Earth Sunday

a call to actions

To day is Earth Day. Earth Day was inaugurated by the American Senator Gaylord Nelson on the 22nd April 1970. It is designed to promote better knowledge of how we should care for the earth. It is a day to highlight the stress our lifestyle is putting on the planet. As our sign reminds us there is no planet B.
          The enormity of the problem of global warming and global pollution seems insurmountable. We feel powerless to influence levels of pollution in China. What can we, city dwellers, do in the face of the methane emissions of millions of Irish cows. It seems a David and Goliath situation; however the enormity of the problem must not deter us from doing something to reduce our footprint. The solution will be found in how I can make changes in my lifestyle so that I cause less pollution.
          And rather than looking at what is outside of our control we must look at what is within our power to change and then make changes.
          Last year I preached about the problem of plastic. The inspiration for the sermon came from a conversation I had with a colleague in the General Assembly meeting. My colleague is trying to live without using any plastic in her life. People were complimentary about the sermon; later I sent it to the Irish Times and to my surprise they published it. One of the great benefits of the Irish Times publishing an article is that they pay for it. So it was win, win.
          Then it seemed that suddenly everyone was talking about plastic. This year at the Good Friday reading of the names I met Patsy Mc Garry from the Irish Times and he commented on this. It seemed I had initiated a trend; I confess that I was chuffed with myself. This year at General Assembly I met Sue and couldn’t wait to tell her about how the ripples from our conversation had spread outwards. Pride comes before a fall. In all seriousness Sue asked me “so how are you finding living without plastic?”
          Sue hit the nail right on the head; I had talked and written about plastic and then continued life as usual. We are past the time for taking; it is time to act. Plastic does not biodegrade so even small amounts of plastic litter accumulate.
          We know what is happening to our world, we know the consequences and we know what we should do. In a way we are fortunate. Humanity has faced many threats in the past. The Black Death must have been a time of total terror for society. We understand what is threatening our planet and we can do something to change direction. Yes we know that other people pollute and litter; we know that individually we will not solve the problem but we are not excused from taking some remedial action.

These are just a few things that have caught my attention in the past few days. The deep Atlantic seabed is one of the most unexplored places on the planet. Scientists are now using submersibles to explore this hidden world. A place where mankind has never ever set foot is littered with plastic. Recently a whale was washed up on a beach. The animal was emaciated it died shortly afterwards. Vets carried out a post mortem and found twenty nine kilos of plastic in the whale’s stomach. The story of this whale is not unique it is repeated, in whales, fish and birds over and over again. Micro plastic is being ingested into the food chain by microbes on the sea floor; micro plastic is also present in our rivers and streams. We are now ingesting our plastic waste in microscopic particles in our drinking water.
          We in the west are responsible for huge amounts of plastic. We are somewhat sheltered from the effects of our addiction to plastic. We are sufficiently wealthy that we collect at least a percentage of the waste. Until recently we exported this to China; China has now closed this escape door. In poorer countries through lack of resources and ignorance of the problems plastic causes; the majority of plastic waste is simply discarded. Indonesia use their army to clear plastic from rivers.
          In Haiti and some other poor countries there are efforts to encourage the recycling of plastic. People are paid for plastic brought for recycling. Collection centres are dotted around the country, the product goes through a reduction process, then it is brought to a central area to be recycled then it is exported mainly to the US for reuse.
          There is more good news. Just last week scientists announced that they believe they have discovered an enzyme that will degrade plastic –not every type of plastic just one variety of plastic. I hope that scientists have investigated the long term affects of the use of this enzyme and that it will not initiate a new set of environmental problems.
          Here are two possible ways of reducing the problem of plastic. Pay people for “harvesting” the waste and then recycle it or use an enzyme to break it down. Neither of these is satisfactory. If I leave the tap running and the kitchen floods I need to mop up the flood of water; but the very first thing I must do is to turn off the tap. There is little point in mopping the floor if the tap is still running. Obviously we need to collect the waste, and recycle or dispose of it and we need to turn off production of plastic. Particularly plastic that is used only once.
          When we address the issue of reducing the use of plastic this is were we – ordinary citizens- can find our power. We buy the goods that come packaged in plastic. If we the customers make our voices heard the sellers will listen. If we refuse to buy plastic the producers will make changes.
          We are familiar with the slogan Reduce, reuse, recycle and we should follow this advice. What about adding to this the powerful “Refuse”? If customers left unnecessary plastic in the supermarket for them to dispose of they would take note. If we consumers write to companies, where we notice the use of unnecessary plastic and requested a change. I believe that change will happen. The company will then market themselves as being eco friendly, great!
          One of the greatest sources of plastic waste is water bottles. Each bottle is used just once. The reason is that if recycled plastic is used it will be cloudy plastic as opposed to clear plastic. So we produce more and more bottles. Would it be so difficult to get used to cloudy plastic bottles for our water?
          It is time for me to take some steps to reduce my use of plastic. I have written to the supermarkets where I shop asking them to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic. I have written to the individual stores telling them of my intention to remove plastic wrapping for them to keep.
          I hope that we can use this forum to share ideas of how we can reduce the amount of plastic we use. If every person in the world reduced their use of plastic by just one single unit each year– and using just one piece less is not too difficult 7,600,000,000 (7.6 Billion) fewer pieces of plastic would be used. What if we reduced it by one hundred items per year that would make Seven thousand six hundred billions 7,600,000,000,000,000 fewer pieces. That’s two pieces, per week, per person, for a year. It is all about eating the elephant, one bite at a time.
          The other good news story is that African countries have committed themselves to growing a green wall of trees eight thousand kilometres long and fifteen kilometres wide. It will stretch across eleven countries. Already the work done has stopped desertification of large tracts of land and reduced migration. It will take eleven million trees to complete the wall.

If African people can take on this huge project surely we can stop using some plastic. Humanity is in this together and the great news is that we can do something towards solving the problem, now, is the time to act.

Rev.Bridget Spain                                       Dublin, Earth Day 22nd April 2018 Minister Dublin Unitarian Church