Waste and Consumption

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The environmental justices issues around consumption, waste, and resource exploitation/depletion – and other systems involved in supporting humanity’s needs, wants, and desires – have been of concern to UUs for many years.

     In 2001, the delegates to General Assembly adopted the Statement of Conscience (SOC) Responsible Consumption Is Our Moral Imperative (read online or download PDF), which reads in part, “Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls upon us to approach the ethic of responsible consumption with a passion for seeking truth, a thirst for making justice, a vision of interdependence, and a willingness to re-examine our individual actions and beliefs. Becoming responsible consumers means putting into action our religious Principles of the inherent worth Responsible Consumption SOC pageand dignity of all people and the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part . . . We will work together for legislative changes that will reduce over-consumption, environmental degradation, and the unjust distribution of resources.”

     Although the UUA classifies this SOC under “Economic Justice,” it is equally at home under Environmental Justice.” As we are learning, all the injustices that UUs work so hard to address are inextricably intertwined, e.g., there is no racial justice without economic justice and no environmental justice without racial justice. In this new age of increasing climate disruption, the consumption choices we make – as individuals, organizations and corporations, cities, states, and nations – have profound implications on how well we humans will succeed in adapting to the inevitable changes that face us in an equitable way.

     In 2006, the delegates to GA adopted the SOC Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change (read online or download PDF) states: “We as Unitarian Universalists are called to join with others to halt practices that fuel global warming/climate change, to instigate sustainable Climate Change SOCalternatives, and to mitigate the impending effects of global warming/climate change with just and ethical responses. As a people of faith, we commit to a renewed reverence for life and respect for the interdependent web of all existence.” The SOC explains the issue as a Matter of Science, a Matter of Policy, and has this to say under a Matter of Faith and Justice: “Entire cultures, nations, and life forms are at risk of extinction while basic human rights to adequate supplies of food, fresh water, and health as well as sustainable livelihoods for humans are being undermined. To live, we must both consume and dispose. Both our consumption and our disposal burden the interdependent web of existence. To sustain the interdependent web, we must burden it less while maintaining the essentials of our lives . . . Our world is calling us to gather in community and respond from our moral and spiritual wealth; together we can transform our individual and congregational lives into acts of moral witness, discarding our harmful habits for new behaviors and practices that will sustain life on Earth, ever vigilant against injustice.”

     The SOC’s Call to Action begins with “Affirming that we are of this Earth and that humankind has brought about global warming/climate change, we, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, pledge to ground our missions and ministries in reverence for this earth and responsibility to it as we undertake these personal practices, congregational actions, and advocacy goals.” The extensive list of suggested actions includes many related to consumption and waste.

     Many congregations, including those working towards or already certified as Green Sanctuaries, have embraced the charges of both of these Statements of Conscience in their sustainability, education, and environmental justice projects as well as their advocacy efforts. Through a new initiative from the UU-UNO Climate Change Task Force, Climate Action Teams (CATs) are forming in many congregations. So, how are we doing? At the personal, congregational, and community level we seem to be making some progress, but our advocacy efforts have had little impact on slowing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere. 

     This module, created for Earth Day 2014, is intended to deepen your understanding of the impact of our consumption, waste, and resource exploitation patterns on climate change and planetary degradation – and what you and your congregation might do help mitigate this rapidly deteriorating situation at home and around the world. Let’s get started!

     The graphic below is from the short film The Story of Stuff, created by Annie Leonard, an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues. Since 2007, over 40 million people have viewed it. In a simple but profound way it connects all the dots on how we got ourselves in this consumption/pollution mess.

Story of Stuff Linear Path GraphicIt begins with extraction of resources from the Earth, which are transported to production facilities and turned into products, which are transported to distribution facilities for sale to customers, who transport them to homes, schools, businesses, etc. for consumption and then disposal of all the plastic packaging, wasted food, broken toys, etc., which are transported to the landfill or incinerator, if not recycled. The process is carefully watched and orchestrated by government and corporations at every step of the way.

     As you have probably already concluded – and will see in the film – there are a number of problems with this model, but the most egregious is that it is a linear process rather than a closed loop, in which the “waste” created – from the CO2 emissions from all the transporting to the garbage going to the landfill – is lost forever and new resources must be extracted to continue the process. Our challenge is to design more intelligent products, reduce unnecessary consumption, recover/reuse the “waste,” and close the loop. Watch the 20-minute film below and learn more about the Story of Stuff on the following pages. The referenced and annotated script (PDF) may also be useful.

     Use the resources on these pages to engage with the topic of waste and consumption:  


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