Opinion: Beyond climate argument

While global-warming dispute drags on, fossil fuels are killing us

Jan 16, 2017 by

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It is time for all neighbor-loving Christians to get on board with the movement to transition away from fossil fuels. To learn some reasons why, consider the words of Arnold Schwarz­enegger, a Catholic Republican former governor of California, who wrote on Facebook, “I don’t give a **** if we agree about climate change.”

In comments targeted at those who deny global warming, Schwarzenegger pointed out that even if climate change doesn’t matter at all, 7 million people globally die every year due to pollution. That is more than the number of fatalities from murders, suicides and car accidents combined. Burning fossil fuels injects poisons into the air, which cause asthma, lung cancer, heart disease and other ailments. Most of the burden is borne by children and the elderly, whose bodies are more easily hurt by the toxins embedded in fossil fuels.

I do not want to underestimate the threat of climate change. Tremendous evidence shows global climate change is proceeding, ruins livelihoods, causes desertification and will make tens of millions homeless by flooding, especially in countries like Bangladesh.

Sadly, corporations and political interests have generated doubt about all this in the minds of Americans. We cannot say there is a public consensus, though there is one in the realm of reputable science. However, no one disagrees that air pollution causes health problems, and even the lowest estimates suggest 80,000 Americans die each year from the pollutants that come from fossil fuels. (Higher estimates go up to 200,000). It is also broadly known that much of the global oil supply comes from countries that fund wars and terrorist groups, and we fund them when we drive.

In my view, “creation care” is only a small part of the biblical story. Jesus did not teach us to use solar panels and buy “green.” While I recognize there are passages emphasizing God’s love for creation, they aren’t a prominent part of the gospel message, to my mind. However, Jesus did teach us to love our neighbors and that the last should be first. James taught us that rich oppressors who exploit others to secure high profits will encounter divine punishment.

Needlessly polluting and causing suffering for children and the elderly is irresponsible, selfish and un-Christian. The U.S. free market does not force fossil fuel companies to pay for the health conditions that accompany their products, but that doesn’t make it right.

Obviously, it is not possible at this time to replace all fossil fuels within a short time span. Agriculture, air transport and much heavy industry will not quickly and easily be converted to clean energy. However, U.S. energy use is highly wasteful, and we could implement far more clean energy than we do as a nation. A significant reduction in our pollution would save much suffering.

For individuals, insulating your attic, covering your windows with plastic in winter, replacing old bulbs, turning down the thermostat and getting solar panels are usually cost-savers and prevent pollution. Driving efficient cars, ensuring tires are in good condition and full of air, and buying electric vehicles also deliver savings and cleaner air.

A good investment

We need to advocate that Mennonite institutions get their power sustainably and use it responsibly. Energy-efficient bulbs and appliances save money and reduce pollution. Solar panels can be an even better deal for congregations and Mennonite colleges than for houses because larger-scale installations save on costs.

Eastern Mennonite University has taken leadership on solar, but especially as prices have plummeted in recent years all of our Mennonite institutions should follow up. Numerous churches are getting solar installations, and many have saved enormously after basic energy-efficiency renovations. We ought to do more.

At a large scale of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a solar installation’s likely return would exceed the return on investment of endowment money — typically 5 to 7 percent per year.

Anabaptist universities, churches and agencies should research whether solar installations could be a viable way to invest some endowment money. These would be local, sustainable, reliable, resilient investments during recessions — and attractive to prospective students, 40 percent of whom say sustainability is important in choosing a school. Every school should consider this option.

With the abundance of nature and our God-given ingenuity, we have the resources to live sustainably and responsibly. Pollutants, destructive corporations and Middle Eastern autocracies are what we can’t afford. Let’s transition. We can do it.

David Lapp Jost lives in Goshen, Ind., and works at Mennonite Mission Network.


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