In this great journey I call a blog, I’ve mentioned “reducing” a few times. I think I would be hard-pressed to find a person in America who hadn’t heard “Reduce Reuse Recycle” about a million times. Most people focus on the recycling part, and think that’s the most important. And recycling is good, because it’s an easy start to becoming a better steward of the Earth.
But if we’re talking about what’s most important, then we need to read the three Rs as they are: First, reduce. Second, Reuse. Then, recycle whatever can’t be reused and you HAD to buy and couldn’t, therefor, reduce. The National Resources Defense Council has a great post about it, but here’s what it says about reducing:
So do what you will if you are itching for something new — there are no environmental police here — but don’t kid yourself. Buying nothing is better for the earth than buying green.
There are exceptions, of course. If your current car or appliance is a terrible energy-waster, you may save resources in the long term by replacing it with an energy-efficient model. And it’s better for your own health and your family’s to replace products that could leach toxins, such as PVC baby toys.
More often, though, it is greener to follow the old dictum: reduce, reuse, recycle. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but with the “green” word now co-opted in the service of sales, the three R’s are a phrase — and a principle — worth reviving.
Reduce. “Reduce” means using fewer resources in the first place. This is the most effective of the three R’s and the place to begin. It is also, I think, the hardest because it requires letting go of some very American notions, including: the bigger the better, new trumps old and convenience is next to godliness.
But you don’t need to let go completely or all at once. “Reduce” is a comparative word. It says: cut back from where you are now.
When you shop, shop differently. Look for things that will last — things that are not just durable and well-made, but useful and beautiful enough to please you for a long time. The extra money you spend on their acquisition will be offset by the money you do not spend replacing them.
Don’t chase the latest fashions. They will age the fastest.
With electronics, extravagance may pay. A super-charged computer will still run the software that comes out two years from now, and a large monitor will accommodate the ever wider webpages that companies will be building then. Similarly, a cell phone with a full text keypad (or the iPhone) will see you through the text-messaging era that is upon us.
When you make a purchase, find out how to keep the item in shape. Then, maintain it accordingly and repair it when necessary.
In addition, try these ways of reducing your use (and abuse) of resources:
- Buy products made from post-consumer recycled materials, especially paper and bathroom tissue.
- Choose electronics and appliances that are energy-efficient. Ditto for cars, which you can also share.
- Buy stuff made close to home. Less energy was used transporting them to the store.
- Buy used. craigslist and eBay make it easy.
- Avoid goods made with materials whose extraction or processing are especially destructive, such as tropical woods and most gold jewelry.
- Avoid overly packaged goods. The packaging is a total throw-away.
- Avoid things made with toxic materials, such as most household cleansers.
- Cut back on water use at home.
- Waste less energy on lights and equipment.
- Eat less meat.
Reducing can be so difficult. Americans are spoiled; we can buy premade dinners, cheap clothes,
dust collectors knick-knacks, and just about anything our hearts desire. We are so used to having whatever we want when we want it that we can be surprised that not everyone in the world lives just like we do. We are products of our culture.
If we follow Christ though, we aren’t supposed to be products of our culture. Romans 12:1-2 says
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul says we are to be living sacrifices, not conformed to the pattern of this world–our culture. Just because our culture tells us it’s OK to consume too much doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for followers of Christ to do.
In fact, Jesus says
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
There are two ways we could look at what Jesus says here. The first is to look at verse 20 as the most important part of the passage, which reminds us that we need to put our treasures in heaven, ie making Jesus the most important part of our lives. And we should do that anyway. But the other way is to look at this quite literally. Don’t store up treasures on earth. They can be stolen or destroyed. They’re just temporary. Instead, make Jesus the most important part of your life. Where are your treasures? Are they here on earth, things that can be destroyed and are just temporary? Or is your Treasure in heaven, the One who is eternal?
Taken literally, as I think it probably should be, this is a plea from Jesus for us to remember what’s really important. And if it’s really important for us to not make those things which can only be stored up on earth the most important part of our lives, then maybe it’s really important that we not buy them in the first place.
I’ve mentioned before how difficult it is to reduce our consumption. What I haven’t mentioned is that reducing consumption is, I believe, a very important spiritual issue for the reasons I stated above. Consumption isn’t just a cultural issue for us to rise above in the transformation and renewing of our minds, it’s also about what we are really, truly putting first in our lives.
Reducing our consumption does two things for us. The most important is that it frees us from the power of the world. Each time we choose to not buy the newest, greatest thing (car, cell phone, bike, shoes, clothes, paper, crayons, etc), we are making it that much easier to say no the next time we’re tempted to buy the newest, greatest thing. Each time we say no to buying something we don’t really need, we free ourselves that much more from the grasp our culture has on us, and make it easier to hear what God is saying to us. But reduction also makes us better environmental stewards, because we are not buying the products and therefor using less of the world’s resources.
Once could argue that manufacturers are going to make those products anyway, and those resources will get used to make the products. But companies will not make products that don’t get sold. Companies discontinue products all the time because they aren’t selling; for example, if all of us who follow Christ decided to not buy any more paper towels (because we are using reusable linen napkins instead), then all the companies who make paper towels would either quit making paper towels or seriously reduce the amount they could produce. On the surface, this seems like a silly example, but two very important resources are used to make paper towels: trees and water. Seventh generation estimates that about 544,000 trees are chopped down every year to make paper towels using virgin wood. And to make wood pulp, a lot of water has to be used. And after paper towels are used, they can’t be recycled, so they get tossed into landfills. What a waste.
“A paper towel isn’t really a treasure,” you say. But what do you reach for when your six-year-old spills juice on the floor? What do you reach for to dry your hands when all your cloth towels are dirty? (Ok, I just wipe my hands on my pants, but that’s not really mother approved, so don’t do it) What do you use at meal times to wipe mouths and hands after you’ve eaten all that barbecued tofu? Paper towels might not be a typical treasure, but they are convenient in a world that values speed and convenience. What would we do without our paper towels?!?!?!?
If that question really bothers you, I’d like to suggest that those silly paper towels have become a treasure. And before it sounds like I’m blaming other people and not looking at my own actions, let me tell you that my heart is beating a little faster at the possibility of giving up paper towels too.
What we don’t need in our lives, we don’t need to consume. God has promised to give us all of our needs, but that doesn’t mean you need an iPhone. You need food, water, shelter, and clothing to survive, and you need Jesus for spiritual fulfillment, and that’s it.
Does this mean that God doesn’t want us to have any nice things? Yes and no. I think he wants all of us to have nice things, but included in “all of us” are the people in undeveloped and developing nations, not just Americans. It is sinful for us to have so much when others have so little. I am sinful for having so much, and buying so much I don’t need, using resources that don’t need to be used, when my poor sisters in Haiti or Southeast Asia can’t buy food and sleep in tents in slums. It is especially a sin because we are using their resources to make the stuff we don’t need, and now they don’t have the resources to make the products that they need to survive.
This is where I am now. Over the past few years, I have heard God calling me to distance myself from the things the world offers, and I have definitely reduced my consumption on many things. I still have so much farther to go, and I am so tempted by the things of this world. It’s not easy, and I don’t know if it feels easier every time I say no to something I really want, but I feel freer every time I say no. And I think God wants us to not feel so tied to this world, so that we can be more tied to Him.