Every month our Quaker meetings have discussions related to a series of questions, called queries, that help us examine our lives. This month’s queries are about environmental responsibility. First is the introduction to the subject, the advice, then the queries, and finally my response. Several years ago my small Quaker meeting in rural Iowa, Bear Creek, began the practice of sending the queries to members who live away from Bear Creek. Those who can then send their response back to the meeting, and those long distance responses are included in the discussion of the query by those who are actually present at the meetinghouse, and a combined response is put together.
All of creation is divine and interdependent: air, water, soil, and all that lives and grows. Since human beings are part of this fragile and mysterious web, whenever we pollute or neglect the earth we pollute and neglect our own wellsprings. Developing a keen awareness of our role in the universe is essential if we are to live peacefully within creation.
The way we choose to live each day‑‑as we manufacture, package, purchase and recycle goods, use resources, dispose of water, ‑design homes, plan families and travel‑affects the present and future of life on the planet. The thought and effort we give to replenishing what we receive from the earth, to keeping informed and promoting beneficial legislation on issues which affect the earth, to envisioning community with environmental conscience, are ways in which we contribute to the ongoing health of the planet we inhabit.
Preserving the quality of life on Earth calls forth all of our spiritual resources. Listening to and heeding the leadings of the Holy Spirit can help us develop qualities which enable us to become more sensitive to all life
- What are we doing about our disproportionate use of the world’s resources?
- Do we see unreasonable exploitation in our relationship ‑with the rest of creation?
- How can we nurture reverence and respect for life? How I can we become more fully aware of our interdependent relationship with the rest of creation?
- To what extent are we aware of all life and the role we play? What can we do in our own lives and communities to address environmental concerns?
We are in a bad position, knowing what we know about the effects of greenhouse gases, the depletion of fossil fuel reserves, and contamination of water supplies, and yet having bought into the American dream of what the middle class should be. As a result, we live in homes that are much too large, requiring energy to heat and, in some cases, cool. Our neighborhoods are extremely poorly designed, built on the assumption that everyone drives everywhere they need to go. Improved urban designs are emerging. Portland, Oregon, has been redeveloping itself in an energy conscious way for many years now. Los Angeles just announced a radical redesign of its transportation systems, bringing pedestrian and bicycle traffic to the fore, and cars behind. Indianapolis is working on re-zoning, limiting cars downtown, and emphasizing self-contained neighborhood communities. Plans are moving forward for big mass transportation changes, including light rail.
Friends who can do so should consider moving into multi-tenant buildings that are on mass transit routes. Every time I’ve moved in Indianapolis, the key requirement was that the new place be on a bus route. Those who have air conditioning should stop using it. These things aren’t negative (other than the air conditioning part, maybe), but, in my experience, have enriched my life and helped me be more connected to my neighbors and community.
Many Friends still live in rural areas, and currently don’t have many transportation options. It seems this could be one area we might make some progress in, since I haven’t heard of anyone else doing so. Is anyone interested in working on a rural response to fossil fuel? Maybe Friends could work more on sharing rides to meeting and for shopping. It is also good to use alternatives to face to face meetings when at all possible.
One thing our meetings should consider is switching to renewable energy for electrical power and heating. The ideal would be the installation of solar panels or a wind turbine, so the meetinghouse doesn’t have to rely on the power grid, whose future is uncertain. This also makes financial sense, since fossil fuel prices will soon explode.
Where we can exert influence is to speak out against continued fossil fuel development, fossil fuel subsidies, and personal transportation infrastructure such as more parking garages, roads, etc.
It is encouraging that youth around the world are engaging with these efforts. It is discouraging that we are running out of time to avoid runaway climate destruction, if we haven’t already.