Monday, April 18, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Iowa IPL’s Lenten Carbon Fast: Real Stories from Real Iowans, Saving Energy as an Act of Faith
The disasters in Japan are pervading our reflection about Lent this year. The suffering caused by the record-setting earthquake and tsunami has been heart-breaking. The fear associated with the nuclear reactor crises has been overwhelming. My wife and I marvel, however, at the resilience of the Japanese people and their capacity to endure such hardship with grace and fortitude.
As an environmentalist and as a Christian ethicist, I have significant concerns about nuclear power and fossil fuels. I am co-teaching a course right now at Luther College on “Ethics, Energy, and Climate Policy.” Out of a desire to “walk the talk,” my wife and I have been making investments over the past few years to make our home more energy efficient. In addition, we have been setting aside money to purchase and install a grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) system that would produce about 80 percent of the electricity our home uses in a particular year. The one thing that has been holding us back is that installing the system would require cutting down a large, mature walnut tree on the south side of our neighbor’s property.
Recently Luther College established a Sustainability House where students can live together and collaborate on various projects related to sustainability. As it turns out, this house has a fabulous solar window to the south. After some prayer and reflection, my wife and I have decided to donate to Luther the funds we have been saving to install a 4 kilowatt PV system on our own home so that the system can be installed this summer at the Luther College Sustainability House. With a more optimal southern orientation the same number of PV panels will produce more electricity and reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than they would have on our home which faces west. In addition, the panels will produce 100 percent of the house’s electricity and they will have a greater educational impact at Luther.
Could these funds do more good in Japan right now? We wrestle with this question but we made our gift about one week before the earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan. We have made other gifts to relief and development organizations doing work there. All of our contributions, however, feel like a drop in the bucket given the enormity of the problems in Japan and the level of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. But this is what we can do, and it is clear from those pulling together in Japan, that the collective efforts of individuals can make a world of difference.
IIPL Board Member
Thursday, April 7, 2011
As this is being written we are mindful of (1) our nation's worst coalfield disaster since 1970, a year ago, April 5, 2010, at the West Virginia Massey Energy Co. Upper Big Branch Mine; (2) the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power station explosion in the Ukraine, April 26, 1986; and (3) the most recent Tokyo Japan Electric Power Company Fukushima nuclear power complex catastrophe following an earthquake and tsunami there.
And of course the first anniversary of the 2010 BP (British Petroleum) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurs this coming Easter weekend, and the world will focus on lessons learned from that tragic event.
This year that same weekend is Earth Day and Earth Day Sunday. Our April monthly column focus for that is not global, but instead is local: "Where Two or More are Gathered" (www.nccecojustice.org/earthday), and raises up concerns we here are acquainted with, yet need to be reminded of so we may take action on behalf of all of creation.
As we "think globally" we also "act locally" in our Susquehanna River bioregion, especially the west branch of it, and more specifically along the various watersheds locally. Helping to steward water resources is an action that people of faith can do, and the Lycoming County PA Conservation District Watershed Notes e-newsletter (http://www.lyco.org/) provides information about each of our nine local watershed associations (Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming Creek, Muncy Creek, Greater Nippenose Valley, Black Hole Creek, Pine Creek Preservation Association, Rose Valley/Mill Creek, Pine Creek Watershed Council, and Larry's Creek Watershed Association).
Other watershed efforts include Trout Unlimited (Susquehanna Chapter: http://www.sqtu.org/); Northcentral PA Conservancy (http://www.npcweb.org/); Otzinachson region of the PA Chapter of the Sierra Club (www.pennsylvania.sierraclub.org/otzinachson); and the Susquehanna River Heartland Coalition for Environmental Studies (http://www.srhces.org/).
There is also, from the perspective of the humanities, the print and on-line "Watershed: The Journal of the Susquehanna" (see http://org.bloomu.edu/watershed/index.html).
Also see "Water Stewards: A Toolkit for Congregational Care of Local Watersheds" (www.nccecojustice.org/resources).
Regarding watershed food issues, studies about "food miles" (the average number of miles it reportedly takes for your dinner to get to your table), show that many factors determine whether a food item is "environmentally friendly." In order to shrink the fossil fuel (greenhouse gas emissions) in our diets, we need to consider not just what transportation accounts for, but also how the food is produced. Eating lower on the food chain is a key (switching from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet).
Eating locally also has its place, according to an article in the current March/April "E" magazine. "Local food builds community, poses a smaller risk for food-borne contaminants and tastes a lot better. It doesn't require the refrigeration for long-distance hauling, and is often free from packaging waste."
Also, on watershed food issues, see the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (http://www.pasafarming.org/) and http://www.localharvest.org/ and other examples of community supported agriculture (CSA).
Simple ways to act on behalf of local food production include purchasing food at a farmer's market, hosting a church "bioregional meal" (food taken from no more than 25 miles away), or growing a "garden of eatin'" on church land.
One watershed air issue, that of the "perils of barrels", (pollution from backyard burner barrel burning) is being addressed by bans in some communities, and this "Creation Corner" column compiler can provide more information on that subject (e-mail Michael Ochs, email@example.com . Carpooling can also help offset air pollution.
Bible study on water, food and air issues can be guided through environmental social statements of your church.
For further aid in taking action, see http://nccecojustice.org/takeaction/action.php. For more information, contact the Eco-Justice Program of the National Council of Churches.
Remember, a healthy watershed is harmonious with the needs of people, the land and natural resources. By giving back to our environment, by providing for the health of the soil, water, air, plants, and animals, we help to create a watershed that will sustain generations beyond ours. Watershed care guides help us in this our responsibility.