By Catherine Stodola, University of Alabama
Catholic Social Teaching is one of the great traditions of the Church. Grounded in scripture and adapted to meet the needs of our ever-changing modern world, Catholic social teaching challenges Catholics to simultaneously help others and improve society. Often, what first comes to mind when people hear about the Church’s social teaching is caring for those who are less fortunate. For some, caring for the poor manifests itself in acts of charity such as feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked. Others might consider the protection of human life and recalling the dignity of all humans to be the most important social teaching. Still others might reflect upon the call to love our neighbors as ourselves as the most critical teaching, but few would quickly recall our obligation to care for God’s creation.
In today’s world, a world constantly coping with the impacts of climate change, increased pollution, and dwindling natural resources, it is critical to be mindful of our individual environmental impact, and to strive to preserve and protect the earth. As Catholics, caring for God’s creation isn’t relegated to Earth Day; rather, it is a requirement of the faith, explicitly stated by Catholic social teaching. As human beings created by God, we are called to put forth our best effort to care for the rest of His creation. This task is undoubtedly daunting, yet there are a few practical suggestions and habits that every Catholic can build into their daily lives.
- Keep cloth bags and reusable containers in your car
Keeping cloth bags and reusable containers in your car at all times can easily reduce unnecessary waste. Use cloth bags whenever possible while shopping to decrease the use of plastic bags. Some stores will even give you a small discount for bringing your own bags! If you end up having to use plastic bags, save them to reuse later as trash bags. With reusable containers, consider bringing them to restaurants where you anticipate having leftovers, instead of having to use a disposable takeout container.
- Avoid using Styrofoam as much as possible
Styrofoam contains chemicals that have a variety of harmful effects on both our health and the environment. Styrofoam is not biodegradable and takes at least 500 years to decompose, if it decomposes at all. Hydrofluorocarbons used in the manufacturing of Styrofoam have been linked to climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer. Although Styrofoam is often the cheapest option for making items such as disposable dishes, it is so toxic for the environment that alternatives should be used as often as possible. Reusable dishes and utensils are always the best option, but if something disposable is needed, consider options made of paper or cardboard instead!
- Avoid using plastic straws
Thanks to all the “save the turtle” memes, most people know how dangerous plastic straws are for wildlife. These straws take hundreds of years to break down and often end up floating in the ocean where unsuspecting sea turtles and other creatures easily mistake them for food. One easy solution is, when going out to eat, tell your waiter/waitress that you won’t need a straw. If you prefer to use straws, consider bringing your own reusable one. Did you know that there are several reusable metal straw options?
Save gas and reduce emissions by carpooling with friends! Not only does it save money and help the environment, it’s also fun! Enjoy story time with friends or coworkers, play games, or start your own version of carpool karaoke!
- Take shorter showers
We all love taking long showers, enjoying the warmth, and having our own personal concert. However, we need to be aware of the fact that water is a natural resource of which we have a finite supply, and many people on earth have little or no access to clean water. It is not hard to sacrifice a little of our time in the shower in order to conserve water and the energy used to heat it. Try to make your shower only as long as necessary. Choose a couple songs, and challenge yourself to be out of the shower before they end. Don’t worry, you can still practice your concert performances after getting out.
- Turn off items when not in use
Although quite simple, this step is often forgotten. Starting to become a better steward of God’s creation can be as easy as turning off the water while brushing your teeth, turning off the light when you leave a room, and unplugging appliances when you don’t need them! If something is not actively being used, turn it off (and unplug, if applicable) to avoid spending unnecessary energy and resources.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 75 percent of the waste stream in the United States is recyclable, but only around 30 percent actually gets recycled. Therefore, the majority of waste that could be recycled ends up in crowded landfills. Most Americans have access to recycling through either curbside pickup or drop off facilities. Research what options are available near you, take the time to recycle and encourage your friends to do the same! Recycling is often even easier in public places such as office spaces or college campuses! On many college campuses, recycling is as easy as separating out your paper, plastic, cardboard, etc. and taking it to a slightly different location than the trash. Recycling has a great variety of positive environmental effects!
- Use a reusable water bottle
Did you know that over a thousand plastic water bottles are thrown away every second? Over one thousand! Remind yourself to stay hydrated during the day and do your part to prevent plastic bottles from entering the landfill by using a reusable water bottle. There are so many options – from a simple reusable plastic bottle to a Hydroflask decorated with stickers!
- Don’t litter
This should go without saying, but some people are simply too inconsiderate or lazy to hold on to their trash until they can find a garbage can. Most public places have trash cans dispersed at fairly regular intervals, so taking a little extra time to find one for your waste is easy and always worthwhile! If you are in your vehicle, either wait until you have stopped somewhere or keep a small trash bag in the car. Throwing trash out the window is never the solution, and no one wants God’s creation to be marred by scattered garbage!
- Set your thermostat to conserve energy (and money!)
Heating and air conditioning use a lot of energy and therefore can be quite expensive. Help conserve precious fossil fuels (and save your wallet!) by using your thermostat wisely. Set the temperature slightly lower during the winter and turn it up a little higher during the summer. One option would be to set it around 68 degrees Fahrenheit for winter and 74 degrees Fahrenheit for summer. Even this small change can make a big difference!
Edited by Maddie Sanders