Carbon Fasting

In my last post, I remarked that the archdiocese of Bombay had started the practice of carbon fasting for its Lenten practice of 2014 and repeated it in 2015.  I received in a variety of ways many positive responses to the blog.  While I know we are a long way from Lent, still in the wake of Laudato Si,’ we are being asked to change our ways immediately and carbon fasting seems like an exercise that can get us started.

In 2014, the Bombay archdiocese posted on their website a booklet, entitled “40 earth-saving ways to fast this lent.”  It is a simple set of reminders to reduce one’s carbon foot-print each year.   The archdiocese also made an app available that would text daily very specific practices to follow. 

Carbon fasting brings us into the world of an asceticism that’s mindful of our place in our environment.  This mindfulness helps to develop, I think, a new humility.  Prompted by the Magnificat, I have long defined humility as knowing one’s place in God’s world.  Carbon fasting helps us then to develop a 21st century humility, making us more mindful of our place in God’s creation.

Interestingly, the booklet’s entry for the first day (Ash Wednesday) is: “Ashes remind us of carbon residue.  Reflect on ways to reduce your personal/ family carbon footprint.  Type “How to reduce my carbon footprint at home” in “Google search” for ideas.”

Directing us to Google as a way of beginning Lent is ingenious because it disposes to us an enormous number of resources that are available for us to begin the practice of carbon fasting.  For instance, the first entry, helps us to calculate our own carbon footprint, at home, at work and in travel.   At another site,, we are introduced to a series of environments (our car, our home, our office) where we can immediately adopt earth-saving practices, from keeping car tires properly inflated to reducing the tendency to print out messages.

While the Bombay booklet is ground-breaking, it is not as imaginative as it could be.  More recent attempts seem to me more encompassing.  Irene Baldwin sent me a link to The Passionist Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville, KY that has “an easy-to-administer 7-week Lenten program that provides parishes and  congregations with a new approach to the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.”   Each week provides a unique focus: Food, Consumption, Water, Energy, Transportation, etc.

I thought the Global Catholic Climate Movement in conjunction with Green Anglican provided one of the most engaged carbon fasting agendas, offering scripture and other invitations to reflection and action, which progressively help us on the journey of developing lasting habits for a new humility in God’s world.

Let the Carbon Fasting begin!

James F. Keenan, SJ, is Canisius Professor at Boston College. His most recent book is University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics (Rowman and Littlefield).

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