This has been an excruciating couple of weeks for any of us who keep a prayerful eye on the earth’s ecosystems. Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked billions in damage on Houston and the Gulf Coast, ranked as the worst rainstorm ever to hit North America, more than doubling previous records. Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean, clocking in as the hurricane with the longest sustained Cat-5 winds on record. Space images revealed three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic at one time. India, Bangladesh and Nepal lost more than one thousand souls to drowning due to record-strong monsoons. The Pacific Northwest choked under a shroud of haze from massive wildfires.
Strange weather happens. But this is not normal. The creation is groaning in ways that prior generations never heard. We look for who’s to blame. Surely there’s someone. Of course, we can rightly blame the Trump administration, as they censor climate science, shackle NASA and NOAA from their leading climate science roles, lease more public lands for coal mining, and thumb their noses at national and global efforts to address climate chaos.
Some blame God, assuring us that heaven is in control, and that our actions as a nation and world are essentially His problem to fix, without any effort on our part.
But any honest assessment must also include us among the culprits: You and me. Our culture is carbon crazy; but in particular, we have gone car crazy. We love our cars. We have a right to our cars! We couldn’t live without our cars! To varying degrees? Sure. But it’s time to address our addiction, and its effect on the world around us.
Cars and travel account for more than a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions, among the world’s highest. We may bemoan the super-sized American appetite for carbon, but it’s no good trying to solve it while living nearly every aspect of our lives behind the wheel. We simply have to take our addiction seriously.
And it won’t be easy. This became painfully obvious to Barbara and me on the weekend as we traveled from New Jersey to North Carolina for a week of grandchild-care. On the way, we pulled our Prius into a Chick-Fil-A restaurant for a quick sandwich. To our amazement, the restaurant had only six parking spaces – all full – with double lines of cars snaking slowly into an enormous tandem drive-thru complex. No room at Chick-Fil-A for people willing to turn off the engine for lunch.
Nearly a decade ago, I committed never to use any drive-thru again, so that was that.
We hurried on. Steak-and-Shake was next door, and there were parking vacancies. But with all the cars waiting in line for the drive-up window, the staff had little time for us humans on foot. A simple hamburger lunch ended up costing us an hour.
Reaching our destination in Carolina, we ventured out into Durham on Sunday morning for church, passing mile after mile of nearly vacant highways, overpasses and exit ramps, with no human structures anywhere in sight. A vast web of asphalt built to assure that the next generation of cars would have plenty of room to run and play. Light rail? Bike paths? None in sight. Just miles and miles of roads for our precious cars. (Precious! We needs them!)
On Monday morning, I took one of my grandchildren to school, since there’s no school bus available. Blocks away from the school, cars were lined up along the curb to drop off the kids without the hassle of stepping out from behind the wheel. We zipped past a long line of brake lights and tailpipes, left the car, and hoofed it a short hop to the 2nd-grade classroom – past scores, or even hundreds, of cars belching exhaust as they inched their way toward the drive-up entrance. At pick-up time in the afternoon, it was the same story: a nearly endless procession of parents in SUVs crawling their way toward waiting children – all presumably able to walk; all seemingly unable to imagine a world of natural human mobility.
My dear creation-caring friends, I recognize how committed you are to advocacy for climate action. You voted; you called your congressional representatives; maybe you marched through the heart of your city bearing signs with compelling slogans. A year from now, you’ll have your chance to vote into office men and women who will care for the earth and its most vulnerable children. But at some point, we are going to have to begin modeling lives that break with our American love affair. At some point, we’re going to have to get out of the car, plant our feet on the ground, and begin to reclaim the right to move ourselves without fouling the air.
Why not start this way: If you are able to walk, why not commit before God today that you can do without the drive-thru line? At the bank, the coffee shop, the restaurant, at school or even (believe it or not) at church, you can join those who model a certain level of care for the earth by shutting off the motor, and standing on your own feet. It won’t save the world, of course. For that, we’ll all need to take a thousand steps. But maybe this will make the next one a bit easier.
Thanks for reading, thanks for walking, and God bless you.