Let me never forget that the same God who made me, made the whole world and all animals that are in it. – Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
The 1st of September has been declared by Pope Francis the World Day for Prayer for the Care of Creation. To many on the centre-right, environmentalism rings of hemp blouse-wearing, Guardian-reading hippies, which in the church version is the kind of Spirit of Vatican II, awful guitar music at Mass Catholic. However, care for the environment is a more fundamental aspect of orthodox theology, as well as something that isn’t just the domain of the Left (like the rest of social justice).
As Sr Margaret Atkins writes in this month’s Magnificat: “We chorus the words every week: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”. And then she goes on to explore the implications of what we often say out of habit, especially when we know the words by heart and don’t have to slowly read them in the order of Mass. She quotes the poet Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”. When you put a Creator into the equation, it’s easy to see that we are only stewards, although the word ecology (which means the “law of the house”) has Greek origin. The world doesn’t belong to us, and we can’t do what we want with it. As Margaret Thatcher put it: “The core of Conservative philosophy and of the case for protecting the environment are the same. No generation has a freehold on this earth”.
I was raised not to waste. I couldn’t put one foot outside the doorstep of a room before my father would shout to turn off the light. We recycle, upcycle, re-use, only throw away what is broken and can’t be repaired. We had eco-friendly lightbulbs before the EU made it a thing. My late grandmother was very fond of reminding us of the sacrifices of the Second World War and the starving children in the developing world. I was raised with a sense of responsibility towards other that is deeply ingrained in true conservatism. As the gift from God to humanity that is Edmund Burke said: “Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” This is the gist of a Native American philosophy I’ve explored before.
Environmentalism is about innovation so that we can live within our means. That’s a sentence that is thrown around a lot when it comes to cuts to Big State, but I don’t see the same people reclaiming care for the environment and conservation with the same passion with which they go on about other very good Conservative causes. Unless I look at Zac Goldsmith and the Conservative Environment Network, who have taken it upon themselves to almost single-handedly remind people that green is made of blue. For me ecology is not just caring for what I see as God’s work, although I am a Catholic. It’s also a matter of supporting local communities and development through trade. Paying a fair price to people because I believe that work should pay, and that education, work and trade are the best way to lift someone out of poverty once the basic needs to enable it are met.
One of the first things I’ve done when moved to London, and which I resumed as soon as I’ve moved into the current house, was to sign up for boxes from Abel and Cole. One thing that I’ve noticed sharply during the EU referendum debate was how detached from the countryside Londoners are. I’ve been receiving boxes for a month now, and it taught me a few lessons.
It taught me to be more grateful. I’m really bad with saying grace before meals. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the gifts I receive (today reading for Mass was a great reminder of that). Receiving my food in two small boxes taught me I have enough. Eating seasonally is eating as God intended: it creates a deep connection with the world around you. It goes back to appreciating things in a way that our consumeristic and I-want-it-now mentality made us forget. It’s not just cultivated through artificial means to meet a market demand, it grows in its time, because that’s what it was created for.
It taught me to be patient. I no longer succumb to the fancy of the moment when wandering around a supermarket, putting into my basket every shiny thing I see and more often than not failing to stick to a coherent meal plan so I have to buy more. This urgency to fill in every gap in my life straight away filtered through many areas of my life, not just emptying my wallet at Waitrose. I slowed down and the urgency is fading away. I know that every Friday provisions will come and there’s enough to carry me through the week. Take-aways become a treat to reward me every now and then, and not what I make recourse to when I don’t want to go all the way to the supermarket.
It taught me to appreciate others more. My food comes selected and boxed to my door. It makes me feel taken care of. It feels good to eat something knowing that care went into making it, from the person producing it to the one making and delivering my box. It’s not to say that supermarket workers and suppliers don’t put care into their work (many do, especially at Waitrose, since they are partners in the business). It’s just that when I’m rushing in a busy supermarket (being paranoid that if I take too long to choose something, security will be after me thinking I’m planning a theft) I don’t really appreciate it. It’s also the same driver every time, and it’s great to have someone to say hello to.