Is the environment better protected by personal lifestyle change or structural change? Perspectives on this question were presented by panelists at the Manawatu social justice seminar in Palmerston North on Saturday 19 August.
Lawrence O’Halloran of St Mary’s parish, Palmerston North, argued that personal lifestyle choices are a distraction from the real causes of environmental catastrophes.
He said that many businesses and industries profit from activities that damage the environment and ‘they have the power to do that and we are powerless to change them’.
Lawrence said that when consumerism is so much part of the problem, alternative or Green consumerism was not the solution. ‘Whose interests does it serve for everyone to become concerned only about their own individual practice?’ He said the root cause of environmental damage is the triumph of organised money over organised people.
In contrast, Forrest Chambers and Krista Fullerton of the Catholic Worker movement argued that personal lifestyle changes are central to the issue. Forrest said that many of us in developed countries have come to believe that cars, fridges and similar items are indispensable to our lives.
However, we also realise that the earth cannot survive if the 80 per cent of people who do not have these at present were to acquire them. ‘We have to find some way of saying we can make do with less. We’re huge hypocrites to say to the rest of the world ‘you can’t have what we have, you can’t develop the way we have’.
Forrest and Krista have found the Catholic Worker philosophy of personalism describes their own sense of taking responsibility for changing our lives for the sake of other people. Krista said: ‘I want to do this in the face of the suffering of people in the world.’