Each time you choose a nature-compatible substitute for a plastic item or simply eliminate plastic materials in your life, you engage in an act of kindness on behalf of Mother Earth. The science community continues to gather information on the disastrous effects of our plastic addiction, much of which is in plain sight.
In 2014, over 57 billion plastic bottles of water were sold in the US. That is 57 billion more pieces of plastic that will never decompose and represents just one example of the one-use plastics that pollute our world. About 8 million metric tons of plastic pieces enter the ocean every year. An estimated 90% of seabirds have consumed plastic. It is not surprising that our plastic habits are harming and killing wildlife. The good news is that humankind is fully capable of fixing this horrific situation; it just requires desire, effort and many daily acts of kindness.
When you car-pool, reduce the number of places you drive on a given day, use public transportation and/or choose to drive a high mileage vehicle, you are engaging in acts of kindness for the earth. Americans drive more miles per person than ever before. On average, each driver travels over 13,000 miles each year. In 2017, the transportation sector was a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, at about 29% of the total. Currently, there is no complete solution in place for the reduction in vehicular emissions necessary to address climate change. Adjusting your driving habits in a manner that lessens your mileage footprint is not only an act of kindness to the earth, but also to one another. Excessive traffic is bad for health and well-being, where the lost time and wasted fuel exceeds $100 billion per year in the US.
The massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation is a problem that can be solved; again, the solution requires the will to improve living conditions and a strong desire to restore the health of the earth. If everyone reduced their driving by just 10%, or about 1,350 fewer miles each year, annual carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. would fall by 110 million metric tons, equivalent to shutting down about 28 coal-fired power plants for a year.
This Advent/Christmas/Epiphany journey on reflections of acts of kindness to Mother Earth and one another hopefully translates into new and meaningful acts of kindness. Choosing to live in a more gentle way with the natural world, easing up on materials and seeking a newness with nature, is a path to peace and joy. Words from Pope Francis at the 2014 World Day of Peace, “Nature, in a word, is at our disposition and we are called to exercise responsible stewardship over it.”
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.