Panelists explore ways to help the planet - Catholic Courier

Panelists explore ways to help the planet

He walks to work whenever possible.

She recycles many items, including junk mail.

Their household temperature is regulated with a programmable thermostat. They compost their kitchen waste, and also purchase natural household and cleaning products.

Marvin and Kris Mich try to live a green lifestyle not only because it is good for the environment and saves them money, but also because it is the Catholic thing to do.

Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, spoke about the theological and ethical implications of caring for the Earth as part of the Jan. 31 panel discussion “Caring for God’s Creation” at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption. The panel also included speakers who talked about the basics of global warming, Wegmans Food Markets’ efforts to reduce energy consumption, an area partnership to clean up the Great Lakes, Monroe County’s recycling program and New York’s energy-conservation programs.

Mich suggested thinking of ourselves as stewards, or guardians, of God’s creation rather than owners of it. He also cited Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s way of thinking that all of God’s creation is a function of God’s holiness.

“The little yellow flowers that nobody notices at the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God,” Mich said, quoting Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.

Taking care of God’s creation can fall into a variety of ethical categories, including preserving resources for the good of all people and helping the poor and vulnerable, who he said suffer the most from global climate change. Responding to climate change, he noted, is a way to protect all life and is a prudent thing to do.

“We do not need 100-percent certainty before we can act,” Mich remarked.

Jim Tappon, a community volunteer who has received training on climate change at An Inconvenient Truth workshops, cited study after study linking increases in carbon emissions with climate change.

“Even though the Earth is very large, the atmosphere is very delicate,” Tappon said.

He cited many examples of how, according to some scientists, the Earth appears to be warming. He showed pictures of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1970, 2000 and in 2005, which he said illustrates that the famed snows atop the mountain have receded.

“I could show you 50 more slides like this,” Tappon said. “Ninety-eight percent of glaciers in the world are receding at this point.”

Other scientists have attributed variations in animal life cycles and decreases in polar bear populations to global climate change, Tappon said. Within a few weeks, he noted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release a decision on whether to list polar bears as an endangered species.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that more than 90 percent of the scientific community is in agreement that global climate change is caused by human activity, Tappon said. According to the U.N. panel, all but one year from 1995 to 2006 rank among the warmest years for global surface temperature since 1850.

Citing the growing popularity of hybrid and high-efficiency vehicles and energy-efficient appliances, Tappon said it is possible for small steps — repeated many times over by many people — to have a positive effect.

He also noted people do not need to choose between the economy and the environment. He said retailing giant Wal-Mart has embraced green principles because they saves money. Among other sustainability initiatives, the company intends to reduce its existing stores’ energy use by 20 percent by 2009.

Jason Wadsworth of Wegmans Food Markets, who also spoke during the program, echoed the sentiment that corporate green initiatives can be cost-effective. Wadsworth said that Wegmans has reduced its stores’ Freon use by switching utilizing sugar-water refrigerant, added lower-emissions diesel trucks to its fleet, mandated that its trucks stick to the speed limit and promoted recycling of plastic bags. The company also donated more than 17 million pounds of excess food to area food banks during the past year, Wadsworth noted.

Stephen Lewandowski, program director of the Lake Ontario Coastal Initiative, a group that is studying water quality in Lake Ontario, said during the program that one way to prevent excessive aquatic plant growth is to control animal waste and use a dishwashing detergent that does not include phosphorus.

Kimie Romeo of Monroe County Environmental Services spoke about what items are recyclable as part of the county’s curbside recycling program. She said the county only accepts plastics with a 1 or 2 stamped on the bottom because there are no markets for plastics with other numbers. Magazines and junk mail are welcome in the blue bin, she said. Cardboard also is welcomed, she noted, and is a revenue stream for the county.

“All clean paper can and should go in the recycling bin,” Romeo said.

Lee Loomis, coordinator of Finger Lakes Energy $mart Communities, spoke about the state Energy Research and Development Authority’s Home Performance with Energy Star program. Families can get an energy audit through the program, which will offer them tips and in some cases grants to make their homes more energy efficient. Visit www.getenergysmart.org for details.

Big energy wasters, he said, include older refrigerators and poor insulation or drafty windows. He also suggested that people switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, which last longer than incandescent bulbs and can save people money on their energy bills. Each $2 light bulb saves about $10 per year in typical energy costs, he said. Since compact fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, they must be disposed of during household hazardous waste programs.

During a question-and-answer period after the talks, one attendee asked how a meat-rich diet can affect the climate.

“I can tell you the way we eat makes a huge impact,” Tappon said. “The amount of energy it takes to produce a pound of beef is 10 times or more than it takes to raise a pound of grain.”

Another audience member questioned the studies Tappon used in his presentation, and suggested a book called the Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, which he said refutes much of Tappon’s argument that climate change is occurring and that humans are responsible for it.

Tappon responded that although there are a few scientists who disagree with the conclusions, an overwhelming number of environmental scientists are in agreement about climate change and humans’ role in exacerbating it.

However, he noted that even if people don’t accept the science behind global warming, they still may be motivated to adopt a greener lifestyle because of the money it can save them in the long run on utility bills.

The talk won positive reviews from attendee, Dick Moore, an Assumption parishioner. He noted that the program had a mostly receptive audience.

“Most of the people here are already sold on this,” Moore observed.

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