The only home we have

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.

Jul 08, 2022

(The first part of this article appeared in the June 12 issue of HERALD)

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (Laudato Si’ 14).

Mountaintop experience
Last month, I climbed to the peak of Mount Kinabalu. Standing at 4,095.2 metres, Mount Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in South East Asia. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The five-hour hike, from the start of the trail at Timpohon Gate to the pit stop at Panalaban (3,272.7 metres), started off as a pleasant hike but became more difficult as we went higher. Many hikers suffered from acute mountain sickness (AMS) by the time they reached Panalaban. My hiking comrades came prepared with AMS tablets and portable oxygen inhalers. I did not use any of those aids as I am allergic to almost every type of medicine, and the oxygen canisters were certainly not an eco-friendly option.

The last leg of the climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu, nicknamed ‘Summit Attack’, is where the real challenge lies. Hikers start hiking at 2.30am in pitch darkness, with only a headlamp to light the way. The steep incline, low oxygen levels and freezing temperature makes the ascent more challenging. Hikers need to be physically fit and with a strong mind in order to reach the summit (Low’s Peak) before sunrise. Four of us attempted the Summit Attack, but I was the only one who made it to Low’s Peak in time to watch the sunrise. It was a perfect opportunity to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation whilst reflecting on Psalm 95:4 - “In his hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his.”

Coming down the mountain the next day was not an easy feat either as my legs were dead tired. The day before, I had slipped and hit my right knee against the granite of Mount Kinabalu while doing the Mountain Torq Via Ferrata course. The injury made my descent more challenging.

Whenever I hear anyone proclaim that they have conquered a mountain, I cringe because it is arrogant to say that we have conquered a mighty mountain when human beings are fragile and are at the mercy of the environment. God’s beautiful creation is not to be conquered. Instead, we should be humbled by the grandeur of Mother Nature and become stewards in caring for her. We take care of Mother Nature, and she in turn, will take care of us — like mothers do. It is an interdependent relationship.

Varying levels of effort in parishes
Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’ Mi Signore was launched on May 24, 2015. Now in its eighth year, how far have we come in caring for our common home? What efforts have been made?
In the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, there are parishes that have launched ministries to encourage parishioners to lead a more environment friendly lifestyle. These ministries come in different names such as Laudato Si’ Ministry or Creation Justice Ministry. On the other hand, there are parishes and also archdiocesan offices that have not even started the basics of refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling.

Certain parishes in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur have installed High Volume Low Speed (HVLS) fans that do a fantastic job in cooling the church so that parishioners can participate at Mass comfortably in spite of the sweltering heat. These HVLS fans are more eco-friendly compared to air-conditioning the whole church. It is also possibly a more economical option in the long run. Personally, whenever I go to church, I want to enter a church that has its doors (and windows) wide open as I feel God inviting me, “Come on in, I am waiting for you”. This is why bosses have open door policies for their staff, and people have open houses during festive seasons. An air-conditioned church with its doors and windows tightly shut (to prevent the cool air from escaping) does not give a welcoming vibe.

Next, let’s take a look at parish feast days. In the spirit of good hospitality, and in thanksgiving for answered prayers, food is distributed to pilgrims and visitors after Mass. Most of this food is packed in plastic containers, and parishes distribute hundreds of these food packs throughout the feast. Parishes must find eco-friendly ways to do this. Perhaps, they could use biodegradable containers instead of plastic ones. Or perhaps they could arrange for caterers to serve the food instead of packing it into plastic containers. There is a lot that parishes can do to make their feast celebrations an eco-friendly one.

Standing alone
Many of us have started living an environment friendly lifestyle, but there are still many who need to undergo an ecological conversion. Some of the struggles I hear from my eco-friendly friends is that they feel their efforts are pointless because there are many others who don’t practise what they do. Their effort is like a drop of clean water in a basin of dirty water. I do understand the struggles. Many a time, when I tell a person that I don’t want to ‘tapao’ food because there’s too much packaging, the person would reply, “Ah ya … it is only one container.”

So say hundreds of other people who take away food using disposables. This is where the mentality has to change. We need to get more people to adopt lifestyle changes, we don’t have to do it perfectly. As what zero waste chef, Anne Marie Bonneau said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste imperfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

Collective efforts
As I mentioned in my previous article, climate change has become the biggest threat to human kind. In order to stay alive, we need to change our habits and lead an environment friendly lifestyle. All of us must do our part in caring for our common home. Individuals, households, schools, offices and governments must pool together our resources to make impactful decisions and changes that will help heal Mother Earth. This effort is the biggest collective effort that human kind would need to mobilise in order to sustain life on this planet.

l Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one’s heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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