Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Far from Sustainable
distributed 6/19/03 - ©2003

There's a profound irony in what I'm doing this week. I'm printing up multiple reams of paper to hand out, and then flying thousands of miles for - - - a conference on sustainability.

I'm painfully aware of what Jesus said about removing the log from your own eye before taking the speck out of someone else's.

It is for a good cause, of course. (Doesn't everyone say that about their questionable behaviors?)

The meeting in Seattle this weekend is an every-other-year gathering sponsored by the Eco-Justice Working Group of the National Council of Churches. I have attended 2 of the previous 3 gatherings. (One of them was only 60 miles away from my home, and at that one, I hardly passed out any paper. Really!) They have been wonderful events -- spiritually uplifting, intellectually stimulating, emotionally stirring, politically effective, and superb at building strong networks.

At this year's meeting, I'm leading a couple of workshop sessions, and helping to facilitate a denominational gathering. I'll be staffing a display table for Eco-Justice Ministries to spread the word about what this agency is doing. And I'll be connecting with many other faith-based groups to strengthen our collaborative efforts in caring for God's creation.

As I told my Board of Directors when we were working on this year's budget, the NCC eco-justice conference on sustainable living is the must do event of the year.

But however important the meeting, the trip is not "sustainable." I'm getting on an airplane in the morning, and I'm taking 15 pounds of paper with me.

It is amazingly easy to justify such atrocious behavior.

After all, this conference is essential in building the eco-justice movement! And that trip to Texas a few months ago? It planted the seeds for a whole new community of activists. The family wedding in New Mexico last weekend, and the family funeral in Illinois last January -- well, how could I stay home?

Each individual instance can be rationalized. The pattern that emerges is harder to affirm.

I've made a personal choice to go on each trip. But it is not all a matter of individual decisions. The business, church and cultural context has a high expectation for such travel. For many of these events, it is very hard to justify staying at home.

One of the small, slow steps toward sustainability involves a persistent questioning of events that require lots of travel. Individuals need to ask, "Do I really need to make that trip?" And organizations need to ask, "Do we really need to schedule this meeting?"

Our world will be in better shape when those questions are asked honestly and often, and when it becomes reasonable to answer with, "No!"

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Earlier this year, I took an on-line quiz to calculate my "ecological footprint." It shows how much of the world's productivity is devoted to supporting my lifestyle.

I was asked a few simple questions about my housing, food choices, and transportation. The web site processed my answers, and told me that my eco-footprint measures 49.4 % of an average American footprint. (That made me feel good!)

But the numbers hit home when I was told that it would requires 3 Earths to support each member of the present human population at my standard of living. That did not feel good.

Three times the productive capacity of the earth is not "sustainable" -- or anywhere close to it. And the average person in the US consumes twice what I do.

It is not just a matter of statistics and numbers. We can see that we're in ecological overshoot by the collapse of the world's fisheries, by global water shortages, the devastation of forests, and the extinction of species.

Our non-sustainable way of life is a serious problem. Solutions to the problem are complex and will be hard to achieve.

Asking hard questions and feeling the reality of our own impacts are good places to start.

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Here are two opportunities for learning:

  1. Take the "ecological footprint quiz" and see how your lifestyle impacts the planet! There are several versions of the available on the Internet. I used the one at

  2. A "close to home" opportunity for Colorado folk: Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver has openings for their August 1-3 retreat on the Bible's wisdom literature, with an emphasis on our relationship to the order of creation. It will be held at the Colorado Outward Bound camp in Leadville, cost $110. For more info, contact the retreat leader, Ashley Seaman (


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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