Plastic not so Fantastic

The Republic of Ireland is green in a much wider sense than shamrocks and leprechauns. On our visit last year we found the rolling hills of County Cavan dotted with wind turbines – strangely aesthetic and not intrusive at all – and we soon realised too that plastic supermarket bags are forbidden. Every shopping trip, whether for sausages or souvenirs, ended with goods being handed over in a brown paper bag. Actually I’m told now that plastic is not illegal, just heavily penalised with a 22 euro-cent levy. This has had the effect of drastically reducing plastic bag usage over the last seven years, from 328 bags per person per year, to now just 21. So this week when I heard the talkback troops objecting to another supermarket chain deciding to charge for the 270 million bags its Kiwi customers use, I was philosophical. I don’t think punishing us for our wasteful reliance on plastic is a bad idea.

Yes, it will reduce the options for binliners, and yes, it will make me have to decide in advance how many of those three hundred recyclable bags I own I need to take shopping with me. But if it makes a difference to the life or death of our planet, it’s well worth while. And the notion of going back to charging a refundable 50c or so on glass bottles also has a lot to recommend it. My husband as a teenager funded a lot of illicit movie-going with bottles retrieved from the side of the road. (No they weren’t illicit movies as such, just that watching them at all was against the family rules). If bottles had a real value we could find a lot less of that ubiquitous broken glass on our beaches and footpaths.

Ecological awareness is not a New Age invention. Christians really should be at the forefront of promoting environmental concern. Why? Because we believe that the earth is good, not bad, and its disorder and disease is the result of sin. God gave to his human creatures the awesome responsibility of tending (guarding, caring for) his created world, and that is meant to be a living, sustainable kind of stewardship, not just using it till it’s worn out. Scripture teaches us that humans are distinct from other animals, and have rights and responsibilities related to our being made in the image of God. But too often Christians too see as ourselves as consumers by right, and worship the material world ourselves. Most of us still drive big cars, own a myriad of appliances, and landfill several black bags of rubbish every week. Changing our thinking about the world we live in is fast becoming a moral imperative.

Some of today’s Biblical scholars tend to a "greener" view of Creation and Redemption that sees the final judgment of the world as being an occasion of renewing this earth, not destroying it and making a new one. With this in mind, says Ethics Professor Michael Northcott in his book “A Moral Climate” , we should be like the early Christian monks, and model good stewardship and care for creation, with recycling, healthy eating, and support of sound environmental policies. So I am gearing myself up to do my bit for this ecological enterprise, and wean myself off plastic bags. (The one exception to my green conscience here is the disposable nappy. Having changed and laundered many thousands of cloth nappies over years of raising four children, I find the disposables used on my grandchildren a veritable gift of God!)

Some people describe us as being co-creators with God. God’s “holding together of all things” (Col 1: 17) is far beyond our comprehension, so we are not equal partners in the sustaining of the earthly environment. But we are made to reflect his image, and we have an incredible capacity for developing imaginative ways to care for creation ourselves. We can play a part in the redemption of the earth. Gordon McDonald in his now out-of-print Forging a Real World Faith calls it “pressing Christ's Kingdom" into the disorder of the world, and tells of his wife who picked up trash with a satisfied grin, claiming she was doing her part to press home the Kingdom. I want to have that Kingdom mindset as I live more sustainably in this beautiful but damaged world, in whose renewal I hope to dance and revel (Ron Sider) when our Lord returns.

To Chew Over: How do I celebrate the goodness of creation? How do I exercise that stewardship in my daily life? What specific creative task is God entrusting to me?

“So obey the commands of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills.
It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey.
It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills.
When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
Deuteronomy 8: 6 - 10