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Environmental sustainability: Pathways to choosing trade-offs

Credit: ISTOCK (BLACKJACK3D)

Opinion: The future of the world is in God's hands.


Michael Veenema | Interrobang | Opinion | November 13th, 2020




Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
This morning I helped a few friends pour a concrete driveway.

The edges formed with 2 x 4’s were already in place, and the steel reinforcing was set a couple of inches above the graded bottom. A truck came in with nine cubic yards of concrete, and within two hours the 30 foot driveway was done except for some finishing trowel work. A great morning.

In some ways, this little episode demonstrates so much that makes life fulfilling, but at the same time it illustrates why environmental sustainability is a tremendous challenge.

First, the fulfilling bits. There’s a lot to be said for friends working together to improve their material conditions. The driveway is one of the finishing touches on a home.

It beautifies the neighbourhood and will help give a single person or a small family a great place to live and thrive. Not only were we installers meaningfully occupied this morning, but the truck driver served the public with his work. And the exchange of money for the driveway materials helped him and his work colleagues remain financially healthy.

But our morning project also brought environmental sustainability issues. A concrete driveway does not absorb rain so it contributes to storm drainage problems. The truck that delivered the concrete mix runs on fossil fuels.

The steel reinforcing left a negative environmental imprint because of the fossil fuels used in the mining, manufacturing and transportation involved in getting that steel mesh to our job site.

In some parts of Canada we are getting more than the usual share of warm weather this fall. So, out in the streets and in our COVIDadapted social settings, it is common to hear ourselves talk about the warming planet. The government of Canada, on its “Environment and Natural Resources” webpage, posts a chart that tracks average Canadian temperature since 1947. It shows that from then to 2019 the average temperature in Canada has increased by 1.7 C.

All kinds of things are being done to slow it down. Wind energy farms have sprung up everywhere. The other day I took a long look at a special ship docked in Halifax whose only purpose is to install large off-shore wind turbines. One friend bought a Tesla. Many other friends are steadily favouring local produce.

My roof has an array of solar panels on it. The driveway I helped with belongs to half of a new duplex that has a modest square footage, is extremely well insulated, and has many other energy saving features.

On the other hand, it looks as if not enough is getting done fast enough. For one thing, we all want to see a post-COVID economic recovery. That will certainly mean firing up fossil fuel powered electric generators, jet engines, trucks, and manufacturing equipment. Forests continue to be cut down in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

A second thing: the die is already cast for long term temperature increase. The effects of CO2 will be with us for decades, scientists say, even if we were to instantly stop producing the stuff.

And third, most of us consider that a good life means access to travel, material goods and entertainments.Are you, or am I, going to give up flying when COVID restrictions ease? Are you, or am I, going to boycott job opportunities in car manufacturing plants when we have families to raise?

So, here are a few perspectives that I hope will help you navigate these conflicting interests. These perspectives are directly linked, in my view, to the Christian tradition, to a Christian-biblical understanding of life. I don’t present these perspectives as solutions to our global environmental challenges.

As Thomas Sowell says with respect to environmental (as well as social) issues, “There are no solutions. But there are trade offs” (quoted in, “In flood resilience debates, there are no solutions – only trade offs,” thehill.com). These perspectives are intended as pathways to choosing the trade offs that will get us closer to where we need to be.

First, be grateful. Gratitude is fundamental to Christianity. Without gratitude, the path opens up to excessive anger, rock throwing, and police car burning. We can be thankful that there are many people committed to addressing climate change. Government environment departments, even if they act slowly, are far better than nothing.

Individuals such as Bill Gates have committed billions of dollars towards the climate change battle. Armies of researchers are doing all they can to help us understand the crisis and what can be done about it.

Second, see this planet as part of God’s created world, beautiful, soaked with opportunities for prosperity, valuable, worthy not only of exploration, but also of genuine care. Your concerns for the impact of fracking, trans mountain pipelines, and the increasing levels of CO2 are validated by the Bible and the Christian tradition — as well as the Jewish tradition. Seeing the planetary environment as intrinsically valuable is, again, part of the biblical tradition. Without it the spirit of capitalism has less to correct its excesses. With it, fresh approaches to the care of the planet find a welcome.

Third, consider climate change as a justice issue. As temperatures rise, many of us will adapt by spending more time in air conditioned spaces and purchasing stronger sun screen. But what about the people who have fewer resources? Some won’t be able to leave once-fertile lands that used to feed their herds and provide them with food and materials for shelter.

Some will loose their homes to rising sea levels. Consider these things when you make decisions about whether or not to buy a car or go on an island cruise. Climate change might be nothing more than an inconvenience — although a very big inconvenience — for those who are better off.

But for those who are working to climb higher up the economic hierarchy from the lower levels, it could mean a struggle to avoid painful disruptions in life. It will for some mean death. So, let us not be careless about them.

Fourth, we can bring on the Christian tradition of repentance. Repentance means change, especially change when confronted by moral demands. We cannot make decisions in life based only on personal preference, profitability, or (what is often the case now) the opinions of “your tribe.”

Truth and Morality are not up for grabs. They go hand in hand. They must be reflected in our individual decisions about the use of resources and in the collective actions of our governments, industries and NGOs.

Lastly, I would say, we ought to recognize that the future of the world is in God’s hands. This does not mean that all things are predetermined. In the universe he has created, there is plenty of room for our freedom of choice and actions (a bit too much, I have sometimes heard it said). As well, the ultimate goals or “ends” of our universe and the human community are not negotiable.

However, when we act with integrity to address our problems and sincerely pray for God to walk with us and bless all we are up to, we can expect a future that does not disappoint all our hopes, but fulfills many of them, perhaps more than we dare to imagine.
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