Environmentalists Give Up Carbon for Lent

Instead of giving up chocolate or alcohol for Lent, this year some Christians are trying to reduce their "carbon footprint." That means turning off electric lights, hanging laundry on a line to dry and eating only locally grown food in the 40 days before Easter.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Christians have an assignment every year around this time. During Lent, they're expected to give up something: candy, meat, maybe alcohol. This year, some of the faithful have put a new spin on the practice.

We get the story from Tina Antolini at member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts.

TINA ANTOLINI: When it came time to give something up for Lent, chocolate just didn't cut it this year for members of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. Reverend Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, a priest with the parish, says who's the one that benefits from that?

Reverend MARGARET BULLITT-JONAS (Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, Massachusetts): I think Lent sometimes has been this very self-focused period of time, which I think is actually a distortion of the original intention of Lent.

The intention is to think about what am I doing that gets in the way of the love of God and letting that love be expressed fully in creation?

ANTOLINI: To better channel that love, some members of Grace Episcopal decided to try something they picked up from a couple of Church of England bishops: giving up carbon for Lent - well, almost.

They're reducing the amount of carbon dioxide they produce during these 40 days and 40 nights to lessen their contribution to global warming. It's taken church member Nina Scott(ph) down to her basement.

Ms. NINA SCOTT (Member, Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, Massachusetts): I'm using wooden clothespins to feel even more holier-than-though…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANTOLINI: She's using a decades-old clothesline because not putting laundry in the dryer means a savings on CO2.

Ms. SCOTT: …washing machine, put them up on the lines here, and it just sits here and gets dry all by itself.

ANTOLINI: Scott's also been packing her car full of other retirees to get to outings instead of driving by herself, and she's meticulously researched what brand of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb throws off the softest glow.

But when it came to using candles instead of electric lights, that was kind of a no-go.

Ms. SCOTT: I don't use candles for illumination. I use candles for romance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANTOLINI: Scott and other church members trade energy-saving tips weekly at a sort of AA meeting for carbon emitters. Fellow parishioner Lucy Robinson(ph) says it's changed the contents of her grocery cart.

Ms. LUCY ROBINSON (Member, Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, Massachusetts): Lately, instead of going in for the strawberries from, you know, Chile and the grapes from there or whatever, I'll try to go well, we could have baked apples. I'll get some local apples that you can certainly get around here these days.

ANTOLINI: Abstention from Chilean strawberries aside, the women say this Lenten observance has not required the usual willpower.

Ms. SCOTT: It's a joy. I look on it as a joy that, you know, you just become aware, and that's really what Lent is about, it's deepening your consciousness of whatever it is. You know, why am I giving up chocolate, besides the hips, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANTOLINI: Reverend Bullitt-Jonas says there's nothing wrong with choosing an indulgence to give up for Lent, but reducing her carbon output links her spirituality to the wider world.

Reverend MARGARET BULLITT-JONAS (Priest, Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, Massachusetts): For me, when I turn off the light, it's a prayer. It's a prayer for the polar bear in the Arctic. It's a prayer for the king penguin down in Antarctica, just a reminder of my desire as to line up my life so that it really serves God.

ANTOLINI: Members of Grace Episcopal are already a fairly environmentally conscientious group. There are more than a few hybrids in the church parking lot on a Sunday morning. Still, church members recognize that their 40-day carbon fast may not make much of a dent in the millions of tons of CO2 Americans produce every year, but it may not end with Lent.

When everyone else is unwrapping their chocolate bunnies Easter morning, Nina Scott says she's not planning to throw a load of laundry in the dryer. For NPR News, I'm Tina Antolini.

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