A wage base below the local average at my downtown Y hasn't stopped one of its exercise instructors from launching a campaign to replace decent carpet with sustainable bamboo flooring. She's also demanding a ban on chlorine in the aquatics center.
Perhaps it's my upbringing, but I haven't noticed the indoor-outdoor or the fumes. There was a time when we swimmers at the old downtown Y's stayed stoked on chlorine vapors. In those days-and it wasn't so, so long ago-girls and boys swam at segregated times: girls in regulation black or navy tank suits; the boys, I was told, in the nude. No one was thinking about renewable resources or chemical fog. Give the children of the '60s credit-we were too busy with world peace and Agent Orange.
Today I live amongst a generation of do-gooders for whom every waking choice may determine personal longevity and the sustainability of life on the planet as we know it. Steel-cut oats for breakfast or old-fashioned? Ethical clothing or made in China? Industrial beef or pasture-fed? Ethanol, diesel, hydrogen, or gas? Halogen, fluorescent, incandescent, LED, or HID?
As Christians we should welcome passionate concern for the planet and for the body, for wise and intentional use of resources, and for the renewal of everything everywhere. I once visited a Nairobi slum where children led me to see a bridge they used every day to cross a fetid gully. The waterway was clogged with discarded plastic shopping bags, and a week earlier two young girls had fallen off the bridge and drowned in less than 3 feet of water-suffocated beneath the dam created by the bags. I never again looked kindly on a plastic shopping bag. What I also don't view kindly are the icy stares when I arrive at the cash register but have forgotten my reusable canvas bags. I don't resent the benefits of going green, but I do resent the militancy surrounding it.
Few of us needed Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons to tell us Republicans could shop at Whole Foods, but eco-militancy more and more crosses political and religious lines, whether its manifesto is writ small or large. Most of us tend to go along with one and chafe at another, depending on what most inconveniences us. Recycling, great, but not if I have to pay a fine when I forget. My neighbor may install a rainwater collection system, but I'll take my water treated and piped from the city, thank you. I'm OK with bamboo flooring in the workout room, but I gave at the office.
Small choices and large imperatives converge this month in Copenhagen, where the UN Climate Conference gets underway Dec. 7; and in Oslo, where President Barack Obama is scheduled to accept his Nobel Peace Prize Dec. 10, for his "vision of . . . meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting." Eco-bloggers are hoping that Obama will skip the carbon footprint of Air Force One and take the train for the 50-mile trip between cities.
In light of these events, here is my own manifesto. I want my eco-consciousness:
• Fact-based. The facts may be out on climate change, but thanks to the East Anglia scientists we now know that climate change data can be man-made. And bamboo, while more renewable than hardwoods, is actually causing deforestation in China. "Bamboo expansion has come at the expense of natural forests, shrubs, and low-yield mixed plantations," reads a recent report from the Center for International Forestry Research.
• Reality-laced. This includes recognition that man is a steward of God's creation, yes, but that he's not the only fallen figure in the equation. All creation fell with him (Genesis 3, Romans 8), including the vapor canopy above and the waters beneath. Indonesia is the world's third-largest belcher of greenhouse gases not because of industrial or auto pollution but because of its vast peat swamp forests.
• Without hubris. To both Crunchy Cons and Enviro Libs I say hold the moral imperatives. Red meat off a Kansas feedlot and a Suburban to drive all the kids will not send anyone to hell, though some of us may choose to forgo them. I like the way Jesus put it. Asked by the Pharisaical lawyer which commandment is the greatest, He answered both/and-loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. In doing these, we can love the earth well, too.
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