Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Making Promises
distributed 10/3/03 - ©2003

Twenty-some years ago, I was given a small book titled, The American Way of Life Need Not Be Hazardous to Your Health. The book was about the high-risk diets and sedentary lifestyles that many in this country have. It carried the hopeful message that we can live happier and healthier lives by following some fairly simple advice.

I don't remember many technical details from that little volume about healthy levels of salt and fat, and good exercise regimes. What has stuck with me through the years are its pointers on how to follow through on our decisions to live in a healthier way. They are not radical ideas, but I keep realizing how valuable they are: set reasonable goals, find workable ways of moving toward those goals, reward good progress, and enlist a "buddy" to keep you honest about your commitments.

Change won't happen if my goals are unrealistic. And it is so easy to slip when nobody else knows what I've committed to doing. But if others are being supportive, I'm far more likely to keep plugging away at the promises I've made to myself.

They are common-sense strategies that, for decades, have been helpful in our household as we try to stick to a healthier, more sustainable way of life.

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I've been remembering those simple principles for making lifestyle changes as I follow a piece of legislation in Washington, DC.

Sometime this month, the US Senate will vote on S. 139, The Climate Stewardship Act. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators McCain and Lieberman, would implement some basic procedures to limit the US contribution to global warming.

The act sets a 2010 target date for getting the US emissions of carbon dioxide down to the levels that we produced in 2000. A primary strategy for lowering the emissions is a framework for companies to buy and sell the rights to emit carbon dioxide.

This week, the bill's co-sponsors agreed to drop a longer-term goal of getting back down to 1990 levels by 2016. They hope that, by removing the more challenging and more expensive target, the bill might stand a better chance of passing.

So why does this legislation make me think of a 25 year old book on personal health?

When it comes to global warming, the Bush administration, and many in Congress, prefer a totally voluntary system for reducing greenhouse gasses. Companies and individuals are welcome to promise themselves that they'll do something, but there are no formal goals. The US government doesn't set any targets, and makes no promises.

That doesn't work when I try and do it with my own exercise and diet. It sure doesn't work when it comes to cutting our society's widespread use of fossil fuels, and the related production of greenhouse gasses.

To make any progress toward a challenging goal, we need to set a realistic target, find reasonable ways of getting there, reward progress, let others know about what we've promised, and ask for their help in holding us accountable.

The Climate Stewardship Act does just that.

  • The 2000 levels of carbon dioxide emissions are a very manageable target -- far less stringent than what most of the rest of the industrialized world has agreed to with the Kyoto Protocols.

  • The emissions-trading system is a market-driven, flexible and responsive way to reach that target. It provides financial benefits to those who cut their emissions. And it is effective. A similar system used to reduce the pollution that causes acid rain worked even better than expected.

  • Mandatory targets make us take the commitments seriously.

  • Taking a public stand will provide a way for citizens and agencies in this country -- and for the other nations of the world -- to provide encouragement, support and reinforcement.
The Climate Stewardship Act, especially with this week's revisions, is about the least that can be done if the US is going to make any real improvements. If the Senate won't vote for this bill, it is a tragic statement that our country is not going to commit to doing a damn thing about global warming.

The science is clear, and so are the demands of Christian ethics. Global climate change is a real and profound threat. Significant steps must be taken to cut the human impacts on the world's climate.

I rarely use this forum to push for political advocacy. I figure you all get too much of that from other sources. But global climate change is one of the most profound issues that we have to face. It is imperative that we lean hard on our Senators on this one.

So, please, call both of your Senators, and urge them to vote for S.139. (If you don't know who they are, or how to contact them, go to or Short of a face-to-face visit, a personal phone call is the most effective way of making contact.

If you can't call, send an e-mail. Or sign the petition being managed by Environmental Defense.

And, while you're at it, forward this message to a slew of your friends and colleagues.



Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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