Despair Is Not an Option

Creation icon, Romanian

As a high school science teacher, one of the courses that I love to teach is Environmental Science and Field Biology. I also teach at a Christian high school and love the opportunity to challenge the students to think about what it means to really live as a Christian.

Predictably, by the end of the first semester, students begin to ask “This all can seem so overwhelming, what can we possibly do? Isn’t it too late to reverse the worst of climate change?”

My first answer is that despair (and its siblings cynicism and doubt) is exactly how the Evil One wants us to respond. Despair is easy, it absolves us of any requirement of true repentance. It’s too big, it’s too complex, there are so many other factors…

My second response is that to whom much has been given, much will be required. We must because we can. We must for those who cannot.

The rest of the course ends up being filled with discussions about what we can do and it falls within a three-pronged approach.

Firstly, repentance starts with self. Find two habits that you can incorporate for the next two months. Give yourself permission, at the outset, to drop/modify your habit after the two months but give it two months. It needs to be something that is personally applicable. They don’t shop for groceries, using resuable totes doesn’t make as much sense, nor will it be as meaningful. They do drink a lot of Starbucks. Bringing a resuable tumbler, or even their own reusable straw makes sense. Ordering in person, instead of over an app once a week so that they can bring in their resuable tumbler is another option. This first step is not just the beginnings of change but it helps them understand how to begin conversations with other people. I often relate how our family’s use of resuable produce bags has sparked many conversations while shopping. People are curious, they ask questions, want to see how sturdy they are, want to know what our experience has been and, in doing so, are emboldened to make similar steps.

Secondly, repentance involves helping your community. I encourage the kids to spend one to two hours a month researching the position of their local politician/or person running for office, in lieu of streaming Netflix. I tell them to look up and down the slate, from the very local to the national. I tell them to vote with the person who has the real plans, the track record and the ability to enact policy changes that will have the impact they want. I tell them not to be lazy and vote strictly on party affiliation, but to really research, and if the spirit moves them, to write/tweet/message the person commending or even asking questions.

Finally, I encourage them to spend an additional one-two hours a month streaming something on Netflix/youtube that actually informs them about something that is of importance to them. If they like fashion, find out more about slow fashion. If they like cooking, find out about sustainable diets, food shares, sustainable farming methods, permaculture etc. This will give them ideas about habits they can change, give them information to explain their choices to other people and to understand the proposals of politicians. Bit by bit change is made until enough people around join in and we reach a tipping point much as the early church.

We have been given so much, there are so many who do not have the luxury of being able to worry about sustainability, or have the ability to choose the more expensive option of organic this or that. We can so we should. If enough of us do, then the market forces will listen and begin to respond with a wider array both in terms of choice and pricing so that more will be able to also be sustainable.

I am lucky because I am in a setting where I can draw the direct connection to our call as Christians in this world, using the coded language, but the message was the same, even when I taught in a secular school (just without the overtly Christian language).

Manna Ohmoto-Whitfield teaches Environmental Science/Field Biology, Chemistry and Physics at Lexington Christian Academy.

Manna Ohmoto-Whitfield