Earth Day (April 23, 2017)

Posted on 12 May 2017

 

In summary: Our faith calls us to be compassionate to those who suffer. Our energy use contributes to global warming which feeds the extreme heat, floods, and droughts that are causing suffering around the world today. When St. Dunstan’s installed our solar panels in 2013, we chose to be mindful of the suffering that our use of electricity causes others. And the time, effort, money or sacrifice we invested to decrease this damage is an act of love and faith toward our neighbors, following Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbor.”
Thanks to Jim for this enlightening, informative, and inspiring homily. You can read his full text below.
Global Warming – Invitation to the Faith Perspective
May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of my heart
Be acceptable in your sight, O God
My Creator and Redeemer
My name is Jim Nail. I’ve been a member here at St. Dunstan’s for over about 20 years. Many of you know me well; you see me up here in the choir most Sundays. But for all you, you probably need a little explanation about why I’m in the pulpit today instead of the rector.
Many of you know that environmental issues are a passion of mine. Back in the fall, Sean found out and asked if I would be willing to speak this weekend, to celebrate Earth Day. I said yes because one way I exercise that passion is as president of the Massachusetts chapter of Interfaith Power & Light, a national organization that mobilizes communities of all faiths to address global warming. The national IPL group has designated this week Faith Climate Action Week and asked members to schedule activities. I was impressed with how far he was planning ahead, until I realized this is the Sunday after Easter and his real motivation was to get a break after Holy Week!
I will take this opportunity to address the question: “What does energy use and global warming have to do with our faith?” Now in my work with Interfaith Power & Light, I work with a lot of congregations of all faiths and the question comes up on a regular basis. And perhaps you are wondering that now.
To answer this question, I will to offer a celebration, an invitation, a challenge, a gift and an incentive. First the celebration.
In June, it will have been 4 years since we turned on our solar panels. By then we will have generated 90,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, about 70% of our total use over those 4 years.
So why did we do this?
To save money? Well…yes. We’ll save some money. We are currently leasing the system and after we make the lease payments, we still save about $1000 a year, about 15% of our total electric bill if we bought all of our electricity from Eversource. Once we pay off the lease, we will save about $5000 per year and over the 25-year life of the system, we’ll save about $60,000 compared to what we would have to pay Eversource. That is something to celebrate!
But the real reason I am so passionate about these issues is that I see this as part of our ministry, an expression of our faith, a response to God’s call.
Which brings me to my invitation: listen with an open mind and heart as I offer my reflection on the connection between global warming, our energy use, and God’s call to us.
To start I do need to make sure the link between energy and global warming is clear – in my work with MIP&L I find that often it isn’t.
The energy we all use – to run our cars, heat our homes, light our lights – comes from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. This emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – which is variously referred to as carbon emissions, carbon pollution or the carbon footprint. This carbon traps the sun’s heat – like the windshield of your car, it lets the sun’s heat in, then keeps it there. Some carbon in the atmosphere is good – if there were none, Earth would be uninhabitable, like Mars. But we have reached a point where there is so much carbon trapping so much heat that the Earth is getting warmer. Scientists forecast that the hotter atmosphere makes storms, droughts and other weather events more intense and damaging than they would be otherwise.
The California drought is a good example of this: California has been in an extreme drought for the past 4 years, the driest period in over 100 years of record-keeping and the driest period in 450 year according to paleo climatologists. Then this winter they have received 89 inches of precipitation, almost double the average, and the wettest winter in over 100 years. Two years ago, the snowpack at the Tioga Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains was only 4 inches, an historic low; this year it is 200 inches, an historic high. Last several years, they have been rationing water, but now they are worried that if all this snow melts too fast, extreme flooding could follow the extreme drought conditions. These extremes are exactly what the scientists predict global warming will cause.
So, there is the chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, and meteorology that connects our energy use to global warming, let me go back to the link to faith.
First, I have to admit I have yet to find one quote in scripture that directly links faith and environmental issues. The 10 Commandments don’t include “Thou shalt care for the earth.” Jesus doesn’t address it in The Sermon on the Mount. None of his miracles make a barren field become fruitful or an extinct species re-inhabit the land.
Genesis comes closer when God pronounces his Creation good. If God pronounces something good it is probably not a good idea to turn around and trash it.
Even in this Green Bible which highlights – in green, of course – any reference that the editors considered linked to the environment, I have to admit I find it unconvincing.
Even though I can’t find any explicit statement about our responsibilities to care for creation, I believe the connection is at the heart of our call as followers of Christ – specifically, the Second Great Commandments: love thy neighbor as thyself. Jesus’ entire ministry tells and shows us how to show this love, especially to those who whom the society at the time marginalized because they suffered from poverty, disease and disability. In Matthew 25 Jesus says “what you do to the least of these, you do to me.”
In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change went beyond reporting the scientific data and observations about climate change in a special report titled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” Among their conclusions, they stated:
Climate change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries.
People who are socially, economically, culturally….or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable.
Socially, economically, and culturally marginalized people. These are exactly the people Jesus talks about in Matthew 25. In Jesus’, time it was the lepers, the lame, the blind, the prisoners whose suffering Jesus saw and called the disciples’ attention to. Today, climate change is bringing suffering to the people of, for example, sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change has taken countries like South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria that were already difficult to farm and increased temperatures and decreased rainfall now make farming impossible putting an estimated 1.5 million children at the very real risk of starving to death.[1] Or the people of Pacific island nations like the Tuvalu or Kiribati where rising sea levels from melting polar ice caps are already inundating some of their land, forcing inhabitants to abandon their homes.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu further explains this when he says: “The destruction of the earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time. The most devastating effects are visited on the poor, those with no involvement in creating the problem. This is a deep injustice.”
The US is home to 5% of the world’s population, but we have contributed 27% of the carbon that has been added to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.[2] Today on a per capita basis, the average American emits 3 times the global per capita average of carbon emissions, and 20 times as much as a resident of sub-Saharan African.[3]
So this is why we have put solar panels on our roof. The damage from extreme weather is increased by the emissions from the fossil fuels burned to produce the electricity we use. If we reduce our energy and emissions, God willing, we can help lessen some of this damage.
Will one church – or even the two dozen or so churches that I know have installed solar panels — solve global warming? No more than the two mission trips to New Orleans that we have supported could repair all the damage from Hurricane Katrina. But our solar panels and these mission trips both follow Jesus’ call to us.
First, they serve as a reminder about an issue that is far too easy to ignore. Often Jesus tells us to take the logs out of our eyes and be aware of the suffering, not ignore it or accept it as the way things are.
Second, in parables like the widow’s mite, Jesus calls us to reject the temptation to think that what we can do is so little that it’s not worth bothering with. He doesn’t expect us to fix it all alone, but he does instruct us to do what we can. And to act in community, multiplying the impact of our individual efforts. Hopefully our solar panels have inspired others in town or those who drive by.
So let me summarize:  our faith calls us to be compassionate to those who suffer. Our energy use contributes to global warming which feeds the extreme weather that is causing suffering around the world today. When we choose to reduce our energy use, we are choosing to be mindful of what we are doing to others. And the time, effort, money or sacrifice we invest we make to lower this damage is an act of love and faith toward our neighbors.
This is nothing new to the Episcopal tradition, the Diocese of Massachusetts or to St. Dunstan’s. At the heart of our tradition, BCP has a number of wonderful prayers that remind us of our responsibility. I’ll ask you to join me in a few minutes in one of them so you may want to put your thumb in page 827.
The new Mission Strategy adopted by the Diocese at Convention in November includes the goal to “Strengthen our relationship with our earth and our commitment to caring for Creation.” This builds on the Creation Care program in place since 2011, offering grants and loans which over 90 of the 180 parishes in the Diocese have used for upgrading lighting, windows, heating systems, and other energy efficiency actions.
And environmental stewardship is a part of the tradition of this parish since the early ‘90’s when our Rector, Deborah Warner, along with Barbara Brown and the Vestry adopted policies about being environmentally responsible. When we built the addition we made sure the heating system was 95% efficient. And last year, we adopted the Paris Pledge, to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, perhaps as early as 2025. In our 50th Anniversary celebrations as we turn from celebrating the past 50 years to thinking about the next 50 years, we have some opportunities to further lower our carbon footprint, as our heating and air conditioning equipment will reach the end of its useful life in the next 5 – 10 years, and we can find new equipment with the lowest carbon emissions that we can.
So this brings me to my challenge: for you to consider how you can follow the example of what we have done at the church and lower energy use and carbon emissions in your home, maybe even your business, your kids’ schools, etc.
Because as important as the actions are that we have already taken here in this building, any additional reductions are relatively small. But if, as a community, we took the lessons home we could achieve significantly more.
According to a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communications, 67% of people think individuals should do more to combat global warming. Now, I want to make this as simple as possible for you so here is a very concrete thing you can do:
Get a home energy assessment from the Mass Save energy efficiency program. They call it free, and they don’t charge you when they come to your house to perform the assessment, but in fact you have already paid for it. Each month there is an Energy Conservation charge on your bill that, for an average MA household whose bill is about $120 per month, is about $15, or $180 per year. If you want to get something for that money, I have information on how to contact the program. They will give you a bunch of free LED light bulbs plus recommendations and information about the rebates and incentives that pay for up to 70% of any energy efficiency projects they recommend.
Now, here is my gift for you: The book “Cooler Smarter” which is the most practical guide I have found on how to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint. The book has tons of suggestions and information to guide you, but what I like is their very pragmatic approach. They say not to sweat the small stuff like paper or plastic, but to focus on the energy areas that have the greatest impact: your cars, home insulation, and heating/cooling equipment, hot water heater, and electroncs. I have 30 copies of this book and I hope each of you will take one and begin your 20% carbon reduction.
And here is a special incentive for you to consider putting solar panels on your house. Catherine and I just upgraded and expanded the solar panels on our house, and the company offers a referral program: for each person I refer to them who has them come out and give them a proposal, they will give me $50. For each of those proposals that is accepted and a system is installed, they will give me $500. Here’s the deal: for any of you that explore solar and/or install it, I will donate that incentive to St. Dunstan’s. You get to lower your carbon footprint, reduce your electric bill, and the church gets money. What’s not to like about that?
And, needless to say, I am happy to talk to you anytime about what you can do. Sometimes this can be a little technical and unfamiliar, and I am happy to share what I have learned to help you. Feel free to contact me any time.
I’ve gone on way longer than Sean typically does, so I know you’ll all be glad when he is back in the pulpit next week. But I will ask one more thing: grab your prayer book, turn to page 827 and join me in the Prayer for the Conservation of Natural Resources. Let us pray together:
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature that no one may suffer from our abuse of them and that generations yet to come may praise you for your bounty. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
[1] The New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2017 “Our Climate Future is Actually our Climate Present”, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/magazine/our-climate-future-is-actually-our-climate-present.html
[2] World Resources Institute, https://wri.org/blog/2014/11/6-graphs-explain-world%E2%80%99s-top-10-emitters
[3] The World Bank http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC