Does Your Carbon Footprint Matter?


Bill McKibben writes that oil companies have, on their books, enough oil to create at 18 degree (Farenheit) increase in global temperature. Wow. That's just what we're planning to burn. If you haven't, go read his article. Post it to Facebook and Twitter, and then come back here.

While I agree with McKibben on nearly all his points, I find him impatient on the power of individual transformation:

"This record of failure means we know a lot about what strategies don't work. Green groups, for instance, have spent a lot of time trying to change individual lifestyles: the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs. Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we're certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it's as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

People perceive – correctly – that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2; by 2010, a poll found that "while recycling is widespread in America and 73 percent of those polled are paying bills online in order to save paper," only four percent had reduced their utility use and only three percent had purchased hybrid cars. Given a hundred years, you could conceivably change lifestyles enough to matter – but time is precisely what we lack.

A more efficient method, of course, would be to work through the political system, and environmentalists have tried that, too, with the same limited success."

You see, any political movement to reduce carbon must be rooted in individuals who are willing to sacrifice in their personal lives to reduce their own carbon footprint.

In Scripture, Nehemiah begins his political movement to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem with personal repentence, "...I now pray before you day and night for your servants the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments..."

Likewise, we must repent our our sins against creation. We must care for the gift of creation, as God requires us, by reducing our carbon output as individuals. Through our actions, we will be emboldened to petition our local stores, our multinational corporations, and our govenment to make the same changes we have found courage to make ourselves.

Let me be clear, McKibben is right that our governments and institutions must be radically changed. That's what will ultimately be the solution.

But in order to defeat the corporate industrial monster that's devouring the world, we have to begin at the beginning: ourselves. Transformation starts with us. All justice begins with the humble changes we make in our own lives.

Want to be transformed by reducing your carbon? Here's how.

Want to transform your church by buying local produce? Join Crabgrass Christians and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light as we empower DC-area churches in creating a farm-to-church network for local, organic foods to combat climate change. Stay in touch, as we'll be working to package up this program so you can know how to organize a farm-to-church network in your community.

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About the Author

Hi. My name is Jeremiah John. I'm a sf/f writer and activist.

I just completed a dystopian science fiction novel. I run a website which I created that connects farms with churches, mosques, and synagogues to buy fresh vegetables directly and distribute them on a sliding scale to those in need.

In 2003, I spent six months in prison for civil disobedience while working to close the School of the Americas, converting to Christianity, as one does, while I was in the clink.