A Carbon Fast For Lent?

Planet Earth with a fever, held in hands

What do you do in the lead-up to Easter? Anything different to the rest of the year? (With Easter early this year, perhaps you’re still getting into the swing of the working (calendar) year! ;-))

It happens that the lead-up to Easter is a great time for some conscious reassessments with a view to living and working more sustainably.

We could, of course do that any time. So…why don’t we?

Some times it helps to have a little outside impetus – and some time constraints – to get us doing some of the things we never seem to get around to doing.

Christians call the 40 days leading up to Easter Lent.  For them, it is the time to remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, facing challenge and temptation, and to reflect on the purpose their life.

Prayer, penance, repentance of sins, atonement, giving to others (almsgiving) and self-denial are ways that help Christians remember this time in Jesus’ life and wait and prepare for the celebration of Easter.

Traditionally, Christians have practised fasting and abstinence from festivities during Lent, just as Jesus did in the Wilderness.  These practices feature in many religions. For example, Muslims will fast during Ramadan.  They will also practice self-restraint in body and mind.  This fasting, from dawn until sunset, is one of the five pillars of Islam.  It is a time for Muslims to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice – just as numerous Christians do in Lent.

A lot of people use this period of fasting as a way to trial or begin a positive change to how they live some aspect of their lives.

That’s all very well for religious people, you think – but what does it have to do with living and working sustainably?

In recent years, many Christians have adapted the noble tradition of fasting and reflection to become more mindful of – and reduce – their impacts on our precious Earth.

A Carbon Fast challenge for Lent seems to have originated in England as a practical and spiritual approach to climate change. Six Anglican dioceses in southwest England then developed resources for individual people and church and school communities to reflect and tread more lightly on the Earth.

  • In 2014, the Carbon Fast became a part of their Lenten spiritual devotion, and helped them discover the financial benefits of stewarding resources. They undertook a specific challenge to reduce energy consumption by 40 percent for the 40 days of Lent. (This is a significant challenge in England in early Spring!)
  • In 2015, the focus was on the link between our use of water, which needs to be pumped, cleaned and stored; energy use and the things we ‘consume’.
  • In 2016, their Lent Carbon Fast emphasises reconnecting with the Earth. ‘It is in deepening our awareness of the web of life and our interconnectedness with all things, that we can…appreciate and protect the planet for the future.’

The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, Anglican Communion Environmental Network, Tearfund, TEAR Australia and Interfaith Power and Light are among the organisations that have joined in helping people and communities undertake a Carbon Fast for Lent.  These resources usually contain:

  • a weekly theme, with resources to read or watch and reflect upon
  • actions or challenges to take as an individual
  • some suggestions of community actions you can take
  • something you can consider doing to change the system
  • daily email encouragement and support

These resources are great support to help us get started and keep going on a Carbon Fast.

I like the way this year’s Carbon Fast challenge issued by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network includes reflections and actions at both individual people and organisation levels.

If you would like to take on a specific challenge for the whole of Lent, some good ideas for 2016 are:

  • change your mode of travel. ACTSmart is running Change your Mode for March. Challenge yourself, friends and colleagues : try walking, cycling (or something else active like scooting!) or using public transport instead of driving. Register by 5pm on 29 February 2016* to be part of the online competition and be in the running for prizes. [UPDATE September 2016: the website is no longer operating but you can get more of an idea of what it was about here, here and here.]
  • join the Lent Plastic Challenge**. Give up some or all or your use of ‘single-use’ plastics. This is a way of reducing a raft of adverse impacts on Creation (especially wildlife and visual amenity) from our current lifestyle.
  • try the traditional Lenten challenge: eat meat-free meals.  This is the origin of Carnivale (literally ‘meat farewell) – the lead-up to the period of avoiding meat during Lent. 😉

So far, it seems that Christians have led the way on carbon fasts.

And because Christians focus their carbon fasts – and their associated calendars and daily emails – around Lent, Lent is a great time for undertaking a Carbon Fast.

Each Carbon Fast for Lent challenge starts on Ash Wednesday, which, this year (2016) is on 10 February.  This means that if you want to take the easy route and do the actions sent to you in a daily email, you need to register for the emails before Ash Wednesday. (If you don’t manage to do that, you can always join late – or adapt the calendar for another time of the year.)

To get an idea of what impact your individual efforts have, check your environmental footprint before you start the fast and again when you have finished. It can be very enlightening! 😉

And challenges are almost always more effective if we do it with others, so enlist others in your circle to do the challenge with you – and include any groups (such as a workplace, club, or worship community) of which you are a member.

Undertaking a Carbon Fast is a great way to look at how we go about our daily lives and try new ways of doing things.  Being only for a limited time, it’s a way of trying out more difficult changes before committing to them permanently. Lent provides a good focal point for undertaking a Carbon Fast– or you can do it any time you wish.

There is no better time than now to try new ways of living that reduce our adverse impact on our precious world. This year will be my third Carbon Fast during Lent.  Join me and people around the world as we fast from carbon over the next 40 days! 

*Correction: An earlier version of this post gave the registration deadline as 29 March.  The correct date is 29 February.

**Update May 2017:  This was started by citytosea.org.uk in the Bristol area.  That particular campaign is no longer running – but why not start your own?

This is a modified version of an article I wrote that was first published by Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. Read the original here.