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A life that doesn't cost the earth

Ahead of Earth Day tomorrow (Sunday 22 April), when people push for global action on environmental issues, Sarah Olowofoyeku meets RUTH VALERIO, who argues that the well-being of the planet is just as important as the well-being of humanity

We've been created to look after what God has made

‘WE live in the world, and we’re not separated from it,’ says Ruth Valerio. ‘If we live in an environment that is harmed, then we are harmed as well. We can’t argue between either caring for people or caring for the environment – they go together.’

Theologian and social activist Ruth works for environmental justice in her role as director of global advocacy and influencing with Christian relief and development agency Tearfund. But when Ruth gets home, the environmental action doesn’t stop.

She explains: ‘I realised that if my job was to ask governments to make changes, I had to change how I lived and used the earth’s resources. So, as a family, we’ve made many changes.

‘We try to eat in planet-friendly ways – less processed food, a predominantly vegetable and grain-based diet and foods we’ve produced ourselves. It’s about taking power back into our own hands. The whole of our global food supply is controlled by just a few very big companies. I want to be in control of what I eat, so I know that it is healthy and good for the planet.

‘We’ve also taken steps to reduce our energy usage and are careful with how we travel. We have solar panels and an electric car, and in about 18 years of family life, we’ve gone on holiday by plane only three times.

‘With waste, we try to avoid single-use plastic bottles, and we use shampoo and soap bars rather than bottles.’

While Ruth admits that there have been times when the lifestyle has been inconvenient, overall she and her family have enjoyed making these changes. She believes that there is an environmentally friendly reason for this.

‘It has been a positive experience, and I think that’s because to live in a way that connects us more to the natural world is part of what it means to be human.’

 Her understanding of the world is founded on her Christian faith. ‘I believe that we’ve been created to look after what God has made,’ says Ruth. ‘When we try to do that, it will be life-giving.’

The link between faith and caring for the planet became apparent to Ruth after she had been a Christian for a while.

‘I’d always thought that the Bible was just interested in human beings,’ she says. ‘But one day at university, while studying theology, I read a book that looked at what the Bible said about environmental care. Having seen how much the Bible spoke about caring for God’s world, I couldn’t unsee it.

‘At that point, I had already been doing some social justice work, because I believed the Bible taught us to care for people. But then I realised that the gospel, the good news, is that Jesus came to put right all that has gone wrong. And that isn’t just on a human level; it’s to do with the whole natural world.’

Ruth suggests a way of looking at the need to care for the environment.

‘I have a tapestry that I made some years ago. It’s beautiful and hangs on the wall in my house. If I came home one day to find that my kids had taken it off the wall and were using it to wipe their muddy feet on, I’d be gutted. But I know that won’t happen, because they love me and wouldn’t dream of treating badly something they know I love so much.

‘If we want to love God, taking care of what he made will be a natural part of that.’

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about how to help the environment when there are so many areas of concern. But Ruth shares some simple ideas for living more justly.

‘We can reduce the amount of meat we eat – starting with not eating meat one day a week. We can switch to a green energy supplier – sometimes the supplier will match a local supplier so it doesn’t need to be more expensive. Finally, we can stop buying single-use plastic water bottles and instead buy a reusable bottle and fill it up from the tap.

‘It takes a long-term commitment and a reframing of our lives to decide to live in ways that take care of the world. But we do it because when God made the world, he looked at it and said it’s good. He loves it. And that’s all the reason we need.’

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