The journey of ecological conversion at the Church of the Divine Mercy

The climate crisis is at a critical stage. If we continue with business as usual, global temperatures could increase by 2 degrees by 2050 and over 4 degrees by the end of the century.

Oct 02, 2021

CDM’s tranquil urban vegetable garden.

Converting any place, whether an office building, a shopping centre, a home, or a place of worship, to be ecologically in tune with the greening of our planet needs a change of thinking, some passion and a dose of initiative, but it is an effort well worth the time, planning and possible monetary outlay, depending on how big or small one wants to go. The Church of the Divine Mercy (CDM) in Penang was fortunate to have the above criteria met, and plans went ahead to fully implement eco ideas which have paid off. Not only has the church been responding to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’s hope for the future by taking care of creation, but it has also won for itself two Green Awards in the process, one of which placed it in the forefront as a recognised Eco Parish. Greening actions such as those which CDM has accomplished have brought immense satisfaction, small though they are in the grand scheme of things, while helping towards averting a global ecological disaster.

Although many energy saving solutions such as solar panels, efficient lighting system, and water-saving ideas had already been put in place at CDM, there was more to be done! After a Laudato Si-inspired workshop on Ecological Spirituality and Conversion was organised by parishioner Magdalene Chiang, a small team of equally passionate parishioners, eager to do justice to God’s creation, joined forces with her and, with that a new ministry, Friends of Creation (FoC) came into existence in 2019 and the ecological conversion idea firmly took hold. Together, the team went to work planning for the installation of rainwater harvesters for watering the outdoor plants and a recycling centre to start with. Slowly more ideas developed with the team’s input, such as making compost, enzymes, and eco-bricks. After that, an Eco-Café was established with the mission to do away with single-use plastics in the form of disposable cutlery, plates, cups, and straws. Parishioners were encouraged to bring their own non-disposable substitutes from home, thereby reducing landfill space. Ideas like these don’t sit well with some folk, who are set in their ways and don’t like change, but many adjusted and were glad to make a difference. Another successful project which was organised by Magdalene and her team was an EcoFair at CDM, with examples on how to re-use, re-purpose and recycle. All the while, the ecological message was being spread to the parishioners, not only by holding the fair, but by introducing the concept to children during catechism and broadcasting appropriate messages using slides and videos during weekend Masses.

Then COVID-19 appeared on the scene, affecting the country in a profound way from March 2020 onwards, and although many of the existing projects had to be put on hold, fortunately the last project, which had already been launched, continued up on the roof (under careful adherence to SOP’s). CDM’s very own rooftop vegetable garden was named Divina Hortus, which means ‘divine garden’ in Latin. Under the leadership of parishioner Anne Chong, with her valuable background in growing vegetables, and through the many trials facing the small team of volunteers determined to grow vegetables in a new and challenging environment, the best system and lay out was established. Many types of vegetables were tried out and were subsequently donated to poor families sourced through the recommendation of the Ministry of the Poor. Eventually, it is hoped that Divina Hortus will not only continue to be used as a means of charitable giving, but also as a place of education for parishioners interested in learning how to grow their own vegetables. Such knowledge can help cut costs and can also become an immensely satisfying hobby which can prove vital in times of uncertainty. Children from the catechism classes will also be welcomed to start acquiring knowledge and a love for growing their very own plants from seeds.

Urban farming is becoming popular in many parts of Asia and is catching on in Malaysia too. CDM only had a small section of its rooftop available for this project, and others, unless they are blessed with a garden, might find that they too have only a small part of a roof, a balcony, or a section of a back lane. Hopefully CDM can set an example through being a centre of learning.

Eating up our children’s futureThis year the theme for the Protect our earth, Protect our children campaign is Cut down meat, dairy and food waste. This is targeted at industrial meat and dairy (i.e., factory farming) producers, not small subsistence farms. There are many good reasons for this call.

1) Cutting down meat will reduce greenhouse gas emissions

The climate crisis is at a critical stage. If we continue with business as usual, global temperatures could increase by 2 degrees by 2050 and over 4 degrees by the end of the century. If the Western diet becomes the norm by 2050, additional greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the growth in global consumption of beef, lamb and other meats would be significant enough to derail successful mitigation efforts in other sectors and take us to a fourdegree increase, even if the energy sector is decarbonised by then.

Our current industrial food system is responsible for one-third or more of global greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock industry (from farm to fork) alone contributes about 14.5 per cent to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than transportation. Livestock farming drives about 73 per cent of global deforestation which removes essential carbon sinks while releasing the carbon trapped in the logged trees.

We have about a billion cows on the planet, each releasing 70–120 kg of methane into the atmosphere every year. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 84-86 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. However, even a 50 per cent reduction in animal products, targeting the highest-impact producers, could deliver a 20 per cent reduction in global GHGs across all sectors of the economy relative to 2010 emissions. So, every meal choice can really make a difference!

2) The livestock industry pollutes the planet
The factory farming of livestock uses 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water and takes up 50 per cent of habitable land areas. Most concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) don’t treat animal waste properly, but spread it over land, leave it in big manure lagoons, or pile it up in huge smelly heaps. Manure contains more than 150 pathogens, as well as pesticide runoff, which can contaminate water sources, while nitrates from synthetic fertilisers can lead to dead zones in water bodies like lakes.

3) Meat and dairy carry serious health risks
In 2015, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified red meat, which includes beef, lamb, and pork, as well as processed meat, as carcinogenic to humans. Red and processed meat is projected to cause 4.4 per cent of global deaths per year from colorectal cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, a 2020 study found that consuming ¼, 1, and 2-3 cups of milk per day was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer of 30 per cent, 50 per cent and 70-80 per cent, respectively.

The meat industry is also increasing the risk of zoonotic infections – viruses that jump from animals to human beings, like the coronavirus (COVID-19). Around 77 per cent of livestock pathogens are capable of infecting multiple host species, including wildlife and humans, and 60–76 per cent of recent emerging infectious disease events emanated from the meat production sector.

The other infectious disease threat related to the meat industry is the rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites no longer respond to medicines such as antibiotics. Some 700,000 people die every year because of AMR, and by 2050, it could kill over 10 million people annually.

4) Stopping dairy is stopping animal cruelty Cows in the dairy industry suffer their entire lives. They are forcefully impregnated every year to keep producing milk to be sold to humans. Shortly after birth, calves are dragged away from their mothers. Grieving mother cows can be heard bellowing, sometimes for days, for their missing young. They must go through this painful process every year. While female calves are slaughtered or kept alive to produce milk, male calves are often taken away from their mothers when they are as young as one day old to be slaughtered or raised for veal. Calves raised for veal are fed a milk substitute while their mothers’ milk is sold to humans.

After her baby is taken from her, the dairy cow is hooked up to machines for milking. Most cows are tethered by the neck, spending their entire lives standing and confined in massive, crowded lots where they are forced to live amid their own faeces. They are given lots of antibiotics and hormones and fed with unnaturally high protein food so that they can produce massive amounts of milk. Cows also undergo painful mutilations such as branding with hot irons, udder flaming, dehorning, and having their tails cut off, all without anaesthesia. Mastitis, infections, illness, lameness, and abuse by farm workers are common. Most cows are sent to slaughter after four or five years when their milk production drops.

The best way to save cows from the misery of factory farms is to stop buying milk and other dairy products such as butter and cheese. The way we treat animals to raise our food is heart-breaking and shameful. --By Clare Westwood

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