Why I strive to be a conservationist:
Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks in a suburb of Fort Worth, TX. It’s Monday morning and I’m sipping
coffee out of the red tumbler that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas a year ago. Across the street
is a traffic light with five vehicles stopped. Two of them are SUVs and three of them are large pick-up
trucks. I don’t want to sound like a snob, but as I watch those five large vehicles pass when the light
turns green, I can’t help but notice that they are followed by several other massive pick-up trucks and
An Escalade has just turned out of the Starbucks’ parking lot; I’m watching huge cars with no
passengers. Are they commuting to work? Everything in Fort Worth is so spread out. They might be
driving for an hour to get to wherever it is that they’re going. Or more? It seems like people drive 45
minutes to get to their nearest grocery store here.
Remember, I used to live in Texas. I’m familiar with this… sort of. But I’ve only been back for about four
days and already my conscience is rocked by the fact that I’ve thrown aluminum cans in a… trash can.
Because there’s no such thing as a recycling bin in the Lone Star State.
This was a fact that I learned in 2003. When I first arrived at Teen Mania’s Honor Academy—which is
situated in the Eastern part of this state--I joined the “Terra Nova Solutions Council” (which was
something like a student government on campus). Interns could propose ways to improve life on
campus and we would try to work with the campus’ administration to put their ideas into action. A girl
from Oregon made a suggestion that we start recycling. This was a project that I immediately took
One of the things that troubled me most when I arrived on campus was how much we wasted. But I
came to find out that the nearest recycling drop-off location would be more than forty minutes away. I
didn’t have a car; I couldn’t lug all of our thousands of pounds of recyclables on foot for two dozen miles
on a weekly basis. If we paid for curbside recycling it would cost a significant amount of money. How
could I persuade the leadership of a conservative non-profit organization that was already going through
financial problems that they ought to be spending thousands of dollars to have recyclables picked-up on
a regular basis? Maybe I could point out that the amount of money they were paying for their leadership
to stay in expensive hotels for speaking engagements was excessive and we could reallocate our
spending on a more noble cause? But they wouldn’t buy that. My eyes were opened to new kinds of
wastefulness within a few weeks of moving away from Montgomery County, MD.
What’s to Save?
When I say that I aspire to be a conservationist, I’m referring to at least three areas where I’m striving to
improve in my stewardship: time, money, and resources. The fortunate thing is that there’s overlap in
these categories. Often times when you conserve resources you end up reducing expenses. And when
you save finances you save time because time is money.
Just consider, in Columbus my wife and I live a mile and a half from The Ohio State University. I work
full-time for the University and because of this my wife goes to school for free (at least this year). We
save a significant amount of money through reduced tuition. Less than a block from our house there’s a
campus bus (powered by bio-diesel) that comes by our stop every eleven minutes that we both ride for
free. It’s a fifteen minute ride to campus. While it’d be a six-minute drive, which may seem faster, just
remember that because we’re riding a bus that can drop us off directly, we don’t have to spend time
looking for a parking spot (or spend $35 a month to purchase a staff parking pass—which accumulates
to $420 a year) and then walk for several minutes from the parking garage to our classes or work. This is
definitely saving us money and probably time too, while also reducing our consumption of natural
In the summer we ride our tandem. It’s a seven minute bike ride. Not only does riding a bike reduce the
time, money, and fossil fuels that we’d be using if we drove but it’s also burning calories; it’s healthy.
By living close to our place of work, in an incredibly affordable duplex, my wife and I are not only
reducing our carbon-emissions and saving the environment; we’re minimizing our expenses and saving
money in the bank.
This is a no-brainer. Why would anyone want to pay thousands of dollars on a gargantuan truck or SUV
to burn half a tank of gas (that’s rising in cost) to get to and from work everyday during a 90-minute
commute from their $500,000 house (which I assume is primarily used for sleeping)? Is it status? This
sounds like wasting a lot of money to show people that you can afford to…waste a lot of money. As the
financial guru Dave Ramsey puts it, “We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to
impress people we don’t know.”i That’s exactly what I don’t need to do.
Climate Change You Can Believe In
A less obvious arena where conservation of a major resource (the Earth) does not pay immediate
financial dividends is in the importance of reducing carbon emissions.
Less Americans believe that global warming is a real, human-caused problem now than they did in
2008ii. A Newsweek articleiii written by Jeneen Interlandi suggests that while public opinion on the issue
may be shaped by causes like a radicalized Republican party and a conscious effort on the part of anti-
environmentalist business and non-profit leaders to persuade the public that the jury is still out on
climate change; a pillar of the state-of-denial is simply American apathy. As Interlandi puts it, “It’s not
that we Americans don’t believe in global warming, it’s that we don’t really care about it… it’s a lot
harder to care about the fate of the planet when you’re scared witless about losing your job.”
So while the data may be accessible, much of the American public may believe that they can’t afford to
believe in global warming. It seems too costly to make significant lifestyle changes when your priorities
are paying the bills and keeping food on the table for you and your family. Couple this (the recession)
with the fact that the past two winters have produced significant, record-breaking blizzards/freezing
temperatures across the United States and even unprecedented frozen oranges in the state of Florida.
At face value, it doesn’t really seem like the Earth is really warming, does it?
But the truth is: temperatures are rising. 2000-2010 is the hottest decade on recordiv. In fact, it’s
arguable that our experience of harsh, cold, snowy winters is a by-product of a changing climate. We are
seeing polar ice caps melting, ocean levels rising, and forests drying and dyingv. These are the very things
that climatologists predicted would happen as a result of increased green-house gases being emitted
into the Earth’s atmosphere.
So if it snows in Miami next January, don’t be surprised. For one thing, there’s more moisture in the air
due to glaciers the size of Manhattan melting off of Antarctica. But also keep in mind, James Hansen (the
NASA scientist who was one of the earliest pioneers of the politicization of this issue in the late 1980’s)
may have misspoken when he dubbed this phenomenon “global warming.” Yes, the Earth’s overall
average temperatures are on an upward trend, but this changing climate manifests itself in other ways
aside from just heating up.
The reason we ought to be taking significant steps to change the amount of carbon dioxide we emit is
because of the importance of long-term vision. For the sake of not only you and your great-
grandchildren but also the rest of the planet, it will be much more profitable for businesses in the long-
run to invest in utilizing renewable energy sources and develop sustainable technologies now rather
than wait until we’ve destroyed every available resource.
Imagine for a moment that you are the CEO of a major oil company (let’s just say that you’ve taken over
Tony Hayward’s old job at BP). While you could invest millions of dollars in fighting for access to patches
of Earth that may provide more oil to drill and you’ll get a pretty fast pay-off, keep in mind that oil (a
fossil fuel) is a finite resource. Within a few hundred years your main source of revenue will be
completely obsolete. You have competitors who realize this too.
At some point, the energy industry will have to adjust to be centered on a new, sustainable energy
source (possibly solar, wind, hydro-electric, nuclear power or something much more innovative than any
of these). If you wait to make the move to do this, one of your competitors (like Chevron) might beat
you to it and have the upper-hand. If you have the foresight to invest in renewable energy now, it may
cost you a little bit more than if you just continued with the same-old routine of drilling oil, but it will
end up saving you a lot in the long run. Because you never know when drilling oil could go bad and you’ll
have to spend billions to pay for it.
This applies to all commerce. Share-holders will have a much greater interest in investing in businesses
that think towards the long-term and strive to reduce waste and cut-off carbon emissions. Businesses
who can’t adjust to these shifts will go the way of the dinosaurs…extinct (much like the fossil fuels that
they base their industries on).
You don’t even have to believe that global warming is real to see the importance of advocating these
kinds of changes. As Senator John McCain said:
I’ve been involved in this issue since the year 2000. I’ve had hearings, I’ve traveled the world; I
know that climate change is real. But let me put it to you this way: suppose that climate change
is not real and all we do is adopt green technologies—which our economy is perfectly capable
of—then all we’ve done is given our kids a cleaner world. But suppose we’re wrong and climate
change is real and we’ve done nothing. What kind of a planet are we going to pass on to the
next generation of Americans?
It’s real. We’ve got to address it with technology, with cap-and-trade, with capitalist and free
enterprise motivation and I’m confident that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren a
cleaner, better world.vi
Theological Motivations for Warming-up to Reality
About a decade ago, I was watching the 700 Club late one night and I heard Pat Robertson criticize
scientific reports warning of the dangers of global warming. Robertson implied that any scientific
suggestions that we should curb our over-population and over-consumption were unbiblical because the
Lord commanded us: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish
in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”vii
Rev. Robertson believed that the Lord would not command us to do something (like pro-create
exponentially and dominate the Earth by consuming it) unless God would also provide the means for us
to do this. Robertson insinuated that we didn’t need to worry about maintaining a sustainable planet
because Jesus was coming back soon and it wouldn’t matter how we treated the Earth because the Lord
will just destroy everything on the Day of Judgment anyway.
This was some risky reasoning. For one thing, it banks on Jesus coming back really soon—which is
exactly what Jesus himself warned about; saying that we would never know the day or the hourviii. And
then it provides no real back-up plan for leaving breathable air and ample living space for the next
generation if Robertson is wrong. This sounds like some bad eschatologyix.
Considering that God commanded us to take authority over the Earth in the story in Genesis, it doesn’t
seem like God invited us to destroy Creation; rather, it seems more likely that God will hold us
accountable for what we did with our authority. Were we faithful in how we cared for Creation? Were
we as individuals (and collectively as a community) good stewards over the world we were entrusted
with? Jesus said, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come
and share your master’s happiness!”x But what if Jesus doesn’t find us to be faithful with what we were
given in this life; might our untrustworthiness with the resources we’re given now reflect poorly on us
when Jesus judges in the future?
The prophet Isaiah wrote that the Lord said, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.”xi
When Jesus walked the Earth, He washed His disciples’ feetxii. Couldn’t we at least return the favor to
the Son of God by keeping His Father’s footstool clean?
I find a good guideline for our stewardship of the Earth and the resources God provides in the old
Quaker idiom: “live simply so that others may simply live.” Thankfully, it seems that now even Pat
Robertson agrees with this…at least a little bit. He did a TV ad with Rev. Al Sharpton advocating the
importance of caring for the environment.xiii
A Lean, Green Machine (That Doesn’t Have to Be Mean)
While I’m thankful that Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth has generated a revival in
environmental concern since its release in 2006, I’m not a raving fan of the fashion-phenomena of
throwing the adjective “green” in front of just about everything that’s even mildly affiliated with
ecological resourcefulness. This frustration stems from more reasons than just the linguistic challenges
of explaining how you can own a “green” Toyota Prius that’s actually blue with a gray interior. In the last
three years, “green” has been used as a marketing ploy to sell just about everything under the sun. Yes,
it’s good that major corporations are making moves toward sustainability. Yes, the three R’sxiv have
become a core-value for many Americans that a decade ago couldn’t have cared less about the earth
because of all of this green-talk that’s sprouted-up as of late. But it’s misleading.
When we drive a hybrid car we’re consuming less fuel than we would with a gas-guzzling Cadillac, yes,
but when we put the label “green” on it, we’re giving a stamp of approval that could overlook the fact
that even though we’re reducing wastefulness, it’s only sparing us from emitting a few more fumes into
an already colossal cloud of smog.
Long before Al Gore burned a lot of jet-fuel to travel around the world and share a slide-show about the
dangers of global warming, a pink alien named Widget warned us of our self-destructive tendencies in
1990. I got on board the eco-friendly boat with Widget (the world watcher), Captain Planet, and all of
the ferries from Fern Gully when they echoed the sentiments of my first grade teacher (Mrs. Dieckman)
about the green-house effect when I was six.
I had been under the impression that it was undisputed, common knowledge that we’d burned a hole in
the ozone layer and that the fact that we were continuing to emit a lot more crap into the atmosphere
was universally recognized as a problem. A dozen years later, I moved to Texas and learned that this was
not the case. And this goes beyond the Lone Star State, eco-ignorance and indifference is all across the
map. I’m writing this in 2010 and Columbus, OH still does not provide curbside recycling to its residents,
and the city serves as the capital of a coal-burning state that has one of the worst environmental track
records in our nation.
I’m an imperfect example of being faithful with what I’ve been given. But Jaynie and I aspire to be good
stewards of what we have because compared with much of the world, we’ve been given a lotxv.
We reduce landfill waste by keeping an indoor verma-culture bin in our basement that composts our
organic waste, even in the winterxvi. We try to save money from luxury items by rarely going to movie
theatres (and even if we go to a theatre, it’s almost always the local dollar theatre). If we want to see a
movie, we can wait until it comes out on DVD and ride our bike to the library to pick it up for free. The
same is true with books and music; why buy something when you can legally borrow it for free? This
ends up saving not only money and reduces wasted paper and materials, but it also saves space on our
By shopping for clothes at thrift stores, we can be more confident that our money isn’t going towards
sweatshops and clothing companies that don’t comply with fair trade standards. Furthermore, we’re
reducing waste of materials by re-using the pants and shirts that someone else had before us. And one
of the best things about thriftiness is that we end up saving a lot of money too! This allows us to donate
money that could have gone to expensive luxury items toward more noble causes.
My friend Tim Edwards (who I mentioned earlier) gave this advice on money:
enjoy without owning (share books, magazines, etc. with your friends and with the library)
develop a habit of giving things away
buy for usefulness--not status
buy 2nd hand everything (except maybe a toothbrush)
avoid debt like the plague
reject anything that breeds oppression
shun anything that keeps you from fulfilling Matthew 6:33
Whenever you search online, use goodsearch.com not google. It'll donate a penny each time that you use
it to a non-profit organization of your choice.
Read The Road to Reality by K.P. Yohannan and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider
You can even re-use resources on a massively creative scale. Our friend Katie Doner takes disposed-of
junk from Toronto and turns it into stuff that you’d want to decorate your house or your body with.
She’s turned this into a business called Trash or Treasure. You can browse the merchandise she’s re-
So it’s not that my wife and I are the best at this by any measure. There are much greater champions of
conservation that we can look toxviii. We’re still learning. But we want to make the most of our time,
money, and resources. This is in the spirit of the psalmist who wrote, “Teach us to number our days that
we may gain a heart of wisdom.”xix
Or as the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, expressed it, “Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way
things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
In my Gmail inbox, there’s an occasional quote mixed in with advertising. This was a quote they displayed. I liked
it, so I’m using it.
See this pew report: http://people-press.org/report/556/global-warming
This is something he said in December of 2007 at a debate for the Republican caucus in Iowa. You can watch the
clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAYtC_jcK1U
Genesis 1:28, New International Version
If you don’t believe me, read Matthew 24:36-51
Go back and read my chapter “Why I embraced post-millenial eschatology”
Matthew 25:23, NIV
Isaiah 66:1, NIV
Read the story in John 13
From wecansolveit.org see the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhmpsUMdTH8
Reduce, re-use, and recycle… Not to be confused with reading, writing, and arithmetic (two-thirds of which don’t
even begin with the letter “R”).
For a reminder of this, watch Rob Bell’s Nooma video titled “Rich”. Or just look at this:
For more about how to do this, read Mary Appelhof’s book Worms Eat My Garbage.
One example off of the top of my head is Shane Claiborne, read his book The Irresistable Revolution.
Psalm 90:12, NIV