This week's eco-challenge was driving less. As I shared in my post at the beginning of this lenten week, this is one I feel like I've worked on quite a bit, and I do alright by American standards. We're now leasing a Nissan Leaf (fully electric car), and I try to use my bike as transportation a good deal of the time. I challenged myself to get back into the habit of using my bike more often, because now that we have an electric car, I'm a bit more lazy about biking than I was when spewing fossil fuels from an SUV was the other option.
First, I'll give you an update on how my week went in terms of my eco-challenge for myself, and then I'll share about the spiritual implications I've been mulling over as a result.
I found myself using several of my go-to excuses for not biking this week: I had a minor cold, it was really cold one morning and there was frost on the ground, I took dinner to a friend who just had a baby and it would have been difficult to carry in the trailer and the food would have gotten cold. I also went places after dark, when it would be unsafe for my seven-year-old to bike.
I managed to ride my bike two out of the last six days. The good news is that when I drove, I was almost always "carpooling" with all four members of my family, and it was generally at times when we had to come home in the dark, although I did drive my kids to school/babysitter and myself to work one of those days because of frost and having a slight cold. I did end up driving each of those six days, though several of them I didn't go anywhere in the car until after dark (or until the trip for which we'd be out after dark).
What I found myself thinking about most this week was what level of comfort and convenience I'm willing to give up. I'm willing to put up with some difficulty of getting places and some discomfort in terms of weather in my face, but am I willing to subject my kids to this discomfort? Am I willing to let go of more commitments so that I'll have time to bike places more often? Am I willing to change or rearrange my schedule so that we won't be out after dark? Where is my line between acceptable sacrifice and over-the-top legalism?
This week I also started cooking bacon for my younger son. (This is slightly off-topic but is related thematically.) He's a self-described carnivore (he's 3 and doesn't really understand the concept of an omnivore), and he LOVES meat. I'm a vegetarian and since, in this phase of life, I'm doing most of the grocery shopping, we generally don't have meat in the house. My husband bought some bacon last week because he couldn't take it anymore. My youngest now demands bacon for breakfast, and I gave in, buying bacon at Costco. My husband couldn't believe I bought it there--why wouldn't I find some that's at least local OR organic OR something healthy and environmentally friendly, but at any rate, this feels like a bit of a compromise on my part. Maybe my son is of a body type where he needs meat more than I do. He's his own person and can make his own choices. But shouldn't I be guiding him toward good decisions? I showed my older son part of a factory farm and slaughterhouse video a while back and it cemented his decision to be a vegetarian, but I can't show that to my 3-year-old yet. I want to give good gifts to my kids, and it's so much easier to give them what they want, especially when everyone around me seems to say it's normal and good and right.
Driving cars and having schedules that take us out of our homes at all hours of the day and night are normal activities in this culture, in my social circles. Flying once in a while, buying food shipped in from other countries, purchasing electronics made in other countries and mined who-knows-where at who-knows-what environmental and human cost--these things are "normal." It's counter-cultural to question whether these things are, in fact, good gifts to give to my children.
But looked at from another angle, what if I were suddenly transported to 100 years from now? If I could see the effects of our collective actions on the polar icecaps, rising sea levels, greenhouse gas emissions creating warmer temperatures and poorer air quality, and soil and water contamination from chemicals, what good gifts would I want myself and our generation to have given to our children and grandchildren? If we see suffering right in front of us, we're willing to sacrifice something in order for that suffering to end. But if we imagine ourselves removed from that suffering, if we can put it out of sight so we can conveniently place it out of mind, it becomes so difficult for us--at least for me--to be willing to sacrifice my convenience for the sake of an unknown person's unseen suffering.
I'm reminded of the issue of un-personed aerial vehicles (drones). We can, perhaps, imagine ourselves pushing the button for a drone to bomb a village where we're told there are terrorists, but most of us can't imagine pulling the trigger to shoot each of those villagers, or even closer, wringing their necks with our own hands. The environmental situation seems to me like it is similar. We can go along merrily in our disembodied way, pronouncing death and destruction on the environment (and therefore our own descendants, and others who live in this world today), but if we could see the faces of those hurt by our actions, if we could look in their eyes, if we could make all the connections between our polluting actions that support our convenient way of life and their asthma or their cancer, would we act the same way? Or would we be willing to change our behaviors in order to ensure that their suffering did not have to continue?
Was it convenient or affordable for Friends and others to choose to not buy products made by slaves?
Are we willing to make that kind of personal sacrifice for our descendants, those with whom we share the planet, ourselves?
Are we willing to let Christ's Light shine in our dark places, those conveniences to which we cling? Are we willing to let that be a convicting challenge and an encouragement rather than a condemnation, to turn and change our ways? Or will we hide in our ignorance and pretend we can't see the consequences of our actions?