Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Squandering Resources

It seems that those of us who consider ourselves evangelical Christians have come to the environmental debate a little late. In the book of Genesis we are a given the task of managing the resources of the planet. It is probably because we don’t want to be associated with those who would worship the creation and ignore the creator, but that is not a very good excuse. In many areas we have squandered resources and largely made a mess of things. Jesus was particularly critical of those people who wasted resources and opportunities.

I don’t believe that we can be better stewards by just trying harder and recycling newspapers and aluminum cans. There is a need for total culture change. A recently heard about a couple who built what may be the “greenest” house in the nation. It uses all sorts of technical gee-whiz such as active solar and ground affects. It was not mentioned that the house is 30 miles out in the country and that they work downtown. Between the two of them they likely commute 100 miles a day or more. Clearly, this was an academic exercise with no intention of saving fossil fuel.

In the past twenty years the average new home has more than doubled in size. The average fuel economy of all the cars on the road has not changed, in spite of the fact that there has been much technical advancement. Obviously gasoline prices, natural gas, or electric prices have not had an effect on our lifestyles or how we choose to spend our money.

A large coffeehouse chain makes a big deal out of their recycling efforts but offers only single-use cups and utensils. Using glass cups and stainless steel utensils would save millions of tons of paper and disposable plastic and reduce waste dramatically. Most goods we buy are over-packaged, wasting much paper and plastic and filling our land-fills.

Our culture tells us that it is good to build a “McMansion” in the suburbs and commute 30 miles in a large vehicle that barely makes twenty-miles to the gallon. At the same time, those who share a few walls with their neighbors, reducing utilities cost by 80 – 90 %, and walk or bicycle to work, are considered weird or somehow under-privileged.

In a free society, most choices come down to economics. As long as we have relatively cheap fuel, people will continue to buy huge houses and drive inefficient vehicles too far to work.

In countries with no domestic petroleum resources, where gasoline regularly runs $5.00 per gallon or more, most people walk, or ride bicycles or scooters to work; apartments or townhouses clustered together to save energy and build community are the norm; and automobiles get 40-50 miles per gallon.

I believe that we will make great strides in improving the environment and saving resources, not from complicated technologies like hybrid cars, but from simply deciding that spending an hour a day in the car driving to our 5,000 square foot house is not the way we want to spend our time and money.