Only a “Sense” of Obligation to Environment?

Every Monday morning on the ground floor of the University Centre at the University of Ottawa, the Sustainable Development Centre (which now occupies one of the offices that years ago was a full-time chaplains office and sits outside the area formerly known as Spiritual Services….hmmm) sets up a table offering free coffee for all those with re-usable mugs.  Their sign says…”6500 disposable coffee cups used every day on campus.”  There was no one waiting in line so I stopped for a cup of coffee and chatted with the volunteer.  I learned a few things, including the fact that they didn’t have enough volunteers to offer this service more often or in different campus locations.  Then I walked upstairs to the part-time chaplains office and on the way I passed the Tim Horton’s coffee kiosk which had a line-up of about 10-15 people.  Interesting…free, but you have to have your own cup = no line up, but pay $1.50-$2.00 and get a disposable cup = line up of 10-15 people.  Something is wrong here.

Recently, Cardus, a think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture, released it’s Canadian Educational Survey (They released the US version last year) in which they explored the effects of education upon people’s lives.  The survey measured the differences between educational systems, (Catholic, Independent  Public, Christian, and Home School being the primary categories) with respect not only to career but to the affect on the social fabric of our society. (You can see the whole report by clicking here)  Included in the study was the role of education with respect to environmental care.

When they compared responses from participants they discovered,

“A sense of moral or religious obligation to care for the environment is very strong among the Christian school and religious home-educated graduates.” p.39

I’m glad to hear that.  At the heart of the Christian story is the belief in a good creation.  We believe that the environment is a gift of God and we are called to care for it.  We should have a strong moral or religious obligation to care for the environment (The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. Genesis 2:15).  But having a sense of moral obligation and acting upon it are apparently two different matters.  The report goes on to say

“When we add all of these reported actions together, there are no significant differences between government school graduates and those from other school sectors. There is a small trend among religious home-educated graduates toward fewer environmentally friendly actions… Overall, then, we find some differences in a sense of obligation to the environment, which favour the Christian school and religious home education sectors, and in commitment to participating in the environmental movement, which is more likely among independent non-religious school graduates. Besides those, the differences between school sectors on the environment are very limited.” (p.40)

Basically the survey says that although Christians (at least those schooled in Christian environments) have a higher sense of obligation to the care of the environment, in reality Christians come out the same as all other students in actually caring for the environment.  If Christians have a higher sense of obligation to the environment, shouldn’t we have a greater participation in environmental action and causes?

Maybe there is a reason that what used to be a Chaplain’s office at the University of Ottawa is now the office for Sustainable Development.  And maybe it’s time for Christian students on campus to take a lead in volunteer action with the Office of Sustainable Development…it’s a way that we can live out that moral religious obligation that we apparently feel.  Who knows, in the future this office might once again become known as a place of spiritual service.


2 thoughts on “Only a “Sense” of Obligation to Environment?

  1. Sid, I’m convicted by this. I have a strong “Sense” of obligation, but when it comes to my lifestyle choices, I’m not so sure. (I just bought a big house, and increased my commute time). I suspect I’m like a lot of folks–what can I do (that won’t make me too uncomfortable) that will actually make a difference?

    • It’s a challenge to be sure. My new commitment is to not buy a coffee unless I have a cup. It seems like a stupidly small thing to do, but it’s a part of the “got to start somewhere” attitude that I think we all need to cultivate. Regular reading of Dr. Suess’s Lorax is an important part of this cultivation as well.

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