Every day I spend about 30-40 minutes driving my non-electric, non-hybrid car to work and a slightly longer amount of time driving home (for some reason traffic always seems heavier in the evenings). And I do this even though I could walk to the nearest bus stop in just a little over five minutes. Given our current cultural climate, this is where I'm supposed to talk about the Holy Spirit convicting me of these environmentally irresponsible actions. That is, as a devout Christian this is where I'm supposed to ask God, and Church, for forgiveness. Here is where I'm supposed to repent of my addiction to oil and publicly proclaim my intention to start taking public transit or, at the very least start a carpool. But that's not what I'm going to do. In fact, I'm going to do the opposite. I'm going to extol the virtues of my daily commute in spite of the cult of environmentalism that is slowly creeping its way into Christian circles today.
My main reason for commuting by car is quite simple: everything else is too much of a hassle. Yes, you read that right. I justify my car's daily greenhouse gas emissions, and my role in our society's reliance on oil, by an appeal to my unwillingness to be hassled. The planet grows warmer, we are told, because of people like me that commute by car on a daily basis. Yet, even in light of this liberal truism I start up my car every morning and drive away.
Here one should note that the fact that I don't want to be inconvenienced in this case does not mean that convenience is always a justifying reason. It all depends on how much of a hassle we're talking about. If you think about it, adopting a "green" lifestyle nearly always causes some amount of a hassle–if it didn't we would most likely have been doing those sorts of things already. This, in my experience, is what many environmentalists, Chrisitan or otherwise, forget. It's a good idea to conserve paper or water because those are limited in supply, but those aren't the only things limited in supply. Taking green-friendly steps will nearly always cost something, and if that cost is too high then one ought not take those steps. If we take my driving to work as an example, we can see two categories of resources that are frequently overlooked by green-minded zealots.
If I were to stop commuting to work by car one of two things would have to happen. I'd either have to start taking public transit or move closer to work (or both). A brief consideration of both options will demonstrate why it's better for me to commute by car. It's true that I could take the bus, but that would turn my 30-40 minute commute into a 60-80 minute commute. That's, at best, twice as long of a commute as I have now. So, what's the cost of this? For starters, that means many days of the week I'd get almost no time with either of my sons. Given that they're both young, they tend to go to bed early and wake up late. Even now I sometimes only get an hour or so of time with them when I get home, but if I were to commute by transit that would be cut in half. Is saving a few greenhouse gas emissions worth not having quality time with my family? For those like me that believe we have a higher committment to our family than we do to the environment, no it’s not worth it.
One obvious thing I could do to make commuting by transit more manageable is move closer to my work. While this would indeed make things easier, it also comes with a substantial cost. This cost is more in line with what we typically mean by "cost." It just so happens that where I work, Tyndale University College, is located in a very expensive part of Toronto. (For example, one townhome nearby is currently listed for a mere $850,000.) Short of someone buying us a house near the school, or the school suddenly deciding to pay me a lot more than they are now, this is simply not feasible. For me to move in the direction of the school would cost a lot more financially, which could only be afforded by picking up extra work. That, of course, runs me right back into not having time with my family. All of this is in addition to the fact that we really like our current neighborhood. We like our neighbors, the nearby parks, and the fact that it's conveniently located near a pretty good mall (and a Starbucks!). Leaving this home just so we can cut out our daily commute is too high of a price to pay.
These brief thoughts about my commuting by car are, of course, generalizable. And this is precisely what many green-types fail to consider. Any time we advocate some green policy it will always come at a cost. For example, governments could raise gasoline taxes to try to curtail use, but that's going to hurt the poor more than most. Is a harder day to day life for the working poor worth the proclaimed benefits that would come with those environmental costs? Which should Christians care about more, the environment or the poor? I'd be happy to hear of something suggesting otherwise, but to date I've never once heard of a plan to "save the environment" that was also good for the pocketbook. For the rich elite this is a cost that can be absorbed, but that's simply not an option for most.
There are two even more general lessons we can learn form this. First, those that are able to adjust their lifestyle in an environmentally friendly way should exercise caution before assuming that everyone else needs to do the same. Making self-righteousness proclamations about one's own ability to take conservationist measures ignores the very real fact that others may not be in a situation that allows them to do the same. This leads to the second point. Those, like me, that continue to commute by car (or issue paper syllabi to students–gasp!, or buy plastic water bottles–double gasp!, or whatever else is now worthy of exclusion from the environmentalists' church) are most likely doing so for some reason other than their lack of care for the environment. I, in fact, care deeply about the environment and am committed to preserving it. Where else would I go to enjoy a round of golf, hunt deer with my father, or just generally take in God's beauty? (And, yes, human enjoyment of the environment is absolutely the best rationale for preserving it.) However, one's commitment to "creation care" must be balanced against one's committment to a whole host of other responsibilities and it's a mistake to act otherwise.
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