On the 27th of September, the Week of Creation began, which gave hope in the current virus situation. We were discussing the topic of this year, the positive sides of Coronavirus and the sustainability of Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church with Boglárka Szűcs, the coordinator of the Creation Protection Working Group at Károli University.
The Eco-congregation and environment protection movement started in 2010 at RCH and it has been ‘cycling through’ the past 10 years. This year, however, it seems like you are focusing more on bicycling. Am I correct?
We aim to mobilize people but not as a must-do assignment, but rather as something that gives them happiness and at the same time has a serious environmental conservation content behind it. The best method for this is cycling, which is not only healthy and environmental-friendly but also safe in times of the Coronavirus. The Bike to Work Campaign is a very good example of self-organization when the objective of a national organization reaches the local communities. We joined enthusiastically after hearing that the RCH too appeared in the campaign. We also popularize bicycling and sharing our campaign which also fits well with our ‘greening universities’ pursuit.
Make Károli ‘greener’! – with this title, there is a conversation with you that was published on the university site. What does this call mean?
The Eco-Congregation Movement was given a research workshop at the Károli Gáspár University in 2018. When planning the contents of the workshop we tried to think deeply about how to sew the Creation Protection thought into the everyday life of the university and one of them was to make the university greener. We registered on the international system the Green Metric University Ranking, which measures the environmental conservation pursuits of the universities and how they can work sustainably. The leadership of Károli was very interested so we started this year.
And how does the ‘greening’ of the university go?
The Green Metric system gives a picture of where we are and how and what ways can we develop. It is essential to have a long-term strategy for this. For the sake of change, it is important to develop infrastructure and transform views. These are what our calls for cycling support – our summer mile-collecting contest, the bicycle breakfast in September. We are also participating in the ‘Passback bro!’ campaign by the Jane Goodall Institute, where we collect used and unwanted smart devices, mobile phones, and the ‘conflict minerals’ in them, such as tantalum, gold, niobium, tin, and tungsten, so they can be recycled which decreases their extraction.
Aspects for sustainable operation:
The Green Metric University Ranking has increasing numbers in participant institutes. In 2019 780 universities were engaging. Their goal is to include the environmental conservation view in the theory and practice of the universities in six areas:
- Location and infrastructure – the amount of green, open areas in the buildings, on the campuses and the sustainability of the financial sources
- Energy consumption and climate change – usage of power-saving devices and renewable resources, smart buildings, reducing gases with the greenhouse effect
- Waste management – use less paper and plastic, online administration, recycling
- Water management – frugality, sewage treatment
- Transportation – decreasing the number of traditional parking spaces, supporting and using environmental-friendly vehicles
- Education – the aspects of sustainability in the materials too
What do you mean by ‘conflict minerals’?
The extraction sites are in usually poor zones, plagued by civil wars. Many controversies are surrounding the mines like slave-like work by children, guarded by armed groups, or the destruction of wildlife. We made a campaign and placed boxes around the campus, so the students and teachers can place their used devices they don’t need anymore. We prepared a lot of other things, but the Coronavirus and online education interrupted our plans. We are trying to respect that these are quiet times for thinking and not for action.
Creating the workshop, the Green University program, did it interfere with the original, congregational concept of the movement?
No, we were discussing this, and we saw it as a new door opening before us without closing the previous. Eco-Congregational work is still needed. It is like growing another leg while still having the other one as well. It is a good thing, we have new opportunities we couldn’t imagine before because we didn’t have the time and capacity.
We have exciting cooperation with Eötvös Lóránd University (ELTE) and we are examining those eco-congregations we’ve known for years. Thanks to the research we had the opportunity to understand their operational mechanisms and motivation better. We are looking for an answer to the question: what motivates a community to pursue sustainability? We hope that others will be encouraged to undertake this kind of ministry. We announced the eco-congregational prize for communities committed to the Created World. We also would like to encourage congregations to bike with a fall campaign. Sadly, the pandemic situation continuously brings our plans to a halt.
The overall purpose of an eco-congregation is to raise awareness of the protection of creation in youth groups, organize trips, eco-camps, and forest school programs, as well as reduce the use of disposable plastic at church events and increase the amount of locally produced ingredients with homemade seasonal food items.
The applicants of the Eco-Congregation title will undertake the following objectives for the sake of Creation Protection:
- Celebrate the Week of Creation (the week beginning on the last Sunday in September)
- Hold an outdoor event at least once a year (service, common prayer, singing)
- Regularly pray for the preservation of the Created World
- Admire the beauty of the gifted Created World
- Think globally and act locally to protect the Created World
- Use the resources moderately and economically
- Turn to the weak and fallen with Christlike love
- Strive for the Creation Protection in day-to-day operations and services, for example: use recycled paper for double-sided printing; primarily engage in electronic mail; avoid the use of persistent materials (such as PET bottles, plastic packages); prefer local products (homemade cakes, juice); participate in the conservation of native landscape plant species; participate in the Church or Church Garden program; obtain the Lord’s table or church flowers from domestically grown (non-foreign) sources; where possible, participate in the conservation and design of habitats to preserve diverse species (species inhabiting buildings like owls, bats), insects, mammals, hiding places, etc.; report on the Creation Protection events; share thoughts and prayers with the eco-congregation community; join the programs of the RCH’s Eco-Congregational Movement.
The topic of this year’s Week of Creation is the uncertain creation. Did you put together the material reflecting the Coronavirus pandemic?
Precisely. The whole world is filled with this kind of uncertainty which can serve as a lesson. We have to see the positive effects of the virus, the opportunities to change our operations so this can’t happen again. This year’s booklet isn’t very practical, rather makes people think about how to find answers to questions like why and helps with how to think about system-leveled problems.
In the point of Protection of the Creation, how do you see the pandemic?
This year’s events pointed out to the unsustainability of our globalized lives, overconsumption which lead to environmental, economic, and social crises.
Modern societies rely on economic growth since the industrial revolution which leads to safety and prosperity. At the same time, it consumed environmental sources decreasing biological diversity. This process is the main cause of the pandemics’ frequency.
We saw many articles about the good effect quarantine had on Earth. Is it true?
Undoubtedly. The traffic decreased, it caused the noise and light pollution to drop and it allowed the animal population to slowly return to the city parks. Concentrations of pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter measured at the transport hub and in the vicinity of industrial regions significantly diminished. However, the greenhouse gases accumulated in the high atmosphere didn’t produce any notable changes, because their duration of stay takes a long time. At the same time, the amount of food waste increased due to the reduced transport capacities and the loss of export markets. Because of decomposition, the concentration of methane gas (a greenhouse gas eighty times stronger than carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere has never been so high.
What can we learn from the unusual events of 2020?
The environmental effects are clear: we have to reduce our pollutant emissions. The social impacts are ambivalent. Temporary social cooperation and responsibility unfolded, and it also became clear that everyone has their duties and responsibilities. We realized that we can relieve environmental impact and stress with telecommuting and online education also pointed out that we can rely on the teachers’ innovative abilities. Many people are working day and night, sacrificing their health and their relationship with their loved ones to raise money so they can be happy. They had to step out of this cycle for a while and they’ve found things which are helping them to be happy. At the same time, their financial security is at risk and their deficit in social relationships became irreplaceable with the digital space.
How is it possible to put the economy on a sustainable path in the long run so the security of exitance is maintained?
There are several plans for that, one of them is the National Society of Conservationists, who are initiating a life-afflicting society and economy. According to their plans, they are focusing on the sustainability of natural resources, localization in the face of globalization, and building a social system of solidarity, and calling for a moral renewal of politics and economy. The goal is that instead of consumption, comfort, and self-fulfillment we should seek our happiness injustice, love, and good satisfaction. We have a very important role in this as a church.
Despite the difficult situation - or perhaps especially because of that - the number of communities committed to the Creation Protection has grown this year. Among the title winners, there are a kindergarten, several, and various congregations, and after schools located in different parts of Hungary.
Eco-Congregation award communities in 2020
We awarded two reformed congregations:
- the Hajmáskér-Sóly Reformed Congregation
- and the Szarvasi Reformed Congregation
The Eco-congregation is an ecumenical initiative, that aims to link the Christian faith with environmental issues. It operates in several countries around the world (Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Canada, the United States, South Africa) and the Reformed Church in Hungary joined the program in 2012.