Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Efficient and Effective
distributed 6/7/01 - ©2001

We were cruising down the highway at 65 miles an hour when the engine shut off.

Nobody noticed.

Last weekend, I was able to catch a ride to a meeting in a Toyota Prius, one of the new hybrid gas/electric automobiles. Even at highway speeds, the gas engine may turn itself off, and the car will run on its electric motor. Except for the fun little display in the dashboard, the whole process is invisible to the driver and passengers. The Prius looks and drives just like any other car. The dramatic difference from other cars is in fuel efficiency. On our three hour round trip, much of which was on mountain roads, and with four people in the car, we got somewhat over 50 miles per gallon. For one 25-minute period, coming down out of the mountains, we got over 100 mpg and generated excess electricity, too.

There's been a suggestion from some influential voices in our nation's capitol that conservation and efficiency somehow require suffering and deprivation. The Prius shows that doing the right thing doesn't have to hurt. The car was comfortable, peppy, stylish and quiet, and the owner will save money on gas. What's more, the purchase price for the Prius is competitive with other mid-size sedans.

The same is true in other areas than cars.

When we replaced the aged furnace in our home with an ultra-high efficiency model, we did so because it does a better job of heating the house, and at a lower cost for both installation and operation than a lower efficiency product.

Compact florescent light bulbs work just as well as incandescent bulbs in most settings, use about 20 per cent of the electricity, last longer, and save lots of money over the life of the bulb.

There are times when caring for the environment will require changing our lifestyle or making sacrifices. But there are many times when picking the most efficient choice is just good sense.

Equating efficiency with deprivation is a lie. When you hear those sorts of distortions, speak up with the truth!

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More on cars and the environment from last weekend:

In Lynn, Massachusetts, religious leaders joined with secular environmentalists to protest at auto dealerships. They were trying to persuade car shoppers to buy something other than SUVs.

Bill McKibben wrote: "These lots are where Americans make the most environmentally significant decisions of their lives, and that's why a hundred of us were there, in the pouring rain -- to remind our neighbors that these private decisions have a public dimension."

The protest caught the attention of car shoppers, the news media, as well as the auto dealers and manufacturers. Protest organizers hope that similar events will be held around the country. Any takers? (Give Eco-Justice Ministries a call if you want to consider activism in your community!)

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Choosing to buy a fuel-efficient car instead of an SUV is a practical and moral choice with long-term consequences. When we work for effective environmental change, we'll do well to target our efforts in areas that really make a difference.

A recent book from the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, is helpful for those who want to know how to make the most difference. Which purchasing decisions are relatively low-impact, and which should be at the top of the priority list?

The book, by the way, refers to the way some religious congregations have spent vast amounts of time and endured major conflict debating the use of disposable coffee cups (p. 134). While getting rid of disposables is generally a good thing, weatherstripping the church's doors and windows may do more to help the environment, and won't divide the congregation.

(What the book does not take into account in its discussion of coffee cups, though, is the consciousness raising effect of such a congregational debate. Sometimes, what we do in churches is directed more at personal change than at the direct environmental effect.)

As we make choices about how to work for eco-justice, may we always be aware of our goals, and seek to be effective in our actions.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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