Brother Fire, Sister
Water...Respecting the Environment
What is meant by simplicity of life? Living by the conviction
that we are stewards of the earth, not its masters.
During my vacation this year, I spent a week visiting my former
mission in the northern desert of Peru. While I was paying a visit to La
Bocana, a poor fishing hamlet of the parish, located on the Pacific
Ocean, Sister Martha took me to the oil rigs that an international
petroleum conglomerate had recently installed. For the moment they're
extracting only four trucks of crude oil per day. Within a year the
quota is expected to reach 200. By that time, I fear that the villagers
will be forced to move elsewhere. You see, the local authorities signed
a five-year contract with the oil firm, leasing the land surrounding the
village for a mere $15 per acre a year. I suspect that the value of the
crude, once refined, will reach the millions.
I was reminded of my visit to La Bocana when I read the lead editorial,
Roots of the oil crisis, in the Aug. 16 issue of the Florida
Times-Union. The editor based his commentary on a new book Beyond Oil by
Kenneth Dreffeyes, a geologist and professor emeritus at Princeton
University. According to Dreffeyes, world oil will peak this year. It
is going to be very difficult for the United States to stand up to an
international bidding war for the remaining oil and natural gas.
Dreffeyes lays the blame for the looming oil crisis on our failure to
heed earlier warnings about a global oil peak. Meanwhile, we continue to
feel the effects of the oil crisis locally as the price for a gallon of
regular hovers around $2.70.
Professor Dreffeyes makes a number of concrete suggestions for
confronting the crisis, like using wind turbines, nuclear power plants,
bio-fuels from crops, etc. Rather than comment on his suggestions, I
want to focus our attention on something more general, and perhaps, much
more important: simplicity of life.
What is meant by "simplicity of life" Living by the conviction that we
are stewards of the earth, not its masters. Unfortunately, most of us in
first world countries live like masters of the earth, with little
concern for how our behavior might affect future generations and the
We in the United States, with less than 5% of the world's population,
consume 30% of its non-renewable resources. Eight percent of the world's
population owns a car. What would happen if 20% owned a car? The average
American consumes five times as much grain products and 60 times as much
fuel as a citizen in India. What would be the result if the one billion
people of India demanded and received as much grain and fuel products as
we Americans consume?
Indeed, if everyone throughout the world acted to protect the
environment on the local level, we would have taken a giant step towards
protecting the global ecosystem.
Simplicity of life cannot flourish in an atmosphere of consumerism.
Driven by shrewd advertising, consumerism causes us to live beyond our
means. The result is that we accumulate so many things that we have to
rent special pods to store them. Did we really need them? No. Then why
did we buy them? Modern advertising causes us to confuse desires with
needs. And the aggressive nature of advertising aimed at children today
is guaranteeing the subtle indoctrination of future generations.
How does one combat both globally and locally the wrongs that
consumerism is inflicting on the limited resources of our planet? On the
global level, we should insist that our elected officials enact and
enforce laws that protect the environment. Get involved. Write to your
representatives. Ask why our government is investing so much money in
nuclear weapons laboratories, while at the same time insisting that
other nations forgo their nuclear programs.
But if we're going to wait for the government to take effective action
to protect the environment, it may be too late. Therefore, let's marshal
our efforts on the local level now. Indeed, if everyone throughout the
world acted to protect the environment on the local level, we would have
taken a giant step towards protecting the global ecosystem. For every
human act affects the environment to some degree. If we all developed
habits that respected the environment, the problem would be largely
solved. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet once wrote, If
everyone swept in front of his own door step, the whole world would be
clean. For starters, here are a few suggestions:
• Turn off lights. Use energy-efficient bulbs.
• Make your next vehicle a fuel efficient one.
• Slow down. Every five miles over 60 mph adds 20 per gallon.
• Limit your use of paper/plastic cups, plates, etc.
• Limit purchases to your needs, not your wants.
For those readers wondering what my message this month has to do with
our faith, recall what Jesus did after he had fed the hungry crowd by
multiplying the five barley loaves and the two fish. He sent his
disciples through the crowd, telling them: Gather the pieces that are
left over. Let nothing be wasted. (Jn. 6:12). Recall, too, how our
beloved Francis of Assisi in his Canticle of the Sun referred to the
lower forms of creation: Brother fire Sister water Mother Earth.