“Paper or plastic?” grocery clerks often inquire of shoppers as they prepare to bag purchases. Yet the growing awareness of the environmental consequences of either choice may leave shoppers feeling on the horns of a dilemma. Is it better to choose paper bags, which are still frequently made from fresh timber, or plastic bags, which often end up blowing out of trash bins and littering streets and waterways? Other efforts to choose the most environmentally-friendly option may seem even more difficult. Books or e-readers? Gas or electric cars? Cut or artificial Christmas trees? Meat or potatoes?
In trying to live lightly on the earth, I’ve found a particular passage from the Bible helpful. “Choose life,” God tells the Israelites as they struggle with dilemmas on their journey through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 30:19). This two-word recap has served as a guide to greener decisionmaking as it literally reminds me to choose the most life-sustaining option. The full verse is helpful to ponder, too. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version).
This passage reminds me that our individual and community decisions, both past and present, are made in the context of the whole “heaven and earth,” touching not just us but places and people across space and time. For example, frequently replacing electronic devices may add to mining pollution and political tensions in Central Africa, while opting for paper bags may increase logging and watershed concerns in North America. Yet if that still seems daunting (as environmental issues often do), the passage also reminds us that it is possible to choose the greater good – the blessing – rather than simply the lesser of two evils, when we listen for God’s “call” or direction. In that regard, I’ve found this passage a wonderful prayer for clearer vision and greater wisdom in making more environmentally-friendly choices.
The reminder to choose life can lift thought to a higher perspective from which we can see beyond the two sides of the coin so to speak (or two horns of a dilemma), to see more “coins,” more alternatives. As the view expands, the good options do, too. So “paper or plastic?” might become paper or plastic, or long-lasting cloth? Books or e-readers, or loans from the library? Cut or artificial trees, or a live tree to plant outdoors? Meat or potatoes, or more fruits and leafy vegetables? Gas or electric cars, or bicycles or public transportation?
How to decide? Choose life and find the greener blessing!