Faith Matters

Lent is an ideal time to establish new habits

Lent is an ideal time to establish new habits. Diarmuid Pepper suggests ways of tackling what Pope Francis has called 'ecological sin' in the run-up to Easter and beyond

Tackling 'ecological sin' is an urgent priority

THE Lenten season is upon us, resulting in millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike resolving to make some sort of sacrifice during the lead-up to Easter.

While many use it as an opportunity to give up bad habits, some people may want to do something a bit more meaningful.

Pope Francis recently stated his desire to update the Catechism of the Catholic Church to include "ecological sin".

Ecological sin is described as "an act of commission or omission against God, against one's neighbour, the community and the environment".

In his Apostolic Exhortation Laudato Sí: On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis urges action because we are "leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations".

Firmly, he writes: "The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."

With this in mind, here are some things you can do this Lenten season and beyond to care for 'our common home'.

Ditch the plastic straws

The US alone goes through over 500 million straws a day. The UK goes through 8.5 billion per year.

Most are not recycled and end up in the sea, where they are ingested by sea life or become stuck in their orifices.

So this Lenten season ask yourself: "Do I really need a plastic straw for this drink?"

Instead of further polluting the planet, try the drink without a straw.

There is limited research to show that using a straw will protect your teeth, and there are many bamboo, steel and glass alternatives on the market.

Ditching single-use plastics, including straws, could make a valuable difference to our environment

Ditch the single-use coffee cups

In the UK alone, 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are used every year.

But the incredibly worrying thing is that less than 1 per cent of these cups are recycled.

That means over two billion, four hundred and seventy-five million coffee cups are being thrown into landfills each year.

With the number of coffee shops expected to overtake the number of pubs in Britain and Ireland very soon, try something friendlier for the environment. Plus, you get a discount in most stores.

Go vegetarian

The scientific consensus is ominous and horrifying and needs to be taken more seriously, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us.

Avoiding meat is now claimed by some to be the single biggest way to do your bit for the environment.

Animals account for only 18 per cent of the average person's calorific intake, and only a third of their protein intake.

Other sources of protein are easily available, which won't lead to killing animals or harming of the environment.

To make one burger, it takes 15 gallons of waters, 14 pounds of feed, 65 square feet of land, and 4 pounds of harmful greenhouse gases.

Going vegetarian cuts your carbon footprint in half, something to be mindful of this Lenten season.

We could also use Lent as an opportunity to be more giving.

Pope Francis has spoken of the need to "stretch out our hands to the stranger as Jesus does with us" and has warned that we must we "must not stand with arms folded in indifference".

That might mean setting up a charitable direct debit.

You might be thinking: "Why would I do that, given that we spend more and more on charity, yet nothing changes. If anything, things are worse now than they've ever been."

But this apparently 'common sense' assumption is totally false. In reality, things are better now than they've ever been.

Recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, participants were asked if the number of people living in extreme poverty had increased, decreased or remained the same in the past 25 years. A total of 62 per cent of these experts answered incorrectly.

The number of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved in the past 25 years, from 33 per cent down to around 12 per cent.

When we account for the past 35 years, the decrease is even more dramatic; 35 years ago, half the planet lived in extreme poverty, a number which has decreased by 78 per cent.

Add to this the fact that child mortality has been halved in the past 25 years, and polio has been virtually eradicated, from 350,000 cases in 1988 to 416 reported cases in 2013.

None of this would be possible without the valuable work of charities.

"But most charities are corrupt," says the cynic.

Well if this if your outlook, do a little research. You wouldn't buy a TV without doing a little bit of research, so put in at least a similar amount of effort when it comes to choosing a charity.

Don't know where to turn for such research? Worried about what your cash will be used for?

Here's one website that breaks down exactly how charities use their money - www.thelifeyoucansave.org.

Future generations will look back upon our society with bemusement, and they will wonder why we did so little to help the environment given that we were fully aware of the harm we were causing it 

It is clear that if we don't act decisively within the next decade, the environmental catastrophe will be "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented in all aspects of society".

Future generations will look back upon our society with bemusement, and they will wonder why we did so little to help the environment given that we were fully aware of the harm we were causing it.

We have around a decade to overturn our destruction of the environment, after which point the effects will be completely irreversible.

Unfortunately, even if every country pledged to do all they can, it still may not be enough.

We can play our own part by taking up new habits, prayerfully and constructively, this Lenten season.

Pope Francis's 2015 encyclical Laudato Sí addresses our care for 'our common home'

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