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Washing Dishes While the Planet Burns

‘Each of us can take small steps toward achieving net zero carbon. … how do you start to change your life in manageable, achievable, feasible, small ways?’

– Allegra Stratton (UK spokesperson for COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference)


This week the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) dropped with a thud. With 3,949 pages merely summarising the meteorological mechanics, it’s heavy reading in every respect.

Even so, the headlines are blazingly obvious, leaving policymakers no room to claim it’ll all come out in the wash. The record-breaking droughts, fires, and floods we’re seeing aren’t normal. The blame for ‘global weirding’ is on humanity. Everything is connected, and no region is exempt.

Our greenhouse gas-fuelled overconsumption is responsible for a 0.8–1.3°C rise in global surface temperature over the last century. We’re at code-red. Dialling down the heat requires drastic reductions toward global net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

Yet it’s unlikely we can keep within the 1.5-degree threshold however severe the intervention; prior climate sins have generational fallout, with temperature rises set for decades to come. Where can we find hope when ecological scarring is ‘irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets, and global sea level’?

Surprisingly, COP26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton suggested we start by skipping the rinse and putting our plates straight in the dishwasher. Unsurprisingly, such ‘micro-steps’ were mocked as ‘displacement activities’ that console overwhelmed individuals but ultimately distract from real change. Like Nero playing his proverbial fiddle, it’s easy to caricature this politician as washing dishes while the planet burns.

Without forceful lobbying and radical policies, many claim we’re doomed. But what if there’s a third way to bring change on both large and small scales – not just playing off one against the other?

Of necessity, the government must do the heavy lifting. And yet, the micro and the macro reinforce each other. Head, heart, and hands must also work together. The facts will fall on deaf ears if our hearts are hard to the planet’s plight. And without hope that God loves his world and hasn’t abandoned us in this time of ecological need, our hands are prone to point the finger at fallible politicians or hang limp by our side when our big plans fail.

Everyday actions, prayerfully performed, prime us to care for creation. A simple lifestyle, sustainable eco-churches, and wise advocacy, together make for ecological integrity. This is a potent witness to the powers who, post COP26, will be tempted to ‘greenwash’ their strategies. It shows that hopeful action begins with our Creator’s goodness, not simply human machinations. If this truth isn’t seen yet, be sure it’ll come out in the rinse.


Dr Dave Benson
Culture & Discipleship Director, LICC


  1. If we tithed our carbon use that would help. There are several websites that let you track your use . Driving to church uses about 170 kgs of CO2 a year. Take flight every other year. Unless you live very close to Heathrow the train to Germany or France is as quick as flying taking overall journey time Never take a cruise holiday the most polluting form of travel!,
    Buying an electric car or boiler are probably the biggest individual contributions we can make

    By David Parish  -  13 Aug 2021
  2. Any steps that individuals take will inevitably only be a drop in the ocean of our nation’s emissions. But if we all keep working on the bigger contributors to our individual carbon footprints, we can have a big impact together.
    For most of us, that means three things – home heating, transport and the stuff we buy. Insulate your home, or if you can’t, insulate yourself instead – buy warmer indoor clothing (or layers) and turn down the thermostat. Use bus or train if walking or cycling aren’t feasible, or just don’t go at all. Buy in bulk less often, or just buy less – buy stuff to last and reuse what you’ve already got.
    And ignore Allegra: don’t skip the rinse, go the whole hog and wash up by hand – the dishwasher uses much more energy and water. And it’s good chatting time if you’ve a helper, or praying time if not.

    By David Stephens  -  13 Aug 2021
    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, David. Well put, about how all our individual contributions combined make a difference. As I said in the article, while the desire is that these changes toward more simple living would help reduce our carbon footprint, our ‘hopeful action’ is animated by a desire to glorify God and have a holistic witness with ecological integrity, irrespective of whether we can ultimately ‘solve’ anything. Your list of ideas for meaningful one-degree shifts toward simplicity are excellent – and as a hand-washer, I’m feeling encouraged.
      Blessings, Dave Benson
      LICC Director of Culture & Discipleship

      By LICC Editor  -  13 Aug 2021
  3. According to this article (and others) :
    “Our in-depth testing has found that dishwashers are, on average, four times more water efficient than washing by hand per place setting.

    Read more: – Which?”

    and therefore less energy too.

    By Chris  -  13 Aug 2021
    • Chris, just after I was taking delight in for once being on the right side of an ecological shibboleth, you’ve told me dishwashers are better after all! Any attempt at humour aside, this does raise that ‘wisdom’ in such matters isn’t timeless, but context-specific … so as new research emerges, and the context changes, it may well necessitate a different course of action to work for flourishing (or, at least, restraining sin and limiting damage). Glad for this pointer. Back to the dishwasher after all…

      By Dave Benson  -  18 Aug 2021
  4. What if this is all part of God’s plan? All of the things happening today are reflected in prophesy. Are we so vain that we think we can change God’s plans? I for one am waiting for the new Earth that God has promised. Things are going to get a lot worse than this before that happens. I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t be good stewards of what God has given us, but at this point it is like shoveling sand against the tide.

    By Frank Osborne  -  13 Aug 2021
    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Frank. In one sense, what you raise echoes what I was addressing … that if our only ‘hope’ is based on human activism, then we’re on the edge of what seems like a ‘hopeless’ situation. Much damage has already been done, and is potentially irreversible. Of course, wise action at this point will make the situation ‘less bad’, saving much biodiversity and limiting the fall out especially for the most vulnerable in the world today. And this is a kingdom good, whether or not it ‘solves’ the larger climate change issue.

      And yet, our actions in the present aren’t disconnected from what God will do in the future, by his grace. Apocalyptic literature is notoriously easy to misinterpret, many fatalistically taking future predictions as the way things must be, even adding to the problems rather than being found to be faithful when the Lord comes. Clearly, there is judgement awaiting ‘those destroyers of the earth’ (Revelation 11:18). Our call in the present, as those filled with the same Spirit who will one day renew all creation, is to be about the Lord’s business, as a sign of how all will live when Jesus is seen to be Lord of all. So, tracing back through our mandates in Genesis 1 and 2, we are called to tend/protect and care for God’s creation, as God tends/protects and cares for us. Our authority for dominion is given toward this end.

      So, whether our actions in the present can stave off what may end up being a judgement for humanity’s persistent ecological sins and failure to care for creation, let us participate with the Lord of creation as a sign of hopeful action to all our neighbours, whatever their faith or none, of the way things are supposed to be.

      By Dave Benson  -  18 Aug 2021
  5. Thanks for the post, Dave. The climate conversation is a noisy space these days and the science and the solutions can be hard to find let alone understand. Then the issues seem so overwhelming as to be unsure how to meaningfully respond or make a difference.

    In my sector, I’ve found the work of the Climate Leadership Initiative ( and org Project Drawdown ( really clarifying, helpful, and hopeful. The CLI’s remit is to advise philanthropists on the most effective solutions to climate change into which they can invest their philanthropy. Project Drawdown is ‘the world’s leading resource for climate solutions’.

    If you scroll down this page on the CLI website, you’ll see a video interview and presentation by Dr Jonathan Foley, Highly Cited Researcher in ecology and environmental science, where he talks through the problems and solutions:

    This is the first understandable *and hopeful* explanation of climate problems and solutions that I have come across – the bathtub analogy is refreshingly easy to comprehend.

    The CLI are obviously wanting to encourage philanthropists to get involved in pulling the planet back from the brink, so of course they need to make the issues easy to understand and to offer hope that any investment will bring results. But there are answers and options now that are possible both for those with enormous resources and power to hand and also for the regular person in the street/at the kitchen sink.

    I thought your readers might also find this info useful as they grapple with the issue.

    Blessings, Ruth

    By Ruth O'Hanlon  -  14 Aug 2021
    • That’s so helpful, Ruth – and especially for philanthropists large and small among us (as we all should be, literally ‘loving humankind’). Many thanks for taking the time to track down these great sources and avenues toward informed giving.

      By Dave Benson  -  18 Aug 2021

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