Like many people, I struggle to reconcile the idealism of my moral beliefs and the practical demands of daily life. While I grew up in Montoursville, I’ve spent the last two years studying theology in Claremont, California. In order to apply this education at the practical level, I’ve returned home to serve as an AmeriCorps member with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (PA IPL), a religious response to climate change.
With two other members of PA IPL, I recently took a four-day bicycle trip from State College to Washington, D.C. Throughout, I often found myself lingering behind my friends, at times overwhelmed by the beauty (and mystery) of my native state. I’ve been familiar with these kinds of scenes all my life, but I’m used to racing past them in a car. At a meager 10 miles per hour, though, the glory of Pennsylvania’s forests and mountains is unavoidable.
During one of these reflective moments, I asked myself: How many people in this world feel this sort of connection to their homes, their surroundings? How many are fortunate enough to witness what is given to us? Of course, this is a loaded question. We know that the world’s climate is undergoing dramatic changes. With our millions of vehicles and our coal-fired power plants, Pennsylvanians are responsible for one percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions (more than 101 countries combined). We cannot deny that our daily actions have a detrimental influence on the lives of others throughout the world, including both present and future generations.
While the scientific community attests to the certainty of this information, they don’t tell us how we should react to these claims. Science only gives us information. Religion, on the other hand, teaches us that we have a duty to those whom are touched by our actions. This sentiment is expressed in the following two commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 22:37-40). We should notice that loving our neighbors is similar to loving God. In a global economy, though, we must admit that our neighbors are spread throughout the world.
I understand that some may see these religious values as hopeless idealism. From a practical perspective, I recognize that, taken seriously, religious duties of caring for our neighbors may require limitations on industry. For me, this hits home. During recent visits with my family, I’ve witnessed the thriving economy of the Williamsport area due to investments by the natural gas industry. My friends and family have benefited a great deal, whether through employment, gas leases, or increased business activity.
While I offer thanks for the success of my friends and family, I also want to work for a future in which Pennsylvanians (including my nieces and nephews) will enjoy an economy that can thrive beyond the lifespan of non-renewable resources. A Pennsylvania with jobs and clean air, with economic success in the present and the possibility of the same in the future. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
This is not to ignore the fact that difficult choices have to be made. The transition from an economy based on non-renewable resources (whether coal or natural gas) to one based on sustainable resources would require sacrifice. The mere thought of such a transition can be daunting, even overwhelming. However, we can meet this challenge with incremental changes in the way we produce and consume energy. The EPA’s new rules to limit carbon pollution from any new power plant are a good example of this kind of change. We can also make immediate and simple changes in our daily lives: Drive less, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, turn off the air conditioner.
From a practical perspective, these changes are an important step in the right direction, but ultimately I look at this problem from a religious point of view. From this perspective, I recognize that what I have called a “sacrifice” is, in fact, a religious duty. According to this duty, our goal must be to ensure the best possible future for our neighbors and future generations.
Klotz is a Montoursville High School graduate who has returned to the area and works as an AmeriCorps member for Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.
Help Reduce Industrial Carbon Pollution
Published on Patch on June 14, 2012
On Tuesday, June 19th, a hearing will be held in the Philadelphia City Council Chambers from 5-8 pm, regarding a proposed EPA rule that, if allowed to be implemented, could save jobs, lives, and avoid painful, long-term debilitating breathing issues for millions of people in our state and across the nation.
This rule would do one simple thing. It would establish a standard for new (only plants built after the rule goes into effect – “fair play”) power plants for their industrial carbon emissions. Many of the other pollutants emitted by power plants have long been regulated but carbon pollution has not.
In Delaware and Montgomery Counties over 300,000 people are at higher risk of developing asthma for a variety of environmental reasons.
Fossil-fuel burning power plants currently emit more than two billion tons of carbon pollution and other toxic pollutants into the air each year. This pollution fuels global warming and increases the number of unhealthy air days, resulting in more respiratory ailments, heart attacks, heat-related deaths, and other harmful health effects. Power plants are the largest source of global warming pollution in the country, and there are currently no limits on the amount of greenhouse gases like the industrial carbon they can emit.
As a member of the clergy, someone at risk for asthma, someone with a wife and friends who suffer with asthma, and someone who, along with you, will face the need to adapt to increasing climate change, I urge you to:
— Take part in the hearing in the Philadelphia City Council Chambers from 5 to 8 next Tuesday
— go to http://bit.ly/epa_carbonrule and send a comment directly to Lisa Jackson at the EPA
Your voice is needed now to support the proposed protections and to counter big polluters who are spending millions to get Congress to block the EPA’s action.
Thanks, Rev. Douglas B. Hunt
Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light – http://paipl.org
From the Centre Daily Times on June 2, 2012
(Here is what it looked like in the physical paper, pictures and all.)
We were nervous about our first meeting with a congressional staffer. Why should they listen to regular folks like us?
But Sarah Wolf was welcoming, and we had a good conversation about climate change, energy efficiency and the EPA.
As we were saying goodbye she asked, “Aren’t you the people who rode your bicycles down here from Pennsylvania?”
Yes, we said. Three of us had ridden our bikes more than 200 miles in four days. Along the way we spoke at colleges and churches, and we stayed overnight in homes and community centers.
In the jaded world of Washington, that action — and the conviction that drove us to do it — impressed Rep. Thomas Marino’s staffer more than anything we had to say.
This is why our organization, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, believes that people of faith must take the lead in responding to the threat of climate change.
Throughout our four-day bike trip, we often found ourselves lingering, at times overwhelmed by the beauty (and mystery) of the Tussey Ridge, Shade Gap and Wolfsburg Mountain. Of course, we’ve seen these kinds of scenes all our lives, but usually when racing past them in a car. At a meager 10 miles per hour, though, the glory of Pennsylvania’s forests and mountains is undeniable.
People everywhere feel similarly about their homes and their surroundings. We are creatures of the land, bound intimately to the fate of our environment. Yet we know that the Earth’s climate is undergoing dramatic changes, that our daily actions have a detrimental influence on the lives of others throughout the world.
Scientific experts attest to the certainty of this information. They tell us that Pennsylvanians, for example, are responsible for 1 percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions (more than 101 countries combined). But science cannot tell us how we should react to these claims.
Religion, on the other hand, teaches us to look beyond our self-centered actions, to see the broader implications of our acts and to sacrifice present pleasure for future gain.
In ancient Judaism, the people took sacrifices from the harvest to the Temple. Christianity sees Jesus’ actions as the ultimate sacrifice to redeem the whole creation. When Muslims fast during Ramadan, they sacrifice daily food and drink to focus on ultimate dependence upon God.
Transitioning away from our current wasteful practices, getting out of our cars and onto our bikes for example, is a kind of sacrifice. It is a sacred act that transforms daily actions into a means of ensuring the best possible future for our neighbors and for future generations.
At PA IPL our primary task is to help congregations and individuals see energy efficiency and the purchase of alternative energy as sacred acts. We know sacrifices now — doing without air conditioning, driving less, biking more — can help stave off the worst effects of a warming world.
These individual actions are important, but as we said to our congressional representatives, we need our government to make changes, too.
Legislation in Congress right now can lead the way in making government buildings more energy efficient, and new rules from the EPA can ensure that future power plants are held to high standards in reducing dangerous carbon pollution.
Climate change is a civilization-challenging crisis; scientists have been warning us for decades. It is time to follow what our faiths have taught us: a little sacrifice now can mean a better future for everyone.
Kris Klotz is an Americorps volunteer and Jonathan Brockopp is a board member of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light. Both are from State College and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.