What can we do at home to care for the environment?

The following blog is a chapter taken from the book: Entrusted – Christians and Environmental Care by S. Dunbar, L. J. Gibson, and H. M. Rasi. If you are interested in reading more you can find the book at: http://adventus21.com/Producto.aspx?idProducto=457Portada Entrusted con nuevo precio no spine front

What can we do at home to care for the environment?                                             –by Carrie A. C. Wolfe

As Christians, we believe that God created the Earth and us, and has entrusted us to care for the planet and each other. What are some practical things that we can do at home to care for the Earth’s environment? Before you step out in action, pray individually and with your family about what God desires your family to do in caring for His creation. Prayerfully consider the path He impresses on you. Perhaps He will lead you to start with simple steps. But first, as a family, learn to love God’s great outdoors.

Be Involved With Nature

The more time we spend out in God’s creation, the more likely we are to treasure and value it1 and feel compelled to care for nature. Teach children to love what God has created and care for the environment. One simple way is to take children on nature hikes. You can teach them to observe animals and plants and to use books to identify birds, plants, trees, and animals and their tracks. A fun activity for the family while on a hike is to make plaster casts of animal prints you find.2

Another fun family activity is to raise a caterpillar to a butterfly or moth. Monarch butterflies are common in parts of North and South America. You can find the caterpillars on milkweed plants; search under the leaves for a green caterpillar with black and white stripes. They eat milkweed leaves so you will need new fresh leaves as the caterpillar eats them. Watching the caterpillar grow, the chrysalis form, and the butterfly emerge is awe-inspiring and can bind our hearts to the Creator and His work. If you don’t live where monarchs are present, you can bring other caterpillars into your home to watch and see what happens. Another enjoyable learning activity is to catch a tadpole or polliwog from the edge of a pond. Take a little net and jar with a lid on your walk to the pond. Bring home a few tadpoles. They need clean de-chlorinated water and food (frozen lettuce or spinach works well) and may take many weeks before they transform (metamorphose) into a frog. If it is a native species, you can release the frog back into the same pond; otherwise you need to care for your new pets in your home.3

You can also lead children to learn more about creation by providing them books or magazines on nature topics. Every family should consider subscribing to a magazine that has well-written articles on environmental issues. Increased knowledge and awareness can lead to a greater desire to act and care for the environment.

Visit state or provincial parks, pay the entry fee and write your name in the log of visitors. If you use a nature trail that has a registry, be sure to record your hike. The more these parks and trails are used the more likely they will continue receiving funding. Your family could plan to stay overnight in the park campground. The visitor or interpretive center may have much information, including special programs and hikes, where you can learn more about natural things, including the sky at night, animals in ponds or streams, the types of plants and birds nearby, and what you can do to help these plants and animals continue to thrive. While at the park you might also learn how you and your family might volunteer for organized data collection efforts, such as to count birds or plants for scientific surveys.

Recycle, Reuse and Reduce

Our environment is God’s gift to us. We live in it, we use it, and we enjoy it. It is also our responsibility to care for it. What are some practical things we can do to achieve this laudable objective? An easy way to start is by thinking recycle, reuse and reduce.

Is there a recycling program in your neighborhood or city? Some household items that are commonly recycled are glass, paper, cardboard, metal cans, and plastics. Some places offer money for your old aluminum. It is easier and less expensive to recycle used aluminum than it is to mine and process it.

Many cities have a public recycling center where you can deposit your recyclable items for free. Talk with family members about where in your home you will temporarily collect your items for recycling, and start a biweekly habit of making the trip to drop off your recyclables.

Some cities also have curbside pickup of certain recyclables. Look in your phonebook yellow pages for recycling companies. They are becoming more common and many don’t require you to sort your recycling items; you may simply mix glass, paper, cardboard and metal cans together. Recycling companies have equipment that can separate these items.

Consider reusing items and reducing your household waste. One easy item to reuse or reduce is your grocery bags. Use reusable cloth bags for your shopping, and avoid plastic bags.

If you do get new grocery bags each time you shop, reuse them at home; instead of buying small garbage bags for your wastepaper baskets, reuse grocery bags. Other ways to reuse and reduce the amount of garbage you produce is to cut old clothes into rags for household cleaning; or donate used clothing and household items to a thrift shop so someone else can reuse them.

Two examples of websites to assist communities to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills and to reuse items are the Freecycle Network and “Craigslist.” The Freecycle Network4 is active in over 85 countries; it is an e-mail list where you can list household items that you want to give away for free. Craigslist5 is also active internationally and has a free section to advertise your used items. Many things that your family doesn’t need anymore may be just right for someone else.

Support Financially

Donate your time or money to an environment-friendly organization to help advance their work. There are international and local organizations that your family may wish to support.

Try Composting

Composting is more than recycling or reducing the amount of waste going into landfill. Composting is a system of complete and natural reprocessing. Many of us throw away many compostable materials in the kitchen garbage, not realizing that this garbage could be turned into composted humus, a soil conditioner and fertilizer to be used in the garden, yard, or potted houseplants. Your family can purchase a composting container, or make a homemade composting bin from chicken wire formed into a cylinder. Press the open bottom into the earth in your yard. Put a few sticks on the bottom to help your compost get enough air. Add short layers of “green” items, like cut grass, or your kitchen waste (e.g., vegetable scraps from preparing food, peels, leftover food but not meat), alternating with thin layers of “brown” things, such as dead leaves, crumpled or shredded paper, or waste litter from vegetarian pets, like gerbils or guinea pigs. Add a little water to your compost heap, but don’t let it get too wet. Keep a cover over your compost bin so it won’t get soaked with rain. Soon the mixture will decay; you can’t make a mistake composting because it will happen no matter what you do, whether it is hot or cold, or you add an uneven mixture of “green” and “brown” materials. Depending on the outdoor temperature, it might take months or a year and is great for plants to grow in. The process is faster in hot climates and could take more than a year where it is very cold. Foul odors may occur if the compost doesn’t have enough oxygen or if there is too much “green” and too little “brown” material. If it starts to smell, mix it to give it more air and add more “brown” material.6

If you don’t have a backyard, an alternative to a compost bin is using worms to compost your food scraps.7 Brandling worms (the type used for fishing) will live in a plastic bucket, or vermicompost bin, and eat their weight in excess food every day or so. They eat and breakdown the food, recycling it into rich compost that can be used for organic gardening or fertilizer for indoor plants.8

Buy Local

By making the choice to buy food locally grown, you are supporting your local economy and lowering the amount of gasoline or diesel used in food transportation from a distance away. The price may reflect lower transportation costs. Also, buying fresh produce means it might taste better, since it was more likely to have been picked when it was ripe. Your local market may indicate which produce was grown locally. You may have a local “farmers’ market” or food co-op near your home that you can patronize.

Be a Vegetarian

Choosing to eat a diet that includes less or no meat and more plant-based foods will mean less pollution from animal feed lots (urine, antibiotics, and other waste materials from factory farms can seep into rivers and ground water).9 In addition, if fewer animals are raised for slaughter, the amount of grains that go into animal feed can be reduced and used for people instead. The amount of food the animals eat is huge compared with the amount of meat obtained from their slaughter. It is much more economical for people to eat grain and plantbased foods than to eat meat.10 Adequate protein is easy to obtain from a plantbased diet. For example, all essential amino acids are available in sufficient amount when a person eats a mixture of rice and beans, or corn and beans. Also, choosing to eat a plant-based diet reduces the demand for meat, and hence less slaughter of animals.

Harvest Rainwater

If you live in a place where clean water is not readily available, consider capturing rainwater in a barrel or cistern for use later when water is scarce.11 You may use it to water your vegetable garden or other plants, or even to bathe. If captured water is used for drinking, the water should be properly filtered, boiled or treated. Even where drinking water is clean and readily available, it makes environmental sense to capture rainwater and use it for lawns and gardens, instead of using processed drinking water.12

Unless you live where it rains often, and the earth around you is saturated with water, you might want to catch some of the rain that falls and keep it on your land or in your own yard, not letting it run off down the street carrying the soil with it. Such water can be used to make rain gardens.13 The rain garden will allow water to soak into your lawn or yard, and you can fill the area with “perennial flowers and native vegetation.”14

Use Wind and Solar Power

Energy from both the wind and the sun can be harnessed to produce electricity. Burning less coal for household electricity consumption is better for the environment. If you live in a location where ordinances don’t prohibit wind turbines, consider buying and installing a roof- or tower-mountable vertical axis wind turbine.15 If your home doesn’t use all the energy produced by your wind turbine, the generator can be tied into the electrical grid, or you may store the energy in a battery. Some countries give tax credit for installing wind turbines.

Solar panels are becoming more efficient and available for homes. European countries, such as Spain and Germany, are far ahead in solar power utilization.16 You can purchase solar panels for your home and/or use solar power to make hot water and for heating the home. Technology to make flexible solar cells is now also available for personal use to charge portable electronic devices, such as cellular phones and small computers.

Involve Your Church in Conservation

While your home and family can do much to care for the environment, as a Christian you have an opportunity and an obligation to make your church sensitive to environmental concerns. Share with your church the biblical reasons for taking care of God’s creation. Challenge your church as opportunity arises to be good stewards of Creation.17 Educate and work with your church friends, church elders, and your pastor to do simple things to care for the environment together: creating among church members an appreciation for nature by organizing walks and camps; printing church bulletins on post-consumer, recycled paper; placing and using recycle containers in the church building; and arranging seminars on some of the environmental concerns mentioned in this chapter, such as recycling, composting, catching rainwater, and being responsible stewards of God’s creation.

Summary

Prayerfully consider the path God wishes for you and your family in caring for His creation. Let Him impress on you the first way for you to begin your practical care of the environment. Perhaps you will start a recycling system in your home. Or you might spend some time learning how to reuse more items instead of throwing them in the trash. Donate your time or money to an environment-friendly organization to help advance their work. Consider the possible use of wind or solar power for energy in your home. Whatever you choose to do, remember your first duty is to be a good steward of God’s creation.

Carrie A. C. Wolfe chairs the Division of Science and Mathematics at Union College, Lincoln, Nebraska where she teaches chemistry. She received her BA in Chemistry from Union College and a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Since then she has taught at Columbia Union College and Union College.

Recommended Readings and Websites

Sheri Amsel, 365 Ways to Live Green for Kids (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2009).

Linda Glaser, Garbage Helps Our Garden Grow: A Compost Story (Minneapolis: Millbrook

Press, 2010).

Heather Kinkade-Levario, Design for Water: Rainwater Harvesting, Stormwater Catchment, and

Alternate Water Reuse (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2007).

Robin Koontz, Composting, Nature’s Recyclers (Minneapolis: Picture Window Books, 2007).

Diane Gow McDilda, 365 Ways to Live Green (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2008).

John W. Roulac, ed., Backyard Composting: Your Complete Guide to Recycling Yard

Clippings (Ojai, CA: Harmonious Press, 1992).

http://www.howtocompost.org

Vegetarian Cooking: Books and Web Pages with Recipes

Andrea Chesman, The Roasted Vegetable (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 2002).

Mollie Katzen, The New Moosewood Cookbook (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2000).

———, Sunlight Café: Breakfast Served All Day (New York: Hyperion, 2002).

Robin Robertson, The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook (Boston, MA: Harvard Common

Press, 2002).

http://www.vegetariansrecipes.org/

http://www.syvum.com/recipes/ivrindex.html

http://www.epicurious.com/

http://www.foodnetwork.com/

Notes and References

1 See Stephen Dunbar’s chapter (14) in this book entitled “What is the value of an

ecosystem?”

2 “Plaster cast animal tracks.” Available at: http://charlottemason.tripod.com/plaster.html.

Accessed January 29, 2012.

3 “How to raise tadpoles.” Available at: http://allaboutfrogs.org/info/tadpoles/index.html.

Accessed October 20, 2011.

4 “The freecycle network.” Available at: http://www.freecycle.org/. Accessed January 29,

2012.

5 Craigslist > Cities. Available at: http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites. Accessed January

29, 2012.

6 Pauline Pears, All About Compost: Recycling Household and Garden Waste (Tunbridge

Wells, Kent, UK: Search Press, 1999).

7 See Ibid., “Worms that gobble waste.”

8 “What do worms eat?” Available at: http://www.professorshouse.com/Your-Home/

Gardening-Plants/General/Articles/What-Do-Worms-Eat/. Accessed October 23, 2011; Mary

Appelhof, Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System

(Kalamazoo, MI: Flower Press, 1997).

9 See Sandra Blackmer’s chapter (9) in this book entitled “What are the ethical issues related

to the livestock industry?”

10 H.J. Marlow, W. K. Hayes, S. Soret, et al., “Diet and the environment: Does what you

eat matter?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89 (2009):1699S-1703S.

11 “Rainwater harvesting.” Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainwater_harvesting.

Accessed November 20, 2011.

12 An example of harvesting rainwater is the one in use at the Tasba Raya Seventh-day

Adventist Mission station in Nicaragua in an area where there are no wells. In this area the rainy

season is followed by three months of drought. To overcome the water shortage, the Union

College (Lincoln, Nebraska) International Rescue and Relief program put in operation a raincapturing

system. The system consists of a large building with a zinc roof of 30 x 85 feet and

sufficient guttering system to capture the rainwater. The collected water is stored in a 40,000

gallon masonry cistern. Even during a light rain water rushes at a speed faster than one gallon per

second. The water is stored in the cistern and pumped up when the dry season hits. The system

is large enough to supply 30 to 40 people with all the water they need for cooking and drinking

(with a limit of 4 liters per person per day for cleaning). All drinking water is filtered with a

Berkey water filter system (Berkey Water Filter. Water Purification Systems and Filtration.

Available at: http://www.berkeyfilters.com/index.html. Accessed November 29, 2011).

13 RainGardens.pdf. Available at: ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/IA/news/RainGardens.pdf.

Accessed October 24, 2011.

14 “Rainscaping Iowa: Landscapes for clean water.” Available at: http://www.rainscaping

iowa.org/. Accessed October 24, 2011.

15 “All small wind turbines: Portal to the world of Small Wind Turbines.” Available at:

http://www.allsmallwindturbines.com/. Accessed October 24, 2011.

16 “Solar power information.” Available at: http://www.solarpower2day.net/. Accessed

October 24, 2011.

17 Tri Robinson with Jason Chatraw, Saving God’s Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church’s

Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship (Norcross, GA: Ampelon Publishing, 2006).

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