The Bad News About Changing the World

I visited the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA with William and Marilee last week. The whole museum is terrific (yes, especially for kids but I really enjoyed it too), with exhibits about the human body, the earth, outer space, and tons of other topics with hands-on opportunities for learning that feel more like recess than school.

At the end of our time there, however, we came across a statement that wasn’t so playful: “Skipping meat and dairy in one family meal per week saves as much CO2 as not driving your car for five weeks.”


William knew a little bit about this already—“It’s because of methane. All those pooping and farting cows let methane into the atmosphere and it contributes a lot to climate change.” (Ten-year old boys pay attention when they learn anything that has to do with flatulence.)

I had heard about the methane problem before, but this statistic astonished me. William was pretty impressed by it too. “I need to change how much milk I drink,” he said. When we got home, he dutifully took out a measuring cup and poured one cup of milk, his new self-imposed ration for the day.

We are five days into this experiment. Last night, a big sigh. A shoulder slump. “I just really love milk,” he said. (And let me be clear that William can go through a half gallon a day. He chugs milk. He gets many, many calories from milk.)

I want to make it better for him. I want to tell him his efforts won’t really make a difference. I want to tell him that there’s a way for him to get all the enjoyment he wants and still help save the planet. But the reality is that for him to participate in reducing methane, he needs to drink less milk. For him to love this planet, he has to pay a cost, however meager it may be. I want to promise him that he will reap the benefits of this small sacrifice, and perhaps that’s true in some very broad sense. But for now at least, he just needs to drink less milk and feel a little bummed about it. He needs to be inconvenienced.

And the same is true for me, not just when it comes to making choices about food, but also when it comes to consumption and entertainment and relationships. For me to live based on what I value, on what I believe to be true and real and good and just, I will need to sacrifice what I want sometimes. I will need to be inconvenienced. And in this land of plenty, the message I receive all around and every day is that convenience is God.

I want to live on a cleaner planet, where we create less waste and recycle more of the waste we create and invest in clean energy sources. I want to live in a more just society, where everyone has their basic needs met and has access to education and opportunity. I want to live in a way that honors the humanity of myself, my kids, my neighbors. I want to live the way of love, and love is inconvenient.

I must stop worshiping the god of convenience if I want to worship the God of truth, beauty, justice, and love.

Love is inconvenient. But love is also beautiful.

Love is not coercive. Love doesn’t force me to give up my third LaCroix of the day in honor of less waste and a deeper connectedness to and respect for creation. Love doesn’t scold me for my irritation at the grocery store clerk who is slowly accounting for my purchases. Love doesn’t punish me for snapping at the kids when they’ve done nothing wrong and I’m just feeling lonely and worried and tired. Rather, love invites me. Invites me to relinquish my hold on convenience, my hold on power and control, my hold on satisfying every desire as it arises. Invites me into a slower, less productive, less “successful” life. And one way to practice this inconvenient, life-giving, loving way is through little choices, like drinking less milk.

As an addendum, anyone who is thinking about taking on habits of being that shape who you are in the way of love rather than the way of convenience should check out Justin Earley’s new book The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.

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