As I’ve strolled around our local parks in my daily walk with God, I’ve noticed many lovely black and white birds. “Which one of them is a magpie?” I wondered, “Which one a peewee?” and “Which one a butcher bird?” While some of you may resonate with my easy distraction from God, hopefully you will also identify with reconnecting to God’s creation in a deeper way.
I had been disturbed by the way society, pre-COVID, was hurtling towards environmental catastrophe as we (including many people of faith) consumed more and more. It seemed to me a misguided attempt to find happiness and fulfilment in things and experiences. But my marvelling at magpies and peewees has helped me wonder whether COVID 19 could, in fact, be a blessing in disguise – a chance for us all, and perhaps especially for people of faith, to re-imagine what a good life, of loving God, neighbour and our common home, looks like.
Here I offer six learnings which might help us to treat the earth and the life it sustains with the care they deserve. I finish with six corresponding reflection questions, which may take these learnings into practice, and help the world resemble a little more the reign of God.
Christians and people of faith generally, strive to align themselves with all that is good and holy. It takes a certain humility to face the sobering fact that, as everyday Australians, we have an extraordinarily large average carbon footprint – 22 tonnes CO2e[i] per person per year[ii] – over three times the global average. This is more than God’s amazing ecosystem of forests and oceans can absorb. Unwittingly, we are part of causing the atmosphere to heat, droughts and fires to become more frequent, the seas to rise, and thousands of species to become extinct. Without meaning to, we are making life much tougher for our neighbours, in Australia and beyond.
The carbon footprint associated with driving is an average of 2 tonnes CO2e per Australian per year; electricity needed to run our pools and air-conditioners is1.5 tonnes per Australian per year), but two of the biggest footprints are due to the new products we purchase (5 tonnes CO2e per person per year), and our air-travel (about 2 tonnes per international flight).
Thus, any learnings from COVID that help us be more content with what we have, and where we are, will be a big win for God’s creation and its inhabitants!
Six learnings from COVID that may help us better care for Creation
- Appreciating nature: Under COVID, many of us have spent more time in our local parks marvelling at nature. I learnt, for example, that the bird in the picture is a peewee (otherwise known as a magpie lark). If that love of nature persists after COVID, might we be willing to do more to prevent the loss of many species of birds, insects and plants due to climate change? That may mean being willing to speak up over excessive land-clearing, or advocating that our energy supply move rapidly towards being sourced from renewables that don’t pump carbon into the atmosphere.
- We can work and play closer to home: Zoom meetings have become more normal and, while not the same as face to face meetings, they actually enable a reasonable quality of communication with others. Similarly, as we’ve learnt to shop, exercise and recreate locally, we’ve learned to appreciate our own neighbourhood! I dream that, after COVID, there will be more working from home, recreation in our local community, and domestic holidays, thus decreasing the need to drive and fly so much. I dream that people of faith, having become more comfortable with praying and connecting online, will be more discerning as to whether we really need to fly to that next Christian conference.
3. Slowing the pace of life and re-learning what’s important: Under COVID, it’s been possible to rekindle enjoyment of the simple things in life: reading, games, music, time with family. Instead of shopping and countless other activities during lockdown, we’ve read a book, dusted off the guitar, or phoned a friend. As we’ve done so, most of us have felt good doing it. For some, the slower pace has also helped to reconnect with God. If that appreciation of a slower pace and greater connection with God and others continues post COVID, is there hope that we will be freer of the need to consume, travel and cram in as many activities as possible, having discovered that those things don’t actually help us feel more alive.
4. We can be brave and selfless when we need to: Under COVID, we’ve learnt that we can endure considerable suffering, if there is a greater good at hand. Many people seem more willing to give of themselves for others. In our last face-to-face service before our church went online, my older friend Dave suggested publicly that as older people, we need to consider NOT using a ventilator if it is needed by a younger person. Thankfully, unlike Italy, such self-sacrifice wasn’t necessary in Australia, but Dave’s remark struck me as a beautiful, modern day embodiment of Christ’s words: “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”[iii]
I wonder if, post-COVID, that willingness to self-sacrifice will translate into more people of faith being willing to put themselves ‘on the line’, for example in peaceful civil disobedience actions against fossil fuel corporations which prioritise profit over a safe climate, against land clearings that endanger native species, or against immigration policies that try to keep people fleeing violence and strife away from our lands.
5. A new appreciation of science and facts: As we can’t see the virus, we’ve needed to heed the advice of virologists and epidemiologists on how to deal with COVID. And in so doing, we’ve been willing to undergo enormous changes in our lifestyles: staying at home and not going to pubs, clubs and footy matches, because the scientists told us it was important to ‘flatten the curve’.
Could COVID be the turning point at which, as people of faith, we finally get over our false “science vs faith” dichotomy, and instead embrace scientific discoveries for what they are – amazing insights into God’s creation. If so, could our newfound appreciation for science flow into listening to the climatologists, who have been imploring us for decades to dramatically flatten our ‘carbon curve’?[iv]
6. As a global community, we’re all in this together: The virus doesn’t respect international borders, so in COVID, every country is suffering and, to some extent, we feel for each other. We were all shocked to hear of the terrible choices Italian doctors had to make when allocating ventilators to critically ill patients. And whether or not we liked Boris Johnson’s politics, we’re glad he survived. An important question then, is whether countries like Australia and New Zealand, which are pulling out of the pandemic relatively quickly, start to redirect some of our resources to other countries which are still in the midst of the crisis. Similarly, when a vaccine is finally developed for COVID, will the sense of global fraternity continue, or will the vaccine simply go to the highest bidder?
When these decisions are being made, could people of faith be the moral vanguard, demanding that more vulnerable populations in the majority world receive preferential treatment? I would imagine Christ urging just such care for ‘the least’[v]. If so, could we carry that sense of caring for the ‘least’ even further, to people of faith in the rich world significantly curbing our emissions for the sake of our sisters and brothers in the developing world, who are suffering much more under climate change?
Six questions for reflection
As we emerge from COVID, you can be sure of this: the corporate marketing machine, with all its skill, money and guile, will be urging us to go back to ‘normal’ life – shopping, travelling and cramming in as many activities as possible, telling us all the while that those things will make us happy. Our only weapon against this marketing might is a deep and deliberate reflection on the type of life we really want. Here are six questions which may help.
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I ….
- Continue to appreciate real nature, or go back to watching the world on a screen?
- Continue to work and enjoy recreation and holidays closer to home, or go back to all-too-readily jumping in the car or on the plane?
- Continue to live life at a calmer pace, in which there’s time for nature, music, family and friends, or go back to squeezing in as many activities as possible?
- Continue to volunteer and look out for those people who are struggling, or go back to my old priorities?
- Continue to seek out and value what scientists advise, or go back to listening to anyone regardless of their credentials?
- Deliberately inform myself on the situation in the majority world, or just be content that in Australia we are through the worst of COVID?
I’d urge us to reflect on these and similar questions now, before all the restrictions lift and the marketing voices intensify. Our collective answers may determine whether we can help make the world a better place for ourselves, our neighbours and for God’s magnificent creation.
[i] CO2e Carbon dioxide equivalent. A single measure to include greenhouse gases other that carbon dioxide.
[ii] Simply dividing Australia’s annual emission as found here by our population. https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/australia-s-greenhouse-emissions-set-new-seven-year-highs-on-gas-boom-20190830-p52mbe.html
[iii] See John 15:13
[v] See Matthew 25:31-40