Earth Day and Beyond

Earth on stove

For Earth Day Sunday, April 24, our Climate Action Team encouraged the congregation to get to church more sustainably, and we asked John Crusius, a member of our group, to give the offering testimonial that day. We are blessed to have so many in our congregation with deep knowledge and passion about climate change and the challenges ahead. In case you missed it, here’s what John Crusius had to say:

Happy earth day! I’m John Crusius. I have the honor of serving on the UUC Board. In my day job I’m an oceanographer. On this earth day Sunday I share these words written a while ago, and I quote…

“…the pollution from internal combustion engines is so serious, and is growing so fast, that an alternative, non-polluting means of powering automobiles, buses and trucks is likely to become a national necessity.”

Those words were recited, in 1965, by the president of the American Petroleum Institute, at the organization’s annual meeting. He was quoting from a small part of a large 1965 report written by a group of scientists, entitled, “Restoring the quality of our environment,” that was shared with then-President Johnson. The same report also said…”carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as to possibly cause marked changes in climate… ” 1965. That was five years before the first earth day. More than 56 years ago. Elon Musk wasn’t born yet. Back when people in the petroleum industry reported scientific findings, and didn’t undermine them. Four of the scientists who wrote that portion of the report came from oceanographic institutions, by the way.

Fast forward to 1988, 23 years later. In front of a Senate panel, James Hansen, a scientist at NASA, stated, “Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming. It is already happening now.” That was almost 34 years ago. (From the New York Times, June 24, 1988).

Here we are in 2022. We really need to act, because as a society we have failed to heed these and many other warnings from decades ago. It takes a while to transform our transportation and energy systems to facilitate, as I stated earlier, things such as “alternative, non polluting means of powering automobiles….” And THAT, in a nutshell, is why addressing climate change now is urgent. This is why it’s now a crisis.

If you react to my use of the word “crisis” by saying that it’s nothing compared to the war in Ukraine, know that funding for that war is being driven by the dependence of Russia, and other countries, on Russian fossil fuels. So the war is sadly linked to climate change. For almost everyone hearing this, most of the US wars of their lifetimes have happened, at least in large part, because of our dependence on fossil fuels. All of this must change.

Sadly, we can’t change the past. But the good news is that we CAN influence the future.

What can we do? Every nation, every regional and local government, every institution, and every individual must now act decisively to make up for lost time. We can write or call our elected representatives and ask them to actually pass that long-discussed legislation that would provide incentives to: transition towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels; promote electric vehicles; better public transit; stop using fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction. We can keep leaning on our state and local governments to do more. They need us to commit to “good trouble,” as John Lewis called it, to push for such change.

We can do things as individuals. Ask me about electric heat pumps for heating and cooling your home or induction stoves to cook on. We transitioned to those, in my household, a few years ago. In each case, the electric version is superior to the fossil-fueled alternative. I really mean that. There’s no comparison. We’re saving for an electric car. We will make that transition soon.

We all need to find ways to fly less, sadly, because air travel represents the largest component of the carbon footprint, for many of us. Find ways to do vacations close to home. Learn about legitimate carbon offsets, and pay to offset those flights we will all inevitably make, despite their impact on climate. The “carbon offset” world is a mess, and there’s no shortage of fraud in that realm. But that’s a topic for another day.

On this Earth Day Sunday, I ask each of us, in addition to committing to these major changes I mentioned, to thinking about lowering our carbon footprint in how we travel to UUC. There’s a new light rail station at 65th and Roosevelt. There’s a bus that travels east on NE 65th Street every 15 minutes on a Sunday morning. Right past UUC. Try taking public transit here, if you can. Join others, as you do it, to make it fun. Consider riding a bike, or an e-bike. If you live close enough, try walking. Or perhaps you can carpool with someone who lives close to you.

Let’s recall the words of the Unitarian minister Edward Hale, who said, more than a century ago, “I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

And let us commit to doing as many of those “somethings” as we can, and nudge our friends and neighbors to do the same. When we do these somethings, when we make every effort to maintain the health of this planet, we can feel as if we are truly doing something “not for ourselves alone…” That would be a great way to honor a beautiful spring day, and celebrate it as Earth Day.

It’s because of UUC’s commitment to doing the right thing on so many fronts that I donate to this church. Join me in saying these words that we say each week…..”This church is a community of ourselves. Its energy and resources are our energy and resources. Its wealth is what we share. When we commit to the life of this community, we affirm our lives within it.”

References

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (Appendix Y4). 1965. In…”Restoring the Quality of Our Environment.” A report to President Johnson. Revelle, Broecker, Craig, Keeling, Smagorinsky.

New York Times, June 24, 1988. “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.” Philip Shabecoff.

The Guardian, 2015, Dana Nuccitelli. “Scientists Warned the US President about Global Warming 50 Years Ago Today.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/nov/05/scientists-warned-the-president-about-global-warming-50-years-ago-today

Franta, Benjamin. Nature Climate Change, 2018. Early oil industry knowledge of CO2 and global warming. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0349-9

~John Crusius, UUC member

A big thank you to John for his thoughtful testimonial and to everyone doing your part to live more sustainably and lower your carbon footprint.

~UUC Climate Action Team

A row of silhouettes of human footprints, larger to smaller