It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?
We’ve treated so much of our Father’s world as a virtually inexhaustible dumping ground, that actually having to pay for the privilege might seem somehow radical. And even if most of us no longer think it ethical to pour raw sewage into our neighbor’s drinking water, we hardly think twice about what we put into the air that God has given to sustain us and all living things.
But for Christians, our church fathers would never have tolerated such an approach to God’s creation. Almost five hundred years ago, long before Galileo and much of modern science, the great Reformation theologian John Calvin gave us these words in his Commentary on Genesis:
“Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated…. Moreover, that this economy, and this diligence, with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy may flourish among us, let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses.”
If we expect God’s creation to flourish for us and our children, says Calvin, then we must be its stewards, handing it down better, more fertile, cleaner and better ordered than we found it.
Of course, those of us who take these words seriously have watched with dismay as the earth’s atmosphere has become more and more choked with earth-warming gases, while powerful companies spare no effort to assure that nothing is done to stop the abuse.
But despite the almost daily litany of terrible news from a groaning creation, the people of the world may be finally waking up. It may be that the era of free and unfettered carbon pollution is at long last coming to an end. Here’s why:
Remember back in 2008, when it looked like “cap & trade” might be approved by the U.S. Congress? It was a system under which major carbon emitters – utilities, manufacturers and the like – were given permits to emit CO2 in amounts that gradually decreased over time. Permit holders could then buy and sell their permits, providing market incentives to reduce pollution. It had been done on a global scale with great success to cut emissions from CFC’s, a chemical compound that harms the earth’s ozone layer. And the carbon bill looked like it was headed the same direction. It actually made it through the House of Representatives, before dying in the Senate.
After that, opponents successfully labelled the idea as “cap & tax.” And with an electorate staggering under the weight of a terrible recession, the U.S. lost interest in just about anything other than near-term economic recovery.
But in case you haven’t been watching, the world has been moving ahead – with or without us. As of today, countries and states that are home to one in three people across the globe have implemented CO2 cap & trade regimes, or are in the process of doing so right now.
Of course, you knew that the European Union had a system in place. But did you know about South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam or New Zealand (among others)? And more important by far, had you heard that the massive coal-burning economy in China is getting set to implement its own cap and trade system?
Here’s a look at the major players that we’ve been able to find:
Don’t miss your fellow Americans on the list. California’s system costs carbon polluters almost $12 per ton of CO2 emissions. And another nine states in the Northeast, including New York, have been selling carbon permits to utilities for the last six years.
Gradually, it would appear, the people of the world are coming to terms with the essence of Calvin’s teaching: “With respect to the good things that God has given us to enjoy,” including the air that we depend on, “let everyone regard himself as the steward of God.”
When our parents were kids, many Americans threw their litter out the car window. Today, almost no one does that. Almost no one now objects to recycling, once seen as the province of tree-huggers. Almost all of us are glad for pollution controls on our cars and factories. And increasingly, we’ve accepted that it’s not cool – nor just – to pour carbon pollution into the air that belongs to all people, and to future generations.
I think John Calvin would be encouraged, don’t you?