Vermont Interfaith Power and Light

A faith-based response to global climate change

Gulf Disaster Points to Our Need to Change

Before a recent prayer service at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, I was walking up the sidewalk to the church when, much to my surprise, the heels and soles of my shoes started to crumble apart.

God sometimes sends me messages in everyday events, and I wondered if there was a message in this, but since I was helping prepare for the service, I didn’t have time to think about it. The prayer service, which was jointly sponsored by Vermont Interfaith Power and Light, the Cathedral and several other faith groups, was in response to the gulf oil disaster.

The service touched me deeply. People of different faiths including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Native Americans shared reflections and prayers, speaking about creation’s suffering from the gulf disaster and our anger, complicity and hope.

This on-going catastrophe will continue long after the well is capped and the gushing oil and gas are stopped. We’re now acutely aware, not only of the failings of BP in its rush for big profits and our government for its inadequate safety enforcement, but also of the integral role we’ve played with our demand for oil. The gulf ecosystem, and the people who depend on it, will suffer as a result of this tragedy for decades, if not longer.

Our oil dependency has often been described as an “addiction”, and I think this term is apt. We don’t need oil in the same sense that we need food and water. It’s just that oil makes our lives so much easier that we find it very difficult to slow, much less stop, our use of it. Our suppliers have made sure that there’s abundant, uninterrupted and easily accessible oil. As the world’s supply of oil keeps decreasing, however, the days of our well-oiled machines are numbered.

Other alternatives exist to power our vehicles, electronics, heating and cooling systems, and appliances. They just aren’t mainstream yet. We need to be moving very quickly to greatly expand our supply of renewable energy – making solar panels commonplace and wind turbines (more small ones and some large ones) much more common, as well as expanding the use of other biomass, geothermal, and hydro energy sources.

Making buildings more energy efficient nationwide is the important first step – before determining how much renewable energy is needed. Vermont is moving in this direction, we just need to move much faster. It’s crucial that our federal government pass a strong climate and energy bill this year so that energy efficiency and renewable energy become the norm in our country. This must happen to avoid more gulf oil disasters.

The global climate crisis is impacting ecosystems all over the world. Quick action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is needed to prevent its worst effects. Worldwide, the climate crisis is seriously affecting the poor. This is a moral issue and, as a Christian, I believe that we must take quick action to mitigate the effects on all who are suffering.

In this country, we’ve recently experienced more severe storms, floods, and fires, and they’ll get even stronger. I’ve written letters to our president and to key senators saying that, for the sake of God’s creation, they must pass a strong, comprehensive climate and energy bill this year!

It recently occurred to me that perhaps God was sending a message when the heels and soles of my shoes started crumbling. I realized that they were made from petroleum products, and the petroleum base on which I was standing was falling apart. The petroleum base that underlies our whole society will soon begin coming apart as the supply of oil begins to slow and stop. If we work fast, we can still build a renewable and sustainable power base for our society. I pray we’ll make this transition NOW.

Betsy Hardy is Coordinator of Vermont Interfaith Power and Light, a statewide, nonprofit working with Vermont’s faith communities to respond to the global climate crisis. Find info at

[Note: This My Turn Op-ed was in the Burlington Free Press on Wednesday, July 7, 2010 with the headline Gulf spill reminds of need to change.]

June 25, 2010

Betsy Hardy
1 East Village Drive
Burlington, VT 05401

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