Environment

A 'Post-Growth' Society

The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, by James Gustave Speth. Yale University Press.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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A Difference that Matters

I am writing these words on the train from Zurich to Geneva, looking up from my keyboard to see snowcapped mountains hanging over the lake. The train was scheduled to leave at 9:32, and indeed it left at 9:32; I have little doubt it will arrive at 12:44, precisely as promised. Because it’s fast, comfortable, and reliable, it’s also well-used; most of the seats are full. It’s impossible for an American to sit on this train and not think: Why can’t we have this? What’s so backward about our country that the best we can do is Amtrak, lurching along, late again?

The answer, of course, is that there’s no good reason. Barack Obama has put a slug of cash in the budget for 10 new high-speed train routes. Someday, one hopes, we’ll be able to travel as easily as most other citizens of the developed world. But the answer, of course, is also that there’s a very good reason. Which is that America has allowed itself to become a hyperindividualized society. That’s why we’ve done more than anyone else to wreck the planet.

That hyperindividualized domain flows from one place: the oil wells and coal mines that have provided us with cheap energy. The society we’ve built is an artifact of that cheap energy—it’s allowed us to sprawl endlessly out across the countryside. The American dream for 50 years has been to build bigger houses farther apart from each other. We’ve succeeded so thoroughly in that dream that the oversupply of starter castles for entry-level monarchs has now cracked the economy. And the more we’ve grown apart, the more we’ve grown apart—the average American has half as many close friends as 50 years ago. When you’ve got no neighbors, spend two hours a day commuting, and work all hours to pay for the mortgage, friends are hard to come by.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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Keeping Cool (Gulp!)

“No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.” — The demon Azrael in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. I do, I swear. I’m not one of those people who thinks creation is ours to dominate and its resources ours to spend like found money because Jesus is coming back and the world is going to end soon anyway. I sincerely doubt Christ would be happy about his followers treating Earth as if it were a rental car.

While I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I am very fond of trees. And, also, the atmosphere.

The thing is ... I love air conditioning. And I hate, haaaaaaaaaaaate being hot.

“Oh, thank you Jesus,” were my first words upon entering our 68-degree oasis with a carload of groceries on a 90-plus degree, muggy summer day where the outside feels like a shvitz or the third ring of Dante’s inferno. Central air conditioning is grace for me.

But what if my blessing is a curse for someone else? Like, say, the rest of the planet? Air conditioning hurts the environment, quaffs energy, and hastens global warming. But is my air conditioner evil? What would Jesus do?

For one thing, Jesus recognized the Jewish kosher laws. A fairly new movement in Judaism today called eco-kashrut (aka “eco-kosher”) expands on the ancient dietary laws to look at what’s kosher in terms of ethical living, fair trade, the ecological concerns involved in food production, consumerism, and lifestyle, including whether to air condition or not.

Is it better to be hot and bothered than cool and complicit in our environmental demise? I turned to a couple of friends who ponder moral dilemmas for a living for help with my AC conundrum.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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