It’s just because I’m running late today, I tell myself, and my bike has a flat tire.
Of course, my bike tire has been flat for a full month now - a convenient excuse to drive the 2.2 miles to my office instead.
Bike commuting is important to me, at least in theory. It’s better for the planet, better for my body, better for my wallet, and saves me the hassle of finding a parking spot downtown. Bike commuting is something I promote for the volunteers I coordinate. It’s something I’m proud of, something I believe in. And, nine times out of ten, something I don’t actually do.
I can blame a flat tire or the desert heat or a hundred other things, but that’s just me pretending that my choice to drive is due to circumstances beyond my control. Really, my comfort, my laziness, my five-more-minutes in bed and now it's too late to bike, are simply more important to me than the health of this planet and the lives of other people.
Or at least, that's what my actions say.
My car commute is fueled by domination culture as much as by diesel, and harms the world in many ways: through militarism, colonialism, extractive capitalism, and the super-exploitation of resources and people, especially in the two-thirds world. Those 2.2 miles a day each way are made possible by the consumption of people as much as the consumption of fuel. Along the way, what comes out of my car is as harmful as what goes into it. The emissions from my trusty station wagon contribute to climate change, help warm the oceans, and make farming harder for people around the world.
This slice of the world is set up to keep me from having to face those nasty parts of a simple drive. My social location - as a white, middle class, U.S. passport holder - insulates me from what is required (what other people sacrifice and are forced to give up) to make my life easy. I can zip around town, gassing up Vincent at convenient locations on every block without having to face what gives me easy access to fossil fuels. This is true of many systems of domination: white supremacy keeps white people from having to face what white supremacy does.
I’m thinking about climate change in particular because I am preparing to walk 260 miles, from Louisville, KY to St Louis, MO, as an action for climate justice. I expect it will not be a very comfortable experience.
The simple story of the action is this:
The Presbyterian Church USA is a denomination with about 1.5 million members and about $10 billion dollars in investments. Roughly 3% of those investments are in fossil fuels, more than $200 million dollars.
There's a meeting this summer of the national decision-making body of the PCUSA. Forty Presbyteries (regional councils) across the U.S. have signed on to a proposal asking the denomination to take all of our money out of the fossil fuel industry. To emphasize this request, a group of us are walking from the headquarters of the PCUSA in Louisville to the site of the meeting in St Louis. We’ll be sharing worship and learning from teach-ins along the way.
We are choosing discomfort together, because we know that comfort will not save us. Comfort is an enemy of change, and justice requires change.
My bike commute is a small discomfort. It’s a small change that has a relatively small impact on the big, big issue of climate change. But it is something I can do, one way to lessen my participation in this culture of consumption and reduce the harm I do to the world.
I know that we need big changes too, institutional as well as individual commitments. The change we’re asking for from the PCUSA comes with the discomfort of trying something new and the fear of financial loss -- but it can be a holy discomfort that strips us of the lie of ease without consequence, and fear that pushes us into a deeper life of faith.
Climate justice means recalibrating our priorities, shaking off our comfortable paralysis, and investing in people over profit. It calls us to discomfort, to acting as though we care about this planet and all God’s creatures, not just saying we do. It’s time for us to end our investment in this structure of domination culture, both figuratively and literally.
And perversely, I am comforted by this: after walking 260 miles, perhaps that 2.2 mile bike ride won’t seem so uncomfortable after all.
Author, Alison Wood
queer, white, cisgender, U.S. passport-holding, Presbyterian, church-employed, challenged by faith, imagining something better.
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