Two articles in today’s paper cast in sharp relief the major crisis facing God’s Creation today, as we struggle with the unfolding threat of global climate change. One tiny country – Denmark – has made so much progress in developing sustainable energy that they are facing complexities such as excessively cheap electricity. In the other, a newly-elected American congressional majority is swearing to kill the only significant national climate initiatives underway in the country.
Denmark emits 9.8 tons of CO2 per person every year. But the average American more than doubles that level, with a whopping 19.7 tons of CO2 emissions per year. The overall difference, however, is enormous: there are only 5.6 million Danes, compared to some 310 million Americans. Whatever leadership the Danes exhibit, it is overwhelmed by American negligence and gluttony.
So what’s going on in Denmark? Well, they have already achieved 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, and plan to be at 50 percent in six years. More amazingly, they plan to use no fossil fuels whatsoever by 2050: none for the electric grid, none for transportation, none for heating and cooling. None.
And the US? Our wind, solar and geothermal power accounts for a modest 6 percent of our consumption (with another 7 percent coming from legacy hydroelectric dams). It seems that our policy is now driven by worries about the plight of the tiny handful of coal miners living in the state represented by the new Senate Majority Leader. Even if it kills the planet’s natural systems, those Kentuckian miners, and – much more importantly – their bosses and lobbyists, are not going to lose a single job. No mention of the fact that there are four times as many American solar, wind and geothermal workers today as there are coal miners.
In Denmark, they’re developing smart appliances that talk to the power grid and cut back when electricity is expensive, but run full blast when there is abundant wind or sunshine; and they’re adjusting electricity prices by the hour to provide incentives to consume power when sustainable sources are most available.
In the US, all the talk is about ramming through approval of the massive Keystone XL pipeline which will carry carbon–heavy Canadian tar sands oil to export refineries in Texas. Canadian oil companies will profit; unspeakably wealthy multinational oil exporters will profit; but American Midwesterners will watch nervously as nearly a million barrels of highly pressurized, corrosive tar sands oil course through their precious aquifers every day – all while the cynical claims of pipeline jobs are repeated by politicians, despite having been debunked repeatedly.
In Denmark, they have a Climate czar, who coordinates their response to the defining global crisis of our century. In the US, we have an Ebola czar, after one person died of the disease.
In Denmark, they worry about electricity becoming so cheap that gas-fired plants will go out of business, even if they might be needed for standby power on windless nights.
In the US, Congress is vowing to prevent the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act carbon standards on coal-fired power plants. If they prevail, then the American skies will continue to be used as an unlimited, free dumping ground for coal and gas soot and smog, as though the air belongs to the drillers and refiners, and not to every human and other creature on God’s earth.
Creation-care advocates in the Christian church surely wonder what judgment awaits these two countries, as global climate systems spiral out of control, as oceans become dangerously acidic, as growing seasons in poor countries suffer waves of drought and flooding, and as extinctions of threatened species run at thousands of times historical levels.
Two-thirds of Americans stayed home on Election Day last week. And perhaps many of those non-voters might have agreed that Denmark’s play-book looks smarter – and possibly more Christian – than ours. But that’s a largely academic question, now, isn’t it?
“O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for you judge the peoples with equity, and govern the nations upon earth.” (Psalm 67:4)