What kind of footprint are you leaving on this earth? Each year it becomes more evident that our human demand on Earth’s ecosystems is outstripping the Earth’s capacity to regenerate in order to sustain itself. The term “ecological footprint” was first coined in the early 1990’s as a way of analyzing the biologically productive land and water needed to resource the needs of Earth’s population and also dispose of the corresponding waste. In 2006, the United Nations determined that our ecological footprint was 1.4 planet Earths (there is a 3 year lag time in order to collect statistics). This means that in 2006 humans were consuming the Earth’s resources 1.4 times faster than the Earth could renew them.
You may be more familiar with the term “carbon footprint.” A carbon footprint is an estimate of how much carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change) is produced to support human activities, including food consumption, travel, and home energy use. Carbon footprints can be calculated for individuals, organizations, businesses, cities, and countries.
The carbon cap and trade system is an international attempt to reduce greenhouse gases. A carbon credit is a permit that allows an organization to produce one ton of carbon dioxide. If an organization plants enough trees to reduce greenhouse gases below their emissions quota, they gain carbon credits. Conversely, businesses that exceed their quota of greenhouse gases can purchase carbon credits from the organization that planted the trees.
There is another indicator of how human consumption affects our world, and that is the “water footprint.” The water footprint is a measure of the volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services of an individual, community, or nation. Did you know that the production of one pound of beef requires 11,857 gallons of water, one cup of coffee requires 37 gallons of water, and one pair of jeans requires 2,900 gallons of water?
The smaller the ecological, carbon, and water footprint we leave, the healthier our earth and its people will be. All of the stuff that we have comes from somewhere, and if we don’t take care of our ecosystems, we adversely affect the one world we have. As an example, people living inNew York City have a carbon foot print that is less than 1/3 the national average. That’s because New Yorkers use subways, buses, and trains, walk more, live in smaller dwellings, and use less utilities.
Last Thursday was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which is an annual reminder that the Earth and its people are inextricably linked. Everything that we do in the United States affects our brothers and sisters around the world, especially the poorest of the poor, who will be most immediately and severely affected by climate change. Unfortunately, our American ecological, carbon, and water footprint is outsized compared to other countries.
According to a report last September from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, some 20 million people were displaced in 2009 due to “climate-related, sudden-onset” disasters around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2050 the number of environmental refugees will swell to 150 million.
In the next several decades rising sea levels are threatening to sink inhabited islands in our major oceans and relocate millions of coastal residents in Southeast Asia. Climate change is also melting glaciers from the Arctic and Antarctica toAlaskaand theHimalayas.
It’s all too easy for you and me to go about our daily lives without thinking about the effect that our lifestyle choices have on Mother Earth. As people of faith, however, and specifically as United Methodists, we claim that our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Notice the word “world.” Our call is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by leaving “spiritual footprints” which will transform creation as well as people.
When I hear some Christians claim that we should focus solely on converting people to Jesus Christ rather than get involved in environmental concerns, or that we should only save souls, not the world, I grieve. I am saddened because foundational to our Judeo-Christian heritage is the belief that everything God created God called good. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” Psalm 24:1
God gave the Earth and its creatures for us to use and enjoy (Genesis 1:28), but we often forget the “care for” part of God’s instructions. In fact, the consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve was not only alienation from God and one another, but alienation from creation as well. Part of our fallenness is our desire to dominate the Earth as well as each other. There are numerous references in the New Testament to Jesus reconciling all of creation to himself, not just human beings.
Have you ever noticed that John 3:16, the most well known verse in the entire Bible, does not say, “God so loved human beings”? Rather, it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” This verse implies that the new birth which characterizes our encounter with the suffering and risen Christ also applies to creation as well. Is it possible for us to be born from above if we don’t work toward that same reconciliation for our world?
To be faithful to the God who calls us to be stewards of the mysteries of God’s creation, we need to be attentive to reducing our ecological, carbon, and water footprints by practicing what our United Methodist bishops call environmental holiness. The Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter in November 2009 called “God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action.”
The bishops write, “John Wesley preached: ‘The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social. No holiness but social holiness.’ Through social holiness we make ourselves channels of God’s blessing in the world. Because God’s blessing, care, and promise of renewal extend to all of creation, we can speak today of ‘environmental holiness’ as well. We practice social and environmental holiness by caring for God’s people and God’s planet and by challenging those whose policies and practices neglect the poor, exploit the weak, hasten global warming, and produce more weapons.”
Our commitment to environmental holiness is clearly grounded in biblical truth. Ecology is part of theology, as the ReThink ad goes. But it is also an expression of much deeper questions.
What kind of spiritual footprint are you leaving on this earth?
- How can your increase your spiritual footprints and decrease your ecological, carbon, and water footprints?
- Do you realize that your every word or action affects someone in this world in a positive or negative way?
- What kind of legacy will you leave for the next generation, especially the children, the oppressed, and forgotten?
- Can our faith prompt us to adjust our way of living so that our brothers and sisters around the world will have a better life?
- How will your presence and witness in your local church be remembered by those who follow you?
- How is your church practicing environmental holiness, including but certainly not limited to community gardens, recycling, green buildings, avoidance of Styrofoam and plastic bottles, and energy conservation?
- Will our church, community, and world be healthier, more spiritually mature, and more compassionate because of your spiritual footprints?
One of my favorite anthems is “Find Us Faithful,” with words and music by Jon Mohr. I can’t sing or hear it without being inspired to love Jesus more deeply, live each day more faithfully, and leave spiritual footprints wherever I go.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful; May the fire of our devotion light their way; May the footprints that we leave Lead them to believe; And the lives we live inspire them to obey; Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.