A Sermon for Earth Day by Rev Bridget Spain, Minister of Dublin Unitarian Church

Earth DayRev Bridget Spain, Minister of Dublin Unitarian Church preached the following sermon on Earth Day 22nd April 2018. Fran Brady, Quaker representative on the Eco-Congregation Ireland committee, provided ECI with this abridged version of her sermon:

Earth Day was inaugurated by American Senator Gaylord Nelson on the 22nd April 1970, to promote better knowledge of how we might care for the earth. It is a day to highlight the stress our lifestyle is putting on the planet. There is no planet B. The enormity of the problem of global warming and global pollution seems insurmountable. What can we, city dwellers, do in the face of the methane emissions of millions of Irish cows. Or how can we solve pollution problems in China. The enormity of the problem must not deter us from doing something to reduce our footprint. How can I make changes in my lifestyle so that I cause less pollution?

We must look at what is within our power to change. Last year the Unitarian sermon on Earth Day was on the problem of plastic. The inspiration for the sermon came from a conversation with a colleague at the General Assembly meeting. The colleague was trying to live without using any plastic in her life. People were complimentary about that sermon in the Unitarian Church. Later the Irish Times published it.  This year Sue, the colleague at the General Assembly meeting, put a question to [Bridget]: “How are you finding living without plastic?”

We are past the time for talking, or writing, about plastic. 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 unknowingly in the past. We understand what is threatening our planet and we can do something to change direction. We know that individually we will not solve the problem.  But we are not excused from taking some remedial action.

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 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. This story is not unique. It is constantly repeated, in whales, fish and birds. 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. In the west we are responsible for huge amounts of plastic. 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, plastic waste is simply discarded. Indonesia uses their army to clear plastic from rivers. Recently scientists announced that they believe they have discovered an enzyme that will degrade plastic – not every type of plastic, just one variety. But have the scientists investigated the long-term effects of the use of this enzyme? Could it initiate a new set of environmental problems?

There 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 is satisfactory. If a tap is left running and the kitchen floods it must be mopped up. But the very first thing to do is to turn off the tap. There is little point in mopping the floor if the tap is still running. 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 where we, ordinary citizens, can find our power. We buy the goods that come packaged in plastic. If instead we made our voices heard the sellers would listen. If we refused to buy plastic the producers would 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 supermarkets to be disposed of, supermarkets would take note. If consumers wrote to companies when they noticed the use of unnecessary plastic change should eventually happen. A great source 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. Would it be so difficult to get used to cloudy plastic bottles? There are greengrocers who sell vegetables without layers of wrapping. There are food outlets that allow people to take along their own containers or reused bags. If every person in the world reduced their use of plastic by just one single unit each year 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’s two pieces, per week, per person, for a year? Or more?

The other good news story for Earth Day is that African countries have committed to growing a green wall of trees eight thousand kilometres long and fifteen kilometres wide. It will stretch across eleven countries. Already the section  completed 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 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.

Oscailt the Unitarian monthly magazine will have its own “green” content - beginning with the May issue which ran three “green” articles and a poem.