Driving Global Warming

What would Jesus drive?

BY: Bill McKibben


Continued from page 1

In Bangladesh people spent three months of 1998 living in the thigh-deep water that covered two-thirds of the nation. The inundation came because the Bay of Bengal was some inches higher than normal (as climate changes, sea level rises because warm water takes up more space). That high water blocked the drainage of the normal summer floods, turning the nation into a vast lake. No one can say exactly how much higher that water was because of our recent fondness for semi-military transport in the suburbs. Maybe an inch, who knows?

But the connection is clear. If you care about the people in this world living closest to the margins, then you need to do everything in your power to slow the rate at which the planet warms, for they are the most vulnerable. I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was hungry and you drowned me with your Ford Explorer.

Here's more: Coral reefs the world over are dying as warmer sea water bleaches them to death--by some estimates, this whole amazing ecosystem, this whole lovely corner of God's brain, may be extinct by mid-century. In the far north, scientists recently found that polar bears were 20 percent scrawnier than they'd been just a few years before. As pack ice disappears, they can't hunt the seals that form the basis of their diet.

And on and on--according to many experts, the extinction spasm caused by climate change and other environmental degradation in this century will equal or surpass those caused by crashing asteroids in geological times. But this time it's us doing the crashing.

If we care about creation, if we understand the blooming earth as an exhibit of what pleases God, then we've got to do what we can to slow these massive changes. "Where were you when I set the boundaries of the oceans, and told the proud waves here you shall come and no further?" God asks Job. We can either spit in the old geezer's face and tell him we're in charge of sea level from here on out, or we can throttle back, learn to live a little differently.

Not so differently. Giving up SUVs is not exactly a return to the Stone Age. After all, we didn't have them a decade ago, when people with large families transported themselves in considerably more fuel-efficient minivans or station wagons. The only reason we have them now is that the car companies make immense profits from them. Ford's lucky to clear a grand selling you an Escort, but there's $10,000 clear profit in an Explorer.

Save for a very few special circumstances, we don't need them--nine in 10 SUVs never even leave the pavement. Where I live, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, we have snow and ice six months of the year, bad roads and steep mountains. But we don't have many SUVs because no one has the money to buy one. Somehow we still get around.

Sometimes people cite safety as their cause for buying a behemoth. They reason that they need them because everyone else has them or because in an accident the other car will suffer more (a position that would probably not pass the test with many Christian ethicists). But even that's a flawed argument. It's true, says The New York Times, that in a collision an SUV is twice as likely as a car to kill the other driver. But because the things roll over so easily, overall "their occupants have roughly the same chance as car occupants of dying in a crash."

The big car companies are starting to sense that their franchise for mayhem is running out. Last fall, after fuel prices soared and exploding tires killed dozens, the big car companies said that half a decade from now they would try to increase their fuel efficiency by 25 percent. Which is actually a nice start, but also sort of like the country club board of directors saying, "Wait five years and we'll find a few token blacks." Twenty-five percent better than 13 miles per hour is still a sick joke. Already Toyota and Honda have hybrid vehicles on the lot that can get 50, 60, 70 miles to the gallon. And we don't have five or 10 or 15 years to wait.


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