“We want to hear more about the Earthcare resources you mentioned at your presentation last night,” our hosts said after we had rested from a long, hot day of walking. We were near the end of our six-month, 1,400-mile “Peace for Earth Walk” from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, California, from November 2007 to April 2008. By that point in our pilgrimage, we had given formal presentations to more than 1,000 people, mostly Friends, at some 60 gatherings.
Our new hosts had been talking all that morning about living more lightly on the planet after being moved by our skit about John Woolman and his living in right relationship with all of Creation. As Friends, they had been feeling the call to live with integrity, to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. Now they were ready for specific changes in their lives, so we spent the evening fielding questions on everything from travel to energy and from leisure activities to diet.
In truth, when it comes to caring for God’s creation, no action is too small. This was shown vividly in a National Geographic video we watched recently, titled Human Footprint, about the huge demand that our affluent living can place on the Earth’s limited resources. Simple actions like bringing our own cloth bags to the grocery store and carrying our own mugs when traveling can add up to big positive impacts over our lifetimes. Just as important, these habits frequently remind us that we are part of the web of life and therefore responsible for everything we do. This is why we concluded our formal Peace for Earth Walk presentations with “homework assignments,” providing some beginning steps for Friends to put into practice.
The first thing we told our listeners was that we can’t do this by ourselves. We are bombarded today by corporate advertising and other signals from the dominant culture that tell us what to buy, what to wear, or what house or car will make us “complete” as individuals. But if Earth-friendly living comes down to being in right relationship, we need our social networks for wisdom and strength to make better choices.
One way to treat our addiction to materialism is to start a support or study group of like-minded people who can provide inspiration, challenge, and encouragement to make changes and stick to them. In a personal note, Ruah acknowledges that, even though she buys used clothing, it’s hard for her to stop consuming. “What is it that compels me to stop at yet another thrift store to buy something else for my closet when my closet is already full?” She then shares that one Friend has proposed a 12-step program for consumers, often getting laughs when she goes on to picture herself saying, “Hi, I’m Ruah and I’m a consumer.”
We highly recommend the Northwest Earth Institute (www.nwei.org) as a resource for discussion groups. We have been part of one in our community for four years, and participants have found it to be so meaningful that most have made significant changes. NWEI offers eight discussion guides to work in small groups, which can be in your meeting, neighborhood, or workplace. Another great resource for a discussion group is the workbook The Low Carbon Diet—A 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds, by David Gershon, published by the Empowerment Institute. This study course works on positive ways to make changes and doesn’t invoke guilt. Those we know who have worked with this book have been encouraged and enthusiastic.
We also recommend Earthcare for Friends —A Study Guide for Individuals and Faith Communities, from Quaker Earthcare Witness, as a resource for adult education sessions. It has lessons, readings, activities, and scriptural references on many of the pressing ecological issues of the day as seen from a spiritual perspective. There is also a companion book, Earthcare for Children—A First Day School Curriculum, which has been widely used and appreciated.
One of the most exciting resources we learned about on our walk is The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference by Ellis Jones, from New Society Publishers. This little and inexpensive book rates companies that produce and manufacture most of the types of items we buy in grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, furniture stores, and even where we do our banking. Each company is rated from A+ to F; criteria are presented to help us make good, sustainable decisions; and even a “Corporate Hero” and “Corporate Villain” are identified and described. We’ve been surprised and delighted with the response to this book. When we’ve brought it out in a home, the children have been quick to pick it up and search for their favorite foods, body care products, clothing, or electronics producers.
While it’s necessary to shift our purchases to those corporations that are acting responsibly, it’s also important to cultivate a habit of generally consuming less of the world’s limited resources. The idea goes back at least as far as World War II, when posters promoted frugality with the motto, “Use it up—Wear it out—Make it do or do without.” This applies to our stewardship of energy as well. Many people we meet say they are interested in installing solar panels on their homes. We tell them this is a great idea—but only after they have reduced their electricity and hot water demand to less than half that of the typical wasteful North American household.
We can all learn to use a lot less water, toothpaste, shampoo, heating fuel, or commercial beverages; to do less driving; and to simplify our gift-giving. The list goes on and on. The core idea is learning to stop consuming when we discern we have enough to satisfy our needs. As a way of supporting this, we encourage people to compare their monthly bills and give themselves stars when their increased mindfulness results in decreased consumption.
We can all rediscover the pleasure of low-consumption activities such as walking, biking, sharing music, and good conversations. This is a good way to start weaning ourselves away from commercial television and other kinds of exposure to advertising, which encourages unnecessary consumption by making us feel continually dissatisfied with what we have.
It is natural for us to resist behavioral changes that we perceive as sacrifices or duties imposed from the outside. But it is also natural for us to want to make the world a better place for all, and to undertake such changes joyfully and enthusiastically, as a result of widening our boundaries of self-interest and compassion to include all of Creation.