Fr Donal Dorr
Everybody talks about global warming—but mostly about the kind of action that should be taken by what others—by governments, or the United Nations, or multinational companies. The problem seems to be one that is too big for any one of us to tackle. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the only effective way it can be tackled is by a whole lot of individuals like ourselves making changes in our way of living. We can then hope that there will be a build-up of commitment and of pressure on governments and companies to a point where they are compelled to take the necessary corrective action.
So what can we do? There are a whole lot of fairly small actions that we can do without putting too much pressure on ourselves. Each of these is important because it contributes in some degree to lessening the problem. Equally important is the fact that doing them will keep the problem in the forefront of our minds. This means that we will be on the lookout for other actions we can take. It means also that we will be giving good example to others and encouraging them to find their own ways of addressing the issue. And those of us who are in situations where we preach or teach will be able, in good faith, to speak in public on the urgency of the issue, rather than remaining silent because of our own inaction and sense of helplessness.
One of the simplest actions we can take is simply to use less water—especially hot water. Quite frequently people run the hot tap for three minutes just to get enough hot water to rinse a cup or a plate. So gallons of hot water are being drawn out of the tank and left sitting in the many yards of piping between the tank and the tap. It would be far more eco-friendly to have a water-heating device very close to the tap, or else to wash a lot of cups and plates at the same time. And when washing objects or ourselves we may not need to run the taps at full force.
When people speak of ‘our carbon footprint’, they mean the extent to which each one of us personally contributes to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and therefore to global warming. Air travel is one of the major ways in which we increase our carbon footprint—because airplanes spew out a huge amount of carbon, and they also produce other by-products which are even more damaging than carbon. So we must begin to take seriously that we are contributing to the damage to the environment every time we travel by air. Furthermore, those of us who drive cars need to ask ourselves whether we could instead use public transport as much as possible and whether we could walk or use a bicycle for shorter distances.
Much of the food we eat comes from distant parts of the world. It has been calculated that the shipping of food from distant lands adds significantly to global warming. Could we go back to relying far more on local food, drink, and other products. By doing so we would be reminding ourselves of the urgency of the global warming issue, and getting used to this practice—as well as modeling it for others.
What about our houses: how well insulated are they? Are we in a position to get better insulation for our houses and to ensure that drafts be eliminated? Does our house have a modern efficient boiler? Is the hot water cylinder abundantly lagged?
Perhaps the most important thing we can all do to save our planet for the future is to scale down our needs. We can think back and recall how well we survived 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, living a much simpler life, perhaps a life closer to the earth. We might also find it helpful to think of the simple life lived by Jesus.