To livesimply in sustainable sufficiency and to not compete for infinite growth on a finite planet, can bring peace to caring for creation, allowing enough resources for everyone. There is a need for a new agrarianism – instead of destroying fossil fuels, ripping coal, oil and minerals we should leave these resources where they have rested.
The mountaineering Pope, John Paul II, still challenges with his clarion call for ‘an ecological conversion’. Equally challenging is Pope Benedict XVI, who tasted war in Nazi Germany, ‘If you want peace, care for creation’.
Social teaching describes the earth as a community of creation. People, God’s image, are within the created earth community, for which we are responsible. We resemble the biblical ideal of servant shepherd priestly kings, under God, responsible for the symbiotic flourishing and continuation of the community of creation.
When people live simply – in sustainable sufficiency – there are resources for everyone. Christine Allen encourages Malawi maize farmers, whom Progressio assists to farm organically and small scale, the most productive farming, free from exploitation by agrichemical companies and from import dependence. We counter globalized exploitation, by living in equilibrium and symbiosis within our local earth communities like well functioning ecosystems. Our aim is quality, not competitive infinite growth on a finite planet.
Our model for this countercultural lifestyle is Jesus. Jesus lived an itinerant Sabbath and Jubilee lifestyle, dependent on God, and the earth community, especially those he served. This is the way traditional religious communities have lived and the way alternative communities now live, whether in rural areas or towns. Instead of destroying mountains, forests, tundra, and sea beds, ripping coal, oil and minerals from sea and land, we should leave fossil fuels and minerals where they have rested for millennia. Christians can lead in promoting alternative energies such as hydro, wind, solar, tidal, geo and air thermal energies in climate equilibrium. My south roof has solar thermal panels which heat our water, and photovoltaic panels which produce a third more electricity than we use, making us micro-generators. My parish is considering panels on the south facing roof with which churches abound. We also harvest rain water.
The Church, says Vatican II, ‘in her teaching, life and worship perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes’. Catholic Social Teaching flows into the living tradition ‘which is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying church’. (Const. on Revelation, 8). Our ‘practice and life’, caring for creation, is social teaching in action.
We need a new agrarianism, adapted to contemporary circumstances including urbanization, which means living in community caring for the earth and all its creatures, and contributing to agro-ecological food production. We need many more families, both in OECD and poor regions, in partly self-sufficient small farms and holdings, around living villages and towns. Archaeology, history, and the bible testify that people settled on fertile, well watered land and grew food even in cities. Defra estimates that in England and Wales, 4% of the best soil is in urban gardens. In addition to supporting family farms and farmers’ markets, we can support allotments, community gardens and orchards, shared gardens, front garden cultivation, and the ‘nooks and crannies’ campaign in London. Stock and fowl are sometimes possible, as in exurbia. Ideally towns and cities, in the new agrarianism, will trade, share, and cooperate with their countryside. American farmer, poet, and agrarian Wendell Berry says, ‘The only sustainable city … would live off the net ecological income of its supporting regions, paying as it goes all its ecological and human debts.’
In sustainable communities, preserving food for seasonal change, the annual ‘hunger gap’, and hard times, is always necessary. People preserve food in imaginative ways, including sun drying, clamping, pickling, kilnering, juice production, distilling, fermenting, and all the myriad ways human ingenuity has prolonged food supplies. A modern example is Sudan where two Zeer pots, the smaller within the larger, separated by wet sand, prolong vegetable freshness. Another, almost paradoxical example is preserving food in freezers, energized by domestic alternative energies such as solar or wind power.
Finally, here and abroad, we need to ‘practice and live’ the proximity principle. That means a reciprocal supply and demand chain within the limited circumferences of population centres before importing from other areas. Everywhere people must support local farmers and growers. The proximity principle is central to a new agrarianism. Peru, for example, will cease to export soil fertility and virtual water in lorry and air miled asparagus, nor be import dependent; Kenya will cease to export its fertility and virtual water in beans and flowers; Chile will cease exporting wine; Puerto Rico will export fewer pineapples. The EU will cease dumping surpluses on poorer regions, enabling them to farm and trade locally. Agribusiness will not push small farmers off their land, nor spray toxic chemicals on soy and people as in Paraguay. F. W. Schumacher distinguished between ‘forward stampeders’, such as industrial farmers, and ‘homecomers’. To live the proximity principle is to come home.
The new agrarianism, including the proximity principle, is the ecological conversion, bringing peace by caring for creation, which our two recent successors of Peter the fishermen have taught.
Edward P. Echlin (Honorary Research Fellow, Leeds Trinity University College;
Visiting Scholar, Sarum College, Salisbury)
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