Sunday, February 18, 2007

18 February, 2007

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park

Winter finally came this week. After seeing snowdrops bloom in December and crocuses poke their shoots up in January, a couple of weeks ago it finally turned really cold, with nights below zero. This week we got a foot of mixed snow and ice (I still don't entirely understand why it can sleet when the temperature is 11 degrees, but there it is). The Hudson River finally froze.

It's very picturesque and many people who live in this part of the country are heaving sighs of relief and saying that it's good to know that there is still such a thing as winter. But something darker lurks behind all of this relief. Those of us who live beside the Hudson River and in the Mid-Hudson Valley now live with the reality that climate change is not just a theory any more. Some learned people and even more political people continue to debate whether it is real or not, but to know the reality of it you just have to live beside a large river. The Hudson River used to freeze early and stay frozen all winter. Now it doesn't. Some winters it doesn't freeze at all. Something big has happened, and it has happened rapidly.

Now what?

Well, for us, the community here is beginning to talk about climate change as a fact of our life, and beginning to be willing to see that our patterns of energy use are complicit in what is happening to our weather. And we are beginning to want to act.

Our beginnings are very small, and that is deliberate. We want to see how small steps can begin to change the way we live, in hopes of developing habits that might change our impact on the climate. Those spiky plastic balls that are alternatives to dryer sheets have made their appearance in our laundry room. Cloth napkins are used by some at meals to cut down on the number of paper products that we consume. We are more careful about gasoline use and the price that we pay for it. This summer there will be a clothes line in our side yard for those who would like to dry clothes without using a dryer. We've started small so that we can get used to the process of making change and so that our concerns about our energy use can get to be part of the way we think and live, and not just our latest trendy fad. We hope that by moving in this way, bigger changes will be things that we want to embrace.

And that is beginning to happen. We have recently had new climate controls put on the boilers that supply our heat. They have actually resulted in more even heat througout our buildings and a 30% decrease in the amount of natural gas that we use. We now have a chef who uses almost no pre-packaged food products and buys produce locally and in season. Not only has our food gotten better, but our food costs have decreased dramatically. Our next car will likely be a hybrid vehicle. We know that hybrid technology is not the final answer to fuel economy, but it is a step, and we are looking for steps.

Bigger steps loom in the future. We are planning for our buildings to be heated with a geothermal system. We don't know when this might be and the amount of money we will have to raise to make it possible will be very large - probably between 1 and 2 millon dollars. In the meantime we can see to it that any change we have to make - for instance in the heating of our church, which has to be updated soon - will be compatible with the geothermal system to come.

From my point of view, this is more than anything a spiritual issue and the techniques that we have adopted are ones that I have had to learn over decades of trying to master the art of meditation: start small, with goals that you can pursue consistently; pursue your course with dilligence and gentleness; learn to be forgiving when you make mistakes or don't do it right; and when you find that you have drifted away from your goal come back to the goal over and over again, without blaming yourself for having drifted away. Just keep coming back to the path, knowing that you are training yourself to live a new way, and that changing your ways is likely to be difficult and require a lot of time.

A lot will change in our perception of the problem as we live through the next few years. Some of our efforts will prove to be wrong-headed or mistaken and will have to be changed. In ten years the ultimate goals may look a lot different. That's life. In the meantime we are determined and we have begun. That is a big step.

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