Carbon and other footprints

Every fortnight people from a farming background in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life. They hope that you will be encouraged by it.

It might come as a surprise to realise that the average person – from their first faltering steps and living actively until age 80 - will take more than 230 million footsteps.

I imagine farmers lead the game on this! Most of our footsteps leave no mark, or are washed away like unwanted ones on the carpet.

Some do remain, however, like the footsteps of a three-year-old boy’s little welly steps all the way up a newly laid cubicle house concrete floor. They are still there after more than half a century, and I should know, for those little footprints are mine!

Red wellied feet digging the veg patch over with a garden fork
Red wellied feet digging the veg patch over with a garden fork
Red wellied feet digging the veg patch over with a garden fork

In a time when our carbon footprint and its impact are argued over and deliberated upon by world leaders, it can be very easy to see ourselves as having a very little part to play in what is a global issue. However, the farming world is far from detached, and is even leading the way in some cases.

Interviewed in last month’s Ulster Grocer, Ulster Farmers’ Union President, David Brown said this, “Here in Northern Ireland, we aspire to consistently improve our carbon footprint as an industry and reduce our net emissions, but support needs to be provided by our world leaders to enable farming as a whole to make this transition towards more sustainable, climate-friendly food production.” The Belfast Telegraph highlighted DAERA’s 2022 report that showed milk production has increased with minimal stock level increase and producers here have made a significant reduction in CO2 over 10 years.

However, we should never rest on our achievements, but always remember the needs of farmers in Pakistan, for example, where climate change is seen in floods having devastated everything. Or many African farmers facing famine through long-term drought.

All of us, especially in the ‘developed world’, generate a lot of carbon in being fed, keeping warm, and getting around. While we may not physically see the outworking of our actions they can leave a lasting impression. Things that seem so small, can have a huge effect both for bad or good. If only we could see the impact of everything we do, like footprints in concrete.

The Bible never allows us to evade consequences. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7). Sin, at a national level - as seen in greed, abuse and self-centeredness - causes an ‘environment’ that is truly toxic. And so does sin at a personal level. What may seem unseen - like a lie, or being unfaithful - can cause toxic fallout for family and relationships far beyond us.

If we can see causes, consequences and the call for change in the natural environment, why do we not see that change is necessary morally and spiritually in our own lives? Knowing this, God sent His Son Jesus to lay many footprints in our earthly soil, each for His mission of changing lives, and all the way to the Cross to die. The impact of His sacrificial footsteps 2,000 years ago lives on in there being many lives still transformed today.

Before you take one more footstep, please stop to consider the change only Jesus can give you - a brand new life, being born anew (take a look at John 3:3), and then by His grace aim to follow in your Master’s footsteps.

Ian was brought up on a dairy farm near Limavady. He was a minister in Ballyroney and Drumlee congregations in south Down, and latterly Moneydig Presbyterian in County Londonderry. Due to a serious cancer diagnosis, Ian has had to retire from active ministry and now provides counselling and support to others with cancer.

If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain at [email protected] or call him on 07938 488 372.