Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Carbon Fast for Lent

Shrove Tuesday is here, the last day before Lent begins. Whatever your usual custom for Lent, a carbon fast may be something to consider as a Lenten discipline.

Observing a carbon fast involves reducing use of energy that adds carbon to the atmosphere. It includes reduction of both our electricity consumption and our carbon footprint for transportation. A carbon fast can be as simple as turning off the lights when no one is using a room, turning the thermostat down a couple of degrees, and running dishwashers and washing machines only when there is a full load of dishes or laundry. Taking the time to replace traditional light bulbs with CFL bulbs will help to cut carbon emissions. An easy habit to establish that will reduce energy consumption is to unplug computers, phone chargers, and office equipment at the end of the day when they are not in use.

Carpooling, using public transportation (for folks who have that alternative), eliminating unnecessary trips or consolidating errands, walking or biking instead of driving are all ways to make a significant difference in our carbon footprints. Simply keeping tires at the proper pressure may make a big difference; turning off the engine instead of letting the car idle when waiting is an easy way to get better mileage.

The spiritual benefits of a carbon fast are as varied as those of more traditional forms of fasting. Being aware of our personal impact on the Earth, God’s creation, and choosing to be more intentional about the effects of our actions is a way to turn away from sin and toward God. Walking or biking instead of driving gets us outdoors where we can enjoy the beauty and variety of creation, gives us some quiet space in the day, and helps us to be better stewards of our own health. Reducing television time, recreational computer time, or video game time are fairly common choices for Lenten fasts because they open up time for us to do other things: spend more time with family and friends, do something to serve others, pray, study, or find new ways of refreshment and recreation. Perhaps most importantly, whatever we can do to lower the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will help the people who stand to suffer the most from climate change, usually the poorest people in the world who depend on environmental stability for daily necessities.

Whatever specific ways we find to reduce our contribution to the carbon levels in the atmosphere, we will be simplifying our lives. When we manage to live more simply, we open up more space for God in our lives.

If you like a daily task to help with a Lenten discipline, there are calendars available with a different carbon-reducing idea each day. One is from Washington Interfaith Power and Light ; another is from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington .

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