Leaders from countries with the largest carbon footprints recently met to discuss last November’s climate goals in Glasgow. An overall conclusion was that the necessary actions to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change are not being implemented fast enough. As an example, the world used 9% more coal in 2021 than in 2020. While we look to these leaders to solve the world’s critical problems, is it possible that on the personal level we also need to take greater responsibility?
I was recently immersed in an article written by Indiana University’s Distinguished Emeritus Professor Scott Russell Sanders entitled “As if there were no tomorrow,” published in the 2022 winter issue of the Notre Dame Magazine. The synopsis of his essay reads “We have never wanted to slow down, be told to conserve our resources or deny the spoils of our success. Our fragile legacy is our children’s world.” His essay reflects on the time when Jimmy Carter was president and “exhorted us to use less.” “He urged us to insulate our homes, drive smaller cars, rely more on public transportation, and develop renewable sources of energy.” “He suggested imposing a luxury tax on gas-guzzling cars and suggested increasing regulations.”
Professor Sanders describes the emotions he felt after listening to the words of this president all those years ago, a president who recognized the imperative need to care for the earth. “Here at last in our nation’s highest office was a champion of conservation instead of another cheerleader for consumption.” His sense of hope over the years has been overwhelmed by the realization that Americans do not want to be asked to make sacrifices, even for their children and grandchildren. “Americans resented being asked to use less oil, less gas, less anything..”
The United States makes up about 4% of the world’s population and uses about 20% of the world’s oil. Professor Sanders challenges us: “What are we willing to change about the way we lead our lives in order to reduce the damage, and therefore the suffering, we are passing on to our children and their children? If the answer is, we will change nothing – if we refuse to sacrifice any convenience, comfort, habit, profit, or pleasure – then our descendants will have reason to despise us.” He concludes his essay by saying “The children are watching, and they will remember which path we choose.” The full essay, which I highly recommend, can be found here: https://magazine.nd.edu/stories/as-if-there-were-no-tomorrow/.
Julie Peller, Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ), and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage, IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.