By Heather Zydek

Does global warming matter? On one level, I believe the answer is yes, it does matter. It matters a lot. It matters so much our lives depend on it. But I’m not here today to make the case that global warming matters. Instead, I’m going to make the case that it does NOT matter.

Before I explain, allow me to offer a little background. The term global warming refers to the slow rise in the earth’s temperature, possibly caused by excessive carbon dioxide emitted from our homes, vehicles and factories that becomes trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. The New York Times reported in December of 2011 that, “global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record” in 2010. Correspondingly, according to NASA, “the last decade has brought temperatures to the highest levels ever recorded, and the last year of the decade (2009) was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record.”

Despite support from scientists around the world, global warming remains a controversial concept that has been hotly debated (pun not intended) among politicians, the media and the general public.  Why? I suppose some question whether finite humans can really affect the earth in such a way that we can change its atmosphere. (If you have any doubt that humans are capable of modifying weather, maybe you haven’t heard of weather control). Perhaps others believe we humans are the masters of the earth and control whatever happens to our planet. The earth exists to be exploited.

As if the idea of global warming weren’t enough to befuddle us, there’s also the issue of peak oil. We’re running out of petroleum, experts say. Once we run out, our cars will go un-fueled, our homes unheated and many of the resources we rely on – from plastics to pharmaceuticals – will be no more. What will we do then?

It’s undeniable that petroleum is a limited resource and we need to find alternatives and make changes in our lifestyles a.s.a.p. And something is clearly amiss in our weather patterns. I haven’t even mentioned our increasingly polluted food and water supplies. These are weighty concerns that humans will be forced to ponder in the decades to come.

The matter gets further complicated for Christians, who are admonished not to worry about tomorrow and who believe that whatever actions are taken in this life should ultimately prepare us for the afterlife. These beliefs cause many believers to scoff at the so-called “green” movement. Why does it matter of I go green now when I’m supposed to be storing up treasures in heaven?

My answer is that it is precisely because of heaven that we should all “go green.” In other words, we should strive to live eco-friendly lifestyles for our salvation here AND in the life to come.

What does going green mean to our souls? It means standing at the balance between humility and edification, sacrifice and abundance, hard work and restful contemplation. Yes, caring for the earth involves some sacrifice. It involves taking less for ourselves in order to give more to others. It involves humility – admitting one’s smallness in the universe – while at the same time recognizing one’s crucial role as a caretaker appointed by God to cultivate and nurture His gifts to us.

For years I’ve been trying to make changes in order to grow into my role as a steward of God’s creation. For example, I try to cook from scratch and then compost kitchen scraps. These are spiritual as well as physical exercises. Instead of simply opening plastic food packaging, eating the chemical-laden processed food inside and tossing the refuse into the garbage can, I try to fashion the fruits of the earth into flavorful and nutritious meals for my family. Doing so takes time, which is a sacrifice for a busy person like me. It takes commitment, storing scraps from dinner prep in a compost bin to be deposited into my backyard pile or worm bins. It requires work. But the fruits of these labors are sweet – much more so than the fruits of consuming like a machine and letting my waste sit in a landfill, defiling the pristine countryside with its hideous bulge and noxious odors.

In addition to involving sacrifice, adopting a green mindset fosters spiritual awakening by allowing a believer to connect in a more intimate way with God’s creation. Of course, like most humans I am inspired by the grandest parts of God’s creation: mountains, oceans, vast forests. But I am also inspired by little things. For example, I recently opened a ruby red grapefruit and began to cry from the sheer beauty of the flesh of that fruit. In those moments, even a hard-hearted cynic like me can’t help but utter the words “the Lord is Good” upon beholding such a sight. There was no food coloring or preservatives or flavor enhancers in that flesh. There was no pleasingly branded packaging. It was just this piece of fruit with its gorgeous, juicy insides, like a soft jewel waiting to nourish me. Eating that fruit was a kind of sacrament, a way of communing with my Lord.

As Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is quoted as saying on the environmental section of his website, “the whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator.” The world is a gift to us, each star in heaven and each microbe is fashioned by the hand of God. So while global warming and peak oil and environmental toxicity are certainly pressing concerns for any human wishing to live a responsible, ethical life here on earth, going green means so much more to the Christian. It means viewing creation care as a sacrament. It means viewing our negligence as a sin.”

As for me, I’m not necessarily keeping worms in my home, composting my kitchen scraps, walking to the store, biking to work, turning off lights and turning down the heater to save the world. I’m doing it to serve God, to humble myself, to sacrifice, to offer up thanks and appreciation and praise for His goodness. If my actions cause someone else to have more abundance, or help in some way to cleanse and heal our ailing earth, in addition to healing my own sick soul, praise be to God!

Heather Zydek writes for the OCN blog, from which this comes. She is an Orthodox writer, blogger and college instructor in Wisconsin, an OCA member, and social media consultant to OFT.

Note: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect official OFT views.