This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.
By Mary Minette, director for environmental education and advocacy, ELCA Washington Office
In Genesis 2:15, God calls us to be good stewards of the earth’s gifts. That means protecting our air and water quality for its own sake, for our fellow creatures, and for our own benefit. Our energy choices impact air and water quality in profound ways: we burn coal to generate electricity and release mercury into our air, which eventually finds its way into water, fish and the food chain. We burn fossil fuels in our power plants and in our cars and pollute the air in our cities, leading to increases in childhood asthma and in premature deaths due to lung and heart ailments.
In this month’s “Advocating on the Road” series, we’ve heard from ELCA members and congregations in Colorado who take their stewardship of God’s earth, and our collective air and water, very seriously. They have made a morally based decision to pursue cleaner ways to power their congregations, and to advocate that their state adopt a renewable energy standard (RES). A state RES requires that state-licensed utilities obtain a percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind or solar.
Colorado is fortunate to have a state RES; in other states with RES provisions, residential and commercial adoption of renewable energy systems is growing, generating both benefits for the earth and jobs for the companies and people that build and install solar panels, geothermal systems and wind turbines. It seems like I hear a new story of an ELCA congregation doing its part to steward God’s creation in these ways every week. Other ELCA institutions are also doing their part — Luther College recently received an award for its efforts to cut energy use and expand its use of renewable energy by, among other things, building its own wind turbine and installing solar panels.
But not all states have an RES, and efforts to pass a national RES are stalled in Congress. A national RES, together with existing supports and policies (including federal tax credits), would help to encourage even greater expansion of renewable energy technologies and reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels. This would not only reduce smog in our cities and mercury in our lakes and rivers, but also would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and help us begin to address the issue of climate change. In the U.S., the largest single source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists tell us are a primary cause of climate change is the electric power industry, accounting for about 40 percent of all U.S. emissions. More than 80 percent of these emissions come from older, dirtier coal-fired facilities, which are also a major source of smog-causing nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury.
Another way that federal and state governments support renewable energy is through the use of tax policies that support investment in these technologies. The federal government also funds research into new energy technologies as a way to spur innovation and investment in the private sector. However, federal support for renewable energy pales in comparison to the decades of support given to fossil fuel-based energy, which still receives the lion’s share of federal tax breaks and research dollars even though the industry is mature and established as compared to the far younger and less developed renewable energy industry.
Our governments need to prioritize the research, implementation and expansion of renewable energy sources. ELCA members in Colorado and around the country are realizing that energy choices have consequences for God’s earth, and are choosing to invest in renewable energy as a way to live out their faith. These people, and many other Americans, are doing their part to work toward a cleaner, healthier earth. Our leaders now must make policy choices that protect God’s creation, by encouraging investment in renewable energy sources.