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Consumerism, purchasing power and the art of simple living – webinar report

As part of the Faith Long-Term Plans series of webinars, FaithInvest held a debate on Lifestyles, engaging key thinkers in a conversation on self-assessment, pilgrimage, purchasing power, and the art of simple living, on January 19.


We all have a choice to live a simple life that is beneficial to both humans and the planet. Within many faith teachings and traditions lies the encouragement to live a life in harmony with the environment.


As our moderator, Alison Prout, Director of the International Network for Conservation and Religion (INCR), said: 'A religious life doesn’t necessarily mean a sustainable life”. It’s a choice we must make as both individuals and communities.'


Simple living – Ruth Valerio


Ruth Valerio, from the Christian organisation Tearfund, began the webinar by discussing her own background in terms of lifestyle choices.


She said: 'I came to a strong realisation that my Christian faith had something to do with poverty, justice and environmental care. Advocacy and campaigning became really important. I realised that I needed to live in a way that did as little harm as possible to the world we live in.'


For Ruth, the term ‘simple living’ best describes the way in which she lives. She recognises that this is a misnomer, as ‘simple living’ is anything but simple. It’s full of complexities and difficulties.


Henry David Thoreau said: 'A person is rich in proportion to the things they can leave alone', and for Ruth, simple living means considering what makes her life ‘wealthy’. The quote from Thoreau speaks to the internal dimension of simple living and the importance of holding things lightly.


Ruth said: 'Consumerism teaches us to focus on money instead of God, to see people as consumers or producers, and to see the wider natural world as an inanimate object that we can extract resources from for our own comfort.'


By de-cluttering our lives, we can address these negative relationships with other human beings and the natural world. Ruth recommended the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) lifestyle calculator and the lifestyle calculator from Climate Stewards, an offsetting organisation linked with A Rocha – who we heard from later in the webinar.


To conclude her talk, Ruth encouraged us to ask ourselves what our faith plans would look like if we were tasked with living them out in our own lives: 'As we’re putting together our faith plans, I would encourage us to always be asking ourselves what it would look like for us to be living it out in our own lives.'


Greening the Hajj – Husna Ahmad


CEO of Global One, Husna Ahmad, took the floor to discuss Global One’s Green Pilgrimage project. She said: 'Protection of the environment currently comes low down on the agenda for individuals and governments in the Muslim world.'


Through the Green Pilgrimage project, Husna decided to use the Hajj pilgrimage as a starting point for inviting environmental sustainability into the lives of Muslims.


There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, and environmental degradation and climate change is already affecting them. Muslims believe that man has been given a responsibility to care for the world by Allah, and this belief must be lived out through sustainable action.


As the largest annually occurring pilgrimage in the world, Hajj will be even more important this year after being closed to most pilgrims due to Covid-19 in 2020. Hajj emphasises the equality of every Muslim in the eyes of Allah and is one of the five pillars of Islam.


Husna said: 'Hajj is meant to inspire Muslims to greater levels of compassion and love towards one another and all human beings.


'It provides an opportunity to reflect, nourish themselves spiritually, and is the perfect time to start bringing green habits into your life. We should use this opportunity to be more caring to the planet.'


The Green Pilgrimage project incorporates roaming Green Hajj exhibitions and cartoons on sustainability published for children. The Green Guide to Hajj was published 2011, and includes practical tips for pilgrims, and invites people to use the pilgrimage as an opportunity to leave behind the habits of consumption and wastefulness.


When around two million pilgrims attend Hajj, there are environmental consequences. Air travel to Saudi Arabia has a cost, as does the 42,000 tonnes of waste in the form of plastic, clothing and food left behind.


The second edition of the Green Guide to Hajj will provide more practical solutions for greening the pilgrimage, and an app is being developed to educate pilgrims and present options for eco-friendly accommodation, tips for sustainability, and a calculator for working out individual carbon footprints for the Hajj.


Green Pilgrimage recommends that pilgrims use less water for wudu, travel only to perform Hajj once in their lifetimes to cut down on air travel, and sacrifice one animal per family.


Husna stated: 'All forms of life possess rights and duties.'


What is an owl worth? – Stanley Baya


Stanley Baya, from A Rocha, Kenya, was the final speaker to take the floor. A Rocha is an international conservation organisation working to 'show God’s love to all creation', which works in more than 19 countries worldwide.


Stanley works with communities in Kenya and stressed that A Rocha is a cross-cultural organisation.


North of Mombasa, is the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, a beautiful and richly diverse site with a unique and complex ecosystem. It brings together various habitats and has a great deal of biodiversity. There are many different types of vegetation present, and as the soil changes, the forest changes too.


The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is home to Africa’s smallest owl, the Sokoke Scops Owl. It’s nest has still not been discovered and remains a mystery to conservationists. The forest is also home to the Sokoke Bushy-Tailed Mongoose, the Golden-Rumped Sengi and Clarke’s Weaver.


Unfortunately, the trees preferred by the Sokoke Scops Owl are also prime wood for the wood carvings that local money sell to raise money for their families. This trade puts pressure on the habitat of the owl.


Stanley went on to discuss the energy needs of the local populations and the fact that the trees that produce the best charcoal are indigenous trees. Local people have genuine needs that must be met every day – but pressure is increasing on the forest’s resources.


Stanley said: 'People are more interested in cash than the resources they can get from nature. This is an issue of protection or exploitation. What is the value of the owl? Why should the government protect it rather than giving the land to people so they can farm it for their families?'


A Rocha is currently carrying out environmental awareness and education campaigns because 'people will protect what they know, and what they know very well'. A Rocha works with schools and community groups, and there have already been significant outcomes, with students opting to do environmental studies because they now believe that the environment warrants human protection.


However, even if the interventions are present, Stanley describes a 'want more' phenomenon. He said: 'Resources are not unlimited and still the pressure goes on and on.


'The fundamental question is: instead of looking at what we can get from nature, who is the owner actually and what does he say about this? Is there someone who created the earth and cares for it?”


By running a biblical programme of stewardship training in churches, Stanley and A Rocha are able to 'reach the hearts of people'. Different faiths recognise that there is a creator and He loves His creation.

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