On Monday the US celebrated Labor Day. Generally the weekend is a time for picnics, barbecues, yard work and television marathons. I was fortunate to spend most of the weekend (beginning on Friday) with friends.
This weekend there were two events which I found thought-provoking.
During the sermon at church. I was reminded that the electricity I use comes not from the impersonal plants and office buildings, but because of the work of people. It is in part the work of the coal miners that allows me to have electricity. As I think about this, I remember the number of fatal accidents in the coal mines over the past few years. Now, there are two ways for me to look at this… mining is a job and without it these miners would not have a way to support their families. But I also look at it as though my use is putting people in harms way. People should not have to die so I can watch television re-runs.
I do not purchase items made with what I believe to be slave labor, or sold by those companies which I believe to be unfair to their workers (a large box superstore comes to mind). Why do I continue to use electricity when coal mining – coal being a part of my electricity – is so dangerous to its employees? I’ll have to think more on this…
On Labor Day itself, my friends and I headed to Mount Olive, Illinois and visited the grave of Mother Jones. Mother Jones was a union organizer, and was buried with the coal miners and their families in the Union Cemetery. Her monument was large (recently erected), though it was directly behind her actual grave – with a simple headstone.
As my friends and I drove through Illinois we noticed wind turbines in the distance. Wow, I love alternative energy — but I also know that birds have been killed by these things. Solar energy is great — but I was recently told that the batteries have been known to blow up (I need to research this more). Ethanol uses corn and limits its use for food; the compact florescent light bulbs contain Mercury and must be disposed of carefully (and can be very dangerous if the bulb breaks), nuclear is not the answer. For me it is not necessarily about finding energy alternatives, but also about finding a way to live with less so that my path on this earth will do as little harm as possible.
Even as I learn to use less, I am still very aware that my usage is extreme. I have a dishwasher which I run a few times a week. I have a refrigerator which is much larger than I need, I still use my washing machine to wash the clothes, and I am addicted to television and the Internet. Even my phones are hooked up to the electricity. Even though I have not been running my air conditioner, I would be miserable without the ceiling and floor fans I have been using.
I have much to learn, much to change and much to think about.