are putting down your drain or in the soil aren’t environmentally destructive.
- Buy smarter: Used items are best because no new materials are spent, plus they’re cheaper. You should always recycle, but reusing is better than buying something new. Also, don’t skimp on a cheaply made item that will break in a year or two. Invest in quality goods that will last. You’ll save money and reduce waste.
Jonathan Merritt is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (FaithWords). He blogs regularly at jonathanmerritt.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Home Life. Subscribe