Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

People Powered
distributed 4/29/11 - ©2011

Lent this year has been an intense season for Eco-Justice Notes. My series on Telling the Truth about God's Creation took seven weeks to probe deeply about the nature of the universe. It is time for a change of pace.

In the classic phrasing of Monty Python: "And now for something completely different."

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Yesterday was a lovely spring day here in Denver, Colorado. On the plains below the Rocky Mountains, it was 70 degrees, sunny and calm. (And, this being Denver, there's a good chance that we'll get snow tonight.) To celebrate the coming of spring, I took a quick trip to a nearby state park.

After work, I tossed my kayak on top of the car and drove 8 miles to Cherry Creek Lake for an hour of exercise and relaxation. A visit to that park is generally pleasant, but Thursday's trip was especially delightful. My late afternoon on the water gave me a hopeful and enticing glimpse of a positive future for our society.

On a warm summer day, Cherry Creek Lake is swarming with oversized motor boats, water skiers, and (oh, the horror!) jet skis. All those revved up motors make the lake noisy and smelly, and there's always a sheen of oil on the surface of the water. It takes some real concentration to enjoy the slightly quieter areas close to shore.

To my great delight, the lake setting was "completely different" yesterday. There were virtually no motorboats on the water. (The boat ramps were closed, apparently because no park rangers were available for the mandatory "Aquatic Nuisance Species" inspection of large watercraft.) Small boats without motors had the lake pretty much to themselves, and didn't need to dodge speeding powerboats.

It was especially fun to see the high school kids with Mile High Rowing with four of their racing shells out for practice. In each sleek boat, four or eight rowers were working to perfect the precision timing needed to do well in their next competition. There was a good scattering of small sailboats, too, and a couple of other kayaks. It was wonderfully quiet and serene.

Because the noise was way down and the activity levels were much slower, I was able to see a richer variety of birds than usual. There was a flock of pelicans (which can make your Thanksgiving turkey look small), a couple of skittish blue herons, and all sorts of ducks and geese. Around the edge of the lake, people were fishing, bird watching, biking and walking.

The vast majority of yesterday's park activities were "people powered" recreation. The visitors to Cherry Creek Park were using their own muscles, instead of gasoline engines. I will treasure that time at the lake as a vision of the joyful future that is possible when our society uses less gas.

On the typical summer day, the pervasive motor sports are all about power, speed, and excitement. The lake becomes a resource to be used while generating an adrenaline rush. It provides a wet surface that allows gas-guzzling thrills. The focus seems to be on the boats and skis, and how far the throttle can be cranked open on a mile-wide lake.

Yesterday, the people at the park were much more interested in relaxation and exercise. Even the rowing teams were enjoying the quiet and the birds when they took a break between their sprints. The lake itself was an active part of the relationship. For all of us at the park yesterday, an attentiveness to wind and waves, fish and birds enhanced -- and even defined -- the experience.

The days are coming, probably this summer, when gasoline will be $4 a gallon. In a few years, we may see a gallon of petrol priced at $10 and more. The fuel for all of that motorized recreation will be prohibitively expensive, and our society may finally start to object to the squandering of precious fossil fuels for motorized playtime on the water. I expect that the days of racing powerboats at Cherry Creek are limited.

It was wonderful to see how this close at hand state park -- located in the midst of metropolitan Denver, and surrounded by suburban housing -- can be a place of pleasant recreation in a reduced-petroleum world. People powered recreation enhances our experience of the good life in tune with nature, slower-paced and relational. What I saw yesterday shows how we can find deep joy within a less consumptive world. The rare experience of a quiet lake could be a foretaste of an ordinary day at the park in a decade or two.

I have often noted that people are unlikely to give up what they see as "the good life" for a noble cause. They won't voluntarily adopt what they label as deprivation or sacrifice. The necessary trick in moving toward a healthier planet is to provide a new and better option for the good life. As Eknath Easwaran wrote, "Lasting change happens when people see for themselves that a different way of life is more fulfilling than their present one."

A people powered day at the park helped me envision how delightful it will be -- for people seeking recreation, for wildlife seeking habitat, and for the global environment -- when we stop glorifying gas-powered playthings.

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If we rearrange "people powered" a little bit, we can get to "power to the people."

I want to call your attention -- and urge your participation, where possible -- to the "iMatter Marches" that will be held across the US and around the world May 7-14. This is a youth-inspired, youth-led call for intergenerational justice in the face of climate change. Most of the marches will be on Sunday, May 8.

Alec Loorz -- a sixteen year-old from the Denver area -- is one of the inspiring leaders of this movement. I have been moved and energized each time I have heard him speak. On the march website, he says that, in early May, "we will march. The youth will rise up in our communities and let the world know that climate change is not about money, it's not about power, it's not about convenience, it is about our survival. It's about the future of this and every generation to come. And we are ready to do whatever it takes to change it."

Check the international website and see if there is a march taking place near you. Go with youth from your church and community, and stand with them as they voice their call for a liveable world.

The march in Denver -- which will be on Saturday afternoon, May 14 -- is expected to be the largest of the actions, with many thousands of youth and their allies taking part. Eco-Justice Ministries is a partner for the Denver iMatter March, and I am honored to have been invited to speak at the rally. For our local friends, I strongly encourage you to join us for this day of witness.

"People powered." As a form of recreation, it is a joyous vision for the future in a state park. As a strategy for social change, it is inspiring and essential. Embrace both, and create a better world.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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