A Greenhouse Gas Fast for Lent and Passover

By the time of the first thaw in spring, when hunter and hunted alike emerge from their dens, holes, nests, boroughs, caves, huts, tents, tipis and yurts, a huge and hollow hunger hangs heavily upon the earth. Awakened from their long winter's stupor by the warmth and light of the returning sun, all creatures, great and small, breathe deep of the newly fresh air and realize that they are ravenous.

Provisions, carefully collected, prepared and stored for the duration, have by now been completely depleted. Prey is pitifully lean with no satisfying fat to spare. New greens and grasses have not yet begun to sprout. Every odd berry and bud, quick-frozen on the twig the previous fall, has already been discovered and scarfed down. Anything at all remotely edible has long since been devoured. Bellies swell. Starvation stalks the land.

Yet this seasonal hunger is one of hope rather than of desperation. It is only a matter of time until there is food once more, after all. Meanwhile, the prospect must sustain us.

Over time and through tribulation, people have learned to eat their hunger. To exploit a period of foodlessness for the invaluable experience it can offer. Starvation is an excellent exercise for endurance and it opens the psychic pathways to the divine through heightened dreams, hallucinations and visions.

Fasting is a discipline through which people can establish and maintain intimate contact and interaction with the spiritual realm. Famine, thus, at once stimulates the voracious appetite of the soul and serves up the rich nourishment, which fuels it.

The Judeo-Christian holy days of early spring reflect this hopeful optimism -- Pesach commemorates liberation from slavery, and Easter celebrates resurrection from death. Both holidays include the practice of semi-fasting. During Passover, Jews abstain from all leavened grain products, and Christians traditionally forgo meat, alcohol and sweets during Lent.

By refraining from consumption, one can connect with the anguish of those escaping slavery in Egypt, in the case of Jews, or with the passion and sacrifice of Jesus for Christians. Abstention becomes an act of sublime empathy for the downtrodden and exploited, a visceral solidarity with suffering.

While we modern folks in the developed world do not face seasonal shortages of food, we do lack other vital survival necessities, such as clean air and pure water. And we can predict further, ever more destructive depletion of our natural resources due to our own cynical and cavalier production of greenhouse gasses.

The earth can sustain 0.8 tons of carbon per person in the atmosphere without causing damage. The poorest of countries produce only a fraction of that amount. Bangladesh, for example, emits 0.24 tons per person, while Ethiopia releases only 0.067 tons. Pakistan emits 2.5 tons, the U.K., 9.5. Topping the list of carbon offenders is the U.S. at over 20 tons of carbon per person per year.

The United States is by far the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases compared to other industrialized nations. The U.S. comprises about four percent of the earth's population, but emits about 25 percent of the total global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuel.

Ironically, tragically, most of the environmental degradation seems to affect the poorest people the most -- the people who are too poor to be guilty of using excessive energy. In this context, reducing our carbon footprint would be a sacred act of contrition for our part in creating such inequality, as well as a dedication to the healing of the planet.

Perhaps we need to undertake a Greenhouse Gas Fast during this holy season. How about giving up carbon emissions for Passover and Lent? This sacrifice would ritualize our intention to abstain from wanton waste by pursuing a more sustainable way of life.

Refraining from frivolous energy consumption is a physical expression of compassion for Mother Earth and for all who dwell upon Her. By fasting from carbon, we are making a concrete contribution towards planetary salvation and our own. And isn't that what Easter and Passover are supposed to be about anyway?