Some of the most valuable lessons in life are learned during seasons of hardship, suffering or adversity. Wisdom is often forged from mistakes, mishaps and miscalculations. John Maxwell reminds us that “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”
As our coastal community deals with the anxiety and the challenges brought on by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, what are the lessons we can learn that will help us be better custodians of our planet? I sense that many of us are working our way through some of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Rather than just accepting the reality of this calamity, I believe that we can be more proactive and progressive. When it comes to the realities of the oil spill, I recognize that I have a lot to learn. Although I cannot speak for everyone, here are five lessons I am in the process of learning:
1. Do not take for granted the treasure at your doorstep.
I was raised in northeast Alabama not far from Cheaha State Park, the home of Mount Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama. When friends would come to visit from other parts of the state, I was surprised that they were awestruck with the scenic vistas from the Bald Rock, Chimney Peaks and other landmarks – sights that I took for granted because they were in my back yard.
Now I live on the Gulf Coast where I routinely walk on the world’s most beautiful beaches, enjoy fresh seafood, observe marine life and drive along scenic coastal roadways. This catastrophe reminds me that the Gulf is a natural treasure and, as a coastal resident, I have the privilege of enjoying it and protecting it.
2. Be a better steward of creation in the future than you’ve been in the past.
In the creation story after God breathed life into human souls, God gave to humankind a stewardship responsibility over all of creation. For me, this means adopting a lifestyle that is creation-friendly. I am habitually inconsistent in my responsibility of caring for creation. There are times I would give myself an A-minus in creation care and others times I would rate a C-plus.
There are many ways I can be a better, more proactive custodian of creation: using eco-friendly products, recycling, conserving energy and supporting and protecting green spaces like national parks, state parks and wildlife refuges.
3. Be better informed about the energy industry.
My lifestyle is energy dependent. Energy consumption is not a bad thing, but wasting energy or being dependent on unsafe and monopolistic energy systems can be damaging to our ecosystem.
I am pretty well up-to-date on information technology and the most recent telecommunication devices, but I am behind the curve on my knowledge of the energy industry. I am determined to become better informed about how my lifestyle drives the system of energy production and energy consumption.
4. Be more supportive of the research and development of alternative energy sources.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not anti-oil nor am I opposed to safer methods of offshore drilling. But I agree with oil investor T. Boone Pickens, who proposes converting more oil and diesel-based systems to natural gas and other cleaner fuels. In addition to non-fossil fuels, other possible sources include solar energy, wind turbines, wave power and geothermal energy.
5. Make decisions about energy usage based on the ultimate cost and not just the current price.
I am a shopper. I love a bargain. When I am about to purchase a product, I not only look for the best price, but I read product reviews and consider quality, service and longevity. However, when I am filling my tank with gasoline, I usually pull into the station with the lowest price without consideration of fuel quality or cleanliness.
When I work toward lowering my utility bill at home, I tend to be more concerned about my monthly costs than I am about the long-term cost to the environment. I need to change my way of thinking, understanding that there may be occasions where I may need to pay more in the short term to minimize costs in the long term.
Before this saga is over, I am sure there will be many more lessons to be learned. The impact of the oil spill in the Gulf will likely linger for several years. Hopefully, the major cleanup of coastal land and waters will be completed much sooner.
I hope and pray that the lessons we learn from this crisis will equip and motivate us to be more effective caretakers of the Gulf and the planet because “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).
Barry Howard serves as senior minister at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.