$2.69 a Gallon and Rising, Hallelujah?
a sermon by Don Portwood on Peak Oil
August 21, 2005
Three years ago, on August 25, 2002 I preached a sermon using these same scriptures Pam just read. The sermon centered around a conversation with my son Matt I'd had earlier in the week in which he suggested that Barb and I buy some land up north. He would help build a cabin, add a wood stove, composting toilet and grow a big garden. Why? A number of people he knew in his life, including a young Dr, had or were planning on moving to the woods. The Dr. said, ìI don't know if you've heard, but in the next 10 years
we'll run out of gas and oil, the climate will change dramatically, water will become more saline.î Matt wanted us to have a safe place to go.
That sermon concluded with a confessional statement about me offering my whole self to trying to live a life in the city that cares for this earth, seeks peace and not war, and creates new ways of doing things that reverses what we are doing to our planet and ourselves. I could do that by clinging to the rock from which we were hewn. Because of the three year lectionary cycle, those same scriptures from Isaiah and Romans returned for today. And this morning I'm preaching about something mentioned only in passing when I quoted that doctor 3 years ago. She said to my son, ìI don't know if you've heard, but in the next 10 years we'll run out of gas and oil.î
Itís three years later and I paid $2.69 a gallon to fill up my car last week. Finally, gas prices are getting our attention! It's three years later and it's my other son Ben, who is now giving me books and articles to read and waking me up to an issue that so far has been kept out of the mainstream press.
Itís three years later and I'm struggling with Ben moving to Switzerland in the next couple months to 1) be close to his girlfriend and 2) find a job on an organic farm. He wants to develop skills in farming because he thinks it will be necessary to have those skills in the next few years. Why? He believes increasing oil costs caused by decreasing supplies will cause an economic collapse and a huge depression in the U.S. and many parts of the world.
Today I'm going to talk briefly about a scary issue and longer about what gives me hope. The scary issue: the end of cheap oil. If you drive a car, you're aware of how the price of gas has been rising. But the mainstream media covers it in the most superficial way. CNN did a poll about whether it would affect you financially. Duh.
Yesterday's StarTribune article, ìBig Rides Still Hotî said, ìBut even as consumers appear all a-splutter about gasoline prices, they're still buying big, thirsty vehicles.î You have to dig deeper or read between the lines to see what else is going on if you only read the mainstream papers or watch TV. Wednesday's New York Times, ìEconomy shows signs of strain from oil prices.î
Finally, this morning's New York Times Magazine cover article is ìThe Beginning of the End of Oil?î According to writer Jim Hightower, ìNo president has really been serious about conservation and renewable energy, but Jimmy Carter at least made a symbolic statement in the 1970s by having some solar panels installed on the White House roof.î They only lasted until Ronald Reagan defeated Carter. One of his first acts in office was to order those solar panels taken down and junked. These past 35 years, like oil junkies with an endless supply, we've thought little about conserving oil, about whether our lifestyles were sustainable over time. Instead, we have continued to use more and more oil; build bigger cars that get worse miles per gallon than 30 years ago and build huge homes further out on productive farm land for our smaller families.
We've probably gone to war to maintain our addiction to oil and added to climate changes, to the point that even Republican Senators like John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, were shocked by the effects of global warming on a on a recent trip to Alaska.
How bleak is the future? Are we at the peak of oil production worldwide and from now on, it will only get more expensive? Are we facing economic collapse in the next 3 months, 3 years, 10 years as oil prices increase and the economy shuts down hard? Are we living in a time when as Isaiah said, ìthe heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats?î
When I mentioned to the Faith and Fellowship Group on Thursday what I was preaching on, Darryl Moses offered me his August copy of National Geographic, After Oil: Powering the Futureî and Scientific Americaís September issue, ìCrossroads for Planet Earth.î The headline reads, ìThe human race is at a unique turning point. Will we choose to create the best of all possible worlds?î
That headline immediately reminded me of a quote in the Star Tribune on Wednesday by Woody Allen. It's from his 1980 book, Side Effects and a chapter entitled, My Speech to the Graduates.î
ìMore than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
I didn't feel as bad as Woody Allen humorously portrayed, but hearing about running out of oil is scary and overwhelming. It's not just cars, it's food, plastic, cooking, lights, our whole lifestyle. So having briefly given you some of the bad news and offering you a lot more information you can look up on your own through books and web sites, (thanks to Gary Hoover for the list) I want to share some balancing news that helps us live faithfully into whatever future we are creating with God. First, a reminder to put faith before fear. We know how the story ultimately ends. That's the whole point of Isaiah's scripture this morning. Listen for God's good news in the book of Isaiah:
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek Yahweh. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for Abraham was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. For Yahweh will comfort Zion; will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of God; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
My salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended. God is faithful, no matter what. That's good news, the rock, from which we were hewn -- that we cling to and sing about. That's good news that helps us to trust -- through the fear, beyond the fear, in spite of the fear.
Faith, trust, over fear. That's why the UCC passed resolutions both at our Conference in June in Minnesota (that we joined in submitting) and at General Synod in Atlanta in July about how important it is for the church, the people of faith ñ ìto provide guidance for stewardship of God's creation during the coming period of declining fossil fuels. In so doing the Church may pr ovide hope and support faith for those who have suffered in poverty, as well as those who fear change in their materialistic lifestyles.
Every book, every article, everything I've read and heard says, the first step in doing anything about oil depletion issues is to become aware of what's happening with the oil supply and the environment; to wake up, get our heads out of the sand, overcome the denial and resistance we have to facing what may be coming. And for many, that requires offering hope, whether it's us singing ìHow Can I Keep from Singing, or joining Bob Marley in singing, ìEverything's gonna be all right.
A spiritual practice for me, for us - practice putting trust in God over fear. Then know that people are already working to bring about change. In our own congregation, Gary Hoover, peddling his trike and witnessing to this for years. Jim Hightowerís May Hightower Low Down, which I mentioned earlier, writes about what the city of Austin Texas is doing to promote gas/hybrid/plug in cars.
In the Scientific American, author Amory Lovins writes that energy efficiency will give us time to make changes. He talks about what corporations are already doing to cut energy usage and improve production. And that if we begin working together, we can be oil free by the middle of the century. He writes that China has made it illegal in 2008 to sell many inefficient U.S. cars there. ìIf American automakers do not innovate quickly enough, in another decade you may well be driving a super-efficient Chinese-made car. A million U.S. jobs hang in the balance.
Lovins ends his hopeful article by saying, ìthis technology-driven convergence of business, environmental and security interests holds out the promise of a fairer, richer and safer world.î The National Geographic Darryl gave me talks about what Denmark and the Netherlands, Germany and Spain are doing with solar and wind power. Denmark gets 20% of their electricity from wind power. Spain has a new law that every new house built has to have solar panels.
Author, Richard Heinberg, who wrote The Party's Overî which I read this spring and preached about in June, has written a new book entitled, Power Down: options and actions for a post carbon world. Heinberg doesn't encourage people to go off into the woods and become self sufficient. He encourages people to build community where they are; make stronger connections with people around you. In a way, he's saying what Paul was saying to those Christians in Rome. We are members one of another, we have gifts that differ, so use your God given gifts, use your passions for speaking out, for caring, for teaching and proclaiming, use your compassion, use who you are to strengthen your community: the church, the neighborhood, the city, the important connections between cities and farmland.
It is important to recognize that we ourselves and others around us have a lot of resistance to waking up, looking at this head on and making changes in our lifestyle. It's easier to stay in denial. In fact, that's where we are encouraged to remain by the media and government. Or we think there may be easy answers from technology that someone else will take care of.
We've all got a lot going on in our lives.
But as the people of God, our faith sustains us and calls us to live faithfully into the future - to look beyond the superficiality of rising gas prices and become part of a movement - a grassroots movement that grows to a tipping point to get the attention of whom ever is in the White House over the next decade. Individuals, corporations, universities, private companies are working on this. Imagine, as Thomas Friedman did in an article last December, if the U.S. government got behind ending our oil dependence. It could be our generationís moon shot: a crash science initiative for alternative energy and conservation to make America energy-independent in 10 years, like the governments of Denmark and Spain are working towards.
So I end this sermon on these two scriptures this year with more urgency than three years ago and with an invitation to:
1) continue to learn about this (we'll talk about it this fall in Adult C.E.),
2) talk about it when you can to whomever you can,
3) pick up extra ìGas Prices Too High?î flyers and give them to people at the gas pump, at school and work.
4) Do what you can to raise grassroots awareness to the point where the power of all Americans is working to provide a soft landing for this nation and the world. We can't wait for this president or any president.
It starts with you and me waking up, paying attention, reading what we can, telling other people, acting on what we're learning and changing our own lifestyles.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, trusting the mercies of God, to join with others in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Using the gifts we've been given to change this
nation and change our unsustainable lifestyles. Imagine that. May it be so.