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Professors examine spirituality of energy conservation

| Thursday, November 12, 2015

Taking a bike ride or turning off the lights can be transformative experiences, according to Wednesday night’s interfaith discussion panel at Saint Mary’s about the spirituality of energy conservation.

Associate professor of English and environmental studies Christopher Cobb said he makes an effort to see the value of basic actions, which helps him relate energy conservation to his Quaker faith.

“What we call energy conservation often, usually even, comes down to simple everyday activities: I ride a bike, I put on a sweater, I eat a meal without meat,” Cobb said. “These are not glamorous activities, and these are the sort of activities I might do, or might not do, without thinking much about it.”

Cobb said his choice not to obtain a driver’s license has strengthened his Quaker faith.

“Riding my bike to get where I need to go day-by-day has deepened my spirituality,” Cobb said. “It’s very easy not to drive. You just never learn.”

He said that riding his bike instead of driving also contributes to his understanding of the right use of energy, which he sees as a spiritual practice.

“My awareness of the spiritual aspect of riding my bike helps me to do it everyday,” he said. “I see that I am not doing so with the intent to conserve fossil fuel energy for someone else to use. My hope is that no one else will use it. Rather, I have the intent of improving the right use of energy in my life.”

Cobb said recognizing a spiritual presence in activities such as biking or walking helps him engage with nature.

“I feel connected to my surroundings,” Cobb said. “I am aware of the weather, the light, the direction of the breeze, the presence of animals. I am able to speak to people, to encourage geese to get off the path. When I bike, I adjust my approach to be in harmony with the conditions around me.”

According to Cobb, his Quaker faith aligns with his practices of energy conservation.

“What comes to us in prayer and worship from God, we seek to understand and follow in our lives,” he said.

Rachel Novick, assistant professor of biological sciences at Notre Dame, said North Americans use significantly more energy than those on other continents. She said this is one main reason she practices energy conservation.

“As much as we want to care about nature and protect it, we still think we own it,” Novick said.

She said that principles of the Jewish tradition encourage people to think more simply and to eliminate unnecessary energy usage from their lives. Novick said the Sabbath, the most central aspect of Jewish life, prohibits activities such as driving, cell phone usage and shopping for 24 hours.

“While the Sabbath only comes once a week, it defines our lives in ways that influence our choices more broadly,” Novick said. “For instance, we choose to live in walking distance of other people so that we have people to socialize with on Saturdays.”

According to Novick, it is not uncommon for people to take two-hour walks or to visit parks on the Sabbath because people enjoy activities at slower paces.

“The Sabbath is a powerful anecdote to the way we become so accustomed to technology that we can’t imagine life without it,” Novick said. “It can be really nice to take things slowly. If you ask people who keep the Sabbath if it’s a sacrifice every week, they’re actually really excited about it.”

Novick said everyone has this opportunity to build community with others through a shared prioritization of energy conservation.

“We live in a country today that grows enough corn to feed every hungry person on this planet,” Novick said. “The choices we make about how to use energy, and its impacts, all come back to us.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

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