What Does My Electric Bill Have to do With My Faith? (Jul-Aug 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Marge Wood
July – August, 2002

Since the main things that eat up our money after insurance, taxes, health care, and food are housing, transportation and energy costs, how can we cut our energy costs and also reduce environmental effects of our usage? More importantly, the question of this article is more about the connection between our consumption and our faith than about saving money. Saving money is important, but the question I want to address in this article is, “what does your electric bill have to do with your faith?”

Have you overlooked something about your house?

When you chose your current place to live, you probably considered the location for several reasons. It made you feel at home. You could afford it. It is in a good school district. You found out about it because you already know and like the neighbors. You feel like you could sell it again without putting a big hole in your pocket. Another question we rarely ask and ought to ask is “How can we reduce energy wastage and work with the sun and weather rather than against it?

If the main windows in your house face the equator and they don’t have big trees in front of them, you can easily cut your electric bill by adding a solar water heater. That, along with more insulation, getting solar screens where the sun hits at the hottest times, and sealing up the cracks in your house, probably will cut your electric bill noticeably. Hang out your laundry—yes, I had children and still air dried my laundry!—and use compact fluorescent light bulbs and you’ll see your electric bill drop even more. Does your utility have a free energy audit program? If not, ask them why they don’t have this energy saving option.

Why are we talking about the cost of electricity in new Wineskins magazine?

I was moved by the last issue of new Wineskins on social justice. Think of this idea of saving energy and our environment not simply as ways to cut costs but also as an extension of social justice, as a connection between what we consume and how it affects others in this world, both our closest neighbors and our neighbors halfway across the world.

At one time, our family had five vehicles in front of the house. We are now down to two. You may say, “Yes, but those cars provide jobs in Michigan or Tennessee!” but I assure you that I’m not suggesting that we stop buying cars—just that we stop consuming more fuel, metal, and plastic than we really need. In fact, some day I hope support the auto industry, save money, and conserve energy by purchasing a hybrid vehicle that gets fifty miles per gallon. Car manufacturers have spent huge amounts of money on hybrid vehicles because they believe these are the wave of the future. I do too. My 6’5″ friend says he can sit comfortably inside his electric vehicle. He and I agree that if car manufacturers and we would take seriously the need to make our own fuel in the United States, it could happen.

There are certainly people who need to drive large vehicles, but most of us do not. I don’t want to sound as if I’m against auto sales or vendors of fuel or electricity—the point is to carefully consider consumption and simply buy what we need, not to buy or consume without thought of the implications.

Most of us are not transporting a basketball team or crates of food to be sold at the farmers’ market. If you count the entire cost of getting oil from oil fields anywhere to our vehicles and average it out, some people believe that it costs $100 a gallon. Count the cost of defense. Count the cost of oil spills and cleanups. Count the cost of political donations, of lawyers, of lobbying legislators at all levels. Go listen to your legislature or your Congress. Just sit and listen. We must learn to work together in order to develop a sustainable lifestyle.

Do you know the source from which your utility buys electricity? Check their home page for this information, check the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for records of cleanliness for various utilities nationwide. Most of this information is on public record and can be obtained on the web, government offices or the public library. On the EPA home page you can also find out the value of your walking, your cycling. It can tell you exactly how much pollution of all sorts you avoid by using non-polluting transportation or carpooling.
Why does electricity cost so much? It’s not just the fuel costs, although those are high. Electricity production from extracted fuels (things like coal, natural gas, nuclear power) produces lots of pollution. Recently a large utility in the United States bought a whole town to avoid complaints from pollution and related health problems. It was no secret, but was in all major newspapers. This is one reason to find out what power sources your utility is using. Find out about nearby pollution. Is it related to health problems of your family or neighbors? Do some research.

Another concern for energy use and a reason to reduce usage is that water is needed for cooling, unless your utility uses renewable energy, which uses no additional fuel or water. Agriculture, people and utilities are the three big water users in Texas. Farmers in central Texas have been battling a large aluminum company for years over land use and water ownership. The less electricity we use, the less water will be needed and the less pollution will be caused.

Deregulation in many states is making electricity shopping as simple as your friendly telemarketers can make it. They will offer you incredible bargains and a free set of steak knives or something along with it. Cheap is not best. Clean is best. Clean only needs to cost pennies more than cheap, and will help make jobs and keep the air and water clean.

I appreciate the utilities. We like ours. We depend on ours. Regardless of the weather or the cost, we all count on having electricity on demand. All of us have made them into what they are today: a self-perpetuating marketing device. The investor-owned ones are getting bigger and bigger. The municipal utilities are accountable to the local city government. Our municipal utility has all sorts of energy efficiency and conservation programs. If yours doesn’t, maybe you can start one. You would be amazed what a person or small group can accomplish.

What does paying attention to issues related to electricity have to do with Christian living?

Christian living, in part, means caring what happens to other people. We are supposed to care about the outcome of our actions not only on the rich but also on the poor. We are supposed to care about the unborn and their future. We must care about those we never see in other continents. Find out what your energy sellers are doing to get that power. Is it worth the price? God made the earth so it could sustain us. It can do without us but we can’t do without it.

We have choices about electricity. We can make it ourselves. We can use less. We can pay somebody else to make it with clean energy sources such as bio-fuels, natural gas, the wind and the sun. Learn all you can about it so when the phone rings, you already know what your decision is. Give your lifestyle to God and think about what he would want you to do.New Wineskins

Marge Wood is a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, renewable energy activist, book reviewer, and part-time worker in the Faulk Library at 8th and Guadalupe in Austin, Texas. She and her husband, Lewis, a retired city planner, take care of their two and a half year old grandson, Matthew, during the week. Marge and Matthew enjoy digging in the dirt, playing in water, drawing and reading. She can be reached at othermother6@juno.com.

Coming soon: Marge Wood on “Living simply so others can simply live.”

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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