Welcome to our Hawai’i Reflections Page– a special place for our most recent team of Eco-Stewards to share creative reflections about their week-long experience in O’ahu, Hawai’i.
Reflection #1: “We Are All Eco-Stewards”
Writing and Photography by Kristen Young, December 13, 2018
What kind of ancestors will we be? I scribbled down this question in my notepad back in May when I had the opportunity to participate in the Eco-Stewards Program, “a grassroots community that shapes young adult leaders through place-based experiences that connect faith and the environment.” It was my first experience with the program and their first time holding a gathering in Hawai‘i (O‘ahu), a place I’ve called home for my entire life. Fourteen of us gathered to explore the connection between faith and the environment while ‘talking story’ with people in the community who are stewarding their part of the earth in their own ways.
During our time together, we visited different places on the island (some places I’d never even known about or been to as a local), different organizations and businesses that act out their values of environmental sustainability and mālama ‘āina, an ever-present idea in the islands and a traditional Hawaiian value meaning to care for the land. (Hawai‘i people, I know you know this, but the explanation was just in case anyone else is reading.)
We got in a lo‘i and cleaned a few pounds of kalo (taro) to contribute to the many more pounds needed to fill an order. We passed sticks and logs down a human chain we formed with a number of young local students with whom we helped to clear an area surrounding an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. We visited a charter school (SEEQS) where middle school students examine essential questions of sustainability. We listened to people share about their work, we heard from each other, shared with one another, explored and reflected together.
I even got to show some of the group my favorite spots on the island. I saw O‘ahu through different eyes, heard both new and familiar stories through hungry ears, with people I had just met, with both faith and environment at the forefront of it all.
Through the many stories and conversations that were had (and weren’t had), I noticed a common regard for people and community. I was reminded that caring for the earth goes far beyond picking up trash on the beach, limiting meat consumption, avoiding single-use plastics, recycling, and all those eco-friendly initiatives (that are important). Caring for the earth requires us to care for each other. We know that we need to take care of the earth so it can continue to sustain us, but how can people care for the earth if they themselves are not cared for?
Our group of fourteen was made up of people of different faiths, different ages, from different places, with different levels of education, different types of jobs and career paths, different goals and dreams, different experiences and perspectives, different diets (I feel like this is worth mentioning because we ate vegetarian our whole time together because it’s more eco-friendly, but I was glad I wasn’t the only one who still occasionally eats/enjoys meat,) and with slightly different reasons for being there. But one thing that we all shared was a common call by our faith to be a good steward of the earth. Just as we are all different, the ways in which we care for the earth will be different.
What am I doing for the environment? Well, I will admit that I don’t do nearly as much as I should… and could. Sometimes it feels like the best I can do is make sure the church kids don’t litter and have them use washable plates and metal silverware. Carrying around my metal utensils and drinking straw doesn’t do much for the planet, but just because an action is small and seemingly insignificant does not mean it is pointless. If there are things we can do in favor of the environment, no matter how small, we should do them. Huge masses of accumulated garbage in the ocean remind us that small things will add up. Even though small daily actions in favor of the environment will not heal the earth that we’ve so quickly damaged, they have the power to remind us every day of our responsibility to the earth and hopefully will push us in the right direction, taking bigger and bigger steps as individuals and as a society to choose planet over profit, comfort, and temporary enjoyment.
But I know that small things are not enough. We have destroyed the earth, depleted too many resources, polluted our air and oceans far quicker than we can remedy. Change from home is not enough. “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” So what are we gonna do about it? Whose responsibility is it?
“Kuleana” | hikaalani.website | ahahui.netBefore participating in the Eco-Stewards Program, I wouldn’t have really considered myself to be an “eco-steward.” I was not doing enough for the environment, at least no more than the next person, to call myself a caretaker of the earth. I only knew that I should be caring for the environment and I did my part to not cause any direct harm. I wondered how I would fit in with the group. What would I be expected to know? What would I be expected to be doing or not doing in my everyday life as someone participating in the “eco-stewards” program? But none of it mattered because regardless of my knowledge (or lack thereof) about ecology and environmental policies or my actions and inactions, I am an eco-steward.
You and I are eco-stewards. It is not a term reserved for tree-huggers or people who believe in human-caused climate change or people with environmental knowledge or solutions or people who are taking actions to better our environment or people that participate in the Eco-Stewards Program. The heads of the companies that are polluting our air and waters are eco-stewards, too… maybe not good ones, but they absolutely have the same responsibility to the earth as the rest of us. We are eco-stewards simply because we live on this Earth—we receive from it, we impact it, and we are unequivocally affected by it.
Sometimes I forget that everything is intertwined and that everything and everyone is dependent on and affected by everyone and everything else in one way or another. I don’t think the world lacks people who care about the earth, but I think society makes it nearly impossible for too many people to care for themselves and their families, making environmental care less urgent in comparison. The roots of our societal and environmental problems are tangled so deep that it’s difficult to find and implement sustainable solutions. But it means that we can (and do) affect the environment, even indirectly, which can be as much an advantage as it is a disadvantage. It means that ‘environmental’ work can and should be done through a variety of ways.
One way is by caring for people. My faith calls for justice as it calls for love and hurting the environment is an injustice to those who depend on it, which is all of us. I am called to love the environment because I am called to love all people. If we care for each other, for our children and grandchildren, our neighbors, the future of humankind, there is no question that we need to care for the earth so it can continue to shelter and provide. But we should remember that people care for the earth and care can only be given if it is first received.
In the spirit of Advent, I give thanks for the Eco-Stewards community, for those who speak out for the environment, for those who take small steps and big steps toward a healthier planet, for those who recognize their role as an eco-steward, for those who want our planet to thrive, for our ancestors who cared for the earth before us.
May we be the ancestors and eco-stewards that future generations need so they, too, will be able to say “thank you.”