Thursday, January 11, 2007

Global warming and creation care

Front page of yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times: "2006 was nation's warmest year." The National Climatic Data Center reports that 2006 was the warmest ever recorded in the U.S. As highlighted in the film An Inconvenient Truth, the warmest years on record have all been in the last decade. Today's news report bears that out, as the world's six warmest years since the 1890s were 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Creation care was highlighted at Urbana 06 as one key dimension of Christian discipleship and mission. One video segment, "All Things," built off of the convention exposition of the book of Ephesians to spell out the implications of bringing to unity "all things in heaven and on earth under Christ" (Eph 1:10). Another verse it referenced that jumped out in a way I had never noticed before was Ezekiel 34:18: "Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clean water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?"

Environmental stewardship is a key responsibility for all Christians. What's perhaps most exciting is how Christians with particular vocations in global relief and development and in public policy are able to work toward sound environmental policies and practices that preserve ecological systems and help both humans and the environment to thrive. It's very encouraging that polluted rivers and waterways that were polluted and toxic a century ago are now much cleaner. We have a long way to go, of course, and global warming in particular is extremely daunting, but we have reason for hope.

I'm encouraged that creation care is now far more normative a value for Christians to embrace. I remember the commemoration of Earth Day 1990 during my senior year of high school, and it struck me that my church mentioned nothing about it whatsoever. I asked my pastor about it later, and he said something along the lines of it being a secular event, not a Christian one, not a priority for Christians. That seemed to me to be an example of where Christians have abdicated their responsibility of environmental stewardship and ceded it to the pantheists and New Agers. If anyone should be reclaiming the emphasis on creation care, it should be evangelical Christians. After all, to put it in terms more familiar to evangelicals, creation care is a pro-life issue. Bad environmental stewardship is harmful to millions of humans around the world, not to mention all the supporting ecosystems. Care for the earth is care for people, especially those in developing nations who are most vulnerable to diseases caused by lack of access to clean water supply.

Creation care is both a personal and systemic issue. If systems aren't in place, it's difficult for individuals and communities to practice good stewardship. I notice this whenever I'm at conference centers that don't have recycling bins. We're very diligent at home about recycling because the systems and bins are in place. But while traveling, it's so much easier to be wasteful. I remember one year at a staff conference that didn't have recycling, one of my colleagues very carefully packed up all of her empty plastic water bottles in her suitcase to take home to recycle. I was encouraged that many Urbana delegates put their recyclables on top of garbage cans rather than tossing them in a message to the convention center - please recycle!

For suburban Christians in particular, I think one of the most significant issues is suburban commuter culture. The physical geography of suburbia is designed for cars, and we often have no choice but to drive everywhere. So one of the best things we can do from a stewardship perspective is to do what we can to consolidate our lives as much as possible so that we live, work, shop and worship all in the same local community, whether that's a three-mile radius or a five-mile radius or whatever of our home. Not only will that cut down on fuel use, it also helps anchor us in local neighborhoods instead of being fragmented across a metro area. And there are many things we can do to counter the environmental waste of our consumer culture; my wife and I recently began bringing reusable canvas tote bags to the grocery store.

If you're not yet convinced of the significance of the issue or were not persuaded by An Inconvenient Truth, take a look at any number of good Christian resources on the topic, from Edward Brown's new Our Father's World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation to older books like Redeeming Creation, The Care of Creation and For the Beauty of the Earth. The Evangelical Environmental Network issued this declaration last year spelling out the significance of the issue, and it's gratifying to see so many evangelical leaders signing it (and a little annoying to see others pooh-pooh it). At any rate, let's do what we can to be good stewards of God's good creation. And let the earth rejoice!


L.L. Barkat said...

I think we muddy the waters partly because we have not learned to love them. (That's why my other little blog is a celebration of creation... my attempt to help people, including myself, love creation and find practical ways to express that love. We'll see how that goes!)

Anonymous said...

What do you think about people who drive SUVs or minivans rather than smaller more economical and gas efficient cars? Al Gore was also recently criticized for frequently jetting around the globe, literally burning up tons of fossil fuels. It's easy to do some little thing to show we "care" for creation, but in lots of other areas we fail miserably.

Al Hsu said...

Yes, we certainly do all this imperfectly, and there's always more that we could be doing. I personally have always driven relatively fuel-efficient Hondas, but currently we have two minivans (one of which is a Honda). My wife and I have talked about whether we should scale back to something more compact or look into a hybrid. (Systemically, one of the most strategic things that could be done is for the American auto industry to match Japanese auto makers' standards for fuel efficiency. That in itself would be a huge sea change for American drivers' fuel consumption.)

But as Eric Jacobsen, author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom, has pointed out, he could own an SUV and still be more fuel-efficient overall than someone with a Honda Civic and an hour-long commute, because Jacobsen has been quite intentional about living and working in the same geographic block community and almost never drives anywhere. So it's not just owning an SUV or a minivan that's an issue - it's the whole overall portrait of how we use resources.

I find it best to affirm people for what they're doing and to encourage them to take whatever next step might be appropriate for them, rather than make blanket judgments on SUVs or whatever. The truth is that we are all simul justus et peccatore (simultaneously saint and sinner), as the Lutherans would put it. We have many good intentions, but lots of unintended negative consequences.

So in any case, we can't do everything, but we can do some things. We do what we can to be more aware and better stewards, little by little.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic video. I sure wish Urbana would make it available for bloggers to embed. Maybe someone could load it up on YouTube?

Wired magazine had an incredible little article a few months back about surprising ways to lower your carbon pollution.

Styrofoam cups, they argued, were more efficient than ceramic cups if you accounted for the energy required to create the cup in the first place. (One mug is the equivalent of several thousand styrafoam cups.)

Anonymous raises an interesting point about the inefficiencies of airplanes. But it's still important to do what we can do. Every little bit helps. Right?

Anonymous said...

Also, L.L.'s other blog really is worth checking out.

L.L. Barkat said...

This is why I like McDonough & Braungart (Cradle to Cradle link on Green Inventions Central)...

because they know this all makes consumers crazy and overwhelmed, they want to put the onus on designers. Their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is a manifesto on making consuming safer and more efficient from the design level (not that we all should have to stop thinking about our consuming behaviors for other reasons). It is truly revolutionary, in my humble opinion.

Unknown said...

Al, your blog makes me smile!

This is something I have a lot to learn about, but I am queen recycler on campus (every little scrap!) and am excited about a book I just ordered from the British IVP (my first British IVP acquisition!), L is for Lifestyle, on small steps regular people can take to take better care of the environment.

I'm curious, tho-- how'd you end up concerned enough to talk to your pastor about Earth Day at both a young age AND over 15 yr ago, when prob even fewer evnagelicals were talking about this??

Al Hsu said...

Ashleigh - I honestly don't remember now when environmental stewardship got on my radar screen. I do remember the contrast between Earth Day being mentioned somewhat significantly in my public high school and not at all in my local church.

And enjoy your book from across the pond! We at IVP-US are greatly indebted to our friends at IVP-UK. Many of our best books and authors have come from them. And actually, they came first - in the early days, IV staffworkers in the US distributed IVP-UK books until IVCF/USA decided that we need our own homegrown books and Bible studies, and IVP-US was born.

L.L. Barkat said...

I decided to continue this conversation over on Seedlings, with a slightly different angle... and, yes, I linked to this post. I hope someone pays you a visit as a result!

Anonymous said...

I think something Mark's comment about styrofoam and ceramic mugs brings up one of the biggest conundrums for me as I seek to love the earth through responsible use. Each time I rinse out a can for recycling, I wonder how much water I just wasted, and will the metal in the can offset that. When I drive all over town to find organic products, would it have been better to shop locally for the regular stuff. I wish the decisions were a little more clear-cut.

Al, thanks for all the good book recommendations here.

Al Hsu said...

Charity - I remember being utterly confused after hearing a report about the environmental impact of recycling. Production of goods, say aluminum cans, is an industrial process using significant resources and causing a certain degree of industrial waste. Recycling of those same post-consumer cans is also an industrial process using significant resources and causing a certain degree of industrial waste. So even good environmental practices themselves have aftereffects. But ultimately it's better to recycle than to not, of course - even if the recycling process uses resources and causes waste, at least it is reducing the overall amount of new raw materials that are used to make those cans.

I think I will still use ceramic mugs rather than styrofoam - after all, I already have the mugs (and somehow keep on getting more of them at various conferences and industry trade shows). I just can't bring myself to think of styrofoam as preferable, until somebody invents a biodegradable styrofoam or something.