by Iris Harrell
John Muir, California's most famous environmentalist, wrote "When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world." He profoundly understood that each individual's act of omission or commission affects not only each person, but everyone else and our natural habitat, which feeds us, houses us and protects us.
In connection with John Muir's beliefs and understanding of nature, faith communities are looking deeper into the spiritual principle that drives the recent green movement by examining what can further promote and maintain the "common good."
My community church recently asked green-minded Acterra's representative, Debbie Mytels, to speak to our congregation to help us better understand our responsibilities as good citizens who want to further the common good. Debbie put things in historical perspective by pointing out that the Stone Age did not end because they ran out of stones. Simply put, we figured out a better way to make things and live. As we evolved in our knowledge of getting work done, we moved to slavery, which is a dark moment in our evolution as a civilization. When we discovered that fossil fuel and engines could do most of our work, we felt like we had risen to a Eureka moment and an undepletable source of energy. That was 150 years ago.
Relatively recently we have realized that the fossil fuel we have become addicted to is becoming depleted and worse than that, the byproduct of using fossil fuel for energy is trapping the sun's heat in our earth's atmosphere. The effect of this 150-year addiction is starting to cause global warming that will make our overall global temperature rise 2 degrees Centigrade. People in my family of origin think this is a silly discussion and we should just buy a little more sunscreen lotion. (Ironically, they also happen to live very close to a large body of water called the Atlantic Ocean.)
Back to Muir's notion of how interconnected we are with our environment, climate scientists predict a huge cost to humans with this 2 degree or more climate change, particularly in cities and communities near large bodies of water. Twenty million people in Bangladesh could all be displaced as the global water rises. Where will they go? Other fossil-fuel addiction side effects are gaining in frequency, such as severe storms and prolonged droughts. With the ice caps melting due to rising temperatures, exposed tundra is putting even more methane gas into the atmosphere (Visualize vast areas of rotting lettuce...). Food crops will be destroyed, therefore food prices will go up. Poor people will suffer the most when food costs are higher.
Other habits we have that are creating this negative climate cycle include our huge appetite for meat. Livestock production increases our deforestation and large amounts of concentrated animal waste, which puts yet more methane gas into earth's atmosphere. As earth gets hotter, the dark ocean absorbs more heat and the animals and plant life in that environment will be gravely affected. We depend on the stability of the ocean and all it provides for our feeding and comfort. We need to break this downward spiral of destruction that is destroying our common home. In short, we need a path to climate stabilization.
Many of us have taken on the personal mission of reducing our own carbon footprint by better insulating our homes, driving hybrid or electric vehicles, driving less by riding together, adding solar panels to our roofs, purchasing LED light bulbs and so on.
And yes, some of us have even decided to have less meat in our diet, which helps our own physical health as well as helping the planet's health.
But how many of us have considered divesting any of our financial investments that are tied to companies that produce fossil fuel, Exxon, Chevron, etc.? Acterra is suggesting that we look at divesting ourselves of any stock we currently own in our 401k and other stock assets we own that produce fossil fuel over a five-year period. If we all stopped buying fossil-fuel stock and directed our financial investors to purchase newer alternative-energy stocks such as solar panels and wind-energy plants, we could have even more collective impact for the common good.
Many socially conscious investors have already shunned buying stocks in tobacco, nuclear weapons and gun manufacturing. Why not add fossil-fuel producers to that list? We could speed up the inevitable change from fossil fuels to less destructive alternative energy fuels. Speeding this transition of energy development is the best chance we have to insure a good life for our children and their children.
We do many things to protect our family, our homes, our neighborhoods and communities. We could make an important long-term investment by thinking more about the common good for all of earth's citizens over the next few generations. That is what legacy is all about. Since we are all truly interconnected on this globe, what is good for the citizens of Bangladesh is magically good for us right here in Silicon Valley.