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Professor sees historical, economic basis for conservation

While recently traveling to Prague for a international linguistics conference, EasternGrant Smith Washington University English professor Grant Smith accepted an assignment from his congregation’s adult forum, which studied environmental issues from January through May.
Grant and his wife, Lelia, also visited Dresden and Berlin to “take in” art, music and history.

When the Cheney United Church of Christ (UCC) class learned of their plans, they suggested they connect with members of the Pacific Northwest UCC Conference’s partner church, the Berlin-Brandenburg Synod of the Evangelical United Church.
The class, which studied environmental stewardship issues since January, wanted to know about German and European recycling practices, water usage, energy consumption and conservation measures.

For Grant, two world wars, Hitler, the Holocaust, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, the thawing and the demolition of the wall call the world to recognize that “we are responsible to one another.”  Those events affect life styles, perceptions and attitudes of people there today, he said, opening his report to an April adult forum with the historical context.

The United Church of Christ, with some roots in the German Evangelical (Lutheran) and Reformed Church, expressed that bond and compassion by sending delegations to visit congregations in East and West Berlin and Germany, as a reminder that Americans cared about them.

“After totalitarianism and oppression collapsed in Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Berlin became an illustration of renewal and hope for the future,” he said.

When I previously visited East Germany, I saw how the communist government abused the environment and exploited resources.  Then the most prevalent car was the Trabant, known for its dirty emissions.  I saw only one Trabant this time, and I saw many Smart Cars, narrow cars for driving in city traffic.  European drivers, like Americans, like power and speed.  They want bigger and faster cars, and will have them if they can pay for them.”

The high gas tax and the population density create awareness of the need for measures to protect the environment, Grant said.  Europeans he met seemed to accept high taxes on gasoline, because they recognize the social utility of those taxes as part of their tradition.  The social policies were instituted before people bought big cars, so they are sustainable.  There, people who have SUVs and big rigs expect to pay the high price for gas.

“In the United States, however, it is hard for politicians to promote a higher gas tax,” Grant said, “even though it would be socially responsible to do that."

“Christ calls us to be good stewards and to look at future needs related to our purchases.  We may have to change our attitudes about the gas tax and use of foreign oil, not just because of the environment, but also to improve how the world works together.  God calls us to this vision—to accept a bit of sacrifice, like higher gas taxes.”

Another factor is the ease and ubiquity of mass transportation. 
Grant also found that Europeans have found some “ingenious technologies” and practices to save electricity.  Timed lights in hallways, once turned on manually, are now motion-sensitive.
Water use is metered and expensive.
Europeans value parks and green spaces, because space is limited.

The experience of making sacrifices and accepting rations in World War II and under communism, plus early changes in laws, have set a climate for acceptance of regulations, recognizing the wider public interest, he said. 

“Our larger cars and low taxes will change only when people want to change. Christ, however, calls us to change and calls us as churches to lead toward a vision of what is needed and workable in society,” Grant said.

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