Just in time for Earth Day comes the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reminding us of the scope of the environmental challenges that lie before us in this century. As people of faith who remember that God created all things and called them good, we know that we cannot afford to wreck creation. Deuteronomy 30:19 calls us to "choose life so that you and your descendants may live," to live in harmony with creation and to restore balance.
Here are some ways in which we choose life.
We seek cleaner alternatives to a lifestyle powered by fossil fuels. At General Synod last summer, delegates approved resolutions encouraging congregations to work toward becoming carbon neutral, taking a stand against mountaintop removal coal mining, and encouraging divestment and other strategies from fossil fuel companies. Congregations are adding solar panels to their rooftops and finding ways to become more energy efficient. Some congregations have divested and others are looking into it, while the United Church Funds and UCC Pension Boards were signatories, along with 68 other organizations, to a letter urging major fossil fuel companies to provide more transparency regarding their assets in the face of climate change. Even those of us who can’t afford solar panels can explore commuting by bicycle, bus, or carpool; telecommuting; or getting out those walking shoes.
We push our legislators and other leaders to create the world we want to see. We read in Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Right now our treasure seems to go into fossil fuel companies, which are enjoying a renaissance in this country through the explosion of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and other unconventional extraction methods. President Obama must soon make a decision about permitting or banning the Keystone XL Pipeline project, which would allow as much as 830,000 barrels of oil per day to flow from Alberta and North Dakota down to the Gulf Coast. Yet oil and other fossil fuels are making the planet uninhabitable. We must work urgently to switch to cleaner alternatives and to convince our leaders to work toward that end as well.
We consume less. Our faith proclaims that God loves us abundantly whether we are rich or poor, fat or thin, black or white. There is more to life than money and acquisition. This is a profoundly countercultural message in a culture where advertisements tell us day and night that we are not complete until we buy a certain product. Yet overconsumption strips our planet and does not lead to healthy lifestyles that the planet can support. So we can consume less, focusing our priorities on love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self.
We celebrate our connections to God’s creation. Earth Day this year comes just two days after Easter. Both are profoundly life affirming. If you can’t celebrate with an Earth Day worship service near this date, perhaps you can plan something for a little farther down the road. How about an Earth Day picnic worship service during the summer? We will not work to protect what we do not know and love. Practice connecting with creation, whether that means a long backpacking trip or five minutes of devoted attention to one flower. God’s creation speaks to us whenever we give it the chance.
We plant trees. Or start community gardens. Or clean up riverbanks. Last year UCC members planted over 140,000 trees all over the world as part of Mission 4/1 Earth. Trees absorb carbon and prevent erosion. They provide food, fuel, shade, and building materials. They give birds a place to nest. Community gardens can be connection points, places to foster good community relationships, places to teach people of all ages the empowering skills of growing their own food.
So on this Earth Day, we invite you to reflect on the good things you are doing to live in harmony with the planet. We also challenge you to take on one new practice, whether it is leaving the car at home one day a week, eating locally produced food, starting a garden, or something else. Celebrate the good work you are doing, and keep it up. Together we can create a realm of God full of peace, justice, love, and harmony. God bless you.
The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries
Minister for Environmental Justice