Of Pipelines and Plastic Forks

By Mel Harkrader Pine

As one of the church’s newer members, Mary offered a child-friendly backyard barbecue at the service auction. As the day of her event drew near, she remembered that large box of plastic utensils she had bought at Costco years before, so she put them to use. A long-time church member, while eating the hamburgers and potato salad, pointed out how much better for the environment it would have been if Mary had used washable utensils.

Mary and her family left the church and the Unitarian Universalist faith.

One can rarely find one reason why a member leaves a church community, but the incident above did happen. The woman I’m calling Mary felt criticized and unwelcome.

Some new or prospective members feel out of place when they pull their pickups trucks into a church parking lot full of small hybrids and electric vehicles.

green-fork-and-spoon-on-white-background-utensil-tools-picture-id685668610The Welcoming Congregation program, begun in the 1990’s, has helped countless heterosexual UU congregants become sensitive to the little things they may do that lead LGBT newcomers to feel unwelcome. We’d be much more welcoming if we were sensitized also to the ways we hold invisible signs saying “Stay away!” to everyone not ready to use only washable forks, vote for our favored party, and picket a bank that finances hydrocarbon pipelines.

Those people are part of the “interdependent web of all existence,” too, you know.

Let’s talk for a moment about the interdependent web. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all (or darn near close) concerned about global climate change. But that doesn’t mean we agree on how to address it.

If you’re with me so far, I’ll venture that we can also agree that, to the extent humans contribute to climate change, it’s in the form of carbon dioxide emitted as we use petroleum-based fuels.

Now get ready for a more contentious statement:

What causes the use of hydrocarbon fuels (natural gas, oil, gasoline, coal, etc.) is our demand for them. So the best way to reduce the human component of global climate change is to use less hydrocarbon fuel.

Picketing a bank because it finances a pipeline seems to me to be both unproductive and anti-democratic, and I won’t do it, or even sign a petition against it. The bank is a group of individual members of the interdependent web serving the needs of another group of people, a pipeline company, that’s serving other people who in the end are serving you and me to deliver the auto fuel and heating oil that we need to get to our jobs and heat our homes.

Want to stop it? Don’t use hydrocarbon fuels and help other folks to stop using them.

I can attest that the cost of alternative energy sources has declined enough to make them practical for many of us. In the 16 or 17 months since I installed 32 solar panels on my roof, I’ve prevented the emission of about 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. So I can sit in my well-heated home watching my large-screen TV, comfy as some of my friends drive somewhere with picket signs in their vehicles.

You can read here about the economics of my first year with solar electricity, but that’s not my point. What I’m stressing is that we may agree about the interdependent web and about global climate change while having very different ideas about honoring the former and reducing the latter.

Isn’t the acceptance of one another’s ideas the sort of thing liberal religion is about?

Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine

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