“Changing a light bulb is good. Changing a senator is better.” by the Rev. Fred Small

“1st Parish Cambridge lifts banner: “We divested from fossil fuels. Your turn, Harvard.”

As a minister, I believe in the power of spiritual practice.  I practice voluntary simplicity because it changes me, not because I expect it to change the world.  Indeed, if a mass voluntary simplicity movement actually succeeded in reducing demand for resources, their price would drop and less enlightened consumers and manufacturers would gladly snap them up.

50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth was published in 1989, the same year as The End of Nature.  In the quarter-century since, if environmentally concerned Americans had spent as much time organizing and lobbying for an end to fossil fuels as they spent calculating their personal carbon footprint, researching the life-cycle costs of every product they purchased, studying the labels of consumer goods, and rinsing plastic food-storage bags for reuse, I suspect we’d have made a lot more progress against global warming.

No matter how much we exhort people to reduce, reuse, and recycle, not much will change until we get accurate price signals at the cash register and gas pump.  And that requires political action.  By placing the burden and responsibility on the individual, “Reduce, reuse, recycle” diverts attention from corporations and governments–which suits them just fine.

So I walk and bicycle and take the train whenever I can, but I also drive and fly when I need to.  Every time I buy gas for my car, I note what I paid and send the same amount to 350.org.  (It’s my personal carbon tax.)  I’m using a computer to write these words even though I haven’t examined whether a handwritten letter might or might not use less energy.

I don’t feel guilty because I live in the society I do.  I just work like hell to change it.

Changing a light bulb is good. Changing a senator is better.

A former folksinger and environmental lawyer, Rev. Fred Small is Senior Minister of First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Unitarian Universalist), and co-chair of Religious Witness for the Earth, a national interfaith environmental network. Follow Rev. Fred Small on Twitter at @RevFredSmall.  Originally posted on Facebook, reprinted with permission.

3 Comments on ““Changing a light bulb is good. Changing a senator is better.” by the Rev. Fred Small

  1. So Fred who can afford twice the going rate for fossil fuels to travel whenever he needs to, donates to 350.org, a group that is trying to restrict fossil fuels from the rest of us!

    • Sheila, we have to restrict fossil fuels for everyone. The facts are clear, if we burn more than 1/5 the fossil fuels presently in corporate reserves, that’s enough to bring us to the brink. Instead of fighting each other because of the threat of higher gas, I say we rally together and work to make alternatives cheaper than fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We can accomplish that if we put enough pressure on politicians and change public opinion of the fossil fuel industry.

    • Sheila, this really is a pay me now or pay me later situation. And if we don’t pay now, our grandchildren will pay a fearsome price. it is our and a fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations that have mostly unknowingly created this problem. We are probably the last generation of adults that can have a major impact on the depth and breadth of climate change impacts. It is an awesome responsibility, and requires courageous action by in the political process and shareholders to act against their monetary interests.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: