“Protecting the environment begins at home”

People face environmental challenges anywhere in the world, and often there are surprisingly simple solutions at hand. Listen to the testimonies of five activists on garbage in Indonesia, logging in Tanzania, mining in the Philippines, open brown coal pits in Germany and erosion in Rwanda. Why are they concerned by these problems and what did they do to mitigate them?

produced for the international NGO UEM during their workshop „Peace with the Earth“ in Medan/ Indonesia in 2012 >>

Haricha Tambunan, Bakumsu Institute, Sumatra:

With all of the environmental problems in Indonesia – disappearing forests, extinct species, mining – we often lose sight of the probems right in front of our doors. But things need to change here as well. Medan is a big city, and its inhabitants are very consumption-oriented. They throw away their rubbish without thinking about it…

(Bystanders cast surreptitious glances at Tambunan. The interview takes place in the garden of a hotel in Medan, Sumatra, where marketing professionals are having their lunches from takeaway containers. Each course has been packed individually; the rubbish is piling up on the lawn. As Tambunan continues speaking, they go off discreetly so that they can observe the interview scene from the other end of the garden.)

many of those who live in the city damage the environment through their behaviour. They throw their litter away everywhere, even in the river. This stops up drains and causes floods. Ten years ago this happened at most once a year; today it happens two or three times a year.

What are you doing to change this?

For me, environmental protection begins at home. Recently we’ve started to always bring a shopping bag with us when we go shopping, to avoid having plastic rubbish. We have also started to separate the rubbish in our office. When I see a friend throwing something on the ground, I say to him, “Hey, that doesn’t belong there. If you can’t find a rubbish bin, you can always keep it in your pocket. Something has to change in the public’s awareness! I’ve just joined forces with six of my friends; we want to teach children what protecting the environment means.

Bishop Stephen Ismail Munga, ELCT-NED, Tanzania:

If you go driving through the forests of Tanzania, you’ll see from the outside what first look like healthy trees. But the further you penetrate into the depths of the forests, the more destruction you will see: bald patches, trees that have been lost to the big business of the logging industry. Tropical timber is one of the most valuable raw materials that Tanzania produces. This is why the Tanzanian forests have been hugely exploited, so as to sell the wood to the local or international markets. Many of our political leaders are mixed up in this business too. What’s more, villagers will cut down trees themselves, because they cook with firewood. Eighty per cent of the inhabitants of my country live in villages, where they usually have no access to electricity or gas.

What are you doing to change this?

We’ve established that many villagers don’t sufficiently understand the ecological implications of their actions. They cut down trees because they need firewood in the short term, and they don’t know the medium-term effects that this has on the water cycle: the rains are irregular and endangers their crops. We’re trying to make this link clear to them. But what use is this to them when they have no alternatives?

This is why we are calling on politicians to develop alternative sources of energy. We are also reminding them that there is abundant environmental and forest legislation in our country that they must also implement at the local level. The Tanzanian laws are good, but our rule of law is not. And finally, I am also speaking with raw materials companies and other church leaders – I would like for the depletion of the rainforest to become part of the national agenda.

Juliet Solis, UCCP, Philippines:

The Philippines have rich mineral reserves, but this wealth is only doing damage to our country. Four per cent of Philippine land is already being used for mining. Our government awarded 785 mining concessions in 2011 alone. 785! Why does this make me so agitated? Mining and human rights violations go hand in hand for us now. In order to guarantee the investors a smooth course and the effective creation of profits, the government deploys soldiers and police to “cleanse” the affected areas. In other words, they use violence to go after residents who oppose the mining plans. Of the 68 victims of extrajudicial executions in 2010, eight of them opposed mining projects – two of them were members of our church.

What are you doing to change this?

We teach our members and international partners about the background of the mining industry and its consequences. Right now we are offering theatre workshops for young people so that they can engage with the topic through play. In addition, not only do we collaborate with ecumenical groups and NGOs, we also support the progressive party list in the Philippines, a group of opposition parties. They have just introduced a draft of a “People’s Mining Bill”. The basic idea is that we cannot bring the mining industry to a halt, but we can suggest underlying conditions by which Pilipinos can benefit from this industry themselves so that not everything falls itno the hands of foreign corporations.

Christian Sandner, EKiR, Krefeld:

I live not far from an area where brown coal is being promoted as an energy source. Before this was a rural region, where farmers had cultivated their fields for centuries. But when the stripping shovels came, their villages had to be relocated. An enormous hole formed and the fertile topsoil vanished into the earth. It will be a long time before the soil regenerates.

What are you doing to change this?

It’s very simple: I don’t get my electricity from the brown coal power station next door, but from renewable energy sources. Various Protestant churches have even engaged with the topic in their synods, and they have also decided to pay a little more in order to promote renewable energy – as a sign of protest.

Naome Uwamahoro, EAR, Rwanda:

Rwanda proudly advertises itself as the “Land of a Thousand Hills”. But these hills bring danger: we can get landslides as soon as we have a lot of rain. It was that time again at the end of last year; from October to December we had heavy rains. The earth got washed down the slopes into the valleys; the avalanches of mud took out many homes. Many people are still homeless today because of it. It has long been true that the rains would not have such violent effects if people protected their land by planting trees on it.

What are you doing to change this?

I show the people how they can plant things in the earth to avoid landslides. We combine elements of agriculture and forestry to do this. We cultivate seedlings in tree nurseries and distribute them to the farmers so that they can combat the erosion themselves.

(read about the background of this article and see more photos here here >>)

IMG_1582_klpublished in: Peace with the Earth. Documentation of the UEM International Team Visits to Papua and Sumatra, Indonesia, May 2012, edited by Jochen Motte and Theodor Rathgeber, 2012. pp. 103-105.