What advice would you give to students about to start university?
One piece of advice that might be really obvious is get stuck in with a group of Christians. It might be a church or a student group but get yourself stuck in. I think that it is so easy for the time to fly by at university and for you to get overwhelmed and all consumed with university life with its deadlines and parties. It can be easy for your Christian faith to get left behind, not deliberately, but it can be quite easy for that to happen. You can look back over one, two or three years and realise that you never got stuck in with a group of Christians. So find a group of Christians and get stuck in with them.
The other thing that I would say is don’t spend all your time in the university bubble. Find some ways of getting involved in what is happening in the city or town where your university is, like a community initiative that you can get engaged with. When I was at uni I got involved with a local homelessness project that wasn’t anything to do with the university. I think that gave me something different and taught me some things that I wouldn’t have learnt if I had spent all my life inside the university bubble doing university things. I think you have a much richer life if you are not just doing things that are university based.
What are your top tips for students wanting to live in a greener way?
The first thing would be to change your diet so that it is predominantly vegetable and grain based. One of the biggest contributors to the environmental problems we have today is our high meat diet. I think this is much more recognised today than when I first said it. When I first said it people were shocked, but I think people are much more aware of this now. We need to move from awareness to action on this. I am not necessarily advocating full vegetarianism, but I suggest that we cut down our meat consumption to maybe just once or twice in the week. For students this is the best thing to do financially anyway. It is a cheaper way of living. There are some really great vegetarian student cookbooks that people can pick up.
The other main thing is not to take no for an answer. It can be easy to think - I live in student accommodation and I don’t have influence over who provides the energy or our waste or composting. Get together with others and push for change. Don’t be afraid to go to the decision makers and ask them to make changes.
The four main areas I think we need to think about are;
1. The food we eat.
2. The energy we use.
3. The things we throw away (waste and recycling)
Travel is probably less of an issue when you are at university as you are probably mostly cycling or walking places. I would encourage students to think about reducing the number of flights you take for holidays. When you are at university you should think about the food you eat, the waste facilities and composting. Also you should think about your use of energy and where their energy comes from. Talk to your university or landlord and ask if they could switch to a green energy supplier.
Do you have a favourite piece of scripture?
My favourite piece of scripture is Isaiah 58, where there is the challenge or command from God to spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed. I think that it is challenging us to spend our lives on behalf of the hungry and the world which God gave us to take care of. The questions we need to ask when thinking about satisfying the needs of the oppressed are “who are the oppressed” and “why are they oppressed”. We need to think about what we can do to challenge and remove the structures of oppression. To me Isaiah 28 is a great bringing together of the practical poverty relief and the advocacy, campaigning and pushing for systemic change.
If you could live in any period of time when would you chose?
I’m a wimp so I wouldn’t want to live in any period of time before anaesthetic, washing machines or central heating! I think the 1970s would be about the ideal time. By the 1970s you have pretty good medical equipment and washing machines, but consumerism as we know it hadn’t really fully taken hold. Also you do not have all the technological gadgets that consume our lives, and children spent their free time outdoors. For me, the 70s has a good balance of the comforts that you do want but without the highly consumer focused society that we live in today with all its problems.
And finally, do you have a favourite book or a book you think everyone should read?
Am I allowed to say my own books? Because I wouldn’t have written them if I didn’t think everyone should read them! The two books I have written which I recommend everyone reads are L is for Lifestyle, which is a practical look at how we can live in a way that does as little damage as possible to the planet, and Just Living, Faith and Community in an Age of Consumerism which seeks to answer the question – how do we live as followers of Jesus in our consumer society?
To find out more about Ruth and read her blog visit her website ruthvalerio.net.