An engineer, a priest, a pilot and a salesman

walk into a bar…

Actually, they walked onto a plane…

(originally posted 5/9/09)

Flickr CC License
Flickr CC License

Not long ago I flew from Madison WI to Hartford CT for a speaking tour, and returned by the same route 10 days later. Two flights each direction (Madison to Detroit, Detroit to Hartford) yielded a total of four seatmates, the aforementioned engineer, priest, airline pilot and salesman, and four very interesting conversations.

Keep in mind that I work with a faith-based (ie. evangelical), environmental nonprofit. I often use a brief but effective tag line to summarize what Care of Creation does: “We think the people who believe God made the place should be the ones taking care of it…” That’s usually all it takes to start a fascinating conversation that almost always ranges from where we grew up (and how we were raised) to what we’re doing at home with regard to the environment to changes occuring in our workplaces for the same reasons. My conclusion: Almost no one thinks there is no environmental crisis; and almost everyone is involved in the current effort to confront our economic crisis either or both at home and at work. And almost every company or organization I encounter is doing something. It’s really quite amazing.

My first seatmate is an engineer who works with one of the largest dairy corporations in the country. They have plants in several states, and he spends a great deal of time on the road, visiting these factories – and, often, working to implement plans to cut CO2 emissions, reduce water usage, or minimize energy consumption. At his suggestion I took a look at their “Corporate Responsibility Report” – it’s still large-scale, industrial agriculture producing highly processed foodstuffs. And yes, all of us will eat better if we can eat local and eat fresh. But few of us are in a position to house a cow in the garage or spend time making cheese, and so we’re probably stuck with large food companies for the forseeable future. This is a company that seems to be taking environment seriously. And my friend appeared to be someone who sees his engineering skills as a tool to be used to improve the world. If not quite a man on a mission, still a person trying to make a difference. Encouraging.

The priest – well, he slept most of the way. I didn’t actually discover his occupation until five minutes before the end of the flight, but as an Episcopal Rector (pastor), he’s in a denomination that has been active in creation-care, and as an individual, he cares.

The pilot – he was a fascinating travel companion. He was flying back to Detroit from his home near Hartford to pick up his next flight assignment. Not much he can do about the environment with regard to his job; all he does, after all, is drive people like me from city to city across the country. But was he ever enthusiastic about things at home. Solar water heater? He’s had solar panels on his roof for years – saves him about 50% on his heating bill.

The salesman was on his way back from a trade show. He works for a distributor – a middleman that provides a long list of products of every possible kind for independent grocery and drug stores around the country. His situation is like that of many of us: He would love to be offering more “green” products, but he’s caught on both sides. He can only offer products that are provided to him by manufacturers, and he can only sell what the stores want to buy. His distributorship isn’t large enough to put pressure on those who make the products. But, also like many of us, he seems to be ready to do his part when – and if – truly environmentally friendly products show up.

All of which reinforces something I’ve believed for quite some time: With regard to our environmental crisis, the scientists have done their jobs. Now it’s up to the rest of us. The engineers. The pilots. The salesmen. And especially the priests (and pastors).

Because the people who believe God made the place should be the ones taking care of it…

Cross-posted at Sustainlane.com…


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3 thoughts on “An engineer, a priest, a pilot and a salesman”

    1. Thanks, Jessica. Of course you can steal our tag line – anything to further the cause! Just tell them about my book(!)

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