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Large Catholic families are ecologically considerate people... as a matter of necessity

Jan. 24, 2018

By Maeana Cragg
Contributing writer

Potsdam -   Our Pope has recently come out with an encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, whichCragg Family encourages care for our earth, in part, by reducing carbon emissions.

Luckily, as a large Catholic family, we are among the most ecologically considerate people in the developed world, just as a matter of necessity.  The per capita footprint in a twelve-person family is, in general, quite small.

First of all, there are the obvious things.  We all live in one home.  It is an old farmhouse built in an era where a family with ten children was typical.  Still, in our house, 12 people take up the same amount of space that would usually be taken by many fewer people.

We are also excellent carpoolers.  We have a large van, but that van is almost always full. The gas used per person is so much less than it would be, even if we drove a small car with a family of four.

Besides our home and our car, our entire lifestyle lends itself to saving the environment.  Clothing, shoes, toys, and books are used over and over again.  For our two year olds’ birthdays, their older brothers and sisters wrap up favorite toys they’ve outgrown.  My six year old Gavan still plays with the birthday present he got at two.  Once, it was his oldest brother’s favorite, now it is his.  Benen will see photos of his oldest brothers from 14 years ago, look down at himself to see he is wearing the same shirt as in the picture, and smile. My five month old still chews on some of the same toys his almost 17 year old brother chewed on. When clothes wear out (as they’re liable to do after eight boys) we welcome shared clothes from friends.  Not only does it save us money, it saves landfills from being heaped with otherwise useful things. 

Our food budget is pretty similar to most others, but we manage to feed ten children (including three teen-aged boys) on it. Food does not go to waste in our house. Plates are consistently licked clean and leftovers are eaten, or made into some other delicious dish. 

We have our own steer, and our own dairy cow.  Our milk isn’t shipped in plastic bottles.  Instead, we pour it directly into jugs we use over and over again. The steer is butchered locally after spending its life on pasture.
If we buy treats from the bakery, we tend to buy off the day old rack.  Not only is it cheaper and just as delicious, it saves it from being thrown out.  We buy our fruit and vegetables in season so they aren’t shipped from all over the world.

Almost everything we buy is in bulk, so there is less packaging, and very few of our meals are pre-packaged. We do these things to have good food cheaply, but each of them also helps the environment.

Even little day to day things that we do or don’t do as a big family end up being environmentally sound.  Our three little boys take their bath together.  Not only do we use less hot water that way, the boys have way more fun splashing around. 

We don’t often travel for vacations.  Hotel rooms and/or plane trips for twelve people just are not within our budget, but it also reduces our carbon footprint.

Homeschooling my children means that they don’t even have to ride the school bus.

Our main source of heat is a wood stove. It uses the trees which my husband cuts from our land, but which also renew themselves over and over again.  For the past seven years, he has been clearing trees in order to leave a maple sugar bush, working to use the gifts God has given us without destroying them.

The beauty of Catholicism is that no matter what vocation our children are called to, they’ll continue to live a life caring for the earth. If they have their own large families, they’ll do many of the same things they saw us do.  If they become nuns or monks, they’ll live in community, conserving in a life of poverty. If we are blessed enough to have a priest or two, they will also leave exceptionally small carbon footprints.

Almost every large family I know uses far less resources per child. There is no way that they can afford to consume the same way that families with one or two children often can. Even without an environmentalist ideology, it naturally happens. 

Most importantly, we are not just consumers. We are creators and developers. We love and respect our earth, but it is a gift to us from God, not a god in itself.

Living the life we are called to by our Catholic Faith helps us to love, not just people, but the world in which they live.

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