Can we agree that “love your neighbour as yourself” is not a programme for genocide? When John’s letter says “Where charity and love are, there is God”, genocide would not be part of that picture? Yet, in our time we are watching, by slow and incremental steps, the greatest genocide imaginable; and it is being perpetuated by you and me. Let me explain.
Until 1970, the rate at which the human race devoured the Earth’s resources was within the capacity of our planet to replace. But since that time, the richer nations of the world — including ours — have demanded more than the Earth has to give. We are depleting Earth’s resources too fast for her to regenerate, generating a greater toxic burden than she can process — asking for more while leaving her less to meet our demands. The luxury Baltic cruise I treated myself to, the cheap factory-farmed meat wrapped in plastic I got from the supermarket, the green beans flown in from Kenya, the teak garden furniture I put in the garden I covered with concrete paving — I paid for these with the lives of my grandchildren; that was the trade. There is only one Earth. We are living as though there were and Earth and a half. Every year we do so, we need more while leaving her less to give. We are eating the Earth alive and poisoning her at the same time. We are killing her; and we are part of the Earth, which makes this also a genocide and, eventually, a suicide. We shall have killed not only ourselves but our friends, our children, our grandchildren — the ones who looked to us to protect and defend them; the ones who trusted us.
In the decades between 1970 and now, what has been called Earth Overshoot Day — the day in the year when we used up what the Earth can replenish — has got gradually earlier and earlier. By 1995 it was on 10th October, then in 2005 we reached overshoot by 3rd September, and in 2015 we reached it on 13th August. Last year Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29th. Simply by over-consumption, we are destroying our home. We have all seen the news. We know what war and starvation look like, what it is to walk for miles in search of water. We know what raging floods and dustbowls look like. This is what we are doing — to each other, to all the animals and plants, and to ourselves.
If we were to follow past trends, Earth Overshoot Day this year would probably been around the 18th of July; but 2020 is not a normal year! Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the date for Earth Overshoot Day has moved back in the right direction by more than 3 weeks, to August 22nd. By staying at home, stopping the traffic, ceasing to fly, shutting things down, we have demonstrated that it would be possible to heal our world, to stop the genocide and the terror that otherwise await us. We have shown that there would be a chance. But we do have to take it.
I look at the place we are in — at the cruelty and corruption of our government, at the spectre of desertification and melting ice, the terrifying rate at which the Earth’s creatures are dying; I look at the war and torture, the violence and greed, and hope fails within me. But I know this, and no other, was the time I was called to live; and you and I were called to do this journey together; we were born for this time.
I have the feeling that the days of innocence are over for us; that my soul will never stand down from high alert from here on out; never go off duty again. It’s what Jesus said to us, isn’t it — “What I say, I say to you all: keep watch.”
When I ask myself, “What do I want from this life?”, I know that I want to be able to look at the Earth as I leave it, and say, “We did it”, and feel proud to have been part of this season’s people. I want not only to survive, to escape the worst of what befalls my children and grandchildren, but actually to heal the world.
I expect that you, like me, when you contemplate this task, feel it is beyond you. But there are certain things we can definitely do, and that’s what I’d like us to focus on now.
The most effective things, as the pandemic has shown, are not doing *more* of this or that — complicated technology, programmes, and intergovernmental co-operation (though some of that would be helpful) — but doing *less*.
To express it most straightforwardly, we have to STOP. Right now. There’s no time left. Right now. We have to learn to do without. If you can possibly manage without a car and take the bus, do so. If there is any way you can avoid air flights (and the pandemic has shown you can), do so. Look for ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Reduce your purchases, your packaging, your consumption altogether. From today. Do it.
The watchwords for healing our world are SHARING — SIMPLIFYING — SLOWING.
Sharing is the best way of making resources go further, and is immediately accessible to all of us. Sharing is vital to healing the Earth. Share your home, share car journeys, share your money, your food. Swap and lend and borrow, participate in community gardens, buy second-hand. De-monetise your life as much as you can, to escape the grip of Mammon. Own as little as possible; give stuff away. Sharing will make you happy, make you free, and heal the Earth.
SIMPLIFYING is a non-negotiable necessity if we are to act in our time for love and hope and healing. Each of us will have a unique template of what simplicity looks like, but in every case it will include a radical reduction in travel, purchasing, pollution, consumption and waste. Reduce, re-use, re-cycle. Own as little as possible. And de-complicate your life so that you have time and space to engage mindfully and responsibly with your commitments, relationships and decisions.
Much of our over-consumption is driven by being rushed and overwhelmed, harassed and tired. This is why SLOWING our lives is essential to healing the Earth — and healing ourselves, for we are part of the Earth. Take time to grow your own food — you don’t need a garden; have you got a windowsill? Take time to walk instead of going by car. Take time to plan meals and prepare, thinking ahead to make wise purchases that reduce food miles and packaging and food waste.
This week, consider ways you can SHARE, SIMPLIFY and SLOW your life. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything. Begin. Just begin. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
One of the most important things you can do is harness the power of your imagination. A friend of mine, a sailor, when he took his boat out of Rye harbour (on the Sussex coast) always used to imagine he’d be sailing all the way to France. He said it kind of projected his imagination ahead of him like a spear, and that gave him the power he needed to cross the bar and get out of the harbour at all. It’s like when you chop wood — if you bring the axe down onto the top of the log it’ll just bounce off. In your intention, in your imagination, you have to bring the axe down onto the ground *under* the log —then the log just parts as the axe passes through.
Here are the five steps of making change in your life.
1) You identify the condition you want to move into. Don’t focus on what you want to get away from, focus on where you want to get to. It’s like Jesus said — no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. If you look over your shoulder your furrow will go all wonky. Don’t look back. Look at where you’re going; focus on that. Focus on the freedom and peace, on the healing and hope. Focus on the Earth renewed and humanity living in harmony with each other and all the other species. Focus on compassion and sharing and simplicity and slowness, on clean waters and healthy coral reefs and every farm with its hedgerows. Get it into your sights.
2) Then you use your imagination to go ahead of you into the condition you want to reach — like my friend in his boat leaving the harbour by imagining going to France. Think about what you want to create, to be. Imagine it. Read about it. Look for likeminded companions on the journey. Immerse yourself imaginatively into the condition you want to reach. Pray about it. Make an altar. Look at pictures. Summon it into your imagination.
3) Next, you have to lock it in so it doesn’t waver, so you don’t get bored or discouraged. Keep your focus on it. Saturate yourself in stimuli and information, in stories and videos. Stick reminders on your fridge. Find groups to join online who will encourage and inspire you and help you to persevere.
4) Next you take action. As you focus on sharing, give something away, put something in the food-bank basket. As you focus on simplifying, eliminate one thing from your schedule today, make one less car journey this week, look for one item on your grocery list you can get unpackaged instead of in a plastic bag; before you commit to a purchase, make a game of seeing what you can use instead that you already have. As you focus on slowing, do one creative and playful thing — look up a video on how to crochet, or how to propagate a plant from a twig, or how to make apple crumble — and do it. Be looking all the time for ways to make life happy without hurting the Earth. Think globally and act locally.
5) Persevere. Build on your beginning. Make this your passion, your obsession, your prayer, your life, your determined and unwavering intent.
If what we want to see is not yet here, we have to create it imaginatively, immerse ourselves in that new environment, then hold it in place; it will gradually then come into material being. Change is effected first in the imagination — it has to be, because it isn’t here yet.
From now on for the rest of our lives, this has to be our great work of love. We are this season’s people. We were sent here to heal the world. Every time we stumble and mess up, we are to get right back up and keep going. We are to encourage one another. We are here to make a difference, whatever happens. If someone tells you it’s too late, don’t listen to them; it’s never too late. If your mother is dying, you don’t say, “Oh dear, too late to make a difference,” and walk away and leave her — you watch over her and do everything you can, for as long as you can, because you love her. It’s never too late to love. Same with Mother Earth. We are her children, and the children of Father God. There is no scenario imaginable where we can stop praying, stop loving, stop doing whatever we can.
We are this season’s people, and the time has come for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work. This year we pushed Earth Overshoot Day back by three weeks. Let’s see if we can’t keep shunting it back until we reach regeneration.