I often hear ‘lifestyle’ referred to as if it is entirely separate from, and even an alternative to, campaigning. People say ‘I recycle everything – but there’s no point in campaigning as the politics will never change’. Or, ‘there’s no point changing my behaviour; we need to tackle the corporates and change national politics’. Both poles in this debate are missing something. I think it’s time we defined campaigning as a key part of an environmentally positive Christian lifestyle.
It is absolutely right that out of integrity as Christians, we seek to minimise the impact of our behaviour on God’s creation – other people and the environment. Hence, for many years, Christians have been well represented among those in society pioneering everything from Fair Trade, through low meat diets and recycling, to low carbon transport including cycling to work, holidaying by train etc. But we have to get real about the difference our isolated individual actions make on the dire trends of climate change and destruction of nature: they don’t even begin to shift the dial.
Fortunately we can greatly amplify the impact of these lifestyle choices by combining with others to tell business and politicians what we are doing and why, and what we would like them to do also. And that is a form of campaigning.
Businesses and governments, local and national, have much more powerful levers for change than we do. They control huge budgets. What they purchase and invest in will have a massively greater impact on the environment than your or my individual purchases and investments. Governments can make laws, change taxes, regulate business and do sundry other things to drive environmentally positive actions across the nation, and at a scale and speed that no other human institution can match. In addition, only governments can make agreements with other countries to help solve global problems. Our elected politicians have unequaled power – if they choose to use it – to make a critical difference to the environment.
So, how can we get them to use it? In a democracy, businesses and politicians are much more likely to take the right actions if you and I, as ‘consumer’ and voting citizen, tell them what we do and don’t want. By joining others to speak up we send an important ‘market signal’ to business. We create ‘political space’ for politicians to enact environmentally-friendly policies by showing there is public support. When we can demonstrate what we are prepared to do about the issue in our own lives, with our own money and behaviour, the message we send to business and politicians is even more powerful.
It’s time we revised the narrow definition of ‘lifestyle’. Our purchasing habits, dress, diet and travel decisions are not the only means God gives us to act for his creation. Using our time and ‘voice’ to campaign is also a behaviour, a choice about the shape and content of our daily lives; and the combination of the two is much more powerful than either on their own.
This blog was written by A Rocha UK CEO, Andy Atkins for A Rocha UK’s Wild Christian email, April 2022. Andy set up the policy and campaigns department at Tearfund, and then headed the national campaigning organisation, Friends of the Earth, before coming to A Rocha UK.