Saturday, April 12, 2008

Make the world a better place. . . .

Rosthern elevator

To make the world a better place. . . .

If Joan Chittister is right in concluding that the improvement of the world makes sense as a platform for discussing purpose and meaning, then I have to ask, “what do I do to further that cause?”

First, define for me what constitutes improvement. In Saskatchewan at this time, a lot of politicians and entrepreneurs are ecstatic over the economic picture. People are moving into the province, the oil and gas industry is thriving, grain prices are up, we’re going to build a huge ethanol plant, we have an agreement with the federal government to refit a coal-burning power plant so that CO2 emissions are safely sequestered underground, etc., etc. We’re on a roll; our world is getting better and better. We’re on the road to happiness, at least by the economic growth measurement.

Some time ago, CBC’s Ideas program on radio featured an interview with David Sanborn Scott, author of Smelling Land and founder of the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at the University of Victoria. That institution is all about improving the world—environmentally. As I listened to the interview, I noted the following startling assertions by Scott (in my words).

  1. The threat of global warming and the resulting upheavals cannot be reversed; it’s too late.
  2. If we are to mitigate its effects, we will have to look at the whole energy picture as an integrated system and stop treating it as a bunch of disconnected bits (ethanol, earth hours, hybrid cars, windmills).
  3. We must stop burning fossil fuels to obtain energy; this is not negotiable if we are to save all we can for the next generations.
  4. All energy of the future—and the sooner the better—will have to come from non-CO2 emitting sources, primarily nuclear energy augmented by wind, solar and tidal technologies.
  5. In order to deliver the energy to trucks, trains, cars, ships, factories and homes, hydrogen will be the medium. (Energy will be harnessed to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen will be burned to produce water again while giving back the energy it has stored, that is 2H2O + energy→2H2 + O2→2H2O + energy). Did I get that right, students of chemistry?
  6. Burning of ethanol, sequestering of CO2 and so on represent a piecemeal approach which does not address the real issues at all. Reduction is not the goal; elimination is.

If I as a Christian want to contribute to God’s creative process—assuming that that involves an earth on which people can live well—then I will have to do more than recycle my newspaper. I will have to engage in the battle against the forces determined to maintain the status quo because they want to continue reaping the economic harvest that destroying the environment is providing for them.

By what measure do you and I define the “better world?” There are certainly other measures than economic and population growth. Most of us Christians are signaling by our acquiescence to the standards of our world that we don’t give a damn. While scientists are struggling to clue us in to the peril our consumption represents, we nod in agreement, and go out and buy another polluting SUV, or snowmobile, or quad-runner, or we fly in airplanes, drive nearly empty cars, shun the bicycle and public transit.

Our words are Christian, but our actions are decidedly not. If we are to authentically sway the world to disengage from its fossil fuel gluttony, we will need to shed a lot of our own baggage at the same time—or first.

1 comment:

  1. George, you're starting a conversation badly needed! That conversation is, in my opinion, about getting unhooked from our addiction to economic growth. You're right, there are better measures of success and happiness. This is a paradigm shift of mammoth proportions. Let's get started!

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity