Hot Times aren’t ahead – they’re here.

can you spot a trend?

Did you know that in 1940, our food system produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil fuel it consumed?  Now it takes ten calories of fossil energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food.  We need to change the way we do things.   Ah…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Two weeks ago my wife and I visited a friend in DC who knows the area.  She’d recommended a burger place near Capitol Hill and we met her there for one of the best burgers, and surely the best fries, ever (Thyme on fries!  Who knew?).  Good places are popular though, and so we stood in a line that stretched out the door, for over half-an hour.  By the time we entered the building we were drenched in sweat.  It wouldn’t be the last time during our 10 days back east.

I don’t offer this little anecdote because it proves that the earth is getting warmer.  Single days, or single summers mean nothing, just like single snowstorms in the dead of winter aren’t indicative of trends, just like a batter’s single game performance is meaningless.  We’re looking for bigger trends (in spite of Senator construction of an igloo in February to show America how cold things are getting).

The trend lines are pretty clear.  Things are heating up.  I wonder if congress would have passed real energy legislation last week if the air conditioners were turned off in the senate buildings?  Nope.  Here’s the problem, as stated in the New York Times:

“…But taxing carbon has never had much of a political chance. It’s too honest. It acknowledges that the best way to reduce the use of a product is to increase its price. We would all prefer a free lunch.”

If every drop of oil cost more, we’d use less.  If we used less, there’d be fewer greenhouse gases.  Fewer greenhouse gasses means less warming, less dependence on foreign oil, an opportunity for building a new energy infrastructure, which means real, long term employment, and so much more.  How hard can this be?

Hard enough, it appears.  So it will be business as usual into the foreseeable future.  Expect more severe storms, longer and hotter summers, more oil wars, more carbon in the air, more deforestation, more drought, more water wars…all so we can enjoy cheap oil and coal for another few years.

I see some trends here: A congress with an addiction to spending and an exploding national debt and consumers addicted to spending and credit card debt; an inability for congress to pass substantive climate legislation and an unwillingness for American consumers to simplify.  Apparently, we get the kind of leadership we deserve.

What to do?  Systemic changes are needed, but whether or not they happen, we who are Christ followers should offer an alternative.  We are, after all, charged with stewardship of the earth, until Christ returns (which, as I reminded my congregation yesterday, will happen “in a little while”, which means somewhere between tomorrow, and hundreds of millenia from now).

Until that return, I’d suggest that the church’s light might shine with greater clarity if we wrestle, both individually and collectively, with what it means to steward the earth.  I’d suggest Bill McKibben’s “Eaarth” as a good starting point.  We need more than knowledge though, we need practices that will actually reduce our carbon footprint and challenge others to do the same.  Public Transportation? Bike? Insulation? Sweaters in winter? Walking?

Finding a way to reduce the footprint is part of our calling.  And these days, just doing that will speak volumes while the nations leaders seem paralyzed to do anything at all.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Ken

    I’ve decided to give up all my cross continent and intercontinental flights and just stay on the ground where God intended man to be so as to greatly reduce my carbon footprint. Ooooh wait! I never fly anywhere anyway. Hmmmm… what family do I know that I could encourage to fly less? Lol.

    • raincitypastor

      you’re right, of course. I’m not writing from the moral high ground – rather, in hopes having a conversation about whether the church should care about stewarding the earth, or carry on: “business as usual” in the face of all the evidence that business as usual isn’t working very well.

  • Ken

    I’ve decided to give up all my cross continent and intercontinental flights and just stay on the ground where God intended man to be so as to greatly reduce my carbon footprint. Ooooh wait! I never fly anywhere anyway. Hmmmm… what family do I know that I could encourage to fly less? Lol.

    • raincitypastor

      you’re right, of course. I’m not writing from the moral high ground – rather, in hopes having a conversation about whether the church should care about stewarding the earth, or carry on: “business as usual” in the face of all the evidence that business as usual isn’t working very well.

  • Linda

    “If every drop of oil cost more, we’d use less”

    Very true, but at the same time it will hurt the poor of this country, any time you increase the cost of something, especially something that is widely used the poor will always be the ones to suffer the most.

    Do you really want poor people to suffer more than they already do?

    • fluger

      I’m having problems responding directly to Linda.

      Linda; its not necessarily a 1 to 1 correlation. Perhaps with less dependence on oil, we’ll find new areas of industry that could benefit the US more directly.

      I know there’s lots of great progress being made on using methane to generate power (methane gathered from farms); and there’s a lot more innovation being brought to market for solar power as well.

      Also, Richard, it still has yet to be proven unequivicolly that carbon emissions lead to global warming. In fact, with the new information come to light from the East Anglia University scandal; a lot of the data needs to be considered suspect.

      That’s not to say I don’t support a reduction in oil use; I’m a huge proponent of it; just that Global Warming is more of a red herring than oil spills are and plain ol’ pollution.

      Unfortunately, to make those shifts, not only will we need to look into better ways to generate electricity (and also generate it on a consistent basis), but also into energy storage.

      I’d say in addition to reducing car usage, using less electicity is vital. Most people don’t realize that most of the electricity used in the US comes from the burning of Fossil fuels. When NYC had the big blackout in 2002(I think); the air quality in the eastern seaboard was dramatically better, due to all the power plants being offline.

      And, finally, thank you very much for your message on Sunday. My direct family is struggling financially and my parents both just lost their jobs and we’re staring at economic catastrophe. Its good to be reminded that even in these times of great stress that we should continue to look to bless others. Very impactful.

      • Linda

        fluger – How can it not be a 1 to 1 correlation? If I am poor (do not make hardly enough money) and the price goes up for something I use (electricity, gas, etc), then my purchasing power is reduced, making it harder for me to get by. Pretty simple to understand, so simple even a child can understand it.

      • fluger

        I’m not rollin’ in dough either.

        The changes that the way food is grown and brought to the consumer are one of the major factors in urban expansion in the last 200 years. Perhaps if Fiji water bottles start costing more, we’ll buy less of that and drink more tap water. Obviously an extreme example; but basically, if it becomes more expensive to ship food in, people will need to live closer to food sources; which could potentially mean a boon in agrarian jobs and the like.

        Consider how much farm land has been turned into developments and the like in the last 50 years.

        Anyway, the issues are deeper than simply oil consumption; we need to look at over population, consumer culture, and a shift in perception about things like food and services.

        Really, to break free of oil consumption, we’d have to re-invent the very fabric of American cities and society.

  • Linda

    “If every drop of oil cost more, we’d use less”

    Very true, but at the same time it will hurt the poor of this country, any time you increase the cost of something, especially something that is widely used the poor will always be the ones to suffer the most.

    Do you really want poor people to suffer more than they already do?

    • fluger

      I’m having problems responding directly to Linda.

      Linda; its not necessarily a 1 to 1 correlation. Perhaps with less dependence on oil, we’ll find new areas of industry that could benefit the US more directly.

      I know there’s lots of great progress being made on using methane to generate power (methane gathered from farms); and there’s a lot more innovation being brought to market for solar power as well.

      Also, Richard, it still has yet to be proven unequivicolly that carbon emissions lead to global warming. In fact, with the new information come to light from the East Anglia University scandal; a lot of the data needs to be considered suspect.

      That’s not to say I don’t support a reduction in oil use; I’m a huge proponent of it; just that Global Warming is more of a red herring than oil spills are and plain ol’ pollution.

      Unfortunately, to make those shifts, not only will we need to look into better ways to generate electricity (and also generate it on a consistent basis), but also into energy storage.

      I’d say in addition to reducing car usage, using less electicity is vital. Most people don’t realize that most of the electricity used in the US comes from the burning of Fossil fuels. When NYC had the big blackout in 2002(I think); the air quality in the eastern seaboard was dramatically better, due to all the power plants being offline.

      And, finally, thank you very much for your message on Sunday. My direct family is struggling financially and my parents both just lost their jobs and we’re staring at economic catastrophe. Its good to be reminded that even in these times of great stress that we should continue to look to bless others. Very impactful.

      • Linda

        fluger – How can it not be a 1 to 1 correlation? If I am poor (do not make hardly enough money) and the price goes up for something I use (electricity, gas, etc), then my purchasing power is reduced, making it harder for me to get by. Pretty simple to understand, so simple even a child can understand it.

      • fluger

        I’m not rollin’ in dough either.

        The changes that the way food is grown and brought to the consumer are one of the major factors in urban expansion in the last 200 years. Perhaps if Fiji water bottles start costing more, we’ll buy less of that and drink more tap water. Obviously an extreme example; but basically, if it becomes more expensive to ship food in, people will need to live closer to food sources; which could potentially mean a boon in agrarian jobs and the like.

        Consider how much farm land has been turned into developments and the like in the last 50 years.

        Anyway, the issues are deeper than simply oil consumption; we need to look at over population, consumer culture, and a shift in perception about things like food and services.

        Really, to break free of oil consumption, we’d have to re-invent the very fabric of American cities and society.

  • http://brokentelegraph.wordpress.com Ian, for The Broken Telegraph

    Richard- I like this article about stewardship and conservation which works just the same without the global warming message which you and I disagree about it appears. While things are warming, it is in my opinion a leap to say that CO2 increases are the primary driver of such warming. I am not convinced that mankind is primarily “to blame” here.

    I have found some great resources if you’re interested, and I imagine you will be for a couple reasons: these are from intellectually curious sources, not partisan sources, these guys are seeking the truth and welcome all data, and they aren’t in either camp: GOP or the left. They are also not conspiracy theorists denying global warming and blaming it on the New World Order. Just thoughtful analysis and resources for those trying to follow the science (which is more varied on this issue than the media typically reports).

    http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/science-other/

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/

    • raincitypastor

      I’m in agreement with you that the causal relationship between C02 and global warming. It’s an assumption, but if “the jury’s out” on this subject and we continue to wait for the verdict, by the time we find out the truth, it will be too late. Thanks for the links.

  • http://brokentelegraph.wordpress.com Ian, for The Broken Telegraph

    Richard- I like this article about stewardship and conservation which works just the same without the global warming message which you and I disagree about it appears. While things are warming, it is in my opinion a leap to say that CO2 increases are the primary driver of such warming. I am not convinced that mankind is primarily “to blame” here.

    I have found some great resources if you’re interested, and I imagine you will be for a couple reasons: these are from intellectually curious sources, not partisan sources, these guys are seeking the truth and welcome all data, and they aren’t in either camp: GOP or the left. They are also not conspiracy theorists denying global warming and blaming it on the New World Order. Just thoughtful analysis and resources for those trying to follow the science (which is more varied on this issue than the media typically reports).

    http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/science-other/

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/

    • raincitypastor

      I’m in agreement with you that the causal relationship between C02 and global warming. It’s an assumption, but if “the jury’s out” on this subject and we continue to wait for the verdict, by the time we find out the truth, it will be too late. Thanks for the links.

  • Linda

    Read informative article on global warming by Dr. Edwin Berry, a respected atmospheric physicist at::

    http://www.climatephysics.com/TurningOutLights.html

    • Patrick

      Have you read the rest of the website? This is not a credible news source, and Dr. Edwin Berry is not a respected atmospheric physicist.

      • Linda

        Oh really? Whats makes a news source credible anyway? How about this news source?…

    • raincitypastor

      Linda, if you’d read my recommended source, you’d realize that there are lots of people in the Green Movement who don’t think that we could every built enough “pretty windmills” (as your source mockingly says) to sustain our economic model. Digest a little Bill McKibben, or a little Wendell Barry, and you’ll discover that there are a lot people who question the wisdom of our “cheapest possible goods and services” model, because we can outsource labor to developing nations only because of cheap oil which, never mind global warming, just isn’t going to be around forever. I watched your video link. I hope you’ll read McKibben’s book.

      • Linda

        I hope I can just be blunt with you, and you would not take it personally – all people are sinners, and all people for the most part are greedy, they could be rich and greedy or they could be poor and greedy, or they could be composed of greedy companies like BP, or greedy people in government or greedy people using the governmental laws to get rich using other peoples money.

        Maybe BP did lie, but even so they need to be given due process of the law, they need to considered innocent until proven guilty. If a country starts to not give due process of the law either to business or private citizens then the government is corrupt, and chaos will follow.

        Many of these people that support the green movement like Al Gore are involved in companies that will benefit from green laws. So it is only natural to be wary of them, just like you are wary of oil company executives..

        Just face the reality that our society is far too involved with oil, coal, natural gas – it is not going back to days when we did not use these sources. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind will just not cut it.

        Until individuals are willing to personally give up using EVERYTHING associated with the current energy sources used then they really look hypocritical talking about global warming, cap and trade, etc. In other words until you are willing to go live like the Amish, then talking about all the problems associated with oil, coal, and gas just makes you look like a big ole hypocrite. Do you not agree?

  • Linda

    Read informative article on global warming by Dr. Edwin Berry, a respected atmospheric physicist at::

    http://www.climatephysics.com/TurningOutLights.html

    • Patrick

      Have you read the rest of the website? This is not a credible news source, and Dr. Edwin Berry is not a respected atmospheric physicist.

      • Linda

        Oh really? Whats makes a news source credible anyway? How about this news source?…

    • raincitypastor

      Linda, if you’d read my recommended source, you’d realize that there are lots of people in the Green Movement who don’t think that we could every built enough “pretty windmills” (as your source mockingly says) to sustain our economic model. Digest a little Bill McKibben, or a little Wendell Barry, and you’ll discover that there are a lot people who question the wisdom of our “cheapest possible goods and services” model, because we can outsource labor to developing nations only because of cheap oil which, never mind global warming, just isn’t going to be around forever. I watched your video link. I hope you’ll read McKibben’s book.

      • Linda

        I hope I can just be blunt with you, and you would not take it personally – all people are sinners, and all people for the most part are greedy, they could be rich and greedy or they could be poor and greedy, or they could be composed of greedy companies like BP, or greedy people in government or greedy people using the governmental laws to get rich using other peoples money.

        Maybe BP did lie, but even so they need to be given due process of the law, they need to considered innocent until proven guilty. If a country starts to not give due process of the law either to business or private citizens then the government is corrupt, and chaos will follow.

        Many of these people that support the green movement like Al Gore are involved in companies that will benefit from green laws. So it is only natural to be wary of them, just like you are wary of oil company executives..

        Just face the reality that our society is far too involved with oil, coal, natural gas – it is not going back to days when we did not use these sources. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind will just not cut it.

        Until individuals are willing to personally give up using EVERYTHING associated with the current energy sources used then they really look hypocritical talking about global warming, cap and trade, etc. In other words until you are willing to go live like the Amish, then talking about all the problems associated with oil, coal, and gas just makes you look like a big ole hypocrite. Do you not agree?

  • David

    I particularly liked the line about “Sweaters in winter.” Want to pass that one on to Mr. Obama while you are there in D.C.?

  • Drew McMurry

    OK first of all, Richard, I loved your blog and I figured that you would get alot of flack for it. It is encouraging for me to see someone of your standing taking a stand for reality and science, I love hearing from rational Christians.

    The only reason I am commenting is because of those who have commented first. I used to not believe in global warming, but some of the stuff that has been placed out as “science” is just insulting. Most, if not all, of the scientists who have come out against global warming are either directly paid by oil/energy companies or have a direct link to interests relating to that.

    Frankly I believe in the science, in the numbers, in reality.

    http://news.discovery.com/earth/is-global-warming-real.html

    The video, or at least the first 3 minutes of it because I couldn’t stand his arrogance and ignorance, uses the argument that it isn’t “economically friendly”. Cheap power is good power is basically his slogan, and if clean power made sense, then companies would do it. Just like BP did everything to prevent the oil spill, admitting to its mistakes right away and telling the truth, right? I mean, why would a company lie, they are for the people. Wait a second, sorry, I was living under a stupid rock, because BP did none of those things. BP lied, cheated, cut corners, and pressured people all to advance the company profit. Why would we want to destroy our planet, our only home we have ever known, to save or gain an arbitrary piece of paper and metal? Christ has called us to be stewards of this Earth, his creation. Why would we not want to protect it? Ya, it may cost money, but I would rather follow God’s call than mans greed.

  • Drew McMurry

    OK first of all, Richard, I loved your blog and I figured that you would get alot of flack for it. It is encouraging for me to see someone of your standing taking a stand for reality and science, I love hearing from rational Christians.

    The only reason I am commenting is because of those who have commented first. I used to not believe in global warming, but some of the stuff that has been placed out as “science” is just insulting. Most, if not all, of the scientists who have come out against global warming are either directly paid by oil/energy companies or have a direct link to interests relating to that.

    Frankly I believe in the science, in the numbers, in reality.

    http://news.discovery.com/earth/is-global-warming-real.html

    The video, or at least the first 3 minutes of it because I couldn’t stand his arrogance and ignorance, uses the argument that it isn’t “economically friendly”. Cheap power is good power is basically his slogan, and if clean power made sense, then companies would do it. Just like BP did everything to prevent the oil spill, admitting to its mistakes right away and telling the truth, right? I mean, why would a company lie, they are for the people. Wait a second, sorry, I was living under a stupid rock, because BP did none of those things. BP lied, cheated, cut corners, and pressured people all to advance the company profit. Why would we want to destroy our planet, our only home we have ever known, to save or gain an arbitrary piece of paper and metal? Christ has called us to be stewards of this Earth, his creation. Why would we not want to protect it? Ya, it may cost money, but I would rather follow God’s call than mans greed.

  • raincitypastor

    Linda it seems we agree on lots of things. I understand that Al Gore’s motives aren’t pure. I agree with you that all people are sinners. But we disagree on something profound. When you write:

    “Just face the reality that our society is far too involved with oil, coal, natural gas – it is not going back to days when we did not use these sources. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind will just not cut it.” – you’re implying that things will go on just as they have for the last one hundred and fifty years forever. That’s a little naive don’t you think? Whether we run out of oil in 50 years or 500, we’re going to run out. Then what?

    McKibben’s book is about envisioning economic and political structures that use less carbon based energy. Whether your motive for using less is based in a belief in global warming or a belief in the finitude of the resource doesn’t matter much. Either way, we need to change the way we live. Many people are having this conversation – and many who are believe in Jesus as their savior. And none of us are proposing an all or nothing solution: life as we know it, or becoming Luddites/Amish.

    the oil will run out Linda… shouldn’t people who love their neighbors be having this conversation?

    By the way…are you going to read McKibben’s book?

    • Graham

      or perhaps those crazies are proposing energy changes so we DON’T go back to “Amish” when we run out of oil…some other infrastructure would be nice.

    • Linda

      I agree, the oil will eventually run out, also the coal, and natural gas, and when it does or when it looks like it is getting close to running out all hell will break loose. This is a fallen world and it was never meant to last forever. Even if a lot less is used, it will still eventually run out one day. But I also think that we should be good stewards and not waste what we have either, we should be more frugal with all resources.

  • Drew McMurry
  • Drew McMurry
  • Graham

    or perhaps those crazies are proposing energy changes so we DON’T go back to “Amish” when we run out of oil…some other infrastructure would be nice.