The concept of ecological conversion contained in the Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si” was shocking to many. After all, the ecological postulates belong to the broadly understood left, and it would seem that one of the few things that Catholics and anti-Catholics would be able to jointly admit is that Catholics are characterized by extreme anthropocentrism, a motto which is literately understood as: “Make the land subdued to yourselves.”
Meanwhile, the head pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church wrote directly that extreme anthropocentrism “is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church” (LS 67). It, like any focus on the goods of this world (egoism, consumerism), is not a Christian attitude. If someone is stuck in these attitudes, he or she needs to undergo an ecological conversion, and surely every one of us is slightly intertwined with them.
Ecological conversion, the effect of a personal encounter with Jesus, is expressed in the willingness to sacrifice for the environment. In other words, I am giving up something important to me for the sake of the environment. But what does that mean practically? I once had to wonder about it while walking through an uncut meadow.
I am one of the lucky individuals who has inherited a piece of the land to which their ancestors have been attached for centuries. Every lump of this soil allowed my ancestors to survive, and as a result, I exist. At present, the level of development of the world and the drastic increase in wealth has made it so that I do not have to cultivate this land to survive.
As it stands, I could not even survive by cultivating it; at the same time, I feel responsible for it and cannot just abandon it. So, I try to give it back to nature. However, as it is not a natural ecosystem, I have to take care of it a bit. This care includes mowing the grass.
When I want to mow the grass, I have to choose the tool with which to do it. Currently, the natural choice is the brush cutter. It is a device that, thanks to the operation of the engine, allows one to mow the grass and other plants quite efficiently. In order to work, the engine must be powered by energy, which most often comes from the combustion of fossil fuels.
These are fuels which we have received as inhabitants of the Earth and whose influence on our development as a civilization is invaluable. But we also realize that their supply is finite, they are non-renewable resources whose creation took place at an enormous cost. Every liter of gasoline was produced largely from the remains of animals and plants that laid in the ground for billions of years and underwent complicated processes.
This liter of gasoline was extracted from another part of the world and transported to Poland. It is such a precious gift, and I just pour it into my lawn mower. For what? What will I gain? I will mow about 25 square meters. Is God’s gift worth sacrificing for something like that? It’s just a liter, you might answer, a drop in the ocean of fossil fuels; a liter one way or the other makes no difference. However, this answer is not convincing to me. In the end, stealing a dollar from the billionaire’s treasury is still theft.
I realized that I could save this liter. As a child, I learned to mow with a hand scythe, which is not much slower than a petrol scythe. It also has many advantages in terms of “sacrificing something for the environment”.
Mowing with an ordinary hand scythe is physically more tiring, it also takes a little longer, and as strength decreases, the process becomes longer and requires more care. On the other hand, the hand scythe does not use non-renewable fossil fuels, only renewable ones, which I consume too much of anyway.
The manual scythe is also much cheaper, which, when you make a conscious choice, leaves a certain amount of extra income in your pocket that can be used for good purposes. The hand scythe is also much quieter during use. A man with a petrol brush cutter is a “ruthless exploiter” – he approaches the natural environment with a dangerous machine capable of roaring over 110 decibels. Death and fear follow in the wake of its usage.
The traditional scythe works with a barely audible rustle, so when you are working with it, you can feel a union with nature and listen to the song of creation. The headphones which need to be put on in order to use a brush cutter separate one further from nature. And, unfortunately, wearing them is a (correct) manifestation of care for yourself, but what about the entirety of the environment made to listen to this roar…?
The sacrifice I make when mowing with a hand scythe is not a big one, but it is an ethical choice. In our daily life, we face such choices every step of the way: We can replace many of our brush-cutters with hand scythes. Indeed, including the ecological factor in one’s decision-making will make some choices more difficult, but every conversion is associated with abandoning bad habits and going beyond our own weaknesses.
Jakub Synowiec, Ph.D, is a professor of Philosophy at the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow, Poland. He specializes in ethics, especially regarding effective altruism and the environment.”