Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton. Koeppel serves on the diocesan Stewardship Resources team and the diocesan Creation Care Initiative and is a frequent contributor on the topics of creation care, stewardship, and racial justice and reconciliation.
You may have encountered news articles about siting of renewable energy facilities. The articles tend to follow the same pattern: somebody proposes to install a new facility—wind generators tend to be particularly contentious—and lots of people and organizations come out to object. And here the funny business begins: we are treated to the results of serious, and honest, studies how many birds the wind mills will kill; to what extent the wind mills might generate very low frequency noise, to which some people could be sensitive; or to what extent the windmills might spoil a wilderness view, among others.
What we don’t hear anything about in those same discussions, is how many living beings existing fossil-fuel based power generating plants injure, sicken, or kill. What we don’t hear anything about is how unpleasant the sight of a fossil-fuel energy plant next to your backyard just might be. Those are all things we take as given—they were there before we were born, they are often located among people who have been kept powerless to object to their location. They are, for those so vigorously objecting to the siting of new renewable energy facilities, often quite literally out of sight.
Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves and our impact on God’s creation, we cannot, must not, ignore the damage our existing fossil fuel energy plants inflict on every aspect of God’s creation: raising temperatures, sickening plants, animals, and human beings, shortening lives, and erasing whole species of living beings from our home planet. Have we really accepted all those losses as “the cost of doing business,” “the cost of living our lives?”
Pursuing this question further takes multiple acts of honesty and bravery: perhaps the largest among these is that we have to acknowledge that we have created a dilemma with only bad choices to move forward: if we carry on as we have with fossil-fuel based energy, more and more lives—plants, animals, human beings—will suffer severely, even to the point of extinction. If we shift towards renewable energy sources, the best we can say is that far fewer lives will suffer. There is, to be sure, nothing funny about that. Our respect, and love, for God’s creation commands us to respect and love all living beings. Siting and operating renewable resource energy facilities does not absolve us from responsibility for their impact on living beings. But as we belabor, and grieve their negative impacts, we must also acknowledge that they constitute a significant improvement over the negative impacts of our existing fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure. We have, at this time, few choices for going forward. I hope we all find the courage and resolve to go forward in ways which at the very least significantly lessen our impact on God’s creation.
If there is any “funny business” in all this, it is the use—we should really call it abuse—of serious studies about the impacts of renewable energy plants to further entirely self-centered, selfish ways of living. There are definitely better ways to have fun.