An Inconvenient Purpose

Linking Godly Stewardship and Alternative Energy


Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. I often use that expression in jest (just ask my wife), but it describes how I feel about the tidbits of wisdom coming out of both liberal and conservative camps regarding the true human impacts on global warming and our insatiable demand for energy. You see, in my profession as an electrical engineer, I straddle a world between the traditional, incumbent views of energy supply technologies and the radical need to overhaul our energy supply paradigm, thus changing the world as we know it. I do know one thing, however: whatever we do as an energy-consuming global society, the economy will follow in lockstep, and the environment will follow in tow. Here’s the question that demands an answer: What is the wise path to sustainable alternative energy solutions and a healthy environment?

Like many, I experience the polarization of both conservative and liberal camps firsthand. Attending one meeting, I see frustration build in some global warming believers. They cannot fathom why some people deny the irrefutable truth of human-caused global warming. In their minds, scientific consensus has been reached; the case is closed. I pray nobody utters that four-letter word, “Bush,” as in George W. Bush, or the whole meeting may sink into the quicksand of pent-up political frustration.

The next week, in a meeting discussing energy policy with a group of conservative Republicans, a crescendo of frustration builds on mandated environmental protectionism. Inevitably, somebody invokes a different four-letter word, “Gore,” as in Al Gore, and the feeding frenzy of anti-liberalism begins.

In each meeting, the participants expressed complete conviction that their side is noble and irrefutably correct. Each side’s cancerous attitude towards “them” disturbed me since I have good friends on both sides of the fence. The dismissal of “those environmental destroyers” or “those radical environmentalists” does little to foster an attitude of constructive stewardship. Conservatives and liberal progressives each consider the other foolish, unrealistic, and just flat wrong, to put it gently.

The Christian apologist writer G. K. Chesterton, put it another way, “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”1 How do we move past that?

The answers reside within Holy Scripture. The Bible contains all the answers about how to treat each other and our environment. Many think the science involved for energy and environmental problems would preclude our use of the Bible for guidance, but they are wrong. Granted, you won’t find global warming, fuel cells, or many other scientific phrases mentioned specifically in the Bible. But Scripture teaches us how to live as Christians. It therefore gives us answers on how to apply technology and science to our lives. The Bible is still the best “how to” book around.

Looking ahead, the key steps to constructing a world powered by alternative energy rely on a biblical worldview and the discovery that energy usage trumps climate change, economic development, and politics in importance. They are all related, but energy usage is the root cause of the problems; the rest are symptoms. In medical terms, curing the root cause is better than just treating the symptoms. Our chance to solve energy problems lies before us, while the rest of the world continues to treat the symptoms. I doubt many Christians have biblical stewardship of energy issues high on their priority lists, but that is changing. It is an inconvenient purpose placed in our hearts as Christians.

If energy is a problem, what are the answers? We cannot stop using energy, but we cannot continue the unsustainable pace at which we live now. For example, we cannot stop all the coal trains and shutter the existing coal-fired power plants. Coal provides too much of our electricity (about 50% in the U.S.) to change it drastically overnight. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to significantly scale back, or modify coal-fired electricity.

Wind, solar, fuel cells, tidal, bio-fuels, and other alternative energy technologies hold promise for the future and should enjoy great expansion. However, these alternative technologies can only expand so much until we resolve intermittency issues, reliability issues, power quality issues, environmental impacts, and economic restraints.

Nuclear energy deserves a place at the table, but should it be an appetizer or a main course? Cost, nuclear waste, and public perception problems will continue—guaranteed.

Energy efficiency and conservation are the “un-fuel” that provides low-hanging fruit for energy savings, but these can only help bridge the gap to an alternative, sustainable energy supply. With the tremendous growth in global human population and the blessings of a growing middle class in developing countries such as China and India, efficiency improvements and conservation can only do so much.

Natural gas provides the cleanest burning fossil fuel, and has grown in popularity, but it shares many of the same location, supply, and price volatility issues as its big brother, crude oil.

Reducing petroleum crude usage remains the biggest and most dangerous global challenge. Petroleum-based fuels make up over 95% of world transportation fuels, and that lack of diversity endangers national security and the world economy. Radical Islam and socialist dictators control many of the world’s oil-exporting countries. Islamic lands contain two-thirds of the easy-to-produce conventional crude oil supplies. Christians face even greater perils because dependence on things like oil hides a slippery slope to greed, sin, and idolatry. Islam means “submission to Allah’s will,” which is not the same as our Christian belief that Jesus is true God and true man, who died and rose again to redeem us from our sins, once and for all. Christians should not submit themselves to dependence on oil, period, and much less on oil in “Allah’s lands.” When we realize that the United States cannot sustain its present lifestyle for long—even with ANWR, deep offshore oil drilling, and unconventional oil tars and shale—we wake up to the fact that our dependence and allegiances are dangerously off base.

So do we wait for big government to save us, or for the economic markets to guide us through the maze of technological answers? Big government rarely runs anything efficiently, and the economic markets react too slowly to steer the huge energy infrastructure proactively to alternative energy technology. The Christian answer to both is an emphatic no! Government and economic markets will serve as the framework if we utilize them properly, but the true answers reside in Christian application of Scripture to the maze of alternative energy technologies.

We start our journey with the education of the common Christian, who is not typically an energy expert or a climate expert. Since the topics of energy and environment each encompass vast amounts of information (and misinformation), I’ve tried to provide a “middle of the plate” pitch, to build up knowledge and understanding of where we are and where we need to go. To use a baseball analogy, those “umpires” on the left of the spectrum will likely view my pitch as too far inside the plate, and those on the right will call the same pitch too far outside. I’ll let you fill in your own joke about umpires needing glasses.

The mission of An Inconvenient Purpose is simple. We seek to strengthen our relationship to Christ while adhering to biblical tradition: through godly stewardship and the amazing world of alternative energy, focusing on how we treat God’s creation and how we use our God-given energy resources. Christians all too often ignore biblical stewardship commands. An Inconvenient Purpose seeks to establish hope based on biblical wisdom and practical (but not easy) answers to this world’s energy and environmental problems.

1. The American Chesterton Society, “Quotation of G. K. Chesterton,” The American Chesterton Society, http://chesterton.org/acs/quotes.htm.