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Environmental evangelism

By David Wilson

A sign of the times showed up on our doorstep last fall, declaring "trick or treat." The Halloween rush was starting to die down when four older kids rapped on the door. One was a spitting image of Harry Potter. Another was Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings. The third wore tattered clothes splattered with fake gore -- the villain from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The fourth, a girl, was tougher to pinpoint. She was covered in aluminum foil stretched flat over large pieces of cardboard. Her face was painted bright yellow.

I admitted I was stumped and she shot me a fierce look, announcing indignantly, "I'm solar energy!" Whereupon she turned around to display a slogan carefully inscribed on her back panel: "Save the planet!"

In his cover story this month ("The gospel according to Al Gore," page 14), Larry Krotz writes that the climate change movement that has united around former U.S. vice-president Al Gore has all the hallmarks of a religious crusade. As I dropped a bag of Doritos into solar-girl's UNICEF loot bag, I was struck by how very much like a disciple she seemed, and how strangely unwashed I felt in the face of her indignation.

My sin, I think, was not that I failed to recognize the costume, but rather that I failed to recognize the cause. It's a frailty of which I'm becoming more conscious with each passing year -- and one that in my own youth I never dreamed I would confess to someday. My generation grew up assuming we were the solution and everyone else was the problem. We saw war and cried peace. We saw racial and gender injustice and cried equality. We saw poverty and cried bread. We saw pollution and thought green.

All the while the planet was warming up, and now we face a crisis that doesn't fit the old framework. There's no "us and them" in climate change -- it's everybody. The problem is global yet its dimensions are as personal as the choices we make at the gas pump or supermarket. And I must confess I find myself more on the side of the problem than the solution. I'm too set in my ways, too heavily invested in the carbon culture to make the changes I know I ought to make to help bring global warming under control. Am I prepared to stop driving my daughter to hockey four or five nights a week and deny her a dream of playing university athletics? Probably not. Am I willing to give up weekend jaunts to the cottage, even though the cost of a single tank of gasoline is almost what I paid for my first car 25 years ago? Again, unlikely.

Curbing global warming demands nothing short of a revolution in the way we think and live. Solar-girl and the young disciples she represents are emerging as the vanguard, and I have a hunch they'll make it increasingly uncomfortable for the rest of us to fiddle while the planet burns. In one respect, it's simple math: young people realize they have to live longer with global warming's consequences. But there are other forces at work.

Disappointment and bitterness over the weakness and hypocrisy of us elders. A better understanding of our planet as a living thing. A deepening spiritual attachment to it. A sense that the Great Commission of their generation is creation itself.

They are in the process of wresting the flame of righteousness from the failing hands of my generation. We have no choice but to surrender it and pray that they succeed where we have failed.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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