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A time of sacrifice, a time to learn by doing

29th Mar 2019


People practise their religions in a variety of ways, but most often through rituals. Rituals can keep people aligned on their spiritual path, strengthen their relationship to God, and give them something to look forward to.

Lent is the Christian time of penance, where, for 40 days, they give something up, often an indulgence or a bad habit. This is done to imitate Jesus’ fast before he began his public ministry. The Islamic equivalent is Ramadan.

For Lent, many Christians refrain from drinking alcohol, eating sugar, or smoking. Lately, however, many church leaders have encouraged “going green” for Lent. The Washington Post reported that the latest Lent challenge in America is giving up single-use plastic.

In the UK, 49 Conservative British MPs decided to do away with a variety of unsustainable practices and to share their progress on social media. According to a press release by the Conservative Party, each official will shop locally for groceries to reduce food miles (#ShopLocalforLent), cut meat out of their diets (#LentilsforLent), lead littler pickup projects in their constituencies (#LentLitterPicker), and commit to a zero-carbon commute.

This announcement came just a few months after the Government announced that it would comprehensively update the Resources and Waste Strategy; the first such update in over a decade. According to the press release, “The new strategy will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.”

The moral scandal of food waste comes from the fact that while 1/7 people in the world go hungry, 1/3 of food is still wasted, according to the Food Aid Foundation. Wasted food also emits methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. The updated Resources and Waste Strategy will tackle the food waste problem by mandating that businesses implement food waste prevention targets. The Government will also ramp up enforcement of the new regulations.

Western society is rife with indulgences, but many church leaders are asking their congregants to give up conveniences. To the average person living in western society, it is more convenient to buy food items in disposable containers than to wash dishes. It is convenient to get a plastic bag from the supermarket rather than to bring one. It is convenient to drive to work rather than to wait for the bus or train. These conveniences have become commonplace, even symbols of our freedom or hygiene. Yet, we are suffocating in the waste and smog these habits produce, killing God’s creatures, and still claiming to be good Muslims, good Christians, faithful followers.

It is admirable that the MPs are dedicating Lent to doing good for the earth by addressing their unsustainable habits. As leaders, they have the power of influence and the power to pass policy. By dedicating this Lent to adopting greener habits, they are priming their constituencies for the new Resource and Waste Strategy.

The Chartered Institution of Waste Management reported that the Government specified that, “Businesses and manufacturers will “pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste.” For too long, this onus has been put on the consumer, with little or no easily accessible information on the matter. Products are put into the waste stream without a second thought, while animals, especially marine animals, suffer the consequences.

Conservatism is often linked to a strong religious background, which in turn, is linked to ethical clarity (or what some might call rigidity.) In a place like the UK, (unlike in the US) conservative, liberal, and centrist alike have no problem agreeing that climate change is an impending problem.

Virtually every constituency in the world has seen the effects of climate change, whether minor or major – from warmer winter temperatures and altered agricultural patterns to more frequent natural disasters. The MPs are using their influence to do something positive for the planet and teaching their supporters how they can commit to being better stewards of the earth, a covenant that’s laid out in all of the major monotheistic religious texts.

Hopefully, the practices of living a more sustainable lifestyle will live on past Lent and become everyday habits, because small changes taken on by many people can have an outsize impact. Living by example is what leadership is about. Everyone can be a leader for sustainability, especially in the name of the One who bestowed upon us a home of abundance.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, English Language Teacher & Environmental Columnist

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