State of economy may drive people to live more responsibly within our environment
By Kathy Chaffin
The host of the nationally-syndicated PBS program, “Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska,” calls the economic crisis created by rising gas prices an opportunity for conscious change toward greener living.
“I’m sorry that people didn’t make those choices earlier,” said Urbanska during a panel discussion at the recent “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” conference at Catawba College. “But whatever it takes … I think this will be the catalyst.”
Joining her on the panel ó “Consumer Ethics: How Are Our Choices and Beliefs Connected?” ó were Brittany Parker, a Catawba College senior majoring in environmental education; and Rachel Smith, adult environmental education program manager for the N.C. Office of Environmental Education.
Lisa Tolley, director of the Office of Environmental Education, served as facilitator for the panel discussion.
In answer to a question about how the American culture had gotten so disconnected from the sources of their food and products and how to encourage individuals to live more responsibly, Parker said huge supermarkets and superstores had contributed to the disconnection. “No one thinks about where it comes from …” she said.
Smith attributed the disconnection to the “middle man” between the farmers/manufacturers who grow or make the products and the food and products themselves.
One way to reconnect people, she said, is to share information about the stories behind the products. “I think a lot of times, if you knew the stories behind the products, you might choose differently. It’s not a matter of not wanting to follow your own ethics …”
Urbanska, who is also the author of several books on simple living, said the increasing affluence and rising “standard of living” of our society has also contributed to the disconnection. A side effect of the rising standard of living has been more debt, she said, which causes people to have to work more hours to pay it off.
The more hours, in turn, lead to even less free time and ultimately, isolation from people, Urbanska said. “So all these things are connected.”
In answer to a question about how the faith community can foster environmental ethics, Parker recommended using scriptures about taking care of the earth to move people toward more conscious creation care.
Smith said the faith community can lead by example. One way to do that, she said, might be for faith leaders to choose a product brand for the church based on consumer ethics and to share the basis for that decision with members such as the fact that it’s environmentally friendly or the manufacturer pays its workers fair wages.
Urbanska said a church in Massachusetts held a “Roll or Stroll for Your Soul Sunday” to encourage members to bike, walk or “at least carpool” to services.
“That’s a very concrete idea,” she said. “As we say with ‘Simple Living,’ nothing’s too small to make a difference.”
Another simple step churches can take, Urbanska said, is to reassess the price of convenience. Some congregations, for example, still use styrofoam cups at coffee hour. “Come on guys, we can do better,” she said. “We can do better.”
Members could bring mugs from home and take turns washing them, she suggested. “What do we have to do that’s so important that we don’t have time to wash dishes?”
In answer to a question about issues for consumers to consider in deciding which products to buy, Smith said it can get complicated because there are so many factors such as: Is the product environmentally friendly? How does the company treats its employees? Does it give back to the community, and if so, how much? Was there any maltreatment of animals in product testing?
The panelists recommended resources to help buyers learn more about products and their manufacturers Smith said she likes “The Better World Shopping Guide: Small Changes That Make a Big Difference,” which rates products from A to F.
Urbanska suggested two Web sites for information on consumer ethics: Simple Living America and Co-op America: Economic Action for a Just Planet featuring a “National Green Pages: America’s only directory of screened green businesses.”
She also recommended books by New Society Publishers, which uses Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper stock.
Urbanska said each small step helps, whether it’s something as simple as reducing personal waste or shopping with reusable bags. “It can be so less overwhelming sometimes to focus on one area at a time … I think it’s just starting to identify some change areas in your life and just step forward in that regard.”
One way to do that, said one of about 35 people attending the panel discussion, is to get to know area farmers and buy their products.
Parker, who lives on her family’s organic dairy farm, had similar thoughts. “Go visit the farms,” she said, “and see if it’s what you want.”
When consumers purchase eggs at a superstore because they’re cheaper than the eggs from a local organic farm, she said they’re basically accepting the practice of putting 12 chickens in a cage “because that’s what they’re paying for.”
Urbanska said the number of small farms are starting to rebound across the country. “Basically, it’s market driven,” she said.
There’s also a movement toward smaller houses, she said.
A man listening to the panel discussion said these are signs that more and more people are taking steps to leave a smaller “footprint” on the earth.