The Time Is NowWhen I was a senior in high school, way back in 1991 (which, honestly does not seem that long ago…), I wrote my senior thesis on the devastating consequences of chlorofluorocarbons. Anybody remember those? They were one of the main components of aerosol cans. Those of us who grew up in the 80s were most familiar with them through our copious use of hair spray. Unfortunately, our big hair was causing a large hole is the ozone layer and this was stressing me out. All I could think about was that we would all die of skin cancer or burn up from the suns intensified rays. Perhaps I was over acting a little bit, but this really did consume a lot of my brain power.
I have no idea why I, a typical Midwestern teenager raised by conservative parents, was so obsessed with the environment, but I was. Perhaps it was because growing up in
I was constantly deluged with weather reports and how it would affect the corn
crops. The evening news always had a
segment relating the lack of rain, or too much rain, or early frost, or late
frost, etc. and the surely devastating consequences they would have for all our
livelihoods. I don’t ever recall a weather forecast where they actually said
“all is perfect and we will live to eat another day!” It was shocking when I
moved to Iowa
and discovered that most people didn’t give a second thought to the weather
except to note if they should bring an umbrella. Didn’t they understand our survival depends
on the jet stream?!!? St. Louis
Additionally, every science and biology class in school would talk about the rapidly decreasing topsoil that had made
Iowa the breadbasket of the . Currently, estimates stated
that US has
gone from 45cm of rich topsoil to just 15cm of top soil. On top of that, the
quality of it has greatly diminished due to the overuse of fertilizers and
pesticides. As a kid, it didn’t take a
great leap of my imagination to tie together that without soil there would be
no farms, without farms there would be no need for tractors, therefore my dad
(who worked at John Deere) wouldn’t have a job, and, worst of all, there would
be no food! I liked food! The connection between the environment and
our well-being was impressed upon me at a very early age. Iowa
What really sealed it for me, though, and spurned me to take a more active approach was when I went to
Germany and with my high school German
class. Everywhere we went, there were
special, three-sided, green garbage cans.
One for glass, one for cans, and one for general waste. To my fifteen
year old perspective, this seemed genius. Why wasn’t everyone doing this?! It had never dawned on me that a whole
country could get behind recycling. Not
just one or two or three, but a WHOLE county. Amazing. My second surprise was going to a grocery
store and discovering that if I didn’t bring my own bags, that I would have to
pay for them. What?! Isn’t it the right of the consumer to get a bag with their
purchases? Evidently, Europeans saw things differently. I came back to the Austria with a much larger view of the
world and a new sense of what is possible. US
I was quickly frustrated when I returned. Where to begin?! I was just one person in a country that wasn’t all interested in what I had to say. I did what I could, joined Earth Clubs, recycled what I could, cut out CFC, talked to whoever would listen, but, overall, felt I was pretty ineffectual. The only reason my parents recycled cans was because
paid for them, not through any sense of
environmental activism. I just couldn’t understand why people didn’t care. Didn’t they want the best for their
families? Didn’t they want clean air and
water? Didn’t they want to continue to enjoy all the beauty and the resources
the Earth has to offer? What is wrong
with these people?! Don’t they see how
right I am! Perhaps my self-righteous
lecturing wasn’t the best motivational strategy. Iowa
There are a lot of reasons why people don’t take a greater role in caring for the Earth. Some don’t see it as an issue, some have greater priorities in their life, other’s feel it is not their responsibility, or that science will discover a solution to all our problems. Today, though, I want to discuss another common reason. Many faith groups feel that our presence on Earth is just a passing phase. We are merely enduring our human form until we move on to Heaven or some other plane of existence. With that framework, Earth is not all that important. We can pollute it, use up its resources, change its climate and who really cares? Earth is temporary, it is only something for humans to use on our way to greater things. Because of this egocentric view, the Earth and all it inhabitants have greatly suffered. It has been speculated that the next mass extinction in upon us and human interference is leading the charge.
I find this train of thought to be particularly depressing. Next to
China, the is the greatest polluter of CO2.
Carbon emissions are one of the largest causes of climate change. With close to 80% of Americans claiming some
sort of religious affiliation, this is a huge group of people that could have
an impressive impact on the environment.
Every major religious denomination has a statement on environmental
stewardship. From Judaism, Catholicism,
B’hai, and, yes, even, Evangelicals. The
leadership within these groups have recognized that it is the moral duty of
people of faith to take care of God’s creation.
Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between what is determined to
be religious responsibility and actual action.
As Unitarian Universalists, it is part of our Seven principles. (Respect
for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part). We come from a long tradition of
environmental stewardship that makes me proud.
We need to continue and step up that effort and be a positive model for
other denominations. Whether your faith is in a God, Goddess, or the energy of
the Universe, we have a moral obligation to take care of each other and our
I recently participated in a panel discussion regarding the need for Ameren to transition from coal to clean energy. The event was sponsored by Metropolitan Congregations United and was held at
church that was being affected by the pollution from the Meramec coal-fired
plant. It was to be an informative
evening to not only discuss the plant, but to also discuss the
Unfortunately, the audience chose to debate the scientific merit of the
arguments and then completely ignore any sort of faith-based, moral
reasoning. As entrenched audience members
continued to drown out the panelists effort to be neutral and only share facts,
it became painfully aware to me how far we still need to go; both in scientific
and religious understanding. South County
It boggles my mind that even though 97% of the world’s scientist agree that climate is changing and that it is most likely caused by humans, there is still a significant portion of the
population that continues to
deny that it is happening. Whether or
not you agree with the science, you know things aren’t like they used to be.
One just needs to look around and see the increase in droughts, floods and
severe weather. When I was in school, we often talked about the precautionary
principle. Even if there is a remote
chance that something might be true, precaution should be taken. What is the worse that will happen? Our air gets cleaner? Our water safer? More
jobs in the clean energy sector? Food that we feel safe eating that is not
destroying the ground on which it is grown?
None of these sound tragic to me and all seem pretty worthwhile goals. US
Putting the science aside, though, as people of faith, it is our ethical duty to take care of each other. The people most affected by climate change will be the ones least able to adapt. Most of us are fortunate to be able to afford air conditioning, heat, insurance, and higher food prices. This is not the case for everyone. We have all heard the stories of folks afraid to turn on their air-conditioning or heaters due to the cost and have then suffered tragic consequences. As we see through our Fourth Saturday lunches, there are many food insecure families in our communities. Climate change will only exacerbate these conditions. Scarcity and costs will only increase and the most vulnerable will be the ones who suffer the greatest. As I speak, there are whole islands disappearing with their populations being forced to leave due to rising ocean waters. We have a moral duty to help our brothers and sisters. Combating climate change is one important step in this process.
As Unitarian Universalists, many of us already take significant steps to be environmentally friendly. We recycle, use public transportation, garden, utilize solar panels and try to reduce our consumption. We do what we can, but is it enough?
I currently help run Missouri Interfaith Power & Light. It is the state affiliate of the national Interfaith Power & Light. Their mission is to help congregations of all denominations become more energy efficient through connecting their beliefs with stewardship of the planet. By coming together, congregations not only support each other in decreasing their carbon footprint, but advocate to help change state and national policies to be more environmentally friendly. While we are new to
many states have very active affiliates. Missouri
For instance, this past summer, Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light helped organize an event at General Assembly that had close two thousand UUs in
marching to protest fossil fuel extraction. Illinois IPL, who works under the
name of Faith of Place, provides extensive programming and advocacy for IL
congregations. They are a model for many other state affiliates. This past
fall, Missouri IPL participated in a faith walk with several different faith
groups to Ameren headquarters asking them to transition to clean energy. The national IPL offers many programs to
assist affiliates and congregations in their greening effort such as their Cool
Congregations and Cool Harvest programs. These focus on energy efficiency and
eating local. Additionally, last weekend and this weekend, congregations all
across the Louisville
are participating in a national Preach In to combate climate change. All of us
preaching on the same topic, hopefully galvanizing change. US
This is just the beginning. As more and more faith groups start making the connection between human behavior and religious duty, real change can be made. We are at a turning point in human history. We can continue on our current path, or seek new ways of living. Nobody is claiming that this will be easy. We are currently on the easy path and it will be ending very soon. Together, though, through supporting eachothers efforts, we can forge a new way. A way that protects all of Earth’s inhabitants. In your Order of Service, you will find a postcard. While I understand the wording in not typical UU phrasing, I ask you to please consider filling it out mailing it to your Senator. By combining with other faith groups, our voice is magnified. Imagine Senators being flooded with hundreds of post cards calling for action! As we so often say, we are part of interconnected web. Let’s do our part. I don’t want to one day look at my grandchildren and think I could have done more. Climate change is happening, we will all be affected, it is up to us to each one of us to do something about it.
Remember how I started this talk with chlorofluorocarbons? In 1991 the ozone hole was getting bigger every year. The outlook was bleak unless something was done right away. Thanks to the efforts of a vocal and loud group of activists, CFC were eventually banned. And guess what, the ozone hole has shrunk to only 2% of what is was in 2000. When we put our mind to it, we can make a difference, despite the odds stacked against us. Please be that loud and vocal activist. Take a stand and set an example. Only good things can happen.