The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 05, 2017 10:01 pm


John P. Gardner

Increasingly, faith communities are embracing the issue of climate change as an urgent threat to humanity and to our planet’s environmental health.

In my own United Church of Christ tradition, local churches are challenged to designate themselves "Earthwise congregations" and to commit themselves to immediate actions to reduce energy consumption, advance energy conservation practices and embrace renewable energy sources.

We are casting a bold and urgent vision that change in our individual and institutional habits is both possible and needed.

Once upon a time, the congregation I serve used coal as fuel for heating. But that was two or more generations ago. We have kept current with technology, installing high-efficiency boilers that will significantly reduce our carbon footprint. And we have installed solar panels on our rooftop. We are engaged in being Earthwise.

Fort Wayne area residents can engage in their own Earthwise practice by calling for our local utility, Indiana Michigan Power, to stop burning coal in the AEP-Rockport Plant in Spencer County. The Rockport plant has a notorious record of fouling and damaging the environment with the pouring of toxins into the earth, air and water. Yet Indiana Michigan Power is asking the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for permission to keep burning coal at Rockport for another 20 years. Their $260 million request is only the first act. Some estimates indicate that, in a few years, they’ll be asking for more than $3 billion to retrofit the aging plant.

Continued use of coal as the preferred resource to stoke the generation of electricity is not only a bad economic investment, it is also ethically deficient. It does not include the full cost of the damage coal reeks upon our health and the environment. The most important act of caring for God’s creation is to keep it in the ground. Earthwise alternatives to highly polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, need be pursued without delay.

Clean fuel options exist for Indiana. I&M’s own analysis showed that retiring half the plant and replacing it with solar, wind and other forms of cleaner energy would be less costly than I&M’s preferred plan. As individuals and as faith communities, we need to demand more of our elected and appointed state officials, and expect more of industry leaders. We need to press the point that we are eager for creative, earth-friendly alternatives in meeting our present and future energy needs. As stated by Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, people of faith seek to be good stewards of creation; they are committed to "using energy prudently."

In the papal encyclical, "Laudato Si," Pope Francis poses the question: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?" This is not as simple a question as it sounds. Pope Francis keenly observes that self-concern impairs the human ability to think seriously about future generations. Yet this is exactly the challenge we face – to "think seriously" of breaking harmful habits of consumption and profligate waste, and to live intently with awareness for the welfare of the children soon to follow us. This challenge, termed "intergenerational solidarity" by Pope Francis, corrects the blind eye that poses a threat to our progeny. It is a compelling moral imperative that calls us to broaden our vision and concern, to safeguard the only planet we have for the generations to come.

I&M and its parent company, AEP Corp., could render valuable customer service by becoming an Earthwise corporation. Revisiting their commitment to powering the Rockport Plant with coal, redirecting their focus beyond coal into viable and sustainable alternatives, would be a welcome step toward improving the health and well-being of all Hoosiers.

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