By Reid Detchon
Our material comforts give us so much to be grateful for. Kings and queens, in days gone by, never knew the luxuries we take for granted. Most of us live and eat so well, our biggest threat is overdoing it.
And yet our little empires, our cars, gadgets and homes, are built on something that threatens to bring it all to ruin – the production and use of energy. Our personal freedom and mobility depends on oil and electricity that comes mostly from coal and natural gas.
These three fossil fuels, formed and accumulated underground over millions of years, are being extracted, combusted, and injected into our atmosphere with ever-increasing speed, and the world is growing steadily warmer as a result.
Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we are experimenting with magic we can’t control. We have put in motion processes that we cannot stop or reverse, and we are putting God’s creation at risk.
The Arctic ice cap drives our hemisphere’s weather, but in less than a decade, it may be gone. The warming tundra is preparing to release gases built up through eons of decomposition, trapped no longer beneath a frozen cap. The mighty oceans warm and expand and, as ice melts on Greenland, rise along our coasts.
What are we doing to our world, to ourselves, to our children’s future? What are we doing to each other?
When the climate changed and the rains failed in Darfur, herdsmen moved onto farmers’ land and started fighting. When the climate changed and an unrelenting heat wave struck Europe in 2003, more than 14,000 died in France alone. When the climate changed and the Gulf of Mexico warmed, its energy was taken up by Hurricane Katrina.
When we say it’s just the weather, we are like children plugging our ears and saying, “Nah, nah, nah, nah” to block out what we don’t want to hear. The energy we use – when we start our cars, boot up our computers, heat and cool our homes – is killing people. We are killing people – by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
This is tough to hear – because it threatens the regal comforts we all are so grateful to have. Do we really have to give them up to save the world?
Energy is a great blessing. It has brought billions of people out of deprivation and misery. Doing without it would harm far more people than global warming.
Thanks to God’s blessings, we need not do without. All energy is not alike. Some kinds of energy are harmful, but others are not. Every day God provides, through the sunshine and the rain, the wind and the trees and plants, far more energy to the Earth than we could ever use. We call this energy renewable, because God continually renews its supply, like manna, for all who reach out their hands. It may cost a bit more to gather, but what is that against the cost we are incurring, the harm that we are doing?
We can change our ways. We can make a choice – at home, at work, in our churches and schools. There may be some sacrifice, some small additional price to pay for cleaner energy. But the reward is large. It is, in fact, the whole world.
Reid Detchon, a vestry member at St. Columba’s in Washington, D. C., is Executive Director, Energy and Climate, at the United Nations Foundation.