I grew up drinking tap water. Bottled water from far-off places like France and Italy was considered a frivolous luxury. We took it for granted that the tap water was clean enough to drink.
Now bottled water is everywhere. Plastic bottles were commercially introduced in 1947, but it was not until the 1960s, when high-density polyethylene was introduced to the public, that the container became economical and widely available. Since then, the water bottle industry has skyrocketed.
In America alone, nearly 50 billion bottles of water are consumed yearly. That is a lot of unnecessary plastic to clutter the environment. Plastic water bottles take more than 1,000 years to bio-degrade — if they are incinerated, they produce toxic fumes which pollute the atmosphere. Our landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles.
As we think about the environment, we need to rethink how we live and what is wise or unwise for the sake of the earth. Badly-managed waste is slowly destroying the earth. We can turn a blind eye to the garbage problem, or turn our energy into living differently to save the earth.
As the world prepares for the Conference of Parties 21 (COP21) meeting in Paris in December 2015, we recognize that religious groups such as World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, Fast for Climate, and others are joining in the efforts to decrease waste, decrease greenhouse gases and work towards sustainable living.
“The international community has, with COP21, the unique opportunity to respond to what the most vulnerable communities are requesting: a binding agreement to prevent average temperature to raise more than 1.5°C,” Dr. Guillermo Kerber, director for the Care for Creation and Climate Justice at the World Council of Churches, told me.
COP is the international political response to climate change that began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The ‘Rio Convention’ included the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Importantly, this convention set out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.
This year’s COP21 meeting is crucial for the global community. The need to live more sustainably, with fewer garbage and carbon emissions, is becoming a necessary choice. The consequences of ignoring the choices are high.
But Rev. Henrik Grape, Officer on Sustainable Development for the Church of Sweden, hopes that paying attention will ensure change.
“The Paris meeting will end with an agenda that will push the states around the world to a faster pace when it comes to leave the carbon intensive development agenda and starts financing the transformation for the poor of the world to a more just and sustainable future,” he said.
COP21 is important to all of us, but especially the poor.
"The biggest open question in Paris may be how much aid goes to poor countries trying to leapfrog fossil fuels,” Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and founder of 350.org, said.
“For reasons both moral and practical the number should be large — larger than it likely will be."
As we think about the future of our children and our grandchildren, we need to rethink our use of water: how we store it, how we carry it and how we drink it. Water is a human necessity. Our ignorance can lead to the irony of spoiling watersheds — by robbing them of potable water while introducing mountains of plastic waste, impervious to decays which produce useful soils, and diverting water from useful work.
As the political delegations meet in Paris, we need to support their efforts to ensure that the earth that we leave for our future will be sustainable, fertile, and just. We need to do our part. Won’t you join the efforts?