Balancing Acts – Little Things

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride,

excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16:49 (NRSV)

It can probably be argued that most of us, intentionally or not, see issues relating to the environment as somewhat less important than those relating to matters of violence, oppression, injustice or spiritual well-being. But, a “peace ethic” calls us to embrace peace with creation as intentionally and as seriously as peace with God, self and others. And, really, peace with the creation involves peace with God, self and others: the creation is God’s handiwork, and we all are a part of it.

Issues relating to the creation such as clean water, clean air, healthy ecosystems, and sustainability are based on theological as well as practical grounds. We honor God who created all things when we use and enjoy His creation responsibly and with thanks. We maintain or improve the quality of life for ourselves and others when we care properly for creation.

In June Pope Francis issued an encyclical addressing global warming and its impact on the creation including people, especially the poor. The Pope laid the responsibility for environmental degradation due to global warming squarely at the feet of human culture and lifestyle.

While slamming a slew of modern trends — the heedless worship of technology, our addiction to    fossil fuels and compulsive consumerism — the Pope said humanity’s “reckless” behavior has pushed the planet to a perilous “breaking point.”

The practical implications of global warming are obvious: melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, animal and insect migration, increase in precipitation and strong storms.

While the impact of these changes ultimately affects all of us, it is felt most by those living in places vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise and other climate change effects; often the very poorest. According to the most recent report by the United Nation’s climate panel, “People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change.” (the Climate change, brought about by the way we choose to live, is inconsistent with peace-making, either with God or with our neighbor, or ultimately with ourselves.

The problem is not only practical, it is also spiritual. While Pope Francis points the finger at businesses, politicians, and others in positions of power, he also attributes much of the responsibility for the environmental crisis to human sinfulness, in particular to our idolatrous relationship with technology.

Francis saves his most challenging questions for modern consumers, arguing that humanity has become     enamored of another apple — and this time no Eve or serpent are around to take the fall. The temptation may have shifted from a forbidden fruit to cutting edge technology, but the sin remains the same: hubris. (

For us as individuals the problems of climate change may seem daunting. But, the problem is in part the cumulative effect of many small decisions we make – or do not make – every day. Changes that we make in “little things” can make a big difference.

As an example, consider the standby power used by typical home electrical devices and appliances. Many devices and appliances are not really “off” when we turn them off. For example, when we turn off a TV using the remote it is really in standby mode so that we can turn it back on with the remote. Standby power, though small, like other “little things” can accumulate into a big thing!

Here is an example: Consider a computer with LCD display, multifunction inkjet (scanner, copier, printer), and DSL modem. Together they consume an average power of approximately 29 watts in standby mode. If left in standby for 1 hour, that is .029 KWH (kilowatt-hours) – not much, really. This   combination would use about .232 KWH in one night and 85.7 KWH in a year. Now, if one-fourth of the 320,000,000 people in the US do this for one year, the amount of electricity used would be 685,600,000 KWH annually, just for this combination of devices.

What can you do? Put all electrical devices that you turn off (or should turn off) on plug strips and turn off the plug strips before going to bed.

This is just one example of a “little thing” we can do to cut energy use and help reduce global warming. Then encourage others to do the same.

For more information on this issue here are a few links:

  • CNN News Pope Francis: “Revolution: needed to combat climate change

  • CNN: You’re making this island disappear (watch the video “Climate Migration”)

  • National Geographic: Effects of Global Warming

  • Guardian: Climate Change: the poor will suffer most

  • EPA; What can you do at home?

Standby Power



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