Thursday, January 17, 2008

Green living

So today I teached 'em in our peace & justice meeting about "green living," and I guess it went over well because I had some nice comments and one guy asked me to come give the same talk at his church. Cool! We also decided to get an issue of our school paper devoted to this issue and contribute many of these ideas and several others, so that students could have some easy, practical ways to help with the environment.

This is part of our ongoing series using the book "Sabbath Economics" by Matthew Colwell. It is based on or at least in sympathy with Ched Meyer's stuff on this topic. The basic idea is to bring your household practices - particularly surrounding finances - into line with Jesus' teaching and what we learn in scripture. I highly recommend you check out the book and/or Meyer, who does a lot of seminars on the topic.

Anyway, it's not poetry, but you may find it interesting. Heck, you may even learn something. I did, doing the research for it. The last thing I did was talk through a handout with simple actions, which I'll list at the end, and my favorite green websites, which I'll also list for you. Enjoy. Go green. It's not just for Kermit anymore.

Opening Scriptures:
Jeremiah 14:1-9 (this passage makes me think of global warming)
Romans 8:18-25

Let us pray

Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures;

You have filled the world with beauty: the earth and sky and sea; the richness of mountains, plains, and rivers; the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers;

And, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation.

Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; and grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation today, we may come to know you more truly;

We ask all of this in the name of him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today we are going to talk about the Sabbath Economics principle of Green Living. This is a very trendy concept, but we don’t want to live this way just because it’s a fad. There should be a deeper level of our commitment to the earth and all that is in it as the people of God.

In Genesis, following the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah and his family – and also with all flesh, with the wild animals and the birds (according to Hosea). The prophet Joel speaks the word of the Lord to the earth and to animals:

“Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green, the tree bears its fruit…”

and he goes on to speak of the blessing of God in terms of abundant rain producing abundant crops of grain, oil, and wine. In light of all that the scriptures we’ve read so far, what can we surmise about our proper relationship with creation, in addition to the well-known commands to “have dominion” and “subdue”? If the earth were something that is merely passing away, something not of value to God, then why would he bother to have Joel prophesy to the dirt? Why would he include animals in his post-flood covenant?

In the gospels, Jesus tells us that a sparrow doesn’t fall without our heavenly Father knowing it, and that God clothes the flowers in the field with care. God delights in the creation and more, God pays attention to what happens to it. As God’s representatives on earth, does our behavior towards the earth, plants, animals, and our fellow human beings reflect the attitude of their Creator? Do our choices tell the rest of the world that we care what happens to God’s creation?

In our sourcebook, Matthew Colwell talks about his 1990 Corolla topping the 270,000 mile mark. This is a source of both pride and regret for him. While he feels good about keeping the car running so long and its good gas mileage, he also ponders the impact his nearly twenty years of driving it have had on the earth: the Corolla has consumed 8,182 gallons of gasoline, enough to produce 158,731 pounds of CO2 (which, thanks to Al Gore, we all know is a greenhouse gas largely contributing to global warming). Driving encourages the creation of more roads and necessitates their upkeep, which costs the government $71 billion annually. And this is one car.

More than 90 percent of US travel is by car, and only 4 percent is by public transit. There is no other single item that hurts the environment more than a gas-powered car. We like to think that businesses, airplanes, SUV’s – these are the real polluters. But the fact is, if we all got out of or got rid of our cars, the impact would be enormous.

Maybe you are already primarily a walker or take public transit – good for you! But of course we all have a long ways to go, and there are myriad ways to reduce our ecological footprint. Another story from the book reminds us that if we drink just two cups of coffee a day (which isn’t much from a full pot in the morning), we are consuming 34 gallons in a year, made from 18 pounds of beans, which come from 12 coffee trees dedicated to just me. Unless we buy fair trade, shade grown, organic coffee, our 12 trees will be fertilized and subject to pesticides, which are products made from petroleum. More gas is needed to fly the coffee from South or Central America or Africa to your local Trader Joe’s. By the time I drive to the store to pick it up, and put it in a plastic petroleum-based bag (or a paper sack made from trees)…well…you can see why we need to fight wars over oil.

It’s incredible – and frightening – to start researching the environmental impact of our most mundane choices. And it can seem overwhelming and, frankly, not worth the hassle. But the thing I most want you to remember is that any change you make always makes a difference. It can be a very small change, but added to the small changes I make, and you make and you make and you make, now we are talking about some big-time impact.

Remember – this is part of who we are as God’s children! If we are going to be like our Father in heaven, we must love and care for his creation!

Adopting a green lifestyle is not something that happens overnight. It requires reprogramming your brain to think about “stuff” in a new way. [tell story about rolling backpack]

The adage is old, but it’s a great rule of thumb: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” There’s another one we abide by at my family’s cabin: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…” It’s not a bad idea during a drought or when, like me, you are peeing forty times a day.

Seriously, you’d be amazed how much you can recycle. The EPA estimates that 75% of trash in America could be recycled, but only 25% actually is. Besides the usual bottles and cans, have you thought about the fact that you might be hanging on something to that someone else could use? This is another form of recycling. Once a year, usually at Lent, I go through my possessions and ask myself, “Would someone else value this more than I do?” This keeps me from losing keepsakes (nobody but me values my photo albums!), but gives me pause when I consider that I own, say, five or ten coats (in Southern California).

You also have to reprogram how you spend your money, including being willing to pay more for goods whose price reflects their real cost. I really believe this is a moral issue. Often items that are produced sustainably and with fair-trade practices cost more – but in fact, their prices are not high, it’s just that the price of everything else is artificially low! I read a great quote this week from chef Jamie Oliver, who said that a chicken, which was once a living being, should not cost less than a pint of beer. It’s true!

I will not lie to you. It costs more to shift your buying habits to choices that are better for creation. But this just means you will buy less – and in reality, we all probably need less than we buy anyway. One example of this is meat: if you only buy organic, free-range, grass-fed beef, for instance, you probably won’t be able to afford it more than once a month – which is about how often your doctor wants you to eat it – thereby reducing your reliance on a product that is ridiculously cheap considering its environmental impact (it takes 5 pounds of grain and 2500 pounds of water to produce a single pound of beef – and that’s not taking into account the way the animal has been treated and whether the feedlot environment fits God’s hopes for the earth).

I’ve made a handout for you with fourteen simple actions you can try to up your “green living” quotient. These are all road-tested by me and I promise, they are not painful or difficult in any way. I’ve also listed several websites and a couple books that you should check out.

Simple Changes that Make a Difference!
Green Living Tips

Request green power from your electricity company. Pasadena Water and Power offers a choice of $5, $10, or all of your bill being sourced by wind power. To make up the price difference, plug power sucking electronics into power strips that stay off when not in use.

Buy a few reusable bags (or hang on to your paper and plastic) and keep them in your trunk for grocery trips. Whole Foods gives a 5 cent credit for every reusable bag; Trader Joe’s lets you enter a weekly raffle for a $25 gift card. Turn down a bag at any store if you can carry your items without one!

Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Cut shower time by 5 mins to save gallons.

If you don’t feel like taking in your recycling, see if there are homeless folks who come by your apartment dumpster, and give them your recycling instead of throwing it out. It's nice to keep a clean bin outside so they don't have to dig through the trash.

Buy your food locally! The average farm-to-plate distance for an American meal is 1,500 miles. Shop farmer’s markets (see for listings), sign up for a veggie delivery service (LOVE – Los Angeles Organic Vegetable Express) or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture - lists CSA’s all over the US).

Shop for home items and long-distance foods (coffee, chocolate) at Ten Thousand Villages, Pasadena’s fair trade store. Look for fair trade stickers on your bananas, too!

Walk or give the train a try (it’s easy to take the Gold Line to several farmer’s markets). Consider your car: what is your gas mileage? Are you keeping it tuned up and the tires inflated to save gas? Could you get by with a smaller/more efficient/just one vehicle?

When it gets chilly, wrap up in a sweater or blanket instead of turning on the heat. When it’s hot, use fans instead of a/c to save on electricity use.

Wash your clothes in cold water – today’s machines and detergents will still clean your clothes just fine! Air dry them if you can (this goes for dishes too).

Buy a reusable metal water bottle (SIGG makes excellent and cute bottles that last a lifetime). Plastic – even Nalgene – leaches dangerous chemicals into your drink!

Avoid petroleum-based scented candles. Soy wax is better; beeswax is best.

Change all your monthly expenses to e-billing and pay electronically whenever possible. Visit to learn how to eliminate junk mail from your life forever!

Keep your refrigerator full to make it work more efficiently (fill up with jugs of water when there’s not much food, which will come in handy in an emergency).

Sign up for the Daily Bite from Ideal Bite, to get free, easy tips like these delivered to your email every day! I especially appreciate how their tips include information on the potential impact of the action they've suggested - makes you feel like you are really making a difference!

Recommended Books/Websites:
For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger
Sacramental Commons: Christian Ecological Ethics by John Hart
“The Two Economies” by Wendell Berry (essay from Home Economics) (calculates your environmental footprint – how many earths it takes to sustain your lifestyle) (how to recycle almost anything) (religious witness for the earth; interfaith activist org) (thinking about what we eat, where it comes from) (hazardous household products and alternatives) (hip little guides to green stores, products in LA area - also available for several other cities) (online guide to many companies focused on organic) (the Jew and the Carrot) (alternative AAA that gives discounts to hybrids, charges more to SUVs, offers bicycle roadside assistance, and donates to environmental causes instead of supporting more driving as does AAA) (since we want you to be covered from organic crib bedding to a natural grave)

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