It’s undergone many changes and has taken many forms over the last 40 years, but the idea has been around since my childhood. I remember Weekly Reader articles warning about global warming (now better termed global climate change), discussions of electric and solar powered cars, and emphasis on the importance of recycling, all while we were still eating food from McDonald’s that was served up in styrofoam containers.
I grew up knowing that recycling was a good idea, although not always possible. My dad spent a lot of time focusing on gas mileage, but I’m pretty sure that was for financial reasons more than environmental. When I was seven or eight my mom and I both cried when some neighborhood official got the city of Detroit to trim up all of the lower branches on the beautiful oak trees that lined our block of 1930s bungalows. We spent holidays at my grandparents’ farm in Michigan, summers at the beach, and winters in the snow. My parents always made sure to point out when people were polluting and dumping trash and emphasizing to us the importance of taking good care of the natural world in our immediate vicinity.
But that’s not to say I grew up in a family that was extraordinarily environmentally conscious. My parents were just responsible stewards of the world around them and they taught us to do the same.
It wasn’t until I got older and learned more about all the ways others were abusing our planet that I got more passionate about environmental issues. The more I read and the more I studied, I became ultimately convinced it wasn’t just about care of my immediate environment, creation care was essential to my outward expression of faith in a loving God who created everything that I hold dear.
The truth is, as much as I would like to say we do everything humanly possible to be “all in” with being a green family, we don’t, but in general we do our best to be responsible citizens of the planet. We work hard at doing the things that are painless (such as recycling), we have cut back on excessive materialism, we try to intentionally buy products that save energy and reduce waste, and we continue to research ways that we can integrate green energy into our everyday lives.
Green living isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor, and focusing on one environmentally friendly lifestyle choice while participating in other not-so-green activities does not make one a hypocrite; it makes us human. We don’t have to drop everything all at once, nor do we have to do everything all at once. A vegan can drive a pick-up if that is the best type of transportation for work or recreation. A hunter can kill deer for food and sport and return to a home powered with solar panels. A mom can grow a perfectly cultivated garden and still choose to order take-out a couple nights a week. A businessman can choose public transportation when at home but take a chartered flight to get to a meeting in reasonable time.
No matter how we do it, it is important to do something. After all, if I believe that God created a delicate balance, then why wouldn’t I do what I could to help maintain that balance? When we know better, we should do better.
So how does one take small steps to more complete creation care living?
Recycle: To me this really seems like a no-brainer, especially since the last two places we’ve lived, in both Indiana and now here north of Houston, we’ve been given trash bins for all recyclable goods. Our paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass all go into the same bin, which gets picked up every week. Recycle bins have become more common in public spaces as well. We should be using them and encouraging those around us to use them correctly. Last weekend we went to a sporting event and I saw people throwing aluminum cans into the trash when the recycling was one foot away from the trash bin. We can definitely do better. And while we’re at it, make sure you recycle your electronic goods by taking them to an electronics store like Best Buy. The last place we want those handy items is in a landfill.
Use recycled products: After all, if we’re going to make sure that we recycle our trash, we should also make sure there is a market for the goods that come from that trash. There are shoes made from plastic water bottles, benches made from milk jugs, countertops made from glass bottles, cleaning products made from recycled material, and the list keeps growing. When we were on our summer vacation we bought water bottle carriers made from recycled plastic and we loved how versatile they were. The more we use these products, the better the market will be for them and the less trash we will see in our landfills.
Use reusable containers whenever possible: If we know that plastic doesn’t break down in landfills and we also know that the production process of creating more plastic is hurting the environment, it would stand to reason that we would be buying less bottled water, right? Except that’s not the case. And it’s not just bottled water. It’s every beverage we get from every corner shop and the pre-packaged meals that we take to school and work. We’ve sacrificed responsible use of reusable containers for the sake of convenience. You don’t have to drop all convenience all at once. Start small. Remember to use reusable bags at the grocery store. Instead of taking bottled water to work, take your own water bottle. If you ask, many fast food restaurants and gas stations will allow you to use a reusable cup in place of using one of theirs, and some businesses will even give you a discount if you choose to do so. Last year US Starbucks customers appeared to lose their collective mind when the company announced that they were phasing out straws. People acted like the loss of disposable plastic straws was the end of the world. In our house, we read the news reports about what straws were doing and made a decision right then and there: we weren’t buying more straws. We purchased reusable straws that we wash over and over again and our whole family has been perfectly content with the switch. I also bought a reusuable Starbucks cup with it’s own straw so I didn’t have to give up my straws with Frappuccinos. I’ve been using it ever since.
Cook at home: I know that for some families this is a tough one, especially in busy two-income households like ours, but we’ve discovered that the more we eat at home, the happier and healthier our whole family is. When we got married I was a notoriously terrible cook, but necessity taught me how to follow a recipe and now our kids beg to stay home instead of going out to eat. It will save you money, save your waistline, and most likely create significantly less waste in the long run.
Eat less meat: I know, this has gotten a lot of negative attention in some of the media, but the fact remains that the meat industry in the United States is not helping with production of waste and pollution. I’m not suggesting a boycott. I’m suggesting a slight scaling back on the amount and type of meat your family consumes. This is going to be a tough one for my meat-loving family, but I’m trying to work towards at least one meatless day a week. We’ll see how that goes over in the coming weeks and months.
Buy fair trade: Yes, it may cost more money, but when we buy fair trade, we can be assured that the employees are getting a fair and living wage, the company is working to reduce waste, and the company philosophy is focused on giving back to local communities instead of taking the money and running away with it.
Walk or ride your bike: While our community isn’t really bike friendly, we have encouraged our daughter to ride her bike to piano and my husband and I have occasionally gone on bike/movie dates, riding our bikes six miles to the movie theater instead of driving. If your community is not walking or biking friendly, find out what changes could be made for better safety for those who choose to use foot over gas power.
Plant a garden and compost your food scraps: This is another practice that I would love to adopt, but I kill plants. Seriously. I once killed a bamboo plant and I will never forget it. When we lived in Fort Wayne we had a backyard with a huge garden plot that had once been lovingly created and cultivated by the previous owners. While I attempted tomatoes and green peppers, the garden eventually became an uncontrollable weed patch. However, if outdoor labor is one of your gifts, use it. Maybe get together with friends (like me) who are complete black thumbs and develop a partnership. If you are like me and you can’t grow things, try a farmers market and buy local. Or try out delivery companies like Imperfect, which delivers fruits and vegetables that can’t be sold in grocery stores because it doesn’t look pretty enough.
Intentionally spend time in nature: While this won’t necessarily change the planet, it will change the way you and your family see and interact with the planet. When we start to see creation as something to be cultivated and cared for instead of used for our own personal enjoyment and financial gain, it changes the way we treat all aspects of nature, leading us to a genuine desire for more intentional green living. Instead of doing the right thing out of guilt, we do it because we really want to take care of our earthly home.
There are so many other ways that we can practice creation care. It doesn’t matter how you start; it just matters that you do something. Taking small steps, we can all start to care for the only home that God has given us, at least this side of heaven. If we all do a little, it can add up to a whole lot.