It was February, I think, when my class went out back and built a compost pile. All the talk about how the death of old things gives fertility for new things to grow struck a chord both physically and metaphorically. Winter was ending, and as the world burst into spring, I was letting go of my plans and moving home.
Even from six hundred miles away, though, I couldn’t escape the things we’d talked about in my environmental justice class. So I decided to build a compost pile of my own—and maybe start a garden.
I’ve been an environmental justice minor for almost a year now, if you can count the time I haven’t been in school. I mentioned it to someone recently, and she jokingly called me a tree hugger. I looked back at her and nodded.
Growing up, I heard Christians talk about the danger of worshiping and serving the creature more than the creator (Rom. 1). There were times when the church made conservation efforts sound like idolatry.
This is changing now, as many of us are starting to read about and understand what it means to have been given the planet to steward and not to exploit. We’re also starting to see that how we treat this spinning orb has drastic implications for how we treat one another. As one of my professors often reminds us, when the environment is damaged, it is often the poor who are most harmed and are then pushed into even greater situations of injustice.
So yes, you can call me a tree hugger, thanks to the classes I've sat in and the books and articles I've read. (Metaphorically, of course. Because trees house ticks and ticks scare me.)
We need to understand the damage we’ve done, but we can’t stop there. The problem is, reversing any of it feels impossible. We’re stuck in a cycle of destruction, making daily choices that reinforce the harm our planet has experienced. But if it’s our daily choices that are tearing down the environment, what if we could make daily choices to rebuild instead?
Like, for instance, composting in order to send less trash to our landfills. (Spoiler: there’s only so much room on the planet for trash, and we’re using it up. Fast.)
It’s been months since I moved home, though, and I still haven’t started my compost pile. I haven’t had the energy, and I don’t know when I will. So instead, I’m looking for other small choices I can make to seek the good of the planet. A few weeks ago, I started throwing my fruit and veggie scraps in the yard trash instead of the kitchen trash. It’s not the carefully curated compost pile I’d like, but at least the county can compost them and make the soil available to my neighbors.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Next on my list is working to decrease my water consumption and making sure the products I put down the drain aren’t doing more damage.
I used to think social justice was about saving the world, but studying it these past few years has taught me that it’s so much smaller. It starts with daily choices to love our neighbors well, both here and around the world—neighbors whose communities and livelihoods are harmed by the things we buy and the things we throw away. (If you’d like to learn more about this, The Story of Stuff is a great place to start.)
Yes, the amount of damage we’ve done to our planet is overwhelming, but reversing it doesn’t have to be. And as more of us make daily choices for the good of the earth, things just might start to change.