On the last night of my Panama City Beach, Fla., vacation, I sat on the balcony of our borrowed sixth-floor condominium watching the sun set on my time of rest – and perhaps on a way of life that is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and, yes, Chevrolet.

I had been there for five days and saw no direct sign of the ruinous oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill that was probably heading that way. I had seen indirect signs though: smaller crowds on the beach, fewer folks in restaurants, workers scanning the beach for tar balls.

News outlets offered us images – although probably not enough images – of the devastation wrought even farther west down the Florida Panhandle and into Alabama and Louisiana. Only God knows – and maybe the uncompromised experts – just how much damage this oil spill is going to inflict on the environment and the economy and for how long that damage is going to be inflicted.

The environmental damage that had already been caused and that is still to take place was uppermost in my mind. I thought about the beautiful white sand beaches and the gorgeous blue and green water. My heart broke as I thought about how that could change – and I hope and pray it does not – should the plague of oil that has struck other areas strikes this one.

I also thought about a devastated regional economy.

How can BP or anyone else possibly adequately compensate all of the businesspeople and their employees whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by this terrible event? How can BP or anyone else make up for what is going to be lost this year and in the years to come?

Meanwhile, back in the place of my daily reality, the debate over a planned coal-fired power plant to be built out in our county near the Ocmulgee River rages hot and heavy.

I am no more an expert on coal-fired power plants than I am on deep-water oil rigs, but it doesn’t take an expert to realize a few things. One of those things is that it is way past time for somebody to take the lead in planning, adopting and implementing an energy policy that will move not only the United States but the world away from our addiction to fossil fuels and toward the use of renewable energy sources.

I would like to think that the United States could take the lead, and I would furthermore like to think that Christians in America could take the lead in encouraging our elected leaders, industrial captains, scientists and anybody else to do what has to be done.

The mobilization and retooling effort would be akin to fighting a world war, but such a transition could be successfully navigated if we have the will to do it.

Why should Christians care? I can think of several reasons.

1. Christians should care about peace – and the dependence of nations on oil is the cause of much geopolitical instability and will in the future be the cause of even more conflict.

2. Christians should care about the well-being of people – and the human cost of obtaining fossil fuels for our consumption is high.

3. Christians should care about the earth that God in God’s grace has given us as a home – and the damage done to our home in the process of securing fossil fuels is severe.

The experts I have read say that the way forward is found in solar, wind and wave power. Again, they say that the way forward is difficult, and that tremendous will and effort will be required to make it happen.

As a Christian, as a human being, as a citizen of the United States and as a resident of the Earth, I believe that we need to begin now to move toward national and then worldwide dependence on renewable energy sources and away from a dependence on fossil fuels.

I know it will be hard and tough and challenging and demanding and controversial.

Keeping pretty beaches and pretty water pretty is reason enough to take on the challenge.

But there are even better – and much more substantive – reasons.

So let us begin.

Michael Ruffin is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga. He blogs at On the Jericho Road, where this column first appeared.

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