By KRIS KLOTZ
Like many people, I struggle to reconcile the idealism of my moral beliefs and the practical demands of daily life. While I grew up in Montoursville, I've spent the last two years studying theology in Claremont, California. In order to apply this education at the practical level, I've returned home to serve as an AmeriCorps member with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (PA IPL), a religious response to climate change.
With two other members of PA IPL, I recently took a four-day bicycle trip from State College to Washington, D.C. Throughout, I often found myself lingering behind my friends, at times overwhelmed by the beauty (and mystery) of my native state. I've been familiar with these kinds of scenes all my life, but I'm used to racing past them in a car. At a meager 10 miles per hour, though, the glory of Pennsylvania's forests and mountains is unavoidable.
During one of these reflective moments, I asked myself: How many people in this world feel this sort of connection to their homes, their surroundings? How many are fortunate enough to witness what is given to us? Of course, this is a loaded question. We know that the world's climate is undergoing dramatic changes. With our millions of vehicles and our coal-fired power plants, Pennsylvanians are responsible for one percent of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions (more than 101 countries combined). We cannot deny that our daily actions have a detrimental influence on the lives of others throughout the world, including both present and future generations.
While the scientific community attests to the certainty of this information, they don't tell us how we should react to these claims. Science only gives us information. Religion, on the other hand, teaches us that we have a duty to those whom are touched by our actions. This sentiment is expressed in the following two commandments: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-40). We should notice that loving our neighbors is similar to loving God. In a global economy, though, we must admit that our neighbors are spread throughout the world.
I understand that some may see these religious values as hopeless idealism. From a practical perspective, I recognize that, taken seriously, religious duties of caring for our neighbors may require limitations on industry. For me, this hits home. During recent visits with my family, I've witnessed the thriving economy of the Williamsport area due to investments by the natural gas industry. My friends and family have benefited a great deal, whether through employment, gas leases, or increased business activity.
While I offer thanks for the success of my friends and family, I also want to work for a future in which Pennsylvanians (including my nieces and nephews) will enjoy an economy that can thrive beyond the lifespan of non-renewable resources. A Pennsylvania with jobs and clean air, with economic success in the present and the possibility of the same in the future. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
This is not to ignore the fact that difficult choices have to be made. The transition from an economy based on non-renewable resources (whether coal or natural gas) to one based on sustainable resources would require sacrifice. The mere thought of such a transition can be daunting, even overwhelming. However, we can meet this challenge with incremental changes in the way we produce and consume energy. The EPA's new rules to limit carbon pollution from any new power plant are a good example of this kind of change. We can also make immediate and simple changes in our daily lives: Drive less, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, turn off the air conditioner.
From a practical perspective, these changes are an important step in the right direction, but ultimately I look at this problem from a religious point of view. From this perspective, I recognize that what I have called a "sacrifice" is, in fact, a religious duty. According to this duty, our goal must be to ensure the best possible future for our neighbors and future generations.
Klotz is a Montoursville High School graduate who has returned to the area and works as an AmeriCorps member for Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.