By Shayne Mason Vincent
I grew up in northern Minnesota, surrounded by Grizzly Adams beatniks, and your typical small-town flannel-wearing folk. What they all had in common is that they loved nature and took care of it. The forests were well tended, and the towns were clean and simple. As a result, I was raised with a very strong ethic of what you can and cannot throw out the car window. An apple core along a lonely highway, yes. But if mom caught me throwing out a wrapper, oh boy.
This was right around the beginning of the Adopt-a- Highway and Hooty the Owl programs, I never realized how effective they were until I visited Japan in the late 90s. Certainly you cannot compare the woods of Minnesota to a megalopolis like Osaka; yet even in the countryside where my host lived, I saw litter everywhere—in the ditches, on nature walks, near the rice fields. It was heartbreaking. Litter is, unfortunately, the norm in the larger world. For example, statistics of how much trash humans are dumping into our oceans is staggering. A recently published study by the National Academy of Sciences stated that:
- There are over 14 billion pounds of trash pouring into our oceans per year.
- Eighty-eight percent of the ocean’s surface is now polluted with plastics.
- There is an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean.
- Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.
- An estimated 1,000,000 birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea-turtles die each year due to plastic pollution.
Our planet has gone from the head of gold empire, to toenails resting in a landfill. And to say it plainly, material- ism is the cause. To illustrate this, while I strongly suggest that you do not watch this show, (it was terrifically vulgar) South Park, ironically, always made very profound moral statements with their episodes. One particular episode was related to Walmart. A new super-store had popped up in their town, and it was destroying all the small businesses. So, the kids went on a crusade to get rid of Walmart. As they fought their way to the source of its power, they finally made it to the “evil boss” who controlled Walmart. He said to them, “So you want to destroy Walmart, do you? Well then, let me show you what the heart of Walmart is!” At which he opened a safe, where he revealed a mirror wherein the kids saw themselves.
You see, our blame of corporations for their “evil” and “greed” is in reality, our own selfishness. We are the ones who empower corporations. It is our obsession with materialism that is turning our planet into a landfill. The Huffington Post recently revealed that, “There are now more storage facilities than there are McDonalds in the United States!” Since the post-WWII housing boom, our square footage has tripled, and our garages have doubled, yet the car sits in the driveway because it’s too packed with junk. In Luke 12:15 Jesus warns us, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.
If our beaches are to be filled with sand dollars and not the refuse of the dollar, then we have to change our concepts of what actually has value. Take a lesson from the Psalmist, 49:17. “For when they die, they take nothing with them. Their wealth will not follow them into the grave. In this life, they consider themselves fortunate and are applauded for their success. But they will die like all before them and never again see the light of day. People who boast of their wealth don’t understand; they will die, just like animals.” This is perfectly illustrated in a quote I love from Joshua Becker, where he said, “We don’t buy things with money; we buy them with hours from our life.”
Gen X- Z have begun to figure this out. They realize that their parents and grandparents neglected their families and dreams in the pursuit of building bigger barns. And for what? Having worked in hospice for years, I can tell you, the average of those who die within the first year of retirement is painfully high. So, the young have begun to embrace the concepts of minimalism, buying only what they need, and thinking long-term about the consequences of their life choices. In this “new economy,” the youth are now spending their money on experiences rather than on things. They are wisely moving away from vicariously living through television and are living the adventures for themselves.
As stewards of God’s planet, we can lead in this new sustainable capitalism, through how we, as individuals, impact the environment by the power of our wallets: through where we shop, what we don’t buy, and how we spend money on time rather than things. Because the only way this will ever work, so that it isn’t just another ideology, is to make ecology profitable for corporations. After all, it only takes one knucklehead in the fast lane to slow down miles of traffic. So, stop counting your influence as irrelevant, and begin to recognize, society itself is merely the collective decisions of millions of individuals. And that means me and you.
–Shayne Mason Vincent is lead pastor, Casper Wyoming District. Email him at: [email protected]