Regrets for Deep Economy…


Sadly, I’m going to need to do something I’ve never done before on Cerulean Sanctum: bail on a series mid-stream.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I won’t be able to complete my extended look at Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. I will need to step away from blogging for a few days to attend to other things. My sincerest apologies to all my readers.

There is, however, some good news. Caleb Stegall at The American Conservative wrote an excellent review of Deep Economy that covered many of my points, save for the analysis of how the Church in America fits into the picture. After reading Stegall’s commentary, regular readers will probably surmise what I was going to say anyway. In fact, if you readers would like to step in and provide the commentary for Stegall’s analysis, you’ll do as noble a job as I would have done (if I were noble and had the time to do the rest of the review justice).

Thanks for staying with Cerulean Sanctum and for understanding.


Deep Economy, Part 2


A look at Bill McKibben’s book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

I’ll start with two words that may end all your interest in Deep Economy:

Global warming.

McKibben’s an activist for fixing the issue. As for me, I’m not convinced that global warming is, indeed, a man-made phenomena. I’m not even convinced that we’re experiencing a warming at all. Many blogosphere pundits who jeer at the whole idea of global warming got a hoot this last week when NASA corrected some temperature readings from the last decade and it showed that we were slightly cooler than previously reported.

Stay with me, though.

Deep Economy begins with energy. McKibben argues, quite forcefully, that energy makes the modern world possible. And the main sources of energy that created our world as we know it are coal, oil, and natural gas: fossil fuels. The amount of power we glean from just a gallon of gasoline shames the power found in some Old World farmer’s entire menagerie of beasts of burden. Hydrocarbon-based fuels replaced muscle power by an order of magnitude. They, in turn, led to the burst of invention that gave us new forms of transportation, the miracle of electricity, long distance communication, and thousands of other modern conveniences we take for granted.

Before fossil fuels, the idea of fantastic economic growth escaped us. But with their dynamic ability to reduce labor, those fuels made consumerism and unbridled growth possible.

But, as McKibben rightly notes, growth may come with an enormous price tag in terms of ecological fallout. We in the United States were forced to deal with our growth’s deleterious effects back in the 1970s. Those of us born before that time can remember the waters around Cleveland catching on fire. You don’t need a chemistry degree to know that fire and water don’t mix unless something is very, very wrong.

I live by one of the small tributaries of the Little Miami River. Thirty years ago, that river was one of ten most polluted waterways in the United States. McKibben would argue that growth had much to do with the downfall of that river system, and I totally agree.

Today, though, we’ve restored the Little Miami, if not to its Edenic glory, at least to a level higher than “cesspool.”

Yet while we can claim that success, our unlimited desire for more is only shifting environmental disaster elsewhere. The fall of the Iron Curtain shocked many Westerners when they discovered the toll keeping up with the West’s growth had taken on the Communist nations. One hellhole after another sprouted up out of the countryside in places like Romania and Russia. Entire cities succumbed to chemical production plants, metal smelting plants, and more. Iridescent rivers filled with mercury, cadmium, and arsenic ran through towns. Hello, China, goodbye, sun.Diseased residents, like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, stumbled around in sunless wastelands wreathed in smog.

And lest we think those days are a thing of the past, India and China stand ready to re-enact them.

We live in the richest nation on Earth, and the gospel of growth requires we export it elsewhere. Shareholders must be satisfied, cheap goods must be had, and growth must continue.

But what will be the impact of 2.5 billion people acquiring cars? With 300 million in population, the United States (according to 2004 DOT estimates) contains 243,023,485 registered vehicles. We live and die by our cars here. Worse, we export that same desire to the rest of the world. Car ownership in China increases exponentially and shows unlimited growth potential. What would happen if the 2.5 billion people in China and India buy into the “need” for a car? What does it mean for the health of our world if keeping up with the Joneses becomes keeping up with the Wus and Patels?

Consider the amount of energy needed to simply build a car. Estimates vary, but a healthy figure would be roughly 35 barrels of oil (or 1,470 gallons) per car. With an average lifespan of about 15 years, that car will consume an additional 19,500 gallons of gas.

Now ask where what will happen if India and China demand cars at the rate we Americans do.

Oil experts in the West can’t get the Saudis to fess up to the state of their oil fields. Some believe their Ghawar bed is fast declining. When even the pro-growth The Wall Street Journal writes about “peak oil” and the sucking dry of oil beds around the globe, people need to wise up.

And folks, this is before India and China demand cars.

Our lust for more growth requires energy. It also screams for raw materials. Many of the the carelessly purchased signs of the Good Life™ we buy without thinking come from plastics, and, therefore, oil. We trucked those trinkets from far away, burning energy in shipping them. As McKibben so wisely notes, what is the point of air freighting Danish-made sugar cookies to the United States while simultaneously shipping American-made sugar cookies to Denmark?

Due to complex chemical binding processes, one gallon of burned gasoline (at 6.25 pounds) puts nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. I read recently that we now have 200 more parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air today than we did in the 1950s. And the results? It’s hard to know them all, though thousands surely exist. One comes to mind right away. Beyond the disputed global warming process, no scientist disputes that poison ivy’s more potent today than in yesteryear. Scientists found out why, too: the more carbon dioxide the ivy absorbs from the air, the more potent the toxic oil in its leaves. At last count, 75 percent more toxic than when I was a kid.

What else will we be forced to learn too late? Will it be worse than super-poison ivy?

Now no matter what you think of my opening comments about global warming, even if you forget environmental issues, profligacy sits rotting at the core of growth at all costs. When it takes seven times the caloric value of a box of cereal to ship it than can be derived from eating it, aren’t we profligate with how we use energy? When our houses are twice the size they were thirty years ago, but with smaller families, aren’t we profligate? When it’s all about the individual and what we can consume, haven’t we lost our souls?

Eugene Peterson says this:

The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

So apart from the environmental impact of growth, something truly awful happens to us on the inside as we participate in a consumeristic culture obsessed with more.

McKibben begins Deep Economy with a story of a young Chinese girl experiencing the reality of two economic truths: More and Better. He’s not against improving people’s lives by providing the poorest of the poor with some of the blessings of modern technology. Sometimes More and Better go hand in hand. (Obviously, technology gave us improved medical care and less drudgery.) McKibben tells of the Chinese girl’s backbreaking life in the rural countryside and notes the opportunities afforded her by small blessings brought by growth.

But More and Better fail when a society reaches Better and can’t add to it. At that point, More grows insidious. More becomes the be-all and end-all of life.

In the next installment of my look at Deep Economy, we’ll examine the toll on communities and individuals wrought by More.

Deep Economy, Part 1


I picked up A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy about six years ago and it made me tremble. I can’t remember a book having so much power in its pages. I think it may be the best book I’ve ever read.

To that short, short list of tremble-inducing tomes, I add Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. Why the quaking? Because McKibben captures in the short 232 pages of this book much of what I’ve spoken of here at Cerulean Sanctum. And he does it quite well.

When I blog about community, agrarianism, stewarding Creation, and living lives of deep meaning for the Kingdom of God, it’s an intricate dance of ideas that sails over some people’s heads. Bill McKibbenSomeone we know well referred to my wife and me as “hippies” for some of the ideals we espouse that touch on these topics, and while we take that lovingly, we also understand that people don’t fathom what we’re talking about.

Bill McKibben understands. His book lays it all out in a way that concentrates the profound message: We need to ask ourselves if the lives we live in 21st century America have real meaning beyond consuming more.

Jesus Christ occupies the center of purpose. No human life finds purpose apart from Him because He made us to be Kingdom people who embody His very image. Our message to the world not only reflects in the words of Truth we speak, but the lives of justice and mercy that we live—His life, His truth, His justice, His mercy. For this reason, the Christian lives a life that is different, a life dedicated to loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Anyone who desires to live that life will rudely encounter the pragmatism, utilitarianism, Social Darwinism, and consumerism that fight with bloody tooth and claw against the Kingdom of God. None of those four worldview are compatible with true Christianity, yet the American Church suffers from their deadly infections to the point of lying in some spiritual hospital in a fevered coma.

Those worldviews own us, no matter how hard we American Christians say otherwise. If you read here long enough, you know that I believe we’ve varnished those worldviews with a thin coat of Christianity and called them redeemed.

But they simply can’t be.

We are wasteful people who pillage the Creation the Creator told us to steward, and then we beg for more. We use spiritual language and manipulate the Gospel to our ends, calling on it to give imprimatur to our uncontrolled growth and need for more material wealth, no matter what the expense. As I noted a few weeks ago, a word exists for that mentality: profligacy.

Deep Economy is a book about profligacy and its deleterious effects. It explains why uncontrolled economic growth will not work on a global scale. It explores the psychological depression arising from desiring more and more stuff at the expense of our souls, our communities, and the world around us. It sounds the clarion call that our lives are out of whack and we’re taking the planet down with us. It proclaims our obsession with the individual must be reversed so genuine community prevails.

Next week, I’ll be exploring each major concept in Deep Economy. I’ll also show why McKibben’s analysis aligns with what we Christians know to be true from the Scriptures. Most of all, I hope I can sway a few doubters to see that another way to live exists, one that better reflects the heart of the Lord.

If you can find the book, pick it up and read it this weekend. And do so with an open mind and spirit. McKibben takes a middle of the road approach even when some of his talking points sound…dare I say it, liberal. If anything, though, those points may be the ultimate in conservatism.

Thanks for reading. Hold on tight…