Environment and Development A Challenge to Our Lifestyles - 5. Our personal and communal lifestyle

Sustainability will, of course, have implications for our personal lifestyles. Although political and economic measures are indispensable, by themselves they will not achieve the necessary change. There are no "magic solutions". Every citizen is called to contribute to sustainabilty by his or her own way of life. What might such a lifestyle look like? We mention just a few characteristics:

  • Since present levels of energy consumption cannot be maintained we must make every effort to avoid unnecessary consumption of energy. Some reduction can be achieved through energy efficiency measures applied to the home, community facilities and places of work, but ultimately a different way of life will be required implying a reduction of heating, lighting, use of appliances, machinery and so on.

    Campaigns of personal environmental commitment, in which individuals pledge to reduce their personal energy consumption by 2% annually within the next ten years, have been launched in several countries.

  • A new approach to mobility and transport must be found. For many reasons, present patterns of mobility are not sustainable. For most people, a responsible lifestyle will represent cutting back significantly on the use of their private car, and using public transport, cycling and walking instead. This may be painful, but it is one place where environmental concern bites hardest in our western way of living. Other measures include using less air transport, particularly for short overland journeys where the train would suffice.

  • In order to avoid unnecessary transport and refrigeration a new lifestyle will give preference to the consumption of local and seasonal goods.

  • Meat production is an inefficient way of using natural resources for food and is putting, especially in its modern forms of mass production, undesirable strain on the environment. A sustainable life style calls therefore for less meat consumption.

  • Every effort needs to be made to avoid vaste. Generally, therefore, goods should be made to last as long as possible. We should return to a "culture of recycling and repair".

  • Above all, the new lifestyle should be characterized by a new use of time. In our use of time values like human relationships, community, care, loyalty to other people and respect for nature need to be given priority. A new use of time should integrate time for meditation and prayer.

In the present situation a lifestyle governed by such values stands in contradiction to general trends. Such a lifestyle may require a form of "exodus" from the dominant culture of consumption; it can only be achieved through resistance to the economic and materialistic pressures which influence the meaning and content of every individual's life. Paul's exhortation is relevant here: "Do not conform yourself to the schemes of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind; then you will be able to know the will of God what is good, acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12,2).

Such a change of lifestyle by no means implies a negative attitude to the goods of the world. On the contrary, it will help to open up new dimensions of human life and lead to qualitatively higher forms of fulfilment and satisfaction. In the first place it means "recapturing lost lands of freedom within ourselves" (Church of Norway report The Consumer Society as an Ethical Challenge). Conforming to the consumer society leads to dependence. Basically, the Christian tradition affirms the goodness of the world and welcomes the joys the world is capable of providing. But only in freedom can the goodness of the world really be appreciated; a freer lifestyle leads to a deeper quality of life. "If you enjoy spending time with your children, talking with friends, walking in the mountains, praying, singing ... in other words: if you enjoy simple joys, feel happy with yourself and others ... then you are a threat to the economic system behind the consumer society, for in all this you have not spent a single dollar! If you feel worthless, lonely and insecure, if you are always wanting more ... then the consumer society will find lots of sore spots to press on, offering you more and more consumption to fill the gap of your own discomfort with yourself and others." (Asle Finseth)

For Christians, the call to a new lifestyle has even deeper roots. As we listen anew to the Scriptures we realize that what is required for achieving a sustainable lifestyle coincides in many respects with the way of life implied in discipleship. When Jesus summoned the disciples to follow him he invited them to set their minds exclusively on the Kingdom of God. He consistently warned them against the accumulation of material goods. Christians are told to work for their "daily bread" and for the support of those living in poverty and need. Their primary concern is to serve the building up of the community. For centuries the churches took these values to be self-evident. Only in modern times have values like conquest, transformation and material growth made their way into the life of the churches as well. The impasse we face today directs us back to Jesus' original call for communion with God and with one another. Again, discipleship does not imply a negative attitude to the world. Christian asceticism is not a denial of the world. Rather, prayer and fasting and the voluntary limitation of consumption are the source of freedom and a greater capacity for love.

Thus, for Christians the ultimate motivation for a more responsible lifestyle is to be found in Jesus Christ. Through him we are freed for a life of praise to God and service to others. As we concentrate our minds on communion with God we are enabled to resist other demands all forms of self-fulfilment through power and wealth.

As we celebrate the eucharist the deeper meaning of Christian life finds expression in the signs of the bread and the wine: through them we receive the gift of Christ's presence and are called to share with one another. We praise God for his presence in creation and pray for the fulfilment of all things in the kingdom of God.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version