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A call to conserve

Letter to the Editor | Monday, February 4, 2008

Lent is upon us, and we have a marvelous opportunity to improve how we approach the greatest problem that humanity has ever faced.

According to climate experts, the world is on the brink of catastrophic climate destabilization if action is not taken immediately around the world to reverse the rate of carbon emissions which contribute to the greenhouse gases that promote climate change (see the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; watch “wonderingmind42” on YouTube). Climate destabilization will bring about more death and destruction than we can imagine, hitting the poorest nations and peoples first, and profoundly affecting the survival of most if not all planetary life forms. Two of the major causes of greenhouse gases in the United States are animal feedlots (supporting our meat-eating habits) and coal-fired power plants, one of which Notre Dame has.

The times encourage us to trivialize the effects that one person or institution can have on the world. When problems are complex, multivaried and overwhelming, we can fall prey to the deadly sin of acedia- callousness, indifference and apathy towards moral and spiritual excellence. In setting its sights too low, acedia becomes a sin against charity.

Adopting a deep commitment to the common good, we at Notre Dame would review our practices, changing those that contribute to climate change. We would do everything in our power to decrease our carbon footprint individually and as an institution. Notre Dame would use some of its endowment funds to move the campus towards use of wind power and carbon neutral energy; build bicycle paths for constituents to get to campus; promote vegetarianism at least occasionally (to reduce those feedlot effects) and vigorously support educational and research initiatives to meet carbon neutral goals. And we would act with urgency – the window of opportunity is quickly shrinking. Such moves require vision, courage and perseverance, not only of Notre Dame’s leaders but of us all – students, faculty, staff, alumni.

Concretely for all of us it means figuring out how to restructure our lives so that how we live uses less energy (e.g., walking instead of driving across campus to a meeting, eating less meat, turning off power switches when not in use, unplugging vampire appliances that use energy when plugged in). This is not an individualistic venture, it requires us to work together, encourage one another and even call each other to account. Together we must share the burdens of changing lifestyle on every level – individual, community, institutional.

Lent offers us an opportunity to practice reducing our gluttonous consumption of the earth’s limited resources. We can practice new habits that lessen the cost of our lives for those elsewhere who chop down their rainforests for us and poison themselves and the earth for our floral bouquets.

Now is the time for the whole of the Notre Dame community to individually and communally adopt policies and practices that fulfill our moral quest to bring about the greater good. Whether the Notre Dame community takes the heroic path of leadership is up to you – to us, and our passion for goodness. The call to discipleship has never been stronger. The cost of acedia has never been greater. Life on the planet is at stake.

Darcia Narvaez

psychology professor

University Energy and Environment Committee member

Feb. 4