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Our Living World, Part 6: Energy

The sun provides us with heat energy, light energy and solar energy and is a renewable source of energy. Wind energy is also renewable and does not generate greenhouse gases. Photo by Pexels, courtesy of Pixabay.
The sun provides us with heat energy, light energy and solar energy and is a renewable source of energy. Wind energy is also renewable and does not generate greenhouse gases. Photo by Pexels, courtesy of Pixabay.

Discover and read all articles in the Our Living World series here.

Biblical foundations

On the first day, as one of the first acts of creation, God spoke light into existence and separated light from darkness. The light at this point was undifferentiated. Neither sun, moon nor stars existed. Yet, light would be enough in some form to support the plants, which depend on photosynthesis, created on the third day.

But God had more in mind than a world of land, water and plants. So, to power the broader array of animal life (Day 5) and human life (Day 6), God concentrated the undifferentiated light into the “greater light to rule the day” (sun), the “lesser light to rule the night” (moon) and the stars (Genesis 1:14-18).

Of the three, the sun was and remains the primary source of energy for all creatures in our living world. Plants grow and produce harvests. Animals eat plants, enabling the animals to grow, and other animals and humans eat both plants and animals.

When we think of the term “energy,” however, our minds likely turn first to the oil, gas and nuclear fuels producing power. Whether through combustion engines, electrical transmission or batteries, that human-produced power runs our homes, factories, schools, hospitals and transportation systems worldwide. In the United States, electricity produced through solar power remains only a small fraction of the source of the energy on which we depend for our current way of life.

Still, we must admit how little of the energy humans produce through fossil fuels is necessary for ourselves or the other creatures of our living world to survive and thrive. Indeed, we know now that the greenhouse emissions that our primarily fossil-fuel driven energy systems produce ­threaten the continued viability of many life-forms, including human life. We are coming to realize that the energy God supplies us from the sun, along with wind and water, provides or can provide nearly all we actually need to survive and thrive in our living world.

Creation is at stake

United Methodists are part of this worldwide realization. We call ourselves and our human neighbors to end our gluttony of human-produced energy that endangers all life, and to alter our patterns of life to be energized primarily by the abundant gifts of sun, wind and water we have had from the beginning of earth's creation.

The Social Principles statement that drives our more detailed statements of commitment is Paragraph 160.1.B, “Energy Resources Utilization.” It begins by acknowledging “the current utilization of energy resources threatens this creation at its very foundation.” This means our current patterns of life simply cannot continue if our living world is to continue. Instead, “[e]verybody should adapt [their] lifestyle to the average consumption of energy that respects the limits of planet earth.”

Meeting that goal requires drastic changes by everyone. The recommendation in the Social Principles is no more than one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions per person annually. At present, the average American produces 16 metric tons per year.

Imagine your current use of human-produced energy apart from the sun, wind and water. For most Americans, over 75% of human-generated energy comes from fossil fuels. This includes everything from heating and cooling your home and office, the transportation you use yourself and to get the things you need, the electricity you use to cook your food and keep it cold or otherwise safely stored, as well as to operate your computer, phone and whatever else requires human-generated energy. Now imagine that you can only use that energy for a total of just over 30 days per year. This is the scale of carbon dioxide emissions reduction and the degree of lifestyle change required for every person in the United States, with similarly stark reductions required of nearly every person worldwide.  

While the Social Principles “strongly advocate for the priority of the development of renewable energies,” United Methodists understand that simply shifting the base of our current pattern of human-produced energy from fossil fuels and nuclear to sun, wind, water does not and cannot avert the catastrophe we face. While making the shift to these forms of energy, we also must dramatically change our patterns of living at every level so we are nowhere nearly as reliant on them.

Principles for positive change

Specific Action Steps from United Methodist Statements

United Methodist statements suggest the following actions to change the nature and degree of our energy use as a denomination:
  • Individual/family actions:
    Install insulation, generate electricity and useful heat jointly, reduce-reuse-recycle (in that order), use public transportation, eliminate fossil fuels in appliances and vehicles, simplify your lifestyle
  • Local church actions:
    Install dampers in furnaces, insulate all church properties adequately, limit heating and lighting to rooms that are in use, use air circulation, purchase energy-efficient appliances, transition to alternative energy sources such as solar energy, become involved in programs such as the Energy Stewardship Congregation and Interfaith Power and Light programs..
  • Conference, camp/retreat centers, and general agency actions:
    Lead and model for congregations conference/denomination wide efforts to change energy sources and activities in just and sustainable ways, support and fund renewable and energy-efficient mission projects. (See Part 5 of this series for Net-Zero carbon emissions policies of general agencies).

Principles deeper than the entirely reasonable fear of ecological collapse drive United Methodists to action. “Energy Policy Statement,” the very first resolution in The Book of Resolutions, identifies our underlying commitments to justice and sustainability.

“Just energy policies,” it says, “close the gap dividing wealth and poverty, rich nations and poor; liberate and do not oppress; fairly distribute the benefits, burdens, and hazards of energy production and consumption, taking into consideration the living and those not yet born; and give priority to meeting basic human needs such as air, water, food, clothing, and shelter.”

“Sustainability” means our approach to human-produced energy will “ensure adequate resources and opportunity for present and future generations to enjoy a healthy quality of life; enhance local environmental and economic vitality while minimizing impacts on the health of both human and non-human creation; and promote social and intergenerational equity.”

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Taken together, these commitments lead United Methodists to conclude that further development of some forms of energy production are dead ends or can continue to be pursued only with great caution. Fossil fuel production and use must cease. Nuclear energy creates waste products that still cannot be safely disposed of without creating other human and ecological problems, many of them with effects lasting for generations. Hydroelectric power may be pursued only where it does not destroy habitats, threaten water supplies, or, in areas near fault lines, become a flood danger to communities downstream.

These are the reasons United Methodists advocate focused efforts primarily toward creative developments in wind and solar energy.

United Methodist practices for energy use

The imminent and real threat and our commitment to justice and sustainability lead United Methodists to call for and pursue a wide range of strategies and specific actions for the sake of our living world.

These include “strenuous efforts to conserve energy and increase energy efficiency, … support[ing] increased government funding for research and development of renewable energy sources and elimination of fossil fuel subsidies … support[ing] local, regional, and national efforts to provide transition assistance for communities currently dependent on old energy fossil fuel economies, … [and] oppos[ing] any energy policy that will result in continuing exploitation of indigenous peoples’ lands.”

United Methodists are also called to national and international advocacy for policies that ensure the energy needs of all human beings are equitably met, impoverishing none.

How will your family, local church and conference help lead United Methodists and the world to embrace the challenge to help all in our living world survive and thrive now and for generations to come?

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